Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, 9 September Edition

The Bible (at least, the canonical Bible according to Protestant tradition) contains 66 books, and Isaiah contains 66 chapters. Whether this has meaning beyond numerical coincidence, I leave the reader to decide; I myself see no particular significance. However, with chapter 66, I have officially run out of Isaiah.

This chapter begins with what we can't, and can, do to please God:
Thus says the Lord,
"Heaven is My throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where then is the house you could build for Me?
And where is a place where I may rest?
For My hand has made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being," declares the Lord.
"But to this one will I look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."
For the humble and contrite, the future looks good:
"Before she travailed, she brought forth;
Before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy.
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?
Can a land be born in one day?
Can a nation be brought forth all at once?
As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.
Shall I bring to the point of birth, and not give delivery?" says the Lord.
"Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?" says your God.
"Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice with her, all you who love her;
Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her,
That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts,
That you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom."
For thus says the Lord, "Behold, I extend peace to her like a river,
And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
And you shall be nursed, you shall be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees.
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
Then you shall see this, and your heart shall be glad,
And your bones will flourish like the new grass;
And the hand of the Lord shall be made known to His servants,
But He shall be indignant toward His enemies.
For the disobedient, not so much:
"Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens,
Following one in the center,
Who eat swine's flesh, detestable things, and mice,
Shall come to an end altogether," declares the Lord.

"For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. And I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem," says the Lord, "just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites," says the Lord.

"For just as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I make will endure before Me," declares the Lord,
"So your offspring and your name will endure.
And it shall be from new moon to new moon
And from sabbath to sabbath,
All mankind will come to bow before Me," says the Lord.
"Then they shall go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm shall not die,
And their fire shall not be quenched;
And they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind."
I am thinking that Isaiah must have known that he was recording a "hard saying" of the Lord, because he interrupts the flow frequently to insert a "declares the Lord" or a "says the Lord." He wants it to be clear to his hearer / reader that he's acting properly as a prophet: passing along what God has directly told him to pass along. Significantly, the gruesome image from that last verse of Isaiah (For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched) shows up repeatedly in another "hard saying:" the words of Jesus, quoted at the end of Mark chapter 9.

Parenthetically: it's always seemed odd to me that Bible-skimming worldlings are usually convinced that God's a benevolent old grandpa, and Jesus a soft cupcake, and that their words of cuddly, fuzzy love are twisted by mean old prophets and apostles into the basis of horrible, horrible "organized religion." I find that the opposite is more nearly true. No one talks more, and more severely, about Hell and judgement than Jesus does. When I read the writings of the prophets and apostles (Paul comes particularly to mind here), it seems to me that they're always looking for a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. They're faithful; they do their jobs; but they often sound as though they'd like to find some way to wiggle out. And if that's the case, I certainly sympathize.

Starting next week, I contemplate changing testaments and taking up the book of James. And, as always, more Words for Wednesday can be found by clicking here.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Good post and so true about God! God isn't a schizo, who is suddenly now a different person after we turn the pages from Malachi to Matthew! I get disgusted by the passive-looking Jesus, with his silky white dress and "sacred" heart and wimpy goatee. Hello?! He's got hair as white as snow, a gold band around his chest, brazen feet, and a fiery sword coming out of his mouth!! lol Scares me, too, but at least I'm not in la-la land!

I love Isaiah. Thanks for a great overview.