Welcome to the 2014 Daily Bible Guide.
We’re looking forward to spending the next six weeks reading and discussing the Bible with you.
The two of us recently visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York. We started at a special exhibit that both of us thought was amazing. The next several galleries were also really great. A couple of hours later, though, we were decidedly less wowed by what we were seeing. It could be that the art was genuinely less good, or that we’d simply had our fill, or that we were experiencing a sugar crash. We suspect though, that a large part of the gap in our enjoyment between the 6th floor and the 3rd floor can be explained by the fact that our phones died toward the end of the 5th floor. Through floors six and five, we were listening to an audio guide on the MOMA mobile app.
Two minutes of talk that gave us some sense of where a piece fit into art history and of what inspired it went a long way toward helping us figure out what we were looking at, and hearing someone else’s opinion served as a good jumping off point for us to figure out what we thought of it. Once our phones died, we were completely reliant on what our own eyes could see, and the experience fell a little flat in comparison.
We’re hoping that this Daily Guide provides you with a Bible reading experience something like our 6th floor MOMA guided walkthrough. As we go along, we’ll share things we’ve learned that give us some insight on the passage, we’ll point out features that seem noteworthy to us, and we’ll share our own opinions and reactions. Bible reading, like modern art, can be something of an acquired taste. We hope that whether you’re brand new to the Bible, a long-time fan of it, or a long-time frenemy, this guide will give you fresh observations and viewpoints that make Isaiah 49-66 accessible, interesting, and thought-provoking.
Each day, we’ll read about a page of Bible text (in the New International Version), followed by 2 sections:
- Points of Interest—a handful of featured comments, in which we pass along literary or historical notes and share our impressions, thoughts, questions, and reactions. These aren’t meant to be exhaustive or authoritative, but simply to give you some more perspective to work with as you ponder the passage yourself.
- Taking It Home—every day, we’ll have a suggestion of a way that we could apply the passage to our daily lives. Sometimes, it will be some sort of experiment we could try out in our everyday relationships or our approach to life. More often, it will be a topic to pray about. We’ll focus our ‘Taking It Home’ for the day on one of a handful of subjects:
- For you: How does this passage apply to you or your family?
- For your six: Consider six of your favorite people, people you interact with on a regular basis, who don’t seem to have much of a direct connection to God, but for whom you are very much rooting. What does this passage have to say to them, or to you about them?
- For our church: How can we apply the passage corporately as a faith community?
- For our city: What does the passage say about or to our entire city?
The Daily Bible Guide, while it can certainly be a standalone product, is designed to be one component of a bigger package called The Leap of Faith, a six-week faith experiment that includes sermons, small group discussions, further prayer exercises, and more. You can learn more about the full Leap of Faith in this year’s User’s Manual, which is usually available nearby wherever you found this guide.
Isaiah was an 8th Century BC resident of the city of Jerusalem, the capital of the small nation of Judah; Isaiah’s book is the twisting, turning, surprising story of God’s plans for Jerusalem. The people of Judah thought of Jerusalem as God’s footstool. They knew Jerusalem was too small to contain God, but maybe it was big enough for God’s feet to rest there; in other words, Jerusalem was the place where God came in contact with the world. Isaiah’s story begins in much the way his Jerusalemite neighbors would expect. The 8th Century BC were tumultuous times in the ancient Near East. Several major powers—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia—spent that century and the next two contending for dominance. Quite often, their path to war with one another would lead them to, through, or over Judah and its sister nation Israel. Isaiah opens his book with a prediction that Israel would get crushed between the anvil of Egypt and the hammer of Assyria, but that Judah would escape. To the people of Judah, that would be as it should be. In their sibling rivalry, Israel might have been bigger, stronger, richer, and better connected, but Judah held the trump card: Jerusalem. God would never let anything bad happen to the divine footstool, right?
To the utter shock of the Jerusalemites, the answer turns out to be, ‘Yes. Yes, God would.’ Judah escapes the Assyrians only to be conquered by the Babylonians. Jerusalem is captured, sacked, and has all of its most important citizens taken hostage in Babylon. A big chunk of the book of Isaiah (but not the portion that we will read) addresses this utterly earth-shattering event. How and why could such a thing happen? Is God not as strong as we thought? Does God not like us anymore? Is God not as good as we thought? Have we done something wrong? Does God want a new footstool? We pick up the story when the Jerusalemite’s Babylonian captors are, in their turn, conquered by the Persians. In celebration of their victory, the Persians set the Judean captives free to return to Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem can’t believe their good luck to have survived all of this turmoil and to find themselves back in their beloved city.
At this point, in chapter 49, God says, ‘Oh, did you think this was all about getting you back to Jerusalem? You’re thinking way too small.’ It turns out that God was never focused on Jerusalem, per se. To whatever extent Jerusalem was important, it was just as a symbol of a much bigger thing God was up to, something that would eventually fold in the whole world and everyone in it. That’s the part of the story we’ll be reading.
Before we get into the substance of Isaiah 49-66, it might be worth mentioning that many scholars think the book of Isaiah was actually written by two authors. Most biblical prophets spoke about events happening quite near to them in time and space. They weren’t so much prognosticators about the future as they were commentators on contemporary events, injecting God’s viewpoint into the conversation. Isaiah’s prophecy is pretty exceptional in this regard. The story he tells encompasses the whole known world and stretches for 200 years and more, into the far future and even to the end of the world as we know it. Many scholars can’t conceive of the fact that one man could capture such a huge vision; so, they postulate that a second and maybe even a third author added to the original Isaiah’s story. This isn’t a topic we’re all that concerned by. On the one hand, we very much leave open the possibility that God could inspire a single person with such a broad vision; on the other hand, it’s still darned impressive and well worth the reading if it turns out to be a collaboration of multiple authors over time. And we’ve heard good scholarly arguments one way and the other. So, we withhold judgment on the authorship question. For convenience sake, though, we call the author Isaiah throughout.