Isaiah 43

Tough love.

A beautiful description of God’s character. It reaches back to Moses’ burning bush and escape though the sea to talk about God’s protection though trials of fire and flood.

The refrain of “fear not” from the last few chapters is repeated. So are images of the gathering of the nations, being loved and known since birth, the unique omnipotence of the one true God.

The image of a highway in a newly verdant desert comes back, which is described as a new thing God will do.

Then, right at the end we hear God has grown weary of them. The North has ignored him, and the South has kept up an empty religion.

Therefore both will be destroyed and reviled.

Bam. End of chapter. It puts everything in context.

Fear not… Because much to fear is coming.

Remember that God is in charge, fire won’t consume you, water won’t drown you…  because both are coming, etc.

The destruction coming is not only God’s judgement, it’s his love.

And he offers to have it out with them: let’s have witnesses, let’s state our cases.

So much to teach us about difficult times, but the lesson I’m taking is: stay in contact with God, yell at him if you have to. Have it out, he’s saying he can take it.

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Isaiah 42

Complex chapter. Isaiah is like a symphony, or a film score. 

It has a bunch of themes, more and more as it goes on, and they keep returning and combining to push the story forward with ever more nuance. 

The layers get to be too many to describe, especially for a non-scholar like me. 

But like a good piece of music it has a cumulative emotional flow that unifies the complexity.

This chapter introduces the servant, beloved of the New testament writers who see it fulfilled in Jesus.

We learn that the servant will be God’s delight, will be for all nations, will be gentle in manner and in action, not breaking the “bruised reeds”, those already beaten and damaged.

Some of the themes that come back are the desserts being made flat, the world being recreated, inverted in fact so that rivers become islands. 

God as victor, a strong man; and then as (re)creator, a woman in labour. 

The emptiness of idols and Gods judgement being the actual reason for the present suffering, to which he seems to be deaf and blind. 

So in these themes, love and judgement, chaos and gentleness, time and eternity weave together.

Isaiah is taking God’s revelation to places it has not gone before. He’s witnessing first hand the trauma of literal earthly blessing of the chosen people and the specific nation of Israel failing beyond hope of return. 

Out of that pain, as is so often the case, our deaf ears can start to hear about the Messiah, and we can start to see with spiritual eyes.

And the message is comfort, courage and love.

Isaiah 41

A massive “fear not” chapter.

Fear not because God is the most powerful ruler, he can win every battle.

Because he is the creator, he can make desserts bloom and move rivers, so the poor and the thirsty will be blessed.

Fear not because Jehovah is the true God. Test idols, ask them to describe what will be, how judgement works, to give you counsel that will give meaning to life. All you will get as an answer is clanging, in the wind, like bits of metal on a wind chime.

Some of my fears in no particular order are that my kids will never achieve independence before I get sick or die, North Korea will do some disaster with a nuclear bomb, my beloved faith, Christianity, will morph into a dreadful corrupt conservative dystopia like the handmaid’s tale, I’ll never address my tax problems before I get in huge trouble about it. Stuff like that. Our savings will continue to go downward, that our lifestyle is unsustainable.

Oh I’m getting fearful just thinking about them! One thing though, if I wrote about my fears a few years ago, it would be a quite different list. I have found the more I regularly read the Bible, the better I get at facing my fears.

Equally, people can always fear. If all this list went away, there would be another list to take its place.

I am much more clear headed than I was a few years ago.

Father help me to face my fears. You want me not to fear, but not by running away from them, but by having faith you are in control as I name and address them.


Isaiah 40

One of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. After a few chapters of prose, interacting with the king and the military threats and politics of the day, where there is so much fear and desperation, Isaiah takes our vision up above it all to see what is really going on.

God is unspeakably mighty, except maybe no one ever did speak words that come closer to describing it!

Mountains are like dust, the seas are to him like water cupped in his hand. He sits above the earth, spreading out the heavens is like pitching a tent, people like grass hoppers.

He has a flock, that’s us. He cares to the point of self sacrifice about us, leading us tenderly, gathering us.

We have plugged into the solid true power, anything else is a bet on delusion. We’re up there soaring with him, powered with his power.

I want to live carelessly. Without care, courageous and brave. God has taught me about the grandeur in the smallest things, the eternal truths that inform reach moment. That time is measured by how well it is used, not how long it is or how quickly tasks get done.

A lifetime is not a monument of personal achievements you can look back on and polish and say “bow to the idol of what Paul achieved” (or “my idol is so lame, no one must see it”)

A lifetime is an opportunity, a location in space and time, for understanding and reflecting a wonderful truth: the universe has endless goodness and love at its centre, “God”.

Every kindness, every empathetic moment, every chance you have to bring joy where there was sadness, fairness where there was injustice, compassion even if you can’t fix everything, makes the universe a little closer to how it is supposed to be.

This is like waking up, spiritually. Moving hearts, even just your own in this materialistic world, is bigger than moving mountains.

Isaiah 39

The end of the king Hezekiah story and the start of the rest of Isaiah. It’s Isaiah’s sad role to spend half his time prophesying about the Assyrians, who conquered the northern kingdom, and half the Babylonians, who conquered the South. 

What a time to be alive!

Hezekiah is given 15 more years to live and the rare knowledge of the time of his own death, and a sign from God that it is true. 

He is one of the most godly Kings, but he does not do much good with his extra time. 

