13 September 2012

Isaiah 26:1-12

"If favour is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness they deal perversely and do not see the majesty of the Lord." (v. 10)


Isaiah was always looking for God to intervene in human affairs: expecting vindication, the restoring of right order, and indeed, righteous punishment for those who deserved it. The converse of the question why do bad things happen to good people is why don't bad things happen to bad people? Our sense of justice demands it, even though God's justice is often not easy to perceive. Isaiah tells us that sometimes God does act in accordance with our sense of justice: "for he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low" (v. 5).

But we look for not only the bringing down of the mighty, but also the corresponding raising up of the poor and needy. Isaiah promises peace and hopes for righteousness in his vision of victory over evil. But deliverance is in God's hands, and the faithful wait for God to act.

Even some with no claim to religious faith view the financial crisis that marked 2008 as the time when market practices based on rampant greed were shown to be disastrous. In the years which have followed, those who have suffered most have been the poorest in society: they are the ones who have lost their homes and jobs without a nest egg to help them weather the storm. And while governments around the world have done what they can, the loss and suffering of the poor continues.

Just as God's people in the time of Isaiah were powerless to act against the wicked, so human efforts today seem inadequate in the face of the immense problems we face. We wait for God's justice and God's deliverance, just as the people of Israel in Isaiah's time waited, yearning for God's righteous judgement. But in that yearning there is hope, grounded in the expectation that God, the "everlasting rock" (v. 4), will act and will prevail.

To Ponder

  • Isaiah's vision here does not envisage human action against secular forces of evil; it is God who will act, and this is the basis for hope. But if this deliverance is still in the future, as it was for Isaiah, how do you understand the Resurrection?
  • Is it your experience that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous, as Isaiah seems to expect here? If not, how do you understand God's justice?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Susan Graham

As the training officer and development enabler in the Bristol District, Susan's work has focused recently on developing new ways to train local preachers, which enables her to combine her love of teaching and her passion for excellence in theological education. She is a New Testament scholar who specialises in historical Jesus study, and she has just published her first (and probably only!) book on the subject.