Leader Resource 1: Isaiah: Exile and Hope Background Information
This workshop presents a different kind of story from the Hebrew scriptures. It is not a story in the strict sense of the word, but poetic writings from the book of Isaiah, words that comforted a desolate and despairing people in exile.
These words, often referred to as the "suffering servant" passage, were composed and spoken at a terrible time in the life of the Jewish people. After 600 years of relative autonomy under King David, King Solomon, and their heirs, political tides in the region had led to the Babylonian conquest of first the northern kingdom of Israel, then the southern kingdom of Judah. In 587 BCE, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem and with it the Temple of Solomon, the seat of Jewish worship life and what they understood to be the home for Yahweh, their God. In three waves, Hebrew political, religious, and cultural leaders were exiled to Babylon, leaving behind a ruined land and a depleted people.
The exile in Babylon (587 — 539 B.C.E.) was a painful time for the Jewish people, but it was also a watershed time. They needed to reconstitute their faith without a state of their own, without a homeland, without their seat of worship. And they needed to make sense of their humiliation in light of their covenant with Yahweh.
The "suffering servant" passages speak of the hope for eventual redemption, when the despised and humiliated people would be redeemed, and would be restored to their homeland and their nation.
The book of Isaiah, which contains this passage, was written over the course of two hundred years by a group of people more accurately described as the school of Isaiah than as a single figure. The "suffering servant" passage was most likely written between 550 and 539 BCE.
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