Isaiah 63:1-6

April 10, 2014 by

63 Who is this coming from Edom,

   from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?

Who is this, robed in splendor,

   striding forward in the greatness of his strength?

“It is I, proclaiming victory,

   mighty to save.”

2 Why are your garments red,

   like those of one treading the winepress?

3 “I have trodden the winepress alone;

   from the nations no one was with me.

I trampled them in my anger

   and trod them down in my wrath;

their blood spattered my garments,

   and I stained all my clothing.

4 It was for me the day of vengeance;

   the year for me to redeem had come.

5 I looked, but there was no one to help,

   I was appalled that no one gave support;

so my own arm achieved salvation for me,

   and my own wrath sustained me.

6 I trampled the nations in my anger;

   in my wrath I made them drunk

   and poured their blood on the ground.”

Points of Interest:

Geography and History Lesson of the DayEdom and Bozrah

Edom (aka Esau) was Jacob’s semi-estranged twin brother. The two of them mostly went their own way in life, and when they did happen to run into one another it was always a bit tense. The nations descended from each of them ended up with a similar relationship to that of the two brothers. The people of Edom settled just to the south of Judah; Bozrah was their capital.

edom

I don’t know whether Edom is mentioned here just to bring some local color to this image of the striding giant warrior, if Edom is a stand-in for all of Jerusalem’s enemies, or if Edom particularly gets God’s ire. Apparently, during the famous conquest and exile which serves as the backdrop for our Isaiah readings, the Edomites had joined the Babylonian army and played something of a central role in that army’s sacking of Jerusalem (Obadiah 1:8-12). When they should have had a brotherly response to Judah’s misfortune, they instead celebrate it and even side with the enemy.

If I were to look at it from the Edomites’ direction, I might call this a tad bit unfair. Jacob was far more likely to steal Esau’s food than the other way around (see Genesis 27:18-35, for instance). And later on in history, David–the king of Israel and Judah–conquered Edom, and they were a Judean vassal state all the way until the time of the Babylonians 400 years later. So, it’s not like they primarily played the bully role in the relationship.

I guess God is kind of like a parent when two of their kids are fighting: ‘I don’t care who hit whom first. You’re both grounded.’

Grisly Moment of the DayThat’s an interesting shade of red ...

When the warrior is seen from far away, it looks like they’re wearing one of those new splendor garments; the fabric has a really interesting pattern, in a vaguely familiar shade of red. As the warrior gets closer, the watchers start to think, ‘Maybe it’s actually not splendor at all. I think that’s a wine spill.’ Finally, in a dreadful moment, it becomes clear that that’s not wine at all; the warrior is spattered with blood.

Theology of the DayVengeance

You may remember from Monday’s passage that the Servant’s mission is two-pronged: bring about (1) the year of God’s favor, and (2) the day of God’s vengeance. I have to say that, at first blush, I’d be more comfortable if, as in Jesus’ reading of it in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:18-19), part 2 were simply left out. I don’t think it can quite work that way, though. Good news for the poor may feel a lot more like bad news to the rich. Rescuing a prisoner means robbing the guards. If you’re going to protect the caravan, it means killing the wild dogs. Retribution for those who’ve been robbed or cheated means punishing the thieves and bullies. Salvation and vengeance are two sides of the same coin.

I’m comforted by the fact that God’s favor lasts a year, and God’s vengeance goes on for only a day.

Also, it seems like everyone has a choice about the side of the coin they will see. Whether you’re the object of God’s favor or God’s wrath isn’t pre-determined. A foreigner who treats others well gets rewarded by God; an Israelite who uses the sabbath to abuse the wait staff faces punishment. God is committed to moving people down the highway to the new city he is building. Anyone who gets on the road, stays on it, and helps others along gets God’s protection and provision. Anyone who puts up roadblocks better beware; God very well could get God’s people safely home over your dead body.

Taking it Home:

For your six: Even if it kind of, sort of, logically makes sense that compassion and vengeance are different sides of the same coin, I still just don’t really like it.  I’d like it to be compassion and more compassion; compassion all around.  It’s just one of those things about God that’s hard for me to get.  I really don’t want to hear about anyone’s blood being smattered on anyone.  Are there things that are hard or confusing for your six as they each relate to God? Ask God to make a way through any roadblocks your six might have when they think about relating to God.

Isaiah 62:6-12

April 9, 2014 by

6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;

   they will never be silent day or night.

You who call on the Lord,

   give yourselves no rest,

7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem

   and makes her the praise of the earth.

