Isaiah 35: 1-10
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Israel’s history. Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and were mostly written in the 30 years before Jerusalem was under direct siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55 and brings hope to the Judeans during the time of the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they have suffered enough and will return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 and contains encouragement to the Judeans in Jerusalem after the Exile.
Today’s reading, even though it is one of the “First Isaiah” chapters, was likely written during the time of the Exile. It promises that the “ransomed” (v.10) – a reference to the Exiles — shall return to a fruitful land with joy. The chapters that follow this reading (Ch. 36-39) are an historical appendix which (except for a few verses) parallel 2 Kings 18 -20. These chapters describe the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians and the Judean King (Hezekiah) foolishly turning to the Babylonians for help. The inclusion of parts of 2 Kings in the Book of Isaiah shows the continuing influence of the Deuteronomists in forming the “final” versions of both Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Although the authorship of this epistle is not known, it has traditionally been attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, who is presented in Acts of the Apostles as the leader of the Jesus Follower community in Jerusalem. This James is sometimes called “James the Just” and is distinguished from “James the Great” (an apostle, brother of John, and son of Zebedee) and from “James the Less” (apostle and son of Alphaeus).
The letter is addressed to Jewish Jesus Followers and emphasizes the importance of good works. This emphasis has been understood by some (including Luther) as being opposed to Paul’s position that one is saved by Faith alone. These positions can be reconciled by recognizing that salvation/wholeness does not come from works alone and that a saving Faith leads to good works.
Today’s reading is from the last chapter of the Epistle, and offers consolation to the hearers. Like many other writings from the late First Century, it expresses the understanding that the coming of the Lord is near. (v.8)