Isaiah 55

Isaiah urging the listeners/readers to honour and trust God with a series of beautiful pictures of God’s love.

It’s permanence is a big theme.

He compares it to the temporary things we pour our effort and money into. This is truly nourishing food, permanently satisfying, free of charge. It feeds our soul.

He talks about the steadfastness of God’s love for David – presumably both him and his line which would lead to Jesus. He talks about other nations recognising God.

Other themes are God’s compassion and effectiveness, which are both more than they can imagine.  They are to use the opportunity of their life to understand – seek – God. It is about individual grace and God’s larger scale plan of love.

There is a great image of God’s word being like rain or snow to water the earth and bring life. It’s not just sound, it’s sustaining and active.

They are full of fear, doubt and rebellion, but the peace God will bring is cosmic, the whole of creation will celebrate – mountains sing, trees clap.

Second day back at work. Full of sadness at my bind of needing to work, and fear I am too old and weak for it.

Irrational I’m sure. I made a few mistakes that are gnawing at me, I need to ‘fess up, fix them up and move on.

It’s resonating with me the bit about God’s thoughts being way more complex than I can understand… The bit about recognising I am dumb matches my current mood. God’s character is love, wisdom and steadfastness.

That’s why I’m safest to just do what is right by his lights in faith, when everything in me feels like lying, laziness or quitting would deliver more calm and happiness.

I’ll tell you how it goes!

 

Advertisements

Isaiah 54

Big rap for Israel and/or God’s people generally. He’s speaking of their abandonment by God, their time of exile, how it will be temporary. 

Like a husband who is briefly angry with his wife, the larger, stronger relationship will prevail.

He talks of loving and teaching the children/generations. There are descriptions of architecture built with precious stones that sound a bit like the holy city in revelation. 

There is talk of safety and military protection, something that would have been top of mind to those in Isaiah’s time.

It’s a pile on of God’s care for and love for his people. 

I start back in the full swing of work today after leave, my time of complete leisure and liberty at an end. I’ve got a big year helping church to move and much complexity at work to stay on top of.

I love my family and I want good things for all of them. I can only face it by relying on God’s promise of love and compassion for his people.

Isaiah 53

This must surely be one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of the heart of Christianity.

Lots of sheep metaphors, so affecting because sheep are so vulnerable.

This poetry links the old teaching about sacrifice for sin with the “new thing” Isaiah has started to describe. God has prepared Israel for this step by having them mindfully slaughter sacrificial sheep for generations. But the idea is still a huge leap.

To compare the mighty creator God we’ve met so far: the firey cloudy pillar guiding us through the wilderness, shaking mountains and carving his words on the rock, to a lamb; one being passively slaughtered, is almost incomprehensible.

The servant is beaten, whipped, his striped scars heal us.

Then killed. And in that paradox, the mightiest God submitting to humiliation and destruction, is my sin absorbed.

For we are also like sheep, wandering off, helpless, incapable of following instructions or caring for ourselves.

Such a complete and clear description of my beliefs, the years melt away.

Hundreds of years between Isaiah and Jesus, thousands of years between Jesus and me. All the scar tissue of my own 55 years, I am a new creation again. For me it requires no rationalisation, it is simply truth which has stood and will stand forever.

When I step back from the moment and realise what I am reading, I get a chill. The holy spirit, surely. These ancient writings, so beautiful, predicting Jesus so accurately and so meaningfully. Speaking right to my heart. Loving, saving. The voice of my God.

Isaiah 52

We’re entering the most detailed servant/Messiah chapters. It’s the “new thing” the book has been building to with its layers of imagery.

It is double prophetic from Isaiah’s time. He’s writing (if it is him, which some doubt) before the people have been conquered and sent into exile, about the time when they shall be returned from exile.

But then it’s also triple prophetic, because it’s about so much more than the return from the exile they aren’t even in yet, because by describing the Messiah he’s talking about God’s eternal salvation plan for the whole world.

This chapter starts with hype about the salvation/ return from exile.

Jerusalem is to “awake awake”.

That is be aware that they are God’s people, and that he loves them. They actually have become cynical about God, and have no respect for him. Understandably perhaps because Egypt, then Assyria, then Babylon owned them.