8 The Lord has sworn by his right hand

   and by his mighty arm:

“Never again will I give your grain

   as food for your enemies,

and never again will foreigners drink the new wine

   for which you have toiled;

9 but those who harvest it will eat it

   and praise the Lord,

and those who gather the grapes will drink it

   in the courts of my sanctuary.”

10 Pass through, pass through the gates!

   Prepare the way for the people.

Build up, build up the highway!

   Remove the stones.

Raise a banner for the nations.

11 The Lord has made proclamation

   to the ends of the earth:

“Say to Daughter Zion,

   ‘See, your Savior comes!

See, his reward is with him,

   and his recompense accompanies him.’”

12 They will be called the Holy People,

   the Redeemed of the Lord;

and you will be called Sought After,

   the City No Longer Deserted.

Points of Interest:

Image of the DayChattering watchmen

I don’t know who ‘I’ is at the beginning of this passage, the Servant or God, but one or the other of them hires watchmen to the task of pestering God. Every few minutes, they’re supposed to yell out, ‘I still don’t see anything,’ and then, ‘No, still nothing,’ and after a brief pause, ‘Important update: nothing’s happening.’ It’s a whole crew of them, so that they can work around-the-clock shifts until God acts.

I think the point is to nudge God more in the ‘quickly’ direction, over the ‘when it happens’ side of the equation.

Promise of the DayThe one who does the work gets the reward

This feels like a small but important promise from God: freedom from the bullies and the oblivious.

Imagine a patient and industrious wine-lover. They grow the grapes all the way from vine cuttings. They wait all season until the grapes are perfectly ripe. They press the grapes, let them ferment, age the wine, bottle it, and wait for the perfect occasion to uncork that first bottle–only before they ever get the chance to taste it someone else comes along and, either out of malice or simply out of ignorance, gulps down the whole bottle. Maybe you feel like something like that has happened to you one time or another. Maybe you feel like it’s the story of your life.

God’s promise here is that that will never happen again. You don’t need to be afraid of being scooped. There’s no need to pre-emptively gulp it down yourself, no need to install a security system for the wine cellar. You will have the chance to savor the fruits of your labor, at your leisure.

Announcement of the DayOpen for business

Send out the news, have a banner made, hire people to wear those sandwich boards and hand out fliers. Let everyone know, ‘God’s new Zion is now open for business.’

open-rwb

Jerusalem’s Nickname of the DayDaughter Zion

Isaiah keeps piling on the images to describe just how dear Zion is to God. It’s like God is a famous architect, and Zion is God’s masterpiece. No, it’s more like Zion is the love of God’s life, and it’s their wedding day. Or maybe God is a doting parent, and Zion is God’s favorite daughter.

Taking it Home:

For our church:  I think there are ways where our church feels like the watchman: waiting, and looking, checking the clock, walking in circles, and keeping our eyes peeled; waiting to see God act and fulfill promises made to our community of faith.  Talk to God about church. Are there promises you feel like God has made to our church? Remind God about them.  Would you like to see God act in a specific way in our church?  Tell God so.  As we get closer to the end of Lent, ask God to act quickly and in an affectionate-Zion-loving way toward our church in the year ahead.

Isaiah 61:10-62:5

April 8, 2014 by

10 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.

11 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.

62 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

   for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,

till her vindication shines out like the dawn,

   her salvation like a blazing torch.

2 The nations will see your vindication,

   and all kings your glory;

you will be called by a new name

   that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.

3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,

   a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

4 No longer will they call you Deserted,

   or name your land Desolate.

But you will be called Hephzibah,

   and your land Beulah;

for the Lord will take delight in you,

   and your land will be married.

5 As a young man marries a young woman,

   so will your Builder marry you;

as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,

   so will your God rejoice over you.

Points of Interest:

Fashion Show of the DayRobes of righteousness

Maybe it’s just because I like to keep half an eye on the latest fashion trends myself, but I’m struck by how often Isaiah revels in imagery of putting on new clothes. Once again, God uses fabulous, unexpected fabrics for new clothing designs. Earlier on, we had God making clothing of splendor. In yesterday’s passage, we had a hat made of beauty, and other items woven out of praise. Here, God introduces a whole new clothing line. It draws its inspiration from weddings, with some priestly touches. There is a robe made completely of righteousness, and a skirt which skillfully employs touches of salvation. Like all of the best designs, it’s high fashion, but you can pull off wearing it on the street.

