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Introducing this Meditation on Isaiah
Click here for thoughts on how to read this long post
How to Read this (lengthy) Meditation
When I began this as a personal journal, I started with Isaiah 30. After that, I skipped backward and forward in the book of Isaiah. This meditation on Isaiah is not written with a beginning, middle, and end. It instead says something like, “Oh, not only back there in chapter 30, but here in chapter 60 is similar good news, worded a bit differently, another facet on the diamond.”
Each facet stands on its own and can be read in any sequence. If you end up liking your first dip, you may want to skip around. I did.
Click here for what drew me to Isaiah 30
The Bottom Line on Healing and Deliverance
If you want the healing and deliverance that all the gospels offer, you must relax, let go of your efforts, and trust:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength"
No human effort is mentioned in these lines:
- repentance simply means to think differently; we do that all the time, only in this case we’ve been thinking a wrong way and are told to think a right way
- rest is easier the farther you’ve fallen, the more worn out you are
- quietness, again, comes easiest to those who have run out of energy or answers
- trust requires something of someone else, not of ourselves…having a hard time trusting? we all do, but most often because were are trying to trust an unreliable person or have not exhausted our self confidence
Trust is the way we lean on someone else’s activity. As Paul the apostle said, “Sin [i.e. missing a target] will no longer be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6). You work for the law, you trust for grace. The law exacts more than you can afford, grace gives more than you deserve.
Much can be said for the difference between following rules and trusting for grace. In Isaiah both modes are presented in bulk. Only those that urge us to receive grace are included in this meditation. Many of us—myself included—have a conscience that readily supplies us with laws and rules to follow, as well as with ensuing guilt. The good news is good because it frees us from that, and it is news because, on top of Jesus’ birth being news, any reminder of grace comes to our old minds as news.
Click here for a note on the violence of God, if that bothers you
A Note on the Violence of God in Isaiah
If one assumes scriptures (the “Bible”) are inspired by God, the question arises: does every statement in the scriptures provide an equally accurate description of the nature and character of God? While religious fundamentalists are taught to say “yes,” that approach is fraught with problems (both moral and intellectual).
My gold standard for inspiration is that the closer a description of God corresponds to the life and character of Jesus as described in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the more clearly inspired it is. If you would like a scripture to support this view, consider the first four (glorious) verses of the Book of Hebrews.
God reveals himself as accurately as his mouthpieces allow. It was a big achievement to get humans to move from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice, let alone to imagine a son of God who would would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Consequently, there are passages that I skip over when quoting Isaiah, either because they don’t meet the gold standard or because they are off the theme of healing and deliverance.
Click here to understand how this post is formatted
Briefly on the Formatting of this Post
This post is formatted carefully to differentiate between Isaiah’s poetry and prose, as well as between my comments and my summaries of passages I’ve skipped over.
Parts of Isaiah are prose and parts are verse. Prose quotes are black typeface on white background in monospace typeface, left margin justified (as is with this sentence).
Verse is also black on white,
in monospace typeface,
but with indentations (as is this sentence)
—which on a small mobile device will
look better in a landscape orientation.
My comments are in golden boxes (inspired by golden passages in Isaiah).
Additional comments on off-topic passages occur in this note box.
When I omit passages in Isaiah, I represent the skipped part with “<snip>” (omitted passages are redundant or are irrelevant to the focus on healing and deliverance).
Although I do use chapter numbers to prevent this post from becoming one giant blob of inspired text, I do not use verse numbers (which, like chapter numbers, artificially break up the text).
Why the Book of Isaiah Means so Much to Me
The Egyptians, Assyrians, or Babylonians are not my enemy. And I am not an Israelite. But, like the Israelites, I drift away from God, allowing foreign desires and modern idols to replace God’s role in my life, with the consequent bondage, a slavery to behavior that I detest. Isaiah is filled with promises of and instructions for deliverance that I insist apply to me as they did to the original audience (~800 BC). If I sound old-fashioned or stuck in the past, so be it. I believe in the same God as Abraham (who showed up long before Isaiah) believed: “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not” (Romans 4).
Not only promises of deliverance, but promises of healing abound in Isaiah. The two cannot be fully separated in life, so that is fitting. (In Greek, the word for “save” is also used for “healing”: sozo.) Sickness easily demoralizes a person, and addiction easily leads to bad health. In John 5, Jesus tells the paralyzed man, whom he healed, to “sin no more, lest a greater ill befall you.”
Isaiah speaks to me allegorically. It promises deliverance and healing for me and my peers. When I began this meditation, I was drinking beer to offset depression (didn’t work). Part of the depression arose from recently diagnosed blood clots, and part from a friend slowly dying. Not just myself, but anyone with any number of hangups, nightmares, or sicknesses could benefit from the good news of Isaiah. For this reason, some have called Isaiah the fifth gospel.
What follows are representative passages in Isaiah that speak most clearly to me, and by “speak,” I mean they fill me with hope, engaging my better self. While the proclamations of God’s power are important (otherwise God would be impotent), the revelations of God’s kindness and care count most in the following.
