Hope for the hopeless. (Isaiah 23-28)

November 15, 2010

Good reader (if I’m a blogger can I call you a blogee? I hope so) I do apologise for yesterday’s lack of post. Various family and churchy things made for a packed day and body things made for much tiredness at the end of it. But this is not the first time I’ve skipped a day so I suspect it won’t be the last. For fear of the apologies become a tiresome feature of this blog I’ve decided that this will be the last one. If there’s another day’s absence then assume that I have a good reason and that I’m heartily sorry. Of course there are so many of you who hand on my every word that I shall try to make these occurrences rare as can be…

So, Isaiah 23-28. Primarily it leaves with a furrowed brow an expression of “whaaa?”. Whoever wrote this Bible reading plan in their wisdom decided that unlike other days when I read two-three chapters, when reading Isaiah I should take on six at a time. A little too much I feel, especially as I struggle to understand one chapter at a time with this one! But I’ll have a go…

Chapter 23 ends a long sections of oracles of destruction of pretty much everyone; Moab, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Ethiopia and Jerusalem too (it’s very equal opps that way), with an Oracle concerning Tyre, which will be made like a “forgotten prostitute”, apparently.

Then we get the big one; the impending judgement of all the earth, which God is “about to lay waste to”, this desolation is very equally distributed too;

2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
   as with the slave, so with his master;
   as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
   as with the lender, so with the borrower;
   as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
3 The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
   for the Lord has spoken this word. (24:2-3)

Well fair enough, at least it’s all even handed…but hang on…what’s this in chapters 25-27?  Judah’s song of victory? Israel’s redemption? Suddenly the wrath seems to not so evenly distributed…

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
   he sets up victory
   like walls and bulwarks.
2 Open the gates,
   so that the righteous nation that keeps faith
   may enter in. (26:1-2)

12 On that day the Lord will thresh from the channel of the Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you will be gathered one by one, O people of Israel. 13And on that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (27:12)

So is it that God’s destruction was just to bring down the proud, rich nations? Or did he bring everyone low but it was only Judah and Israel that were humbled (26:16), only they that continually trusted in him? I don’t really understand…

But of course I don’t. I’ve never lived under occupation, or in a region where my land and family are constantly threatened by surrounding empires. I’ve never lived in fear of losing my livelihood, or even my life. These aren’t words of some puffed up mega-state, they words offering hope to a people who have a history of conquest or oppression by Egypt, Assyria and later Babylon. What sounds to me like a rant basically telling other states that they all had it coming, is actually an offering of hope for a vulnerable people. Of course I don’t understand!

Some parts of Isaiah are inspiring and uplifting, beautifully evocative and poetic. In fact if you read as poetry it’s all pretty stunning even the “you’re all going to die a horrible death because you’ve been very naughty” parts. But I can’t connect so much with those parts on a non-literary level because they’re not written for me in my warm house with my laptop, tv, wardrobe full of clothes and cupboard full of food. It’s hard for people who’ve lived lives like mine to understand the anger and need for divine justice that is expressed in Isaiah 23-28, though that need is still felt by many throughout the world today. Perhaps, thoough, reading these chapters can help me sympathise and through their poetry give me a taste of the longing for God’s intervention that I will (thankfully) probably never understand.

And it is the duty of us who don’t suffering in these ways to try to understand, because if we don’t how are different to Egypt and Assyria?

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