I think Isaiah turns to clothing images so often because changing clothes is a very quick and effective way to change your persona. With the simple act of taking off one set of clothes and putting on another, you can look like a completely different person, and even feel like one. It reminds me of the phrase, ‘The clothes make the man,’ or of Clark Kent taking off his suit and glasses to become Superman. It reminds me most of My Fair Lady when Henry Higgins gives Eliza Doolittle a makeover, and she is transformed inside and out from flower girl to proper lady.

my fair lady

Untranslated Hebrew Words of the DayHephzibah and Beulah

The translators’ notes tell me that Hephzibah means, ‘my delight,’ and Beulah means, ‘married.’ It’s unclear to me why they left these two in the original Hebrew but translated all of the other nicknames in this passage into English. Nice names, though. I particularly like, ‘My Delight.’

Image of the DaySeeds of righteousness

Righteousness, that ability to stay on the right path, is right now a tiny seed. It’s unremarkable and vulnerable, but it’s also packed with potential. God will serve as both the soil and the water, making sure that the seed grows, and flourishes, and multiplies. Soon righteousness will overrun the place; there’s no way it could be ignored.

Phrase of the DayIf you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?

God’s answer: ‘I think I will.’

God is the architect for and builder of the completely renovated New Zion. God does the finishing touches, steps back, takes a look, and decides that it’s turned out perfectly, just as imagined; it’s God’s masterpiece. God is so delighted by it that, in a surprise move, God decides to marry the city.

Taking it Home:

For you: Sticking to the fashion theme, I can’t hear talk of beautiful clothes without thinking about bodies.  Because let’s be honest, good clothes feel a lot better when you’re pleased with the body underneath them, and vice versa. Bodies.  Theologians throughout the ages score pretty high on neglecting this area, so much so that bodies hardly get mentioned. But you know, we spend a lot of time in our bodies and experience a good chunk of the world through them.  How do you feel about your body?  Do you like it? Hate it? Forget that it’s there? Is it aching? In pain? Suffering? Talk to God how you feel about your body and see what God has to say in return.

Isaiah 61:1-9

April 7, 2014 by

61 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,

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

   and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

3     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.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins

   and restore the places long devastated;

they will renew the ruined cities

   that have been devastated for generations.

5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;

   foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.

6 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.

7 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.

8 “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.

9 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.”

Points of Interest:

Jesus Reference of the Dayproclaiming God’s news to the poor

In Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story (Luke 4:16-21), the first seven lines of this passage are Jesus’ first public words (Jesus stops at ‘year of the Lord’s favor,’ cutting out the reference to vengeance). Jesus takes this passage as a mission statement or a job description. In the most direct connection yet between Jesus and Isaiah’s Servant figure, Jesus says, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,’ or, in other words, ‘This passage is about me.’

Theology of the DayAnointing of the Spirit

A handful of times now, Isaiah has talked about God’s Spirit being ‘on’ someone, and here it’s paired with being ‘anointed’ by the Lord. Anointing is sort of like having a police badge or lieutenant’s bars pinned on. In an anointing ceremony, someone in authority like a priest or prophet would pour oil over a person’s head to authorize them to fill an office or take on a task. Israel and Judah’s priests, prophets, and kings were inaugurated by anointing.

Here, the Servant is being anointed, not by a priest but by God, and not with oil but with God’s very essence–the spirit of God. The Servant is being commissioned directly by God, and not just commissioned but empowered. Whereas oil merely has symbolic value, God’s Spirit invests the Servant with ability to match his authority. The Hebrew word for spirit is related to ‘breath.’ Perhaps because of this there’s a particularly strong association between the Spirit’s anointing and an ability to speak words from God; thus in 59:21 we have the Spirit–God’s breath, as it were–putting God’s words on the lips of the Servant (I think) and his heirs.

Here, the anointing of the Spirit indeed gives the Servant the ability to speak encouraging words to the poor. The Spirit goes beyond that, also giving the Servant the ability to make those words come true. I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise. The Spirit’s presence makes the Servant’s words like God’s: there’s little difference between the word and the act.

Image of the DayTrading ashes for a beautiful crown

Ashes were in Isaiah’s time and place part of the normal equipment for mourning, and we all know that a tiara is part of the normal equipment for feeling like a princess–or a prince, I suppose. The Servant has the power to completely turn around someone’s mood, look, and entire experience of life. They go into the dressing room wearing ashes, grief, and despair; they come out looking beautiful, joyful, and full of praise.

Question of the DayWho are these God-blessed people?

Who exactly is the object of all of the Servant’s positive attention? In verse 3 they’re called ‘Zion,’ and in verse 8, ‘my people’; in verse 1, though, they’re ‘the poor,’ ‘the brokenhearted,’ and people who have otherwise had a hard lot in life.

