29 November 2007

Isaiah 33:17-22

"For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our ruler, the LORD is our king; he will save us." (v.22


We don't know when or where today's verses from the book of Isaiah were written or even who wrote them. We can tell they were written after 'interesting times', as the Chinese are supposed to say.

Those 'interesting times' included invasion, terror, siege and exile which happened to the region in the 720s BC when the Assyrians invaded, destroyed Israel and its capital Samaria and exiled its people. They devastated Judah and besieged its capital Jerusalem for several years but did not capture it. Then, just over a century later, the Babylonians invaded and succeeded in destroying Jerusalem.

This passage follows strong words against the 'invader' in verse 1 and a picture of the devastation across the region in verses 2-16. But the foreign invaders have now gone and these verses picture Zion, the old name for Jerusalem, and its people safe, secure and at peace. Yahweh rules and all is well.

Remember that every time you see LORD or GOD in capitals in our Bibles the Hebrew has the unpronounceable name of Israel's God, 'Yahweh' or YHWH. The name of God is unsayable because it is too sacred to say it. Jewish readers meeting the consonants for YHWH do not attempt the pronunciation but say 'Adonai' (meaning 'Lord') or some other indirect way of expressing the name of God. Jehovah was an attempt to pronounce the name but was an English phenomenon - this was never said in Hebrew.

A standard feature of Hebrew poetry is 'parallelism': the repetition of the same idea in different words twice or more times. Check it out in the Psalms. We find it here too, as much of what the prophets said is poetry. So here God is called 'judge', 'ruler' and 'king' in parallel, three ways of saying the same thing. The climax phrase is that he will 'save' us.

Notice that calling God judge here, as elsewhere in the Old Testament, is another way of saying that he will save us and not, as we so often might think from the way some Christians use the word, that he intends to condemn us. Judge is a greatly misunderstood word in the Bible.

To Ponder

What do you think or feel when you hear people talk about the 'judgement of God' or speak of God as a judge?

Verse 22 is full of hope. So is the Lord's Prayer which hopes for that day when God's kingdom will come and his will be done 'on earth as it is in heaven'. But how long can you go on hoping and what happens to your hope when what you hope for never materialises?

Bible notes author

Revd Stephen Dawes

Stephen Dawes is a Methodist minister who has worked in the Hexham, Stafford and Bodmin circuits, taught Old Testament at Trinity College, Accra, and Queen's College, Birmingham and served as Chair of the Cornwall District. He is currently Director of Studies for the South West Ministry Training Course, a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Theology at the University of Exeter, minister of two little chapels in the St Austell Circuit and Canon Theologian of Truro Cathedral.