Monday 28 November 2016

Bible Book:

but they have rebelled against me.” (v. 2)

Isaiah 1:1-11 Monday 28 November 2016

Psalm: Psalm 62


Whilst the ox, donkey and crib of verse 3 might soundcomfortably Christmassy (and are referenced in the8th/9th century AD Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew in connection withthe Incarnation) there is nothing else cosy about this passage. Init Israel is pictured as a rebel child, a sinful nation, a sickbody, a desolate landscape, a besieged city and more. Worst of all,the blood of animals, which has been the basis of the sacrificialsystem since its foundation (Leviticus 17:11), no longer touches the heartof God; it seems there is nothing the people can do to make amends,for the passage ends with a fierce denunciation of wrong ritualpractice.

The first chapter of Isaiah is a little like the overture at thestart of an opera or symphony, giving a taste of themes which willbe developed in later passages - themes such as sin, judgement, afaithful remnant and hoped-for restoration. Verse 1 is comparablewith the opening of other prophetic books, the series of kingsnamed suggests a time frame for this writing around the second halfof the 8th century BC. This was a period when the kingdom hadalready become divided into northern and southern kingdoms, withseparate kings. We may want to note something here aboutterminology; following the division of the kingdom, the southernrealm, centred on Jerusalem, where Isaiah lived and prophesied isnormally referred to as Judah, with Israel indicating the north.However, there are still occasions, (as in verse 3) where the nameIsrael is used simply to indicate God's people.

Yesterday's note of universal ignorance issounded again as Israel is castigated for not "knowing", notunderstanding the nature and character of God. The languageconjures up an imaginary law court in which the heavens and earth(verse 2) are summoned to witness the verdict God is about toannounce. Layer upon layer of failings and condemnation are builtup; the imagery is strong and the metaphors vivid, with "Alas"perhaps a better translation than "Ah" at the start of verse 4.Prayers sometimes invite blessing to be given "from the sole of thefoot to the crown of the head" (v. 6), but here that sameexpression describes the extent of the sickness from which Judahsuffers. The important idea of a remnant, a few remaining faithful,occurs in verse 9. Here, as elsewhere, the 'remnant' can be at oncea sign of disaster and a sign of hope. If there is only a remnant,there has clearly been significant destruction, but at least thereis a remnant. Otherwise the land would have received the worstindictment of all, it would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah thecities which were utterly destroyed by God in Genesis 19:24.

Perhaps, somewhat paradoxically, in this passage of relentlessjudgement and condemnation, there is hope to be found in the veryharshness of the language. As the writer to the Hebrews wouldcomment centuries later -  "Endure trials for the sake ofdiscipline. God is treating you as children; for what child isthere whom a parent does not discipline?" (Hebrews 12:7). The imagery of God as parent(father and mother) of Israel is used in verse 2 as in otherinstances in Isaiah (Isaiah30:1; 66:13). If God is still reprimanding Israel, they arestill God's loved child.

To Ponder

  • There is much in the Bible which makes uncomfortable reading.Is there a sense in which some of this passage could and should beapplied to the Church today? If so, how?
  • The idea of God as a loving parent is common, but again weoften gloss over the need for a parent to discipline a child. Haveyou ever felt that God was disciplining you? How did thatfeel?
  • Today's Psalm (Psalm 62) repeats an injunction to wait - astrong theme of Advent. Do we need to learn more about waiting forGod's restoration? If so, what?
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