Monday 01 April 2019

Bible Book:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem (vs. 1-2)

Isaiah 40:1-11 Monday 1 April 2019

Psalm: Psalm 107:1-18


I have a soft spot for Isaiah, I studied chapters 40 to 55 in Hebrew at university. It was also while at university that I began listening to the music of Handel, including his 'Messiah'. It’s a combination that is both heady and full of heart. Even though I don’t read the King James Bible these days, when I read Isaiah I am transported back to Handel’s use of the older English text.

There are four segments of 'The Messiah' in today’s passage:
Comfort ye my people
Every valley shall be exalted
And the glory, the glory of the Lord
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion 

The 'Messiah' begins with today’s highlighted text, as does what might be called the introduction of the Messiah in the Gospels, as this first sung segment ends with God’s messenger calling.

It’s great music, but it is not definitive Biblical interpretation (check out the full performance to see how Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are woven together).

First of all, this is poetry, which is why it is so great when set to music, it is also what we call ‘prophecy’ (it is often not what we think it is …). At its most basic, it is God’s Word. This is particularly special in Isaiah as the chapters from 40 onwards are the speech of God, words that the text, or Isaiah, is telling us have come from God. This parallels the Islamic understanding that the Qur'an is direct speech or proclamation from God; direct speech by God is limited in the Bible. Only in the Torah (‘Books of Moses’) and the great writing prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) do we have extended segments of God’s ipsissima verba (the ‘very words’ of God).

Prophecy is meant to be spoken into its current context, otherwise it is not prophecy. For those of us who read these ancient prophecies they still have life, though we can get carried away with them. Prophecy is about embodying the Word for ourselves, realising it. Engaging with written prophecy is a very different thing to engaging with the original spoken form. From a historical perspective, it is done, over. But as Word it continues. There is therefore tension in the very idea of ‘Messiah’, a mythical figure, when he escapes from the text into the real world!


To Ponder:

  • What do you gain from listening to Handel’s 'Messiah' as you read?
  • What is it like to read these Words, straight from God’s mouth?
  • How do you relate to the concept of ‘prophecy’?
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