11 April 2019Isaiah 51:1-6
Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. (Vs. 1b-2)
Psalm: Psalm 40
Today’s passage is similar to many other prophetic passages in its tone of encouragement to consider the past and build upon this as a ground for faithfulness and trust in God. However, verse 2 is relatively unusual in its specific reference to Abraham and Sarah, who are not often mentioned in the Hebrew Bible outside Genesis (although frequently referenced in the New Testament). Abraham and Sarah represent the blessing of God and, in particular, the hope of a future (signified in the promise of progeny to the ageing founding father and mother of the faith).
Israel, then, is to remember how God was faithful to the promise made to Abraham and Sarah, despite the apparent unlikeliness (or even impossibility) of that promise being fulfilled. The imagery of the rock and the quarry in verse 1 is striking both for its linguistic beauty and its theological significance; God is the rock of salvation (eg Psalm 18:2, 19:14 et al) and Israel is a part of that rock.
In unpacking what might be understood by the ‘comforting’ of Zion (in verse 3), once again the transformation of wilderness is described. Such transformation is a sign of the restoration that God will bring about (see also Isaiah 35:1-2, 49:11 et al). Here, rather unusually, the Garden of Eden is mentioned. Perhaps these two references (to Abraham and Sarah in verse 2 and to Eden in verse 3) suggest that a collection of stories, akin to what we now call Genesis, was circulating and known at the time when the prophecies of Isaiah were given.
Verses 4 to 5 are full of hope and promise; God is not weakened, God’s deliverance will come and will have a broad extent, reaching to ‘the coastlands’. In verse 6 that promised deliverance is put into a framework of the ‘end times’ (eschatology); in time the natural order will come to an end but the deliverance and salvation of God will not.
- Do you find it helpful sometimes to ‘look to the rock from which you were hewn’? Who do you think about when you consider God’s faithfulness in the past?
- The transformation of gardens (and homes) often features in popular television shows; in what ways do you find this a helpful (or unhelpful) illustration of how God might demonstrate ‘comfort’?
- What feelings are evoked within you by the idea that one day ‘the heavens will vanish like smoke’?