17 December 2013Isaiah 50:4-10
"The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced." (v. 7)
This section of the book of Isaiah seems to be rather different from the earlier chapters. It was once widely held that chapters 1-39 were written before the people of God were taken into exile in Babylon, while chapters 40-66 contain clear references to an imminent (and real) return to their homeland. Recently, however, opinion is gathering around the notion that these later chapters hold the entire book together in a new way, reflecting on 'the former things' and focusing attention on the 'new thing' that God is doing.
Embedded in these chapters is a series of poems about a mysterious 'servant' (of God). Today's passage is the third of these 'servant songs'. The calling of God's servant (perhaps the author of these poems, or perhaps God's people?) is to be exposed to torture and brutality, but all the while he is (they are) under the protection of God. But what kind of protection is that?
The measure of God's protection is not to be found in the external aspects of life, mere survival. In November we heard of the impending closure of the naval shipyard in Portsmouth. In a BBC interview a man whose job is set to go at the end of the year spoke of his anxiety. He and his wife are both deeply upset but her reaction is more 'philosophical': "You may not have your job, but we have our house, we have each other". Where is your heart? What really matters? What is your bottom line?
I heard of a primary school head who urged her staff colleagues with these words: "This isn't about you; it isn't about me; it's about the children". Something of that spirit rings through these chapters. God blesses us, but God has a purpose for us too.
- The people of God grew accustomed to living in the 'between times'. How well does this match your current experience?
- When push comes to shove, what matters most to you?
- In your church, at your place of work, are you clear about what, and who, matters most of all? And what is it?