Up until now, Isaiah has used Zion and ‘my people’ to refer either to the original 12 tribes of Israel or to former strangers who have adopted into a renewed and enlarged Zion through their trust in God and right treatment of others. Is one of those groups somehow the same thing as ‘the poor,’ or are we getting a new definition of God’s people here? And if God is redefining God’s people as ‘the poor,’ does it include anyone who happens to be poor, or is it only people who are poor or abused for God’s or righteousness’ sake?

I wonder if the common thread is that God likes the underdog. God originally struck up a friendship with Abraham and Sarah when they were just an elderly, childless couple who didn’t seem to be going much of anywhere in life (51:1-2). The Israelites caught God’s eye when they were enslaved in Egypt and bullied by Assyria (52:4). God decides to make Jerusalem the home base for New Zion because it’s a ruined and empty city (49:19). The eunuchs and foreigners get God’s attention when the original people of Israel seem to have a leg up because they are more familiar with God’s house (56:3). And, of course, the Servant is God’s favorite at least partly because he didn’t seem all that special (53:2).

underdog

Time after time, God has lent a little weight to whomever is at a disadvantage. God reminds me of a coach watching a youth soccer scrimmage. When the score gets too lopsided, God joins in on the side of the losing team.

I wonder if that’s why humility (57:15) is so important to God. Humility is like the minimum entrance requirement to underdog status. Maybe your circumstances aren’t entirely dire; but if you have a tendency to be overlooked, or even if you bear yourself meekly, it at leasts gains you a second look from God.

Taking it Home:

For you: I like that God has such exorbitantly good news and hope for those down and out. However, I tend to read this passage and think ‘oh God cares for those people. That’s nice’.  I never stop to think, that maybe I’m one of them. Or at least not that far from them? Reread the first several verses of the passage.  Picture that God is talking to you when he says there is freedom, joy, beauty, comfort, and GOOD NEWS.  Take some time to listen to what God’s good news is for you today.

Isaiah 60:17-22

April 6, 2014 by

17 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.

I will make peace your governor

   and well-being your ruler.

18 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.

19 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.

20 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.

21 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.

22 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.”

Points of Interest:

Character of the DayGovernor Peace

No ordinary mayor is sufficient for this city. Corruption or incompetence are, of course, out of the question. But even a capable and peace-loving person doesn’t quite make the cut. Only the very essence of Peace itself is qualified to oversee the administration of this city; Well-being serves as deputy mayor.

Promise of the DayFree upgrades

I once visited the Alhambra palace complex in Granada. It’s probably the most beautiful, imaginative, pleasant, remarkable place I’ve ever been. And perhaps the most fascinating thing about it is that it’s one giant trick of the eyes. These were the palaces of the last Arab kingdom in Spain, and with all of their money going toward defending themselves against Castile and Aragon, they couldn’t really afford to build the grand palace they had in mind. So, they faked it. They molded plaster to make it look like marble. They substituted glass for gemstones. For gold, they used painted wood. And, like I said, they succeeded marvelously. Seven centuries later, it’s still beautiful, and the illusion still works.

alhambra-palace-3

In New Zion, they use a similar trick, but in the opposite direction. While in Granada they used costume jewels to brighten up a palace, in New Zion they swap in the  genuine articles for workaday purposes. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t believe that’s just plaster,’ people are exclaiming, ‘I can’t believe they used real gold!’

Abraham and Sarah Reference of the DayThe least of you a mighty nation

abraham-and-sarah-ikon

Not only is the new Zion practically littered with precious metals, but it is also full of remarkable people.

‘I will make you into a mighty nation,’ was what God promised Abraham and Sarah when they made their covenant. Abraham and Sarah lived miraculous lives. They were famous for their trust in God. And they’re the ones who got this whole thing started (if you recall, they were the actual Jacob’s grandparents). Abraham and Sarah were one of a kind, or arguably in the very rare company of Noah, Moses, and David.

At least that’s how it was in the old regime. In the new city, everyone is an Abraham or a Sarah.

Paradox of the Daythis will happen quickly, when it happens

The change from old to new will happen quickly, but not necessarily right away. God gives no indication of when it will start, but once it starts it will be accomplished suddenly. ‘Who knows when?’ and ‘Right away’ are a strange combination. Any second, it could happen in a blink of the eye. Or then again, 2700 odd years later we could still be waiting. It’s hard to set your alarm for something like that.

In cross-cultural studies, they talk about two different cultural approaches to time: time orientation, in which you do things by the clock; and event orientation in which you give each experience its proper time, no matter how long or short that might be, before moving on to the next one. I am most decidedly time oriented. I think God is event oriented. God isn’t slow or lazy. God is just waiting for the exact right moment to make a move; when the moment arrives, God is ready to pounce.

