Isaiah 33

I suppose this was a word of comfort to the people in terror of gathering powerful kingdoms that would overtake Jerusalem.

Like the African slaves in the confederate South, they dream of a role reversal.

When the destroyer is destroyed, and the betrayer is betrayed.

There follows a grand vision of the city as God’s City, it seems to be compared to a great ship with the wind, the breadth of God, at its sails, compared to the other nations which have run out of puff.

It’s about justice, that fly in the ointment which means God can’t just forgive everything and love everything, regardless.

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Isaiah 32

It must have been frustrating to be Isaiah, it must have been frustrating to listen to Isaiah.

The things he talks about here were true about the pattern Israel would suffer.

Some of the last Kings were the best, just before Jerusalem was destroyed, there were godly Kings, Hezekiah, Josiah.

But destruction came anyway. And the Israelites had to understand that it was all part of God’s plan to pour out his spirit. And that was better by far, and also that the destruction was deserved.

It’s a complex message. There will be good times,  but don’t get complacent because also the worst. But they will actually be good in ways you can barely understand.

What do you do with a message like that?

It’s still a message Christians struggle with. God has blessed is with good times, praise be. This disaster is God’s will.  God has healed me. He is in heaven now. How can God let bad things happen? No one laughs at God in a hospital.

I was starting to get a bit annoyed with Isaiah, but maybe I’m getting annoyed with God.

That’s why I read this I suppose, to understand.

Isaiah 31

Israel is terrorised by powerful kingdoms, Assyria, Babylon, who will engulf them. They are desperately looking for solutions including an alliance with Egypt. So symbolic, the nation who enslaved them, from whom God rescued them.

One verse says it all: the power of their horses is flesh not spirit, Egypt is man not God.

They need to trust God, they need to trust God, they need to trust God.

I need to.

Continue to find what is right and do it. Don’t put my trust in salary or real estate. Spend time with those I am burdened for, my family. Share a spiritual journey with them. It’s so easy to let these other things enslave me.

Isaiah 30

He’s prepared them in the last chapter, telling them he needs to wake them from a dream and that is for their own good. And now he whacks them.

This is the full on bleak vision of Jerusalem’s future, their leaders useless, their young men dead, the women and children who survive stripped of all possessions finery and dignity, scabrous, homeless, with only sacks to wear.

It reads a bit like a socialist or misogynist rant again the power structures or the finery of Jerusalem’s women, but the previous chapter set the frame of his concern over their indifference to God. It’s tough love, not rage.

I was struck by the casual sexism of his reference to being ruled by women as a sign that society has gone to the dogs.

But I’m confident that is an artefact of Isaiah’s cultural bias, not the point of the passage. Against it, for example, is the positive contribution of women in kings described in instances of them having special insight into God’s word and taking proactive steps to act on their understanding.

Isaiah would have known female prophets, and in kings at least their gender is a non-issue, they are mentioned only for the truth that they speak

The passage tells me about the urgency of the Christian message, something I find hard to think about.

 

Isaiah 29

Plan and meta plan. Disaster and recovery.

You think you have it bad, you forget God

Then God acts, and you wish you had it bad like you had it before, because now you realise you are on the wrong side of the universe.

And in that broken state, grace and mercy glimmer and become possible.

So it starts talking about a siege of Jerusalem, and then all the seiges.

Then how blind they are that they can’t see it is all God’s judgement.

He uses metaphors of double incomprehension.

So he says their concern about the seiges is like a hungry man dreaming of eating, and when they realise it’s God’s judgement will be like them waking up and realising they actually are hungry.

God’s truth is like a sealed book to them, and when the seal is broken they realise they can’t read.

I think this is written during the time of Hezekiah, which was like a pause before the final fall of Jerusalem. They use the time to practically prepare for the seige, like making a better water supply.

Isaiah’s message is that they desperately need to view their problems as spiritual. He describes their preparations as like clay saying to the potter “I’m the boss!” All the literal fortifications in the world won’t stop God.

It’s like a Matrix moment, they need to wake up from their dream of a life to realise they have no life, and only then can they start to learn what life is and start to find their way back.

Our pastor was taking about telling people about God this week, a subject that puts fear in my heart. I am the world’s least confronting person. It’s why I wrote this blog, all the things I find hard to say to my friends, to my family even. Maybe I need to see myself as cool like Morpheus in the matrix.

“Take the red pill.”