<snip>Themes that are repeated often in Isaiah: God’s people have forgotten their maker, they are suffering physically, socially, and financially as a result; they are, in short, hurting themselves terribly. The chapter doesn’t bear fully on the theme of deliverance and healing, but its anti-sacrificial tenor is worth relegating to a footnote.</snip>[Sacrifice]
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
So far, this hasn’t happened internationally—what country has done it? But it can happen in myself today and every day, that I can ask God to adjudicate between my conflicting desires. Peace comes not by fighting but by quietness and trust, plowing and pruning, cultivating and nurturing life-giving desires.
<snip>Judgment against the people followed by a divine stand for the poor that is worth including in the notes.</snip>[The Poor]
Isaiah 4 ∅
<snip>This short chapter continues the judgment from the previous chapter.</snip>
<snip>This chapter receives attention because it is so
interesting, linking greed to the Gospel of Matthew and self-destruction to our own behavior. It begins with a parable of a vineyard that bears little fruit. The theme of a vineyard reoccurs in Jesus’ vineyard parables in Matthew 21
. In the first of Jesus’ parable, one of two sons fails to work in the father’s vineyard; in the second parable, the tenants of the vineyard attempt to steal the vineyard from its owner. It would be the second parable that bears a likeness to this one in Isaiah: the owner of the vineyard looks for justice and cannot find it, losing his own son in the process.</snip>
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land.
God “looked for justice” but found the opposite. If we are not aiding the poor or the weak, we are oppressing them either through neglect or some kind of violence. In the parable, the vineyard was well built but, apparently, the rich kept building larger domiciles for themselves “till no space is left”—causing a poor yield of grapes, implying that both the grapes and the poor were driven out of the land.
After God has destroyed the vineyard and the stifling urban development, “Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture; lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich.” Here, as with every passage that attributes destruction to the Lord, the destruction is self-destruction. Sin is inaccuracy (“missing the target” in Greek) and heaps upon itself its own misery.
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
and champions at mixing drinks,
who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
but deny justice to the innocent.
The list of woes is toward those who get it wrong (miss the target)…who reverse values, who trust in themselves, who drink at the expense of the oppressed. Whenever we go down such a path, we will experience the wrath of God, which I generally take as the absence of God—not that God can ever be absent but that we can lose all sight and sound of him as a result of our self-delusions.
Interpreting “wrath” as the absence of God prevents us from seeing God as alternately healing and destructive. It also prevents us from seeing Jesus as the kinder person of the Trinity. What it means is that our species not only is violent at times but is capable of vanquishing God from human affairs—and that, my friends, is the wrath of God.
<snip>Classic passage: the calling of Isaiah.</snip>
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
This sounds as if God refuses to offer grace (“If I allowed them to understand, they would be fine…”). Some people interpret it as implying God’s frustration that his good news is rejected no matter how clearly it is delivered.The passage is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 13 and Paul in Acts 28, both times suggesting a deep frustration with the hardness of the listeners’ hearts. I like to tie this in with Isaiah 29 (“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”). Jesus quotes it in Matthew 15. Together the scriptures (Isaiah 6 & 29) suggest that it takes more than hearing and speaking to know God. It takes heart: desperation, humility, love, and trust.
<snip>Opening sets the stage for a battle between Judah and Israel.</snip>
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah is urging King Ahaz to trust the Lord to protect Judah from Israel, and then, like a meteor, the reference to a child whose name is Immanuel (which does mean “God with us”) flashes into the text, soon to be absorbed back into the discussion of ancient military history.The word translated “virgin” is hotly debated and need not mean virgin&em;although in the birth of Jesus it certainly applied to a virgin as Matthew and Luke make clear.
This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:
“Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
While not all conspiracy theories are false, all false conspiracies are only theories. Currently, many false conspiracies are being circulated, especially among evangelicals and consevative Christians for a number of reasons. Taking this passage to heart, we can turn our attention away from the conspiracy theories to the good news, here and now.
<snip>Including an interesting caution against consulting mediums and spiritists who first curse God and then despair when they look to the earth.</snip>
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
The messianic prophesy glances back in time (Zebulun, Naphtali, Midian’s defeat), to look forward hundreds of years to what I accept as the fulfillment of the prophesy: “Leaving Nazareth, [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah…” (Matthew 4).
Isaiah 10 ∅
<snip>The good news here is of this type: I will destroy those whom I allowed to destroy you. </snip>
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
Whatever else this passage might describe, it clearly fits Jesus, descendent of Jesse and the advocate of the needy and poor of whom he said that they shall inherit the earth. Jesus saw with his spirit and heard what his father told him.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
After (and only after) striking the earth with the rod of his mouth—something that has not happened yet—nature herself shall be corrected. Everything will be informed and enlightened by the knowledge of the Lord. Behold, a new heaven and a new earth will appear.
<snip>Lots of local references follow, including Assyria, Egypt, Cush, Elam, Babylonia, Hamath, and Ephraim.</snip>
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
Joy will remain a guidepost that we are on the right path, whether or not our circumstances are happy. The greater circumstance (i.e. “thing encircling us”) is the God of love. The water and the wells anticipate Jesus’ promise of rivers of living water
welling up within believers.
Isaiah 13 ∅
They will make captives of their captors
and rule over their oppressors.