For those of us trying to follow, work with, or put our trust in God, I think what that requires is a patient readiness. We have to be prepared for something big to happen at any time, and also prepared to sit around the campfire and wait a little longer. Restlessness and complacency are both temptations to be avoided.

packed bags

Taking it Home:

For your six:  Maybe this is a time-oriented approach (and I’ve already admitted that I’m a time oriented person), but ask God to act swiftly in the lives of your six.  Take some time to think about your own time with your six.  How long have you been praying for them? What’s happened in their lives during that time? Ask God to bring all of dazzling, bejeweled, opulent construction that he brought to Zion to your six’s lives (literally or figuratively, because let’s be honest, who would turn down the gift of diamonds?)

Isaiah 60:10-16

April 5, 2014 by

10 “Foreigners will rebuild your walls,

   and their kings will serve you.

Though in anger I struck you,

   in favor I will show you compassion.

11 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.

12 For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish;

   it will be utterly ruined.

13 “The glory of Lebanon will come to you,

   the juniper, the fir and the cypress together,

to adorn my sanctuary;

   and I will glorify the place for my feet.

14 The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you;

   all who despise you will bow down at your feet

and will call you the City of the Lord,

   Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

15 “Although you have been forsaken and hated,

   with no one traveling through,

I will make you the everlasting pride

   and the joy of all generations.

16 You will drink the milk of nations

   and be nursed at royal breasts.

Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior,

   your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Points of Interest:

Promise of the DayOpen 24/7

An ordinary city’s gates would spend a significant amount of time closed: during times of war, and every night after business hours. Not so with New Zion. They will have no one to be afraid of, and there will be so much going on that businesses will stay open around the clock. With nothing to fear and plenty to do, they keep the gates open.

Image of the DayParade of kings

rose-parade

Another reason the gates never close is the constant influx of royalty. You can’t shut the doors on a king, and just as one king and his retinue gets through the gates, another one comes around the corner. New Zion is the place to be. Everyone who is anyone is making their way there. People who wouldn’t have been caught dead in Zion before are now begging to be let in.

With the constant stream of trumpets, and chariots, and finery coming into New Zion, it’s like every day is the Rose Bowl Parade, or like the average city street is the Oscars’ red carpet.

Ancient Near Eastern Fact of the DayThe glory of Lebanon

It might be difficult for us in New England to fathom, but Lebanon’s glory, the thing that made it rich and famous, was wood. Lebanon was (and is) one of the few places in Israel’s neighborhood with trees of any size; the desert climate meant that most plants were small and scrubby. Wood was so rare that it was the material used for truly opulent buildings like grand palaces and temples. Here, the temple, God’s footstool, is being redecorated with a variety of precious Lebanese woods.

Forest_of_The_cedars_of_God

New Name of the DayCity of the Lord

The old Jerusalem was known as ‘City of David,’ which was pretty good; it’s no shame to be named after a famous king who was a special friend of God’s. Still, being named after a buddy of God’s is not nearly good enough for New Zion; this new city is God’s own.

Taking it Home:

For our city: I love how much attention God pays to the city his people are in (or want to be in). God knows the city so well, and even sees it for what it could be on it’s best day.  Take sometime to reflect on the place where you live–not even just the city, but the actual neighborhood.  What brought you there? What do you like about it? What’s great about your neighborhood? Talk to God about your neighborhood.  Thank God for the really great aspects of your neighborhood.  During your day, pay attention to what happens in your neighborhood (everything from the streets and signals to the smells), and ask God to make your neighborhood a great one.

Isaiah 60:1-9

April 4, 2014 by

60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,

   and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

2 See, darkness covers the earth

   and thick darkness is over the peoples,

but the Lord rises upon you

   and his glory appears over you.

3 Nations will come to your light,

   and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:

   All assemble and come to you;

your sons come from afar,

   and your daughters are carried on the hip.

5 Then you will look and be radiant,

   your heart will throb and swell with joy;

the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,

   to you the riches of the nations will come.

6 Herds of camels will cover your land,

   young camels of Midian and Ephah.

And all from Sheba will come,

   bearing gold and incense

   and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

7 All Kedar’s flocks will be gathered to you,

   the rams of Nebaioth will serve you;

they will be accepted as offerings on my altar,

   and I will adorn my glorious temple.

8 “Who are these that fly along like clouds,

   like doves to their nests?

