3 December 2016Isaiah 4:2-6
“Over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” (vv. 5-6)
Psalm: Psalm 66
We return to the theme of the remnant, which again is viewed as a sign of hope and future glory. After a period of suffering and judgement, those who remain will be sanctified and "recorded for life" (v. 3). In his commentary on Isaiah, Alec Motyer says of these verses, "How truly surprising is the saving work of the Lord! How contrary to expectation and desert!"
The verses between yesterday's passage (link) and today's (Isaiah 2:6 - 3:26) are largely condemnatory of Israel and its social conditions, but now we reach a passage of great hope. "On that day" does not spell foreboding (as in Amos 8:9; 9:11) but is filled with the hope of a glorious future. "Branch" (v. 2) is a symbol which recurs in Isaiah and also in Jeremiah, and is associated with the hoped-for Messianic figure. This branch will be both beautiful and glorious - and will bear fruit. Israel, often compared to a vineyard, will again be fruitful, a cause for pride and glory amongst those who survive to inhabit the purged, restored city. More than just fruitful, the remnant will also be regarded as "holy" (v. 3) - a word which shares its root with righteousness, so Jerusalem will finally be the "city of righteousness" referred to in Isaiah 1:26.
Read with modern sensibilities, there are many verses in the Old Testament, and here in Isaiah, where the way in which feminine imagery is used is unpalatable. Verse 4 speaks in harsh language of the sins of Jerusalem and speaks of the "filth of the daughters of Zion". The Women's Bible Commentary draws attention to this "trajectory of sexualising social evil and projecting it disproportionally upon women" and continues, "Such a practice by male writers, less threatened by either personal violence or social marginalisation, is particularly offensive". However, it concludes that "it is possible to reject the imagery and still hear the judgement against consuming the spoils of oppression".
Verse 5 looks both backwards and forwards - back to the Exodus experience when God guided the nation through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, and forwards as it anticipates God's presence similarly resting over the whole site of Mount Zion in cloud, smoke and flame. The imagery now is beautiful, of God as a canopy over God's people, providing shade from the heat and shelter from the storm (verse 6). In the Exodus, the Lord camped amongst the people but was not accessible to them for the divine glory was overwhelming; a feature of the new creation will be full access into the shelter of God.
- Many towns and cities in the UK today are becoming Cities of Sanctuary (which includes the idea of a human canopy in its logo). Do you think this has any resonance with the imagery of Jerusalem as a "city of righteousness" and with the image of God as a shelter? In what ways?
- What tools can we use to best interpret for today those parts of the Bible which seem offensive or discriminatory against particular groups?
- In all you do today, try to visualise the presence of God as a canopy of shelter around you. How might this make today different?