12 September 2012Isaiah 12:1-6
"Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel." (vv. 5-6)
This passage comes from First Isaiah, the 8th century prophet living in Jerusalem at the time of the wars with Assyria. This chapter concludes the first part of the book with a psalm giving thanks and praise to God for the salvation foretold in the preceding chapter, where God promises deliverance. Isaiah provides a vision of hope for the future for the faithful remnant who trust in God. This image of salvation is closely linked to the earlier deliverance of the people of Israel, where "when they came up from the land of Egypt" (Isaiah 11:16). While still in the wilderness, they sang songs of deliverance (Exodus 15:2). Here too, praise and thanksgiving are the appropriate response for the faithful people waiting in hope: "Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid" (v. 2).
In Isaiah's prophecy, God will intervene, with a child to be born, who may have been the child of the king, perhaps Hezekiah (Isaiah 9:6-7). For Isaiah, God, "the Holy One of Israel", was thought literally to dwell in the midst of Israel, in the temple in Jerusalem, and God's son was the Davidic king. This promise of a new king on the throne of David was the source of the tradition followed by Matthew's Gospel in its narrative of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:23), and so the Messianic promise of Isaiah became a Christian understanding of Jesus, coming as a child, but 'God with us'.
The passages we are reading this week all refer to the promise of God's presence among his faithful people. Here, despite war and deportation, despite the destruction of kingdoms and the fall of kings, God is still 'with us', still acting with authority over earthly powers and powers of evil. No matter how terrible the events in the world may seem to us, there is hope: God is here, and God will act to deliver us. It is perhaps an irony of history that this reading is provided for this week, when we remember the anniversary of the terrible destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City. But it is just at times like this, when our minds focus on the dangers of evil forces in the world, that Scripture provides a counterbalance. God, the Holy One of Israel, is with us, and God will save us, however desperate our situation.
- Is a historical understanding of the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah helpful to you, or do you find it troubling to think that Isaiah may not have been foretelling the birth of Jesus? Why?
- Where is God in your understanding of horrific acts of terrorism and war?
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