9 Surely the islands look to me;

   in the lead are the ships of Tarshish,

bringing your children from afar,

   with their silver and gold,

to the honor of the Lord your God,

   the Holy One of Israel,

   for he has endowed you with splendor.

Points of Interest:

Bible Reference of the DayDarkness covers the earth

Isaiah is evoking the Bible’s story of the creation of the world here:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:2-3).

bigbang

What we have in store is nothing less than the re-creation of the world. The first creation had to do with the physical world; this one will be in the lives of people. The impenetrable and unexpectedly persistent dark world around which people have been stumbling is about to be flooded in light. God did it before–with a word–and is now doing it again.

Promise of the DayDrawing like a magnet

searchlight-rental-downtown-at-the-gardens-mall-282x150

In this second creation, the source of light in the darkness will be the new, improved and expanded Zion. Zion rises like the sun, but in some ways it’s more like a nighttime campfire in the wilderness. People see it from a long way away, and are irresistibly drawn toward its warmth, light, and its promise of sociability. Once its light is turned on, what has been the empty city will soon become the place people can’t stay away from.

Image of the DayShips of Tarshish

ENDURING FREEDOM

People start streaming to Zion from everywhere. Reasonably enough, I suppose–it’s as good a guess as any–Isaiah locates his new Zion in roughly the same geographical setting as the historical Jerusalem. The nations mentioned in this passage are to the north, south, east, and west of there. Some of them are nearby, familiar neighbors, others are faraway, practically legendary places; Tarshish, for instance, may be in Spain (which was quite a long way away, at the very bounds of imagination, for 8th Century BC Judah). Each of them contributes what they’re famous for: the Sabeans their spices and precious metals; the Kedaris their herds, and so on. What all of these nations have in common is that they’re located on major transportation routes. They’re famous sailors, merchants, highway patrollers, toll booth operators, and other transportation experts. Midianite camels and Tarshishan ships are particularly known as the state of the art vehicles for land and sea travel, respectively. Traffic to Zion gets so heavy that the professionals need to be brought in to handle the sudden influx: roads are widened; canals are dug; runways are extended; and jumbo jets, bullet trains, and aircraft carriers are all commandeered into use.

Taking it Home:

For our church: Light and re-creation: I want it all.  I imagine it feels like the first days of spring, when suddenly everywhere every tree blooms and blossoms, all of the sudden, in the most magnificent way. It’s like hope and joy burst as each little bud opens. Ask God for this re-creation and light for our church. Ask God for people in our church to see and hear from him during these 40 days.  Ask God to re-create our church, that it would be vibrant, and light-filled, a place bustling with creativity and new life.

Isaiah 59:15-21

April 3, 2014 by

15 Truth is nowhere to be found,

   and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The Lord looked and was displeased

   that there was no justice.

16 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.

17 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.

18 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.

19 From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord,

   and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.

For he will come like a pent-up flood

   that the breath of the Lord drives along.

20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,

   to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”

declares the Lord.

21 “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.

Points of Interest:

Proverb of the Day--if you want something done right …

Yesterday, we discussed the fact that Jacob’s kids are the victims of a problem of their own making. Instead of being in the grand new city God is building, they’re wandering lost in the dark; but that’s only because they turned off the road God built specifically to get them directly from prison to Zion. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is. God has promised that the city will be full, and that they’ll be in it. And when God says something, it happens:

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 (55:11)

It’s been several chapters now since God said the word, built the city, and paved the road. And, frankly, it’s been a mess. The city is still empty. The road is abandoned. There have been wild animal attacks, finger pointing, betrayals, and diversions. There are roadblocks, and there’s an impenetrable fog. It’s time for this foolishness to stop. God is committed to the city being full, and no matter how difficult the rest of us make it, it will be.

Since no one else seems to be able to make it happen, God puts himself in the game.

Cinematic Moment of the Daybuckling on the armor

batmanarmory-armory

I love that scene in action hero movies when the reluctant hero finally suits up. Fed up with the injustice they see and realizing that now is the time when they have to step up and do something about it, they strap on the six-shooter holster, grab the pommel of the sword, buckle on the utility belt, snap the visor in place, and with a flutter of their cape strut out in search of some bad guys. From the way he lovingly dwells on each piece of armor when God is roused, I get the impression Isaiah loves that scene as well.

Something exciting is about to happen.