There is a play on worthlessness. They feel worthless because they got conquered and the conquerors paid no price for destroying the chosen people. But God is also going to save them at no cost to them, for free. We’ll find later is because he’ll pay the price.

He talks about the messengers of this good news having “beautiful feet”. I love this, it’s God’s news, but we are the physical bearers of it. We have time and a physical being, and God finds it beautiful when we use our body and time to share the blessing we have.

Then they are to “depart depart”.

Leave the place of exile, of sin, and come to a place of holiness, of being cleaned and blessed by God and useful to him.

Then after the hype, in the last few verses, we get to the servant, the means of this salvation.

He’s king of kings… Wiser, more exalted than earthly Kings. They shut up when they see him.

He’s the mistreated servant, beaten beyond.  recognition. Remember sometime had to pay a price?

He is an unprecedented occurrence, and the incomprehensible made clear.

Isaiah is coming together!

Isaiah 51

A chapter of comfort. God’s voice.

He refers to his strength, his history, describes himself as the rock from which they are hewn. And promises comfort.

There is a section on listening, because God is acting, making things right and saving them.

Listen to him above all else because he will outlast the other voices … It returns to the “worn out clothes” metaphor from the last chapter. There is a repeated refrain that his salvation lasts forever.

Then a section with a repeated call to wake up, to respond with faith in the permanent, saving God who brings comfort; rather than with fear of the oppressors, who will pass away.

God’s promises, his strength, his salvation, our response of faith. All of that should give us a long term perspective on our present situation.

The Israelites had aggressive invaders at the gates. I’m waking up on new year’s Day, on holiday during a long lazy summer.

I’m marking the years, feeling optimism, wariness and a sense of life passing. The “wake up and listen” bits of the message are certainly resonating. I’m currently pretty comfortable!

The distractions will start up again soon. May I remember that whatever the year holds, it will pass. I will be here again, between the hours, remembering that God’s salvation is eternal, and I pray, having lived the intervening days from that perspective.

Isaiah 50

God’s extraordinary love for us, and what he wants of us.

Intimate workings of the the messiah’s servanthood. 

It starts with the question “does God really care?” A striking divorce and debt metaphor is used by God to say “prove I have abandoned you… Where are the divorce papers, where is the bill of sale?”

We left him, he never left us. Very much to the contrary.

Second question “is God’s still in charge?” Fully. The examples of his might are arguably negative experiences, drying up rivers so that fish die, making the sky black. 

The Israelites no doubt felt enveloped by blackness. But the blackness is from God, the problem is that there is no one who will obey him. Enter the servant.

The servant word is not used but the ritual of servanthood, ear piercing, is referred to in verse 5. 

Israel’s slaves had a moment after 6 years of service where they could leave or stay. The ear piercing indicated the choice of a life of voluntary servanthood, and such is the messiah’s relationship to God the father.

His duties are to daily learn words that will sustain the weary. He is God’s servant, his duties are for us. 

Does God care? He gives his back to be whipped, his beard to be pulled out, suffers utter humiliation and disgrace.

Being God, he could back out at any time. He doesn’t have to suffer! But as a servant he sets his face like flint and bares it, trusting in God’s might through the darkness, knowing God’s is stronger than any evil.

The enemies of God are compared to clothes that will wear out. Empty suits.

So we, the weary, can choose to be sustained by his words though the darkness. Or we can take matters in our own hands which is here described as walking by the light of our own torches. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, using your own judgement, not God’s word to guide your way. But it will only lead to more torment.

God is like a loving parent in the night, coming to you when you fear the dark saying “don’t worry, you’ll get there” and behind it is the knowledge that no one loves you more out would give more for you.

This is a beautiful chapter, hard to follow without explanation. God cares and is strong enough to give himself for you without flinching at the pain of sacrifice.

Isaiah 49

Half the chapter is about Isaiah’s figure the servant of the lord. All the elements are there: he is from God, a means of judgement and salvation, despised by people yet used not only for salvation of Israel but of all nations.

Again you do the loop where it is impossible to visualise anyone but Jesus.