<snip>Deliverance may not mean eliminating the enemy, whether an a addiction or a deep sorrow; it means no longer taking orders from the enemy and perhaps getting some good out of the enemy. As illustrated in The Great Divorce, the lizard of lust that was destroying the man’s life was conquered and became a stallion of strength and virility upon which he could ride.</snip>
What follows in the chapter is a phantasmagoric description of the newly dead oppressors meeting kings and other fallen leaders in the underworld, being greeted with hostility and mockery (“You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us”). More importantly, the next the passage refers to the morning star falling from heaven, a locus classicus for the Christian doctrine that satan was an angel who was proud (“I will make myself like the Most High”) and so was cast out of heaven (“But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit”). Later this defeated being is referred to as a man (“Is this the man who shook the earth”). Whether an earthly ruler, a fallen angel, a disease, or a moral weakness, the end of the thing is utter defeat: “you are cast out of your tomb”—the last shred of dignity gone.
Isaiah 15-24 ∅
You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Lord, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.
Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.
They are now dead, they live no more;
their spirits do not rise.
The mind is at peace (one sort of oppression removed) and “other lords” are dead (political oppression removed). The mind can be at peace today. The lords might take centuries.
<snip>Giving birth to wind signifies real human failure.</snip>
But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.
We end with the resurrection of the dead… long after the mind is at peace and the lords are deposed, a new world begins.
Isaiah 27 ∅
<snip>Cutting out a diatribe against priests and prophets who “stagger from beer / and are befuddled with wine,” and who teach as if teaching little children. The Hebrew imitates the cadence and repetition of such lessons:
So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured.</snip>
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
Am I stricken with panic? Then I am not
relying on Jesus, who refers to himself as the cornerstone (Matthew 21:42
<snip>Strange and interesting: ‘For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed.” Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I don’t know how to read.”'</snip>
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
I’m always in danger of this. Jesus quotes it in Matthew 15. See my golden note
in Isaiah 6 for how it takes more than hearing and speaking to know God.
<snip>Echoed by Paul in 1 Corinthians is “Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”</snip>
In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.
Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord;
the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For these are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction.
They say to the seers,
“See no more visions!”
and to the prophets,
“Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!”
The way of the flesh. False prophets, delusions, and addictions alike “Tell us pleasant things” and “prophesy illusions”: Just one more of this or that/him or her and you will be that much happier…
Therefore this is what the Holy One of Israel says:
“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,
this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant.
It will break in pieces like pottery,
shattered so mercilessly
that among its pieces not a fragment will be found
for taking coals from a hearth
or scooping water out of a cistern.”
When we rely on shortcuts, they cut us short; when we trust in pleasure, it pains us; when we turn to lust, it burns us. The very thing one chooses for an easy escape becomes the means of hard punishment. Period.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
These are the golden verses!
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Again, whatever the fleshly solution, whether fleeing on a horse or acting to escape by sheer willpower…the solution creates a new problem, so that one ends up with two problems instead of one. The first problem is the enemy. The second problem is engaging with the enemy instead of engaging with our deliverer. If we fight independently, we fight alone.
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
Grace, compassion, fighting for the victim—it’s all here if one will be quiet and trusting.
People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
These verses smack of redemption and the presence of our teacher, the Holy Spirit, who really will guide us, who speaks in the voice of Jesus, our Shepherd, whose voice we know and follow. This is, as Watchman Nee said, the normal Christian life, the Christ-in-us life (and not the “average” Christian life).
Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”
We can serve only one master and when we see what our idols do for us, we will cast them down and away. Anything less than Christ that I’ve given authority to, whether a rule, a beverage, or a person—anything less is just a modern idol, more-less. More, because it gains my trust and devotion. Less, because we live in an atheistic age, with the result that while we may doubt God’s presence, we likewise doubt the existence of little gods inhabiting various objects. What were idols to the Israelites are diversions to us. They anesthetize our quiet desperation (to use Thoreau’s handy phrase).
In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted [allowed].
The enemy/idol/addiction is slaughtered and the siege-towers or strongholds of the enemy fall. Things lighten up. As the moon shines brightly and the sun even brighter, healing comes.
And you will sing
as on the night you celebrate a holy festival;
your hearts will rejoice
as when people playing pipes go up
to the mountain of the Lord,
to the Rock of Israel.
The key word is “as”—a person set free does not need a holy festival, pipes, or even a mountain, for these are all symbols of the reality keeping the person free.
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.
But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God;
their horses are flesh and not spirit.
Another opposition of our fleshly efforts versus the spirit of the Holy One of Israel.
“Assyria will fall by no human sword;
a sword, not of mortals, will devour them.
Their stronghold will fall because of terror;
at the sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic,”
declares the Lord—
When we allow God to fight the battle (which Jesus won), the odds are reversed, and the enemy, whatever it is, can only tremble in response, for we are more than conquerors…all this if we adhere to repentance (changing our thinking) and resting, being quiet and trusting.
Watchman Nee shared this analogy:
The object of temptation is always to get us to do something. During the first three months of the Japanese war in China we lost a great many tanks and so were unable to deal with the Japanese tanks, until the following scheme was devised. A single shot would be fired at a Japanese tank by one of our snipers in ambush. After a considerable lapse of time the first shot would be followed by a second; then, after a further silence, by another shot; until the tank driver, eager to locate the source of the disturbance, would pop his head out to look around. The next shot, carefully aimed, would put an end to him.