Aside of the Day--God’s word in our mouths

Before striding off to deal with the wild animals, bandits, and traitors who are blocking the path, God pauses, turns to the side, and makes a vow. Maybe God is looking straight into the camera while saying this, breaking the fourth wall, as they say, and speaking straight to us. I prefer the idea, though, that God is talking to the Servant. You may recall from 50:4 that God gave the Servant ‘the word that sustains the weary.’ And in 53:10, God promises that, though it looks like he died without children, the Servant will have many progeny. I think God is reassuring the Servant here, ‘I haven’t forgotten about you.’ All of the work the Servant has done to conquer sin will not be in vain. The Servant will live to see an ever-growing number of descendants who, just like him, bear God’s sustaining words on their lips. The Servant, the Servant’s family, and the picture of a refreshed life that the Servant represents will win. God is going to make sure of it.

Taking it Home:

For your six:  I talk and type way too quickly to really think about the fact that God’s words (!) are in MY mouth.  Spend some time this morning asking for God’s words for your six.  Take a moment to think about each of your six.  Ask God to show you how God sees them.  If you get any sense from God, consider sharing it with your six.  Either way, keep an eye out for how your words could be encouraging to your six.

Isaiah 59:9-14

April 2, 2014 by

9 So justice is far from us,

   and righteousness does not reach us.

We look for light, but all is darkness;

   for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.

10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,

   feeling our way like people without eyes.

At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;

   among the strong, we are like the dead.

11 We all growl like bears;

   we moan mournfully like doves.

We look for justice, but find none;

   for deliverance, but it is far away.

12 For our offenses are many in your sight,

   and our sins testify against us.

Our offenses are ever with us,

   and we acknowledge our iniquities:

13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,

   turning our backs on our God,

inciting revolt and oppression,

   uttering lies our hearts have conceived.

14 So justice is driven back,

   and righteousness stands at a distance;

truth has stumbled in the streets,

   honesty cannot enter.

Points of Interest:

Image of the DayGroping along the wall

We’re back in the dark, with neither guide nor flashlight. We’re feeling our way along walls, banging our shins on the furniture, and tripping over unexpected items left in our way. The strange thing about this darkness is that it’s as bad at noon as at midnight. Is this an abnormally dense fog? Or maybe the problem is not with the light, but with our eyes. Maybe it’s not dark. Maybe we’re blind.

fog

It’s a possible sign of progress that, despite the perceived darkness, as per God’s instructions, no one has yet lit a torch.

Another Image of the DayGrowling like bears

angry-bear-standing-34

The growl of a bear and the moan of a dove are pretty different animal noises to be coming out of the same person at the same time. I think we’re alternating through different waves of emotion: growling in the frustration of being lost, then moaning in despair that we will ever be found.

The Question of the DayWho is today’s subject?

With one day’s passage sort of tumbling into the next for several days now, it’s easy to lose track of who we’re talking about. I looked back, and in the speech which ends in Monday’s passage God calls the subject of this series of passages Jacob’s children. That doesn’t entirely narrow things down, since Isaiah uses ‘Jacob’ to refer to so many things. This probably isn’t Jacob’s actual original 12 sons. But is it members of the 12 tribes descended from them? The returned exiles to Jerusalem? The new, broader, spiritual Jacob Isaiah has been talking about?

My thought is that this is about a sort of dark version of the last option. A theme throughout these passages is failed religion: fasts and sabbath observance that draw people farther from God instead of closer, largely because it’s done at the expense of other people. I wonder if we could say that the subject of this series of passages, stretching all the way back to the beginning of chapter 57, is devoted religious people who nonetheless find themselves wandering in darkness. Whether it’s the worship of idols that can’t help, or corrupted versions of practices like fasting and sabbath that God himself recommends, religion done the wrong way can put us on the same bad path–or maybe even a worse one–than no faith at all.

A Third Image of the DayTruth stumbles

Justice, Deliverance, and Truth form a search party. But we’ve wandered so far off the path and gotten so far into the thickets that they can’t find us. Deliverance is too far away to hear us calling. Justice hits a dead end. Truth practically faints from the effort of looking for us. The rescue party fails.

Spiritual Practice of the DayConfession

They say that confession is good for the soul. I think that’s true, and not (just) because doing the right thing takes a load off of our consciences. It’s good for our soul because confession gives God the information God needs to bring our soul to good health.

When we go to the doctor, it’s important that we’re honest about whatever symptoms we’re experiencing and whatever other health factors might be in play. That’s the only way the doctor can figure out what’s going on and assign the proper treatment. If we hide that embarrassing symptom, the doctor could misdiagnose our disease. If we hide, for example, that we smoke, it could lead to the doctor prescribing the wrong drug. Lying to the doctor doesn’t do us any good–if what we want is to get well.

doctors-appointment-md-new

Confession, I think, is having that same level of unreserved honesty with God about our lives. It’s letting God know the true state of our souls, and it’s admitting the various spiritual risk factors that might be at play. When we start from how things really are, that’s when God can help us get where we want to go.