I considered how there have been numerous other servants of the lord, Moses fits quite close. And the kingship was designed to be humble in Moses’ law, David dancing before the ark more than Solomon in a palace. It’s a biblical pattern, a truth about God’s way, but specifically it is so Jesus.

The second half is about Israel being glorified. With all the servant talk, especially the bit about being for all the world, Israel might think “so what are we?”

But God assures them they always have a special place like the place a child has for a parent. He also describes them as like a tattoo on his hand.

It finishes with a classic old testament scene of retribution… The enemies of Israel starving to the point of canabalism while all the exiles and all the world beats a path back to the promised land to share in glory.

Which, given the original audience was probably on the verge of being conquered and dragged away into exile from the land, was very comforting hyperbole.

It’s like “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need”.

What they want is the promise of relief from their political and military victimhood, which they will get eventually, but not soon enough, and not before things get a lot worse.

What they need is what Isaiah calls the “new thing” this global salvation plan for all mankind, hundreds of years in the future but acting retroactively and prospectively for all.

Isaiahs big task is starting to explain, and it’s not easy. Even with my perspective I still keep doing double takes. The whole Bible is an odd story!

Isaiah 48

The themes swirl around again.

Judah and Israel are hard and deceitful, despite holy words.

The punishment, the exile, is God’s judgement

The return from exile will be God’s blessing. It’s a refining process.

He was before all the idols, and he is doing a new thing that will surpass them.

Again we get a hint, which will be fleshed out in further chapters, of the still mysterious third person of God “from the time it came to be I have been there. And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit…”

He calls Israel to listen. The chapter concludes with a reminder of the extravagant blessing in the wilderness, streams of water gushing from rock.

The last words are an encouragement or a warning “there is no peace for the wicked”.

Is it directed to the Israelites or the conquering armies?

Generally this section has made the case for God against the doubts and fears of the Israelites.

It is not a narrow question or a passive one. The case for God requires a response from us all.

Writing this on Christmas Day 2017, looking at the global phenomenon of Santa. Baby Jesus is still a more uncomfortable Christmas image, one that demands things of people that they aren’t sure they want to give.

Isaiah 47

Comeuppance.

I followed obsessively and with a bit of horror the election of Donald Trump against all odds in 2016, and I’m still hooked on US politics.  It seems like a big fable of dancing with the devil.  Particularly the US christians, who are tarnishing the name of the faith in exchange for power, it seems to me.

What I’m waiting for is for  it all to fall apart, and see what the effects of going through something like that are.

This chapter of the bible is predicting the comeuppance of Babylon.  Its personified as an enchanter, living in a web of falsehoods, who thinks they will get away with living a charmed life forever.  They’ve done whatever it takes to gain power, and now think they deserve the good things they have gained, and that the evil they did to get there will have no consequences.

The prediction of is stripping away the comfort and pleasure, and an image of genuine hard work for a living. Grinding flour on a millstone.

I somehow think Trump will never lose his millions. He’s just the quintessence of a salesman, who is selling his own success.  There is no consistency other than the using of others to get more success.

Reminds me of the wizard of Oz, what an american story!  There’s nothing there, all the front is built on lies. It steers clear of darkness, but it could be such a dark story. It is.

I’m wasting my time.  I should wind back my obsession – it makes no impact on my everyday challenges here in the small circles in which I live.  The Israelites were actually conquered by the babylonians, this is a word of comfort to people in distress. I am merely an observer of the US from the outside.

I need to channel my thirst for justice into areas where I can actually have some impact.

 

Isaiah 46

The humiliation of Bel and Nebo. Who now?

They are the gods of Assyria and Babylon. Israel’s conquerors.

So limited is their power that they move by being carted behind a horse, and when they are plonked, that is where they stay. Can’t even move themselves!

Before you laugh, consider how many of the desirable accoutrements pushed at us by advertisers as the purpose of our existence and symbols of a meaningful life could be described that way.

God pleads with people “listen to me”. His word is eternal, and he acts to bring it about. It will be set up and established, he is the one we should be worshipping.

He’s desperate to break through our mesmerised idol trance and hear his word. It is “love”.