As long as he remained under cover he was perfectly safe. The whole scheme was devised to bring him out into the open. In the same way, Satan’s temptations are not primarily to make us do something particularly sinful, but merely to cause us to act in our own energy; and as soon as we step out of our hiding-place to do something on that basis, he has gained the victory over us. If we do not move, if we do not come out of the cover of Christ into the realm of the flesh, then he cannot get us. (from The Normal Christian Life)
Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will listen.
The fearful heart will know and understand,
and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.
Healing miracles—physical and emotional—follow quietness and trust.
But the noble make noble plans,
and by noble deeds they stand.
I like the accidental internal rhyme in English (“plans”-“stand”) that reinforces the Hebrew parallelism. The liberated can act and plan, with generosity.
The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
People can be “complacent” and “secure” in their feelings (referred to in omitted verses), but feelings alone cannot be trusted. When the Lord is trusted with noble plans and noble deeds, then real “peace,” “quietness,” and “confidence” come. What always surprises me in Isaiah is the emphasis on quietness and trust, quite the contrast to my reactive stressful efforts.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
Rest, rest, rest. Come to me all you who labor, and I will give you ….
Then an abundance of spoils will be divided
and even the lame will carry off plunder.
No one living in Zion will say, “I am ill”;
and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.
Even the wounded and weakest of us will “carry off plunder” (healing, deliverance, and happiness). No one will say “I am ill”! All this was declared 800 years before the Jesus came, worked miracles, and sent the Holy Spirit to continue his work. So much more shall we carry off plunder from the enemy and declare our health!
Things don’t look good for Edom—wildlife takes over and thrives.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
I see no reason to think the blind, deaf, lame and mute are figurative, just as I see no reason to discourage those who are emotionally crippled from holding to this promise. The Way of Holiness is also the Way of Wholeness. Popular opinion nonwithstanding, there’s no account of a person who seeks healing from Jesus being refused. Chastised for unbelief, yes. Refused, no. Jesus “drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick” (Matthew 8:16
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Currently, this meditation on Isaiah quotes 20 passages that reference joy. In my life, joy is in scarce supply. It’s absence is telling. It tells me I’ve not entered into the full salvation my God has willed me.
The story of Hezekiah is interesting, glorious, and perplexing. To keep my focus, I’m passing on these worthy chapters. But I cannot ignore Hezekiah’s healing, which among other things reminds us that when we are given a terminal diagnosis, that may be a test and may be postponed by over a decade:
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
Close to his heart! Know it. Just as parents need to know He will gently lead them as they raise children. This in turn will make them more gentle with their children.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who [wait on] the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
The Hebrew phrase means to wait with expectation. Expect to run in the body. Expect to run into the presence of Jesus as you wait in faith.
All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
Sin and sickness rage against us. We will no longer be disgraced; rather they will be disgraced. In Romans 8, Paul starts out saying there’s no condemnation for those in Christ. Not only that, but he then says “Christ condemned sin in the flesh.” Who’s the prisoner now?
I love that we will look for our enemies and not be able to find them, because some days that’s all I see: depression, sickness, emptiness. I’ve been there in the past, looking for enemies and not finding them (“how could I have ever yielded to addiction?” I have puzzled to myself).
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
little Israel, do not fear,
for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
He is here to help, figured as a parent holding his child’s hand. The seemingly disparaging “worm” was, then, an expression of helplessness. We feel helpless so often. Our first instinct is denial. May our better instinct be to respond to helplessness with a cry for help. Instead of simply seeking to be stronger, seek to be stronger faith. We are, after all, created to be reliant. There is no wholeness otherwise. There is only the illusion of wholeness, an illusion Jesus never embraced. “I do nothing of my own accord.”
See, I will make you into a threshing sledge,
new and sharp, with many teeth.
You will thresh the mountains and crush them,
and reduce the hills to chaff.
You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up,
and a gale will blow them away.
But you will rejoice in the Lord
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.
Instead of being threshed or thrashed by sin and sickness, we become threshing machines. Christ in us annihilates addictions, compulsions, laziness, doubt, and isolation.
The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Anticipating Jesus’ declaration, this passage announces abundant life. We are thirsty and cannot find water; then come “rivers,” “springs,” “pools of water”—plus more: trees for shade and also for food, so much that we know with certainty that the Lord “has done this.”
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
is prophesied here, or at least that’s how Matthew and I take it. Matthew quotes the passage
: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”
So comforting: not only will he bring forth justice, but he will do it gently to the weak and weary. Those who struggle (bruised or bent reeds, smoldering candles) will be protected by him and will not be crushed by the wheels of justice.
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
The prophet continues to reveal what God (“the Lord”) says about his servant (Jesus). The relationship is intimate and comforting (hold your hand), the mission is global (light for the Gentiles), the ministry is liberating (healing the blind, freeing the prisoners), and is unprecedented (new things I declare; before they spring into being, I announce them to you).
It is dizzying to know this from both Isaiah and the gospels and yet to feel as if I’ve only gotten a glimpse.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.