Things haven’t gone altogether well for Jacob’s kids, and throughout our Isaiah reading, they’ve had a tendency to shift the blame for this, mostly to God: Why isn’t God doing anything? Is God too weak? Has God abandoned us? In this passage, they finally confess their own part in their problems. They’ve held back the truth, and even outright lied to God about their situation. They’ve ignored God’s prescriptions, or mixed them with other things that ruin their effect. They’re finally admitting that they’ve gotten themselves into this trouble. Now, God can start to help them out.

Taking it Home:

For you:  Let’s practice confession. Maybe you’re a pro at it and do it all the time, but if you’re like me and still feel on the spectrum of squeamish to avoidant upon hearing the word, here are two easy ways to practice what really is a freeing discipline (These are taken from a great booked called The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Cahoun.):

  1. Ask God to help you see yourself as God sees you.  Remember that God sees you absolutely and with love.  Using the ten commandments as your guide, write down ways you’ve missed the mark.  When you’ve finished, go through each commandment, one at a time, and ask God to forgive you and help you to change.  Then throw your list far far away (or recycle or burn or shred it, or use whatever waste management strategy you wish to employ) .
  2. Invite God to be with you and take away anything that might make you defensive.  Ask yourself, Who have I injured recently through thoughtlessness, neglect, anger, and so on? As the Holy Spirit brings people to mind, confess your feelings about these people to God.  Ask God to forgive you and if need be to give you courage to forgive them.  Possibly, say you’re sorry, make a phone call, or confess out loud in an attempt to put the relationship back on track.

Isaiah 59:1-8

April 1, 2014 by

59 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,

   nor his ear too dull to hear.

2 But your iniquities have separated

   you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

   so that he will not hear.

3 For your hands are stained with blood,

   your fingers with guilt.

Your lips have spoken falsely,

   and your tongue mutters wicked things.

4 No one calls for justice;

   no one pleads a case with integrity.

They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies;

   they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.

5 They hatch the eggs of vipers

   and spin a spider’s web.

Whoever eats their eggs will die,

   and when one is broken, an adder is hatched.

6 Their cobwebs are useless for clothing;

   they cannot cover themselves with what they make.

Their deeds are evil deeds,

   and acts of violence are in their hands.

7 Their feet rush into sin;

   they are swift to shed innocent blood.

They pursue evil schemes;

   acts of violence mark their ways.

8 The way of peace they do not know;

   there is no justice in their paths.

They have turned them into crooked roads;

   no one who walks along them will know peace.

Points of Interest:

Funny Picture of the DayThe god with short arms

short arms

Isaiah has something of a sarcastic sense of humor. Here he’s poking fun at idols again. God doesn’t have stubby little arms like the idols do, or wooden ears. If God isn’t responding, something else must be the matter.

After having skewered the idols, Isaiah turns his sarcasm on his listeners. Whoever is complaining that God isn’t there has an object permanence problem. They cover their eyes with their own twistedness, and think that God has disappeared. If you want to see God, take off the blindfold you put on.

Image of the DayCobweb wool

spiderweb

Another metaphor for the futility of living life wrongly. We go through all of the work of spinning the yarn and knitting clothes from it, but instead of using wool, our material is something as insubstantial as cobwebs. The clothes simply disintegrate before anyone ever has a chance to wear them.

Trusting in idols and mistreating others take just as much effort as–likely more than–trusting God and treating others well. The sinful life is not a lazy or easy one. The question is, Why work so hard for something you don’t want? A cobweb jacket is a poor alternative to one made of splendor.

Second Image of the Day–Sinning like it’s going out of style

empty shelves

Having extensively explored the idea in the last few passages that people are acting unjustly out of a misplaced idea that it’s what they have to do to survive, Isaiah proposes an alternative theory: maybe they just like it. Maybe they’re not so worried that the good food and drink at God’s party will run out; they’re worried that opportunities to treat others badly will. Like bread, milk, and water during a New England snowstorm, there’s a sudden run on sin. We better get it while we can.

Taking it Home:

For our city: People work hard in this city. Maybe you’re one of them? If not you, I bet you have a friend who does.  Ask God to help our city not strive endlessly for things that in the end won’t really protect us.  I don’t quite know what it looks like to have city systems reflect trust in a living God for protection, but it would be a neat thing to see God do.  Ask God to help our city recalibrate–away from tireless work, and towards rest in God.


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