He has a son who ends to being one of the worst Kings, and he actually invites the Babylonians in and brags about all his treasures to them, giving them all sorts of intelligence about the kingdom.

Worst of all perhaps when Isaiah tells him that the Babylonians will enslave his people, he is simply relieved that it will happen after he is dead. He’s sort of given up, maybe he’s burned out of the responsibility of being king.

In the last chapter he sang “The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness.”

He had it right then, living in gratitude enjoying wisely and with pleasure the time you have, that is a good way to live. The number of your years is in God’s hands, your use of the time is your responsibility.

Isaiah 38

King Hezekiah has his life extended. Isaiah announces it during a sickness. He won’t die, he’ll get an extra 15 years.

It’s matched with a promise that the Assyrians won’t attack during that time.

The King writes a poem talking about his bitter dread of death, and his praise of God for extending his life.

The theology of afterlife wasn’t as set in the old testament as the new. They had Sheol, this sort of grey neverland, not hell but not heaven either. 

David wrote that he would dwell in the house of the lord forever, feasting. He seems to have had a sense of eternal blessing, but the full notion of heaven didn’t come till Jesus.

I’ve probably got about 35 years unless I go early. I already think about whether I’ll be able to finish a song for every book in the Bible. If I push it too far, they may be very poor songs, you know if I’m 90 and have altziemers.

And I pray that I will say everything I want to to my kids, and that Kelly and I will have more time together to enjoy each other, not always harried.

This is a good reminder about getting your house in order.

Isaiah 37

King Hezekiah consults Isaiah about the Assyrian threat. Isaiah knows God’s mind, that the Assyrians won’t take Jerusalem. Indeed he knows the specific fate of the Assyrian envoy: he’ll die at his son’s hands.

He also knows a great pruning of Israel is coming from which only a shadow will survive, which he also refers to in his poetic response. And he is aware that even the Assyrians’ victories are God given, for all their arrogance.

We get a great affirmation of Jehovah above idols of wood and stone. There is an image of the people born in other countries being like weak doomed grass that takes root on the roof, which I found very poignant.

The story set me thinking about the relationship between knowing God’s mind and prayer.

The people and the king pray that God will hear the taunts of Assyria and act. Hezekiah is answered in those terms “God has heard your prayer”.  But Isaiah knows God’s mind all along.

People tear their clothes in fear and despair when they hear of the Assyrian threat because they know it might be God’s judgement, or maybe because they don’t believe God is really in control of such a fierce force of evil.  They ask for help, and this time they get it in terms they asked.

When the Babylonians returned less than a generation later, not so much.

God always responds like God. A bit like Jesus’ random encounters during his ministry… A catastrophic tower collapse may be talk of the day, or he may be at a wedding with inadequate catering, see a dead fig tree or meet a sick person.

And he thinks presumably “what would Jesus do”? And his responses fit the moment and the larger plan of salvation, and teach us til today about the nature of God.  And it answers prayers then and now. It doesn’t really make a difference if its random or part of a master plan, because it all sings a consistent tune.

God is the same in the minutiae and in the grandeur, in the fleeting moment and in the millennia.

Because his truth and his character are eternal, unchanging. And he loves our faith, our prayer.

Isaiah 36

Some plot! I’ve been starting to wonder about the structure of Isaiah’s many miscellaneous poems about destruction and disaster.  The text switches to prose for this chapter.

Assyria takes the northern kingdom, and then envoys come to threaten the southern, which includes Jerusalem. We get the conversation, which is taunting saying “who do you trust?” 

They are the strongest power. They laugh at the idea Egypt night help Israel. They joke at the idea God might help them, because king Hezekiah has removed the holy places they recognise out of his devotion to Jehovah.

They deliberately speak the common tongue so that the guards around can hear the sledging and be demoralised. 

The representatives of king Hezekiah say nothing, as instructed, and return to him in a state of fear, tearing their clothing.

End of chapter!

Isaiah 35

The good stuff. The redeemed, a picture of the ones God loves.

There is a highway in the desert – similar images described John the Baptist who paved the way for Jesus. It leads joyful people to Zion.

They don’t have to be strong, clever or powerful. It says fools could and will follow this highway. There are blind, deaf and lame people, seeing, hearing, leaping, praising.

The desert has become lush, blooming with crocuses.

And God says to them, his rag tag redeemed, one of my all time favourite spiritual messages in the Bible:

“Fear not”

Isaiah 34

The birds. There’s a creepy Alfred Hitchcock movie where the birds inexplicably take over an island.

Here is a vision vast and bleak.

It seems to lead on from the justice of the last chapter, the comforting thought that the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms will not last forever, will get their comeuppance.

While mentioning the neighbour Edom by name, this tells of judgement against the whole world.

It is for sin. We have a metaphor of God’s sword that generally requires sacrifice.

It is absolute, destruction is total and there are only birds left to divide the land amongst.

Sufjan Stevens likes to sing “we’re all going to die” perhaps there will be an end time tribulation, Armageddon. I hope not in my time.

But the curse of death is over us.

I’m more engaged with my church than I ever have been, so many opportunities for telling people the good news, but I am so shy of it.

God’s urgency/infinite time is doing my head in. This judgement passage is all crisis. But God will still take hundreds of years before Christ, so the crisis is not always temporal. The rich fool does not know the day or hour his life will be required of him.

Pray for wisdom. I have a sense that I am doing what i should be.  Pray for my kids!