The role of the people being delivered is mostly singing and praise—not trying, striving, straining, and groaning. Deliverance is grace, it’s a gift. Sing. Praise. (Praise is not saying the words “I praise you…” although that’s not a bad thing… praise is speaking about the attributes of the Lord… his love, mercy, wisdom, and kindness.)
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
Who is not on an unfamiliar path? Who doesn’t need more light and a smoother route?
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Isaiah repeats this redemption theme so often that, because we can tune things out, we must never allow ourselves to become anesthetized. It is by constant faith that our redemption occurs, and that faith depends on constant reminders and revelations, whether through the scriptures or otherwise (meditating, singing, fellowshipping).
The redemption has been done (“have redeemed”)—will we accept it or insist on waiting for it to come? Put differently, will we live by faith or longing?
Summoned by name? Initially, that’s Jacob or Israel (individual names applied to a people) but other passages in the scriptures suggest we are called by our individual names and even given new names. All the evangelical talk about a “personal relationship with God”—whatever it may leave out—is on firm ground here. To think God doesn’t know us and call us by name is to think with disbelief.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
While the redemption has been accomplished (the life of God has been offered in exchange for the life of humans), it has not been worked out in time and space, with the result that floods and fires “will” come.
Jim Caldwell, who led our 1970s prayer meetings, was about as much like Jesus (or maybe Peter or John) as anyone I’ve known. Before that time, he had some kind of nervous breakdown, and it was this passage that put him into a good place for the rest of his life (I know, I visited him when he was getting in his 80s.)
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Reading this allegorically (and, really, who wants God to literally sacrifice someone else for our sake?)…just as Israel trusted in Egypt, the very things we falsely trusted in—the crutches, vices, and distractions—will be demolished so we can be saved.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
I don’t understand the historical meaning of this theme, which occurs a few times, about missing sons and daughters. Certainly today the promise would comfort parents of children who had disappeared by choice or by the will of another (and this world has plenty of them).
For people like myself who are fortunate to be close to their children, as well as for those who have no children, one’s life works, such as writing books or composing songs, starting helpful organizations or having some role in the kingdom of God…these too are our children, these plans, efforts, and ambitions. They are often put aside for lesser things. And they will be restored as we stand by our redemption.
Taking “children” as metaphors links this scripture to one of the happiest promises from Joel (2:25): “And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.”
I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?”
Another reminder that the idols and gods did not rescue the people…no doubt the reminders would not be stated so often if it were not easy to forget the invisible being who lives outside of time and space… and even after the incarnation, we need the reminder that it is the Spirit, not things, circumstances, or people who hold the answers.
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Who isn’t tempted to live in the past? Many with guilt. Some with pride or self-satisfaction. Either way, that’s not the way. Forget the past and see the new thing.
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
The new thing is a surplus of provision—water, grace, health, deliverance…whatever makes us into whole people. The phrase “collateral damage” is turned on its head here. The collateral benefit is that even the animals prosper as the people do.
“I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.
In the middle of chiding his people for going astray (again) comes this interesting statement that the forgiveness is for God’s sake, which I’m going to take to mean that it goes against God’s nature to harbor unforgiveness, just as it goes against God’s temperament to focus on people’s sins. God is all about forgiving and forgetting!
But now listen, Jacob, my servant,
Israel, whom I have chosen.
This is what the Lord says—
he who made you, who formed you in the womb,
and who will help you:
Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant,
Jeshurun [upright one], whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’;
others will call themselves by the name of Jacob;
still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and will take the name Israel.
And so in this age of identity politics and intersectionality, however important they may be, the better, higher identification is the declaration that “I belong to the Lord.” We see that this declaration transcends the historical mire of class and race differences. It is illustrated by abolitionists and guardians of minority rights who share the identity (I belong to the Lord). This list includes people as culturally disparate as Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the current Pope Francis.
I have made you, you are my servant;
Israel, I will not forget you.
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you.
Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this;
shout aloud, you earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel.
This passage is preceded by declarations from the Lord that “apart from me there is no God” followed by a tirade against idols and those who make idols, those who, from the same tree, build a fire for cooking a meal and an idol to worship, not realizing that they are imagining, not experiencing a divine thing. By contrast, the real God makes us, purifying us as the sun evaporates a morning fog.
Humans feel compelled to do something. Some make ancient or modern idols out of nature, while others learn to celebrate in harmony with nature the fact that they are made by God, not makers of gods:
Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
are deliverance and strength.’”
All who have raged against him
will come to him and be put to shame.
This chapter, emphasizing as it does the Lord’s military power, doesn’t ignite my imagination with promises of deliverance, even though deliverance for his people is the outcome of that military power. But the chapter is probably important in that it establishes the sovereignty of God, a prerequisite to trusting him. More than that, it provides language that, in the New Testament, declares the supremacy of the Deliverer:
In Romans 14, Paul quotes the lines about every knee and every tongue in order to emphasize the grace of God in the following way. Some Christians regard religious holidays and rites, whereas others do not; some have (overly) sensitive consciences, whereas others do not. Both parties, apparently, were judging and condemning the other. Whenever we judge someone, we are taking on the role of divine judge, a role we simply do not possess and cannot carry out, knowing so little either about another person’s history or heart. When we remember we will all bow before God, that “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God,” then we will “stop passing judgment on one another.”