Isaiah 28

A condemnation of the tribe of Israel who made up most of the southern kingdom. 

Mainly a diatribe against drunkenness. I sometimes use drink to escape, and we had an old school friend of my wife’s due from alcoholism this year. Wine is so familiar but so dangerous. My older body cannot process it as well as a younger one.

They talk about that here, describing drink’s ability to impair judgement in the short term and fade ability over the long term.

Like the “2 ways to live” tract, it talks about swapping the crown of drunkenness for God’s crown, and promises that his strength will replace what wine has taken away: beauty, wisdom and determination.

Drunkenness is a symbol and a symptom of self obsession, of pride, ironically, given that it can humiliate. I’m ashamed of how much I feel I need it sometimes, I know that I perversely decide to drink too much sometimes. It makes me lazy. 

The rest of the chapter seems to be about fresh starts. He mentions how drunkenness has turned the priests into spiritual babies, and how he will have to teach again slowly, bit by bit, and maybe by strangers.

It’s about self discipline, the slow path back from the easy drift into bad habits. But bit by bit he will give us strength to change. It’s a merciful passage.

He talks about different grains requiring different forms of violence to produce, crushing wheat, beating cumin with a rod, Dill with a stick. But in all instances, it ends, it doesn’t go on forever. We all have our own way back.

And he powerfully reminds the reader of why it is worth it. God is the cornerstone, he will sweep away the refuge of lies and build a solid building in your heart. He will annul your covenant with death. 

Alcoholism, like so many self destructive behaviours, is like a pact with death. You see it so often in the lives of the rich and famous, and we saw it close up this year.

Pray for wisdom obedience and insight to see myself.

Isaiah 27

The third chapter trading out the promise of restoration for the Jewish nation, and extending the blessing to all nations. This is the tenderest.

It moves from a city image in the last chapter to a vineyard, watered and cared for every day, and a God who prefers peace.

The nation is called Judah to remind them of the covenant promise, and the punishment like his wrestling with God made them stronger, their fruit filling the whole world. 

So we have simultaneously a personal metaphor (Judah) and an agricultural one of abundant blessing, it keeps leading us to a Messiah figure.

The chapter ends with a promise of atonement, making right with God, so the foreign idols are crumbled like chalk, and all the faithful who were exiled are called home.

Isaiah 26

Woah, a chapter that goes some unexpected places.

A description of God’s City, walls made of salvation, the strongest stuff there is. Gates town open to all nations. To the dead.

A height metaphor is used to talk about the proud and pompous being made low and the humble lifted up, but not reversed, made straight, made even.

Isaiah is always this two edged sword, can’t damn without hope, no hope without contrasting fate of those who do not listen. It’s always a plea.

The contrast here is with the outcome of people’s trust in their own strength, which looks like it’s going to deliver but ultimately can’t. Amusingly it is compared to a woman writhing with birth pains who ultimately delivers a fart. What a great way to think about so much of the Ted talks etc, humanism has great goals, but only humans to execute them.

The birth metaphor extends to God raising the dead in him for his City, the ground giving them up. The City of Salvation is not tied to earthly life spans, its eternal forwards and backwards.

God is solid, God is real, God produces children for his labours, true justice, true rescue, lasting comfort.

In the meantime this promise “God will keep you in perfect peace if your mind is set on him”

Isaiah 25

A description of heaven. It is a picture of abundance, of justice, of comfort, where God dries every tear. 

The ruined cities are contrasted to God’s feast on a mountain. 

Death is swallowed up, absorbed, forever. So it is also a vision of the moment of victory on Calvary. 

I really love my church. It is a similar vision of feasting, justice and comfort.

I’ve been getting lousy about parish council, but it has clicked here.

Isaiah 24

I think we are mercifully getting to the end of the list of condemnations of countries in Israel’s region. 

This summarises how God’s judgement will work universally. It’s a great equaliser. It points to the kind of great tribulation still to come, mentioned in revelation and Jesus’ apocryphal statements.

Kings, the wealthy, even mysterious rulers of non earth worlds.. “fallen angels?” Will be bought low by God’s judgement.

There is a theme of no escape. It recognises that alcohol is an escape, and it says even the merriness of wine will be gone and drink will be bitter.

It is followed by a just world, a rule of God without oppression.

This vision of the proper importance and order of things should inform how I act now. I should speak truth to power, fight for justice and tell of God’s love.