Epiphany of Our Lord

Prophetic encouragement

Matthew 2:10
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

January 6, 2024

First Reading
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Commentary on Isaiah 60:1-6

In order to understand Isaiah 60:1–6 in its postexilic context, it is crucial to understand both the language and the structure of the pericope. The language of the pericope is crucial because the second-person pronouns that pepper the unit are specifically second-person feminine forms.1 We see this in the imperatives “Arise, shine” (qumi ori; note that the imperatives are not conjoined with we) in verse 1; in the suffixed nouns “your light” (orek) in verses 1 and 3; and in the prepositional phrases “upon you” (alayik) in verses 1 and 3.

That language is important because it means that God is addressing the city, presumably Zion/Jerusalem, instead of an individual leader. As Westermann rightly notes, “Proclamation is made to Zion that her salvation is at hand.”2

Second, the imperatives serve to outline the reading into three different sections, with parts I and II belonging together because they are based on the imperatives in verses 1 and 4:

IA. Two Imperatives to Zion, verse 1a

IB. Reason, verses 1b–3

IIA. Two imperatives to Zion, verse 4a

IIB. Reason, verse 4b

III. Consequence for Zion, verses 5–7

Finally, the imperatives imply that this oracle was delivered to the postexilic community shortly after the return from Babylonian exile. It is likely that the community of faith had not yet recovered from their generation of enslavement and was in need of prophetic encouragement, which is exactly what the oracle provides.

Verses 1–3 form the core of the oracle. These verses contrast the “light” (identified as “the glory of the LORD” in verse 1) that has come with the “darkness” that “shall cover” the earth and its peoples (compare Isaiah 9:2 [Masoretic Text 9:1]). It would be natural for people who are in the dark to find their way to the light, and that is what happens in verse 3.

Verse 4 develops the main proclamation of verses 1–3. The opening imperatives in verse 4a are word-for-word identical with the text of Isaiah 49:18, and the language of verse 4b (“they all gather together, they come to you”) refers back to the nations and kings of verse 3. The reference to “your sons” (banayik) and “your daughters” (benotayik) in verse 4 seems to imply that there are still exiled Judeans who have not yet returned, but Oswalt rightly notes that “no evidence supports the idea that anyone expected a further return during the Persian period.”3 The language may therefore be more rhetorical/figurative than historical in intent.

But the gathering of the rest of the exiles back to Zion, along with the nations and kings who are attracted to the light that has shined on them, serves a larger purpose. That larger purpose is described in verses 5–7. First, that gathering will lead to joy: “Then you shall see and be radiant (wenahart; see also Jeremiah 31:12; Psalm 34:5 [Masoretic Text 34:6]); your heart shall thrill (upachad, often translated elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible as a verb of fear, but that is not the case here; see also Jeremiah 33:9) and rejoice.” That speaks to the attitude adjustment that prophetic oracles aim to create.

In addition, the gathering of nations and kings will lead to the arrival of materials that are needed to complete the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple in verses 5–6: “the wealth of nations shall come to you. … They shall bring gold and frankincense.” This wealth is not limited to material goods only but also includes “the abundance of the sea,” “a multitude of camels,” “all the folks of Kedar,” and “the rams of Nebaioth.” This is the aspect of Isaiah 60 that sets it apart from Isaiah 2 (|| Micah 4); there, the prophet anticipates the flowing of people to Jerusalem (see Isaiah 2:3 || Micah 4:2), but there is no mention of wealth or goods.

But even that is not all that will happen. Verse 6 tells us that “they … shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.”4 Technically, it may be true that the word “they” refers back to the “camels” and the “young camels” who are carrying the “gold and frankincense,”5 but that is surely not the oracle’s intention. Instead, the oracle must intend to portray the people from these foreign nations who are leading the camels et cetera to Zion as the ones who are singing the praises of the God of the Judeans6 (see also Psalm 67:3, 5: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you”).

The unit closes in verse 7 with a reference to the “acceptable sacrifice in the restored temple of the future”7 that will result from all these gifts, so that God will “glorify [his] glorious house.”

So how can this passage be proclaimed to the modern church on Epiphany?

As we read the prophetic oracle in its canonical form, the prophecy remains unfulfilled. As Charles L. Aaron Jr. rightly puts it, “The grand promises the prophet made to the people never actually happened in history.”8 The proclamation of this passage may, therefore, best be tied in with the New Testament’s proclamation that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near in the birth of the incarnate Son of God. That appropriation of Isaiah’s prophecy begins in Matthew 2, where “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (compare Isaiah 60:6) are offered in homage to the baby Jesus.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the followers of Jesus are called “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14–16; compare Isaiah 60:1). Because “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:14), everyone everywhere is called to “repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14; see also Matthew 4:17 and compare Isaiah 60:3). And the end result will be that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11; compare Isaiah 60:3).


  1. John Goldingay, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Isaiah 56–66, ICC (London/New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014), 246. Goldingay notes that “the second-person singular feminine suffix -k comes 51 times” in chapter 60.
  2. So Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40–66, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), 356. See the similar proclamations in Isaiah 49:14–26; 51:17–23; 52:1–2, 7–10; 54:1–17, per J. Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56–66:  A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AYB 19B (New York: Doubleday, 2003).
  3. John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:  Chapters 40–66, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 539.
  4. R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40–66, NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 233, thinks that this “may well be a later addition,” but most commentators do not concur.
  5. So, rightly, Goldingay, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 261.
  6. So Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 541; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56–66, 212; S. Paul, Isaiah 40-66:  Translation and Commentary, ECC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 523.
  7. So Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah: A Commentary, OTL (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 497.
  8. Charles L. Aaron Jr., “Commentary on Isaiah 60:1–6,” Working Preacher, Luther Seminary, accessed August 7, 2023, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/epiphany-of-our-lord/commentary-on-isaiah-601-6-6.