In Philippians 2, Paul echoes the passage in Isaiah again, with pizzazz. Jesus, after dying and rising, has been exalted and been given a name that is above every name, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Rarely in my life do I think of names as being hierarchic. But here we have a name above all names: Jesus (Deliverer) is above cancer, addiction, depression, and any other condition whose name strikes us with fear. This exaltation of Jesus, who shares his name with us (his believers are, after all, part of his body), brings glory to God the Father. Such glory—a state of radiance and celebration—is beyond my imagination, even if that is what I’ve looked for all my life.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
A promise I couldn’t appreciate earlier in life. And “carry”…as in carry an elderly person reaching a second childhood?
Isaiah 47 ∅
Isaiah 48 ∅
What a golden chapter, in its entirety: pure redemption.
Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”
The islands suggest the global influence of the servant of God (yes, the Jewish nation, but significantly greater, Jesus).
And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
This is what the Lord says—
the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
In the end, every knee will bow to Jesus.
This is what the Lord says:
“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
and to reassign its desolate inheritances,
to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
“They will feed beside the roads
and find pasture on every barren hill.
They will neither hunger nor thirst,
nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.
I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.
See, they will come from afar—
some from the north, some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan.”
Following the declarations of redemption—both physical and spiritual—comes this nice poetic spot: north, west, we expect “south” but instead get a city from Egypt that provides a soothing sound as well as the specificity of an Egyptian memory.
Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
It would be hard, even if it were bad hermeneutics, to avoid associating the palm of the hands with the wounds from the crucifiction, sealing the commitment of God to humanity.
Your children hasten back,
and those who laid you waste depart from you.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
all your children gather and come to you.
As surely as I live,” declares the Lord,
“you will wear them all as ornaments;
you will put them on, like a bride.
“Though you were ruined and made desolate
and your land laid waste,
now you will be too small for your people,
and those who devoured you will be far away.
The children born during your bereavement
will yet say in your hearing,
‘This place is too small for us;
give us more space to live in.’
Then you will say in your heart,
‘Who bore me these?
I was bereaved and barren;
I was exiled and rejected.
Who brought these up?
I was left all alone,
but these—where have they come from?’”
We may be unaware of our offspring who will be restored to us, whether literal children or lifetime efforts and goals that seem to have disappeared and gotten lost along the way.
This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I will beckon to the nations,
I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms
and carry your daughters on their hips.
Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Can plunder be taken from warriors,
or captives be rescued from the fierce[c]?
But this is what the Lord says:
“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,
and plunder retrieved from the fierce;
I will contend with those who contend with you,
and your children I will save.
I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh;
they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.
Then all mankind will know
that I, the Lord, am your Savior,
your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Even the lame shall carry away plunder
. Kings and queens will serve us, not because of who we are but because of who lives in us. And, finally, evil will destroy itself (“on their own blood”), as a result of what it is.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
We recall the scourging of Jesus here, as well as an anticipation of Luke 9, where Jesus “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (KJV)
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
Moving from the suffering servant to the ones in darkness, the promise is that trust in the character of the Lord will guide them. This anticipates Jesus statement in John 9, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
and I blessed him and made him many.
Since neither myself nor many of my readers are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, this opening is included mostly for the poetry, especially the rock…cut and quarry…hewn.
The Lord will surely comfort Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
Standard good news, and who doesn’t live in a desert emotionally too much of the time? I hope to learn genuine thanksgiving and pleasing singing.
“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations.
My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.
The islands will look to me
and wait in hope for my arm.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment
and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
my righteousness will never fail.
In the parlance of 1950s burger shops, we have “the works” here: no longer limited to Abraham’s biological offspring, justice will go to the nations while islands—a symbol of unknown cultures—will see the Lord and wait for his arm…and then then promised end of the universe, yet his salvation will last forever.
“Hear me, you who know what is right,
you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
or be terrified by their insults.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
my salvation through all generations.”
We hear these lines echoed by Jesus, don’t we, when he admonished us to seek the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, which are permanent, unlike corruptible textiles, no matter how fine?
Those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
And so begins another promise of deliverance.
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretches out the heavens
and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction?
For where is the wrath of the oppressor?
The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;
they will not die in their dungeon,
nor will they lack bread.
Promised is deliverance from human oppressors, which much of the world needs, while some of us need deliverance from the intangible emotions that both guide these oppressors and also oppress us mentally and emotionally. There’s more than one way to be a captive, but no matter the kind, the Lord promises to deliver us. What, then, when deliverance doesn’t appear? Read on…
Rise up, Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
the goblet that makes people stagger.
Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
made drunk, but not with wine.
This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.
I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
who said to you,
‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’
And you made your back like the ground,
like a street to be walked on.”
While God is powerful, the people do not experience his help. Even their children do not help them (an omitted passage). They are drunk and staggering, not on wine but on the wrath of God, that is, on the the absence of God
. Whether God is truly absent (might be an impossibility) or apparently absent, the promise is that we will drink from that cup no longer
Awake, awake, Zion,
clothe yourself with strength!
Put on your garments of splendor,
Jerusalem, the holy city.
