Thursday

I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favour to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. (v. 7)

Isaiah 63:1-9 Thursday 4 March 2021

Psalm 97

Background

In today's reading, the chapter begins with the appearance of a figure splendidly robed and marching in great might (v. 63.1b). Like the previous chapter in Isaiah, which was the subject of yesterday's reading, it is not immediately clear whether this is an allusion to God, or to another. However, it seems likely that whether this is a human or divine figure they are portrayed as having acted against the enemies of the people of God. So the figure is, at the very least, cast in the role of a divine agent.

The metaphor of a treading grapes in a wine press is appropriated to describe the crushing of enemies as an act of vengeance. Some of the imagery of this chapter will resonate with those familiar with the opening of the American 19th-century "Battle Hymn of the Republic":

                         Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
                         He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

It’s uncomfortable imagery to modern sensibilities but carries resonances of divine judgement and picks up themes from earlier chapters in Isaiah of the God who loves justice but hates robbery and wrongdoing (v. 61.8) and the God who promises vengeance (v. 61.2) so that captors are overthrown and oppressors brought to justice.

The second half of the passage paints the other side of the picture, of the mercy and favour shown by God to Israel. It seems likely that it refers to an earlier time, rather than to the present, hence the need to "recount of the gracious deeds of the Lord" (v. 63.7).

To Ponder:

  • In God we encounter both darkness and light, judgement and mercy. Are you instinctively more comfortable speaking of divine mercy than divine judgement? Why might that be given that passages such as this place them side by side?
  • Some images of judgement are uncomfortable to modern sensibilities in part because they come from a different culture and era. How might we best engage with them?
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