Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Word for Wednesday: September 2 Edition

The finish line in Isaiah approaches.

Right now, my little arrow-shaped Post-It™ bookmark is at chapter 65. That chapter has a form that is typical of the others in this book: the first part (verses 1 - 16) details how God's people have grieved and angered Him with their disobedience and their unbelief, and how they have forgotten Him. The latter part (verses 17 - 24) talks about how God, despite the misdeeds of His people, is still going to make things come out right, ultimately; verse 17, for example, starts out: For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth ... In my usual greed for comfort, I started out thinking to quote that make-everything-OK passage; good news is scarce these days. Instead, though, I'd like to have a look at an intermediate passage (verses 8 - 12), that I think I might not understand very well:
Thus says the Lord,
"As the new wine is found in the cluster,
And one says, 'Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,'
So I will act on behalf of My servants
In order not to destroy all of them.
And I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,
And an heir of My mountains from Judah,
Even My chosen ones will inherit it,
And My servants shall dwell there.
And Sharon shall be a pasture land for flocks,
And the valley of Achor a resting place for herds,
For My people who seek Me.
But you who forsake the Lord,
Who forget My holy mountain,
Who set a table for Fortune,
And who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny,
I will destine you for the sword,
And all of you shall bow down for the slaughter.
Because I called, but you did not answer;
I spoke, but you did not hear.
And you did evil in My sight,
And chose that in which I did not delight.
Now, the "big picture" here is pretty plain, I think; a sharp contrast between the prospects of those who really are God's people (inheritance, a peaceful dwelling place with good pasture) and the prospects of the disobedient (death by the sword). And when God says here, through the prophet, that He has brought forth offspring from Jacob (which I take to mean Jacob's descendants in general) and an heir from Judah (which is becoming much more specific), I take it we're talking about Jesus. In that one verse (verse 9, that is), we have "offspring," which is plural in form, "an heir," which is singular, and then "My chosen ones," which is plural again; I could conjecture that this mixing of forms indicates the close identification of Jesus Himself (singular) with the church, His body on earth (plural), but that's conjecture and could easily be far off-line. This might not be about the church at all; it may refer specifically to the Jewish people. I'll set that aside to cook over low heat for a while. Next time I read this passage, maybe it will say something to me that I understand more clearly.

Which brings me to another point -- a small one, I think -- that I also don't "get." And that's the "new wine" business at the beginning of the passage above. It may be that my problem is simply unfamiliarity with the ancient world's ways of handling wine (in fact, I'm pretty vague about wine even in today's context). The text says the "new wine is found in the cluster." Now, a "cluster" would be a bunch of grapes, right? And I would think that the only liquid found "in the cluster" would then be the juice of the grapes, unfermented, and so that would be the "new" wine. So far, so good. Why, then, would "one" need to urge someone else not to "destroy" it? I mean, I can only think of two things to do with grape juice: drink it as is, or make wine out of it, and neither one of those involves destruction. I don't think my failure to understand this really hinders me from understanding the main ideas of the passage; but the illustration is there for a reason, and I'll bet my understanding of the passage would be richer, somehow, if I could correctly grasp that "new wine" picture. Maybe that, too, is something that will come with time.

Meanwhile, click here for more Words for Wednesday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Heavy-duty stuff this week, Jim, and my understanding of it is probably no better than yours.

One thought on the church vs. the Jewish people: As Gentiles, the church is grafted in, that we all become sons of Abraham by faith. Perhaps it applies to all.

As for the new wine, 'tender reeds' popped into my head. God nurtures new Christians, building their faith in ways that 'old hands' don't see, much the way babies need more hands-on care than adults. Many times, though, I've seen new Christians stomped into the ground by various churches.

Don't know if this is what God had in mind in this passage, but it's all I've got, my friend.