The uncircumcised and defiled
will not enter you again.
Shake off your dust;
rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
Daughter Zion, now a captive.
Renewal requires knowing one’s identity and one’s condition. To ignore identity results in isolation and despair. To ignore one’s condition results in apathy and inertia. The identity is strength, splendor, and holiness. That’s what we are, who we are. To actually think of ourselves that way will change our behavior. But if we are “now a captive,” we must acknowledge that condition, lest we sink into denial, living a split life (in theory, I’m doing great, in practice, terribly). Let the condition anger you so much that you shake off your dust, rise up, and sit enthroned.
For this is what the Lord says:
“You were sold for nothing,
and without money you will be redeemed.”
Being sold for nothing is the same as “stolen.” Just as sin, sickness, and addiction have stolen us, so without negotiating with them, God will bring us back. There are no deals to be made. The oppressors have stolen from—and therefore mock—the rightful owner of humanity (“you were bought at a price” the New Testament states). The agents that steal us are blaspheming God—all defeat is blasphemy. All sickness and all death are an insult to the redeemer’s existence. The addicted, sick, or dying person isn’t the one blaspheming. It’s the enemy that does that. The person is the victim that God longs to redeem. Death is the final enemy that Christ conquered but the will not be vanquished until the end of the present world.
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“At first my people went down to Egypt to live;
lately, Assyria has oppressed them.
“And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord.
“For my people have been taken away for nothing,
and those who rule them mock,”
declares the Lord.
“And all day long
my name is constantly blasphemed.
Therefore my people will know my name;
therefore in that day they will know
that it is I who foretold it.
Yes, it is I.”
The message of redemption breaks through, changing everything:
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The vision of redemption inspires one more servant song, prophesying the redemptive sufferings of Christ. It’s not that God needed to expunge his anger on Christ, but that humanity needed to expunge its anger on God. There is nothing to add to (or take away from) the words of the song:
See, my servant will act wisely[b];
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
[Isaiah chapter 53:]
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
The snipped verses do provide good news by describing God’s people as a wife who was both widowed and rejected but now “with everlasting kindness [the Lord] will have compassion on” his people.
“Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
“. . . no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.”
These are the passages to remember and to declare!
The entire chapter strikes me as a gentle call to a much better life. It’s one I memorized as a teenager.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”
This is what the Lord says:
and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”
There’s no getting around justice in Isaiah, including the reference to the Sabbath, which, like fasting
, was always intended to extend justice. It was made for man, not the reverse. When we honor the Sabbath, we take time to treat everyone especially well. Yes, our typically stressful selves, but also others, as Jesus did, going out of his way to heal on the Sabbath.
Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
Nearly any man would regret being a eunuch, but grace is here, not only for the literal eunuch but for all of us who have failed to produce the things we intended, the things that the locusts have devoured.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
One scandal of the gospel during acts of the apostles was the inclusion of gentiles to the kingdom. Here, as in Isaiah 49
and elsewhere, “all nations” are welcomed.
The chapter ends with harsh rebukes against “Israel’s watchmen.” The final lines, however, echo a dismal state of the modern mind so well that I let them have the last word:
“Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine!
Let us drink our fill of beer!
And tomorrow will be like today,
or even far better.”
The righteous perish,
and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
Not the kind of good news I look for, normally, this is something to knock one out of one’s socio-economic bubble of security: life can get so bad that death is a blessing. This is echoed in the Book of Revelation, when people will beg the mountains to fall on them in order to escape the terrors.
<snip>A gruesome description of what the dying righteous are escaping: indiscriminate sex, child sacrifice, and idolatry—followed by token works of righteousness that fail to make ammends.</snip>
But whoever takes refuge in me
will inherit the land
and possess my holy mountain.”
And it will be said:
“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
The Lord commands some agent to remove obstacles—is this the people removing their own obstacles, or some other agent/angel/ally? Either way, the spirit of the Messiah who will not break a bruised reed or smother a smoldering wick reveals itself again. Though high and holy, he is close to the broken hearted and lowly.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Contrary to what we usually think of when we think of fasting (time for me to be miserable and maybe get divine attention that way…), this chosen fast is to focus on others in need…it’s not our deprivation that brings the kingdom but our care for others. Extend grace to others and you are able to receive for yourself more grace….
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteous one will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
The passage moves quietly to the Sabbath without elaborating much, but one can guess that the same way fasting is misunderstood, so is the Sabbath. If we are not going our own way, we are going the way of the first commandment, loving God with all we have, and if we are not speaking idle words, we are going the way of the second commandment, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
According to what they have done,
so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
and retribution to his foes;
he will repay the islands their due.
This passage inspired Paul in Ephesians 6
, adapting the metaphor of God’s battle gear to the gear we are to wear, no longer for flesh and blood battles (“repay the islands their due”) but for spiritual ones: we now wear the breastplate and the helmet to defeat principalities and powers—whatever those are, and they are anything that robs us and others of life.
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
<snip>Many promises of God’s restoration of Israel, but I’m starting with…</snip>
“Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
and their kings will serve you.
Your gates will always stand open,
they will never be shut, day or night,
so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations—
their kings led in triumphal procession.
