New English Translation
12 and the Lord has sent the people off to a distant place,
and the very heart of the land is completely abandoned.[a]
13 Even if only a tenth of the people remain in the land,
it will again be destroyed,[b]
like one of the large sacred trees[c] or an Asherah pole,[d]
when a sacred pillar[e] on a high place[f] is thrown down.[g]
That sacred pillar symbolizes the special chosen family.”[h]
- Isaiah 6:12 tn Heb “and great is the abandonment in the midst of the land.”
- Isaiah 6:13 tn Or “be burned” (NRSV); NIV “laid waste.”
- Isaiah 6:13 tn By the time of Mishnaic Hebrew the terms כָּאֵלָה וְכָאַלּוֹן (kaʾelah vekaʾallon) meant “like a terebinth or like an oak.” They may have originally been generic terms for large trees, “like a massive tree or like a big tree.” See HALOT 52, s.v. I אֵלָה and 54, s.v. I אֵלוֹן. These two trees were often part of cultic worship and this significance is prioritized in the translation.
- Isaiah 6:13 tc The translation accepts the emendation in BHS, reading אֲשֵׁרָה (ʾasherah) rather than אֲשֶׁר (ʾasher, “which”). The term אֲשֵׁרָה may refer to the goddess Asherah or a sacred pole which presumably represented the goddess at worship sites. The translation also treats the Asherah as the third in a series of items, as if וְכַאֲשֵׁרָה (vekaʾasherah, “and like an Asherah”). But it may just as well be modifying the previous noun so that the whole phrase reads “like a terebinth and like the oak of an Asherah.” See J. D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33 (WBC), 101, 103.
- Isaiah 6:13 tn The noun מַצֶּבֶת (matsevet) occurs only 4 times, twice in 2 Sam 18:18 and twice here. Most translations render it as “stump” (NASB, NIV, NRSV, ESV). HALOT identifies it as a memorial stone in 2 Sam 18:18 and says for Isa 6:13 that “the earlier translation ‘root-stock’ is questionable” (HALOT 621 s.v.).
- Isaiah 6:13 tc The MT reads בָּם (bam, “in them”) while the Qumran scroll 1QIsaa reads במה (bamah, “high place”). The syntax of בָּם is difficult in context and only translated by the KJV, “as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” The KJV’s reference to casting leaves assumes other emendations, or misinterprets or guesses at another meaning for the rare term שַׁלֶּכֶת (shalleket, “felled”). The other major translations omit rendering בָּם into English. The LXX has omitted this among several words lost to haplography.
- Isaiah 6:13 tc The MT reads בְּשַׁלֶּכֶת (beshalleket, “in felling”) as part of “like a terebinth or like an oak, which in felling a pillar in them holy seed her pillar.” The Qumran scroll 1QIsaa has משׁלכת which appears to be a Hophal feminine participle from שָׁלַך (shalakh) meaning “[being] thrown down.” Though the text is difficult, the references to sacred trees and a sacred pillar suggest that the destruction of a high place is in view, an apt metaphor for the judgment of idolatrous Judah.
- Isaiah 6:13 tn Heb “a holy offspring [is] its sacred pillar.” The text is difficult, leaving its meaning and its application unclear. If מַצֶּבֶת (matsevet) is taken as “stump,” one can see in this statement a brief glimpse of hope. The tree (the nation) is chopped down, but the stump (a righteous remnant) remains from which God can restore the nation. However, if מַצֶּבֶת is taken as “sacred pillar” (מַצֶּבָה, matsevah; see the previous note), it is much more difficult to take the final statement in a positive sense. In this case “holy offspring” alludes to God’s ideal for his covenant people, the offspring of the patriarchs. Ironically that “holy” nation is more like a “sacred pillar” and it will be thrown down like a sacred pillar from a high place and its land destroyed like the sacred trees located at such shrines. Understood in this way, the ironic statement is entirely negative in tone, just like the rest of the preceding announcement of judgment. It also reminds the people of their failure; they did not oppose pagan religion, instead they embraced it. Now they will be destroyed in the same way they should have destroyed paganism. Another approach (see J. D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33, [WBC], 101, 109) is to take v. 12 and the beginning of 13 as the prophet asking a question, essentially “will it be destroyed?” Then the Lord answers beginning with the analogy, “Like one of the large sacred trees.” If מַצֶּבָה is to be taken as a memorial, then the holy seed would serve as a reminder of their failure. But the question and answer would address a relevant question anticipated for the audience.