Wednesday 01 February 2012

Bible Book:

but with great compassion I will gather you."

Isaiah 54:1-10 Wednesday 1 February 2012


The image of a childless woman unexpectedly bearing children isone that echoes through the Old Testament. Sarah (Genesis18), Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Hannah (1Samuel 1) all have the experience of bearing sons through thegrace of God. Even in the West in the twenty first century, coupleslong for the fulfilment of the gift of children, and in manypatriarchal societies a woman's status depends on the children shebears. The promise of children is a dream come true.

Isaiah takes this image further (verses 2-3) by describing a tentfit for the television programme Grand Designs; this is a houseextension with a vengeance as the tent grows and grows toaccommodate all the children who will need space there. It is awonderful evocation of the optimism that suffuses theseverses.

In verse 4 the image changes to that of a woman who, for one reasonor another, has lost her husband. The story of Ruth and Naomi (inthe Book of Ruth) makes it clear how hard the lifeof the widow was. Then the woman is no longer a widow, butsuffering the ultimate disgrace: abandoned by her husband, forsaken(verse 6). Dark stories such as that of Tamar (Genesis38) reveal just how much some women had to face.

Many writers now recognise that the patriarchal bias of theseimages makes it harder for modern women and men to empathise withthe underlying ideas. Israel is always depicted as the woman in abroken relationship, wholly dependent on the compassion of herlord. That said, however, this range of imagery enables a deepunderstanding of the levels of personal pain that can exist withina multilayered relationship of this nature, and the intense joy ofunexpected reconciliation.

And beyond that - amazingly - God appears to take responsibility,even apologise, for the moment when Israel was abandoned to theirfate, leaving her to endure exile. The first lines of verses 7 and8 both contain this admission: I did it. There is no attempt toblame Israel or find an excuse; it is a simple acknowledgement ofreality.

And on that basis, God promises that it will never happen again.The passage weaves round the great words of covenantal promise:compassion (a word linked in Hebrew with 'womb'), love, steadfastand eternal, redeemer. And the reference to the story of Noahdevelops this promise. As God undertook never to flood the earthagain (Genesis 9:12-17), so will Israel never again beabandoned. The promise is of a complete end to exile.

And yet such an experience, even when in the past, leaves its mark.Israel remained - and remains - a community who knows what it is tobe exiled.

To Ponder

How does Jesus' cry from the Cross "My God, myGod, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark15:34) help in understanding this passage?

What would you like to ask God to apologise toyou for?

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