For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish;
it will be utterly ruined.
The things that oppressed us will serve us or disappear! The tables are turned, and we are no longer victims, but victors!
Instead of bronze I will bring you gold,
and silver in place of iron.
Instead of wood I will bring you bronze,
and iron in place of stones.
This substitution of a better material for a lesser material suggests that everything will be improved.
I will make peace your governor
and well-being your ruler.
Like Colossians 3, peace will be our umpire.
No longer will violence be heard in your land,
nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of sorrow will end.
Then all your people will be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendor.
The least of you will become a thousand,
the smallest a mighty nation.
I am the Lord;
in its time I will do this swiftly.”
God moves us from the physical to the spiritual, from a building of stone to walls of salvation and gates of praise, from the light of fire—or even the sun—to the light of his presence. Yay! Think on these things.
What follows is the passage Jesus read aloud in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4
), announcing himself as the messiah.
He stopped reading immediately before the phrase about proclaiming “the day of vengeance for our God.” I am confident he omitted the phrase because he knew his audience already misunderstood and obsessed on the vengeance of God. He insisted on emphasizing the grace and mercy of our Father. The omission may have infuriated some of his audience who had a penchant for vengeance. What we know is that immediately after, Jesus said no prophet is accepted in his home town, and that moments later, the people who had adored Jesus attempted to throw him off the side of a nearby cliff. If he wasn’t going to preach vengeance, at least they could perform it!
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
There was nothing to snip from this chapter!
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
We have old names stored in our mind, perhaps more old names the older we get as a result of the accumulation of failures and unmet aspirations. So much the more, we need new names, a new identity, a better way of seeing ourselves, no longer defined by problems but by redemption and divine love.
They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After
These are new names for us as members of the body of Christ and as individuals…. Far from being ignored (which is how life can feel), we are the Redeemed of the Lord; I am Sought After!
<snip>Passages represent God as “our Father,” which is promising, but also as a conquerer spattered with his enemies’ blood.</snip>
He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
This salvation remains conditional, in that God’s people would “be true . . . and so he became their Savior.” Soon they weren’t and He wasn’t. A better picture is presented in Romans 5: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus reversed the conditions: because we were not true he became our Savior!
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
As it stands, this is beautiful. One more reminder that, unlike wooden idols, the living God actually does things, “acts on behalf of those….” For whom does he act? Those who “wait for him” (echoing “in quietness and trust is your strength”).
Paul modifies the passage, which is elegant in the King James: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Cor. 2:8
). Now, not only is God uniquely active, but humans cannot begin to understand the blessings God has prepared for them. However, by spiritual revelation we can
hear and see: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Do I understand the Spirit? No. Does the Spirit understand me? Yes. And that’s a good start.
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
This passage refers to God sending salvation to Gentiles (like me)—shocking news for the the Jews who have officially been his people. What follows are descriptions of Jews who have forsaken the Lord, and these descriptions are followed by threats. But read as a prophecy of Jesus, the opening lines are purely good news… that God will seek us out even when we are not seeking God, and if we do not reject him, he will give himself to us.
“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.
Read the above passage aloud and hear all the good news. Of course it refers to heaven, to the new earth, which literally would be in the future. But by the time the passage refers to people dying at the age of one hundred, we are back on this earth, living under an extraordinary roof of God’s protection. The divine heart is here now, and the spirit who inspired it is with you now.
<snip>Skipping over the important “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.”</snip>
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.
One final reminder that although the Lord is distantly high (using earth as a footstool), the Lord is also close to the humble and broken hearted—that is, to the poor in spirit.
<snip>Skipping over wonderful poetry that describes how a ritual performed in the wrong spirit is worse than no ritual at all (“whoever sacrifics a bull is like one who kills a person”).</snip>
“Before she goes into labor,
she gives birth;
before the pains come upon her,
she delivers a son.
Who has ever heard of such things?
Who has ever seen things like this?
Can a country be born in a day
or a nation be brought forth in a moment?
Yet no sooner is Zion in labor
than she gives birth to her children.
Do I bring to the moment of birth
and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Do I close up the womb
when I bring to delivery?” says your God.
“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her.
For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
And so we end the fifth gospel with divine abundance. The Lord changes things miraculously, a birth before labor, a country formed in a moment. As Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Israel tries to atone for their disobedience through the sacrificial system (other rites are also mentioned, including new moon feasts, which, the Lord says, “I hate with all my being”). The “I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” is the clearest statement of God’s desire for mercy and not sacrifice (as Hosea put it at approximately the same time). The “I hate with all my being” shows just how opposed God is to the sacrificial system (rituals and feasts being a part of such systems). Whatever the purpose of that system was (to move humans away from human sacrifice), it does not necessarily align with God’s heart and instead often opposes it.
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Then and now we all agree that oppressing the poor is a terrible thing to do although in ways, then and now, we do so.
“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.
 The servant songs are passages in Isaiah that describe (what Christians recognize as) Jesus. They prophesy some of his most significant moments in great detail. These alone would earn Isaiah the label of the “fifth gospel”:
Not only the servant songs but the multitudinous passages concerning God’s healing and deliverance warrant the label of the fifth book of good news.
This post was first published on: Jan 31, 2021. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.