This chapter goes on a rant against idolatry, and the creation of idols in particular. “Those who form idols are all of them vanity, and their treasures are of no avail, and they are their witnesses; they neither see nor hear, nor do they know, so that they be ashamed (Isaiah 44:9).” Anyone who knows someone who creates idols should be embarrassed and not associate with them. Several professions are now mentioned: ironsmiths and carpenters. But instead of embracing idolatry, the people are charged with remembering God, and all that He has done for us.
“When you pass through water, I am with you, and in rivers, they shall not overflow you; when you go amidst fire, you shall not be burnt, neither shall a flame burn amongst you (Isaiah 43:2).” Reading this verse, meant clearly to be one of comfort and reassurance, all that I can think about is the Holocaust. In the Shoah, the children of Israel were literally burned in the fires of Nazi hell. Knowing that this happened to the Jewish people, and not just once in our history, makes it extremely difficult to enjoy this nice metaphor. I can only see it as a prophecy, but a false one. Maybe its goal is to comfort, but whether or not God was in the flames and the waters didn’t end up saving the victims of the Shoah, so did it matter?
The chapter goes on to talk about the eventual ingathering of the exiles, when all of the dispersed Israelites will return to our ancient homeland. God will save us all from our troubles, and the threats that other nations pose to us. Again, the Holocaust imagery is unavoidable, at least for me. For too long, we weren’t saved from the aggressions of others, in spite of these prophecies. Does this mean that they’re wrong? Or that they just haven’t been fulfilled yet? And if that’s the case, does it really make the horrors of the intermediate years ok?
For those of you who are interested in my life beyond 929, today I have some pretty big news. Today is my wedding day! I can’t believe I’m actually studying my chapter today, in between all of the wedding craziness, but this practice has truly become a constant for me, and I’m hoping to find something meaningful in this chapter to mark this special day.
The chapter opens with, “Behold My servant, I will support him, My chosen one, whom My soul desires; I have placed My spirit upon him, he shall promulgate justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1).” I know that this is something that God is saying in reference to Israel and the Israelites, but if I just look at the literal meaning of the text, there is something very tender and almost romantic about it. God is making vows, vows to support His chosen people through the covenant, and as a result, God’s spirit, His essence, are on the people. I believe that once you love someone, and they love you back, you leave a mark of yourself on them, and vice versa. That’s why you’re never the same again as a result of a love story. Going into today, I’m carrying pieces of so many people – family, friends, loves. They’ve all made me who I am, and I’m so excited and honored to be carrying them into the next chapter of my life.
“Do not fear for I am with you; be not discouraged for I am your God; I encouraged you, I also helped you, I also supported you with My righteous hand (Isaiah 41:10).” It’s easy to lose hope when God seems to remain hidden. Throughout history, there have been so many times that the Jewish people have suffered, and it’s easy to turn around and say that God forgot the people, or neglected the chosen tribe. But it’s so important to remember that there’s something larger behind all of the events of history, that God has also helped us innumerable times. It’s easy to be afraid of an all-powerful God, but at the same time there’s an importance to trusting in the promises made and the covenant created.
“Like a shepherd tends his flock, with his arm he gathers lambs, and in his bosom he carries, the nursing ones he leads (Isaiah 40:11).” This verse follows a number of descriptions of God as a powerful, mighty being. But this particular depiction is lovely. It has God taking care of all of us, and not forgetting or neglecting even the most minor members of His flock. This is the vision of God that I like to reflect on the most, and I’m glad to see it highlighted here, amidst all of the wonderful and fantastical aspects. It’s the minor miracles that add up to amazingness, rather than just the shock and awe elements.
Word spreads that Hezekiah has recovered from his illness, and he receives a gift from the son of the king of Babylonia, Merodach-Baladan. He’s thrilled by the gift, and in return, he shows the messengers who bring it all of his riches. Isaiah finds out about this exchange, and he’s less than pleased. “Behold a time shall come when everything in your palace and what your forefathers have stored up, shall be carried off to Babylonia; nothing shall remain,’ said the Lord (Isaiah 39:6).” That’s harsh. I don’t think that Hezekiah is personally being blamed for the eventual Babylonian exile, but there’s clearly a lesson in here about not bragging or being to cocky regarding our current places in life. Even if you’re doing well today, no one knows what tomorrow might bring, and there’s a vulnerability in fully showing off, and setting oneself up for a fall.
Hezekiah becomes very sick, and Isaiah comes to tell him that he’ll be dying soon. Comforting. Hezekiah struggles to accept his fate, and reminds God of how good he had been throughout his life. God listens to this supplication, and decides to add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life. Isaiah is tasked with sharing the happy news with the king. At this time, there’s an interlude where the writings of Hezekiah from this period of his illness are shared. “The living, the living, he shall thank You, like me today; a father shall inform his children of Your truth. The Lord [has promised] to save me, and we will play my hymns all the days of our life in the House of the Lord (Isaiah 38:19-20).” Hezekiah has been rewarded, so he’s praising God to the extreme. It’s easy to praise when you’re on the receiving end of a miracle. Would he have reacted the same way without the additional decade and a half of life though?
“And it was when King Hezekiah heard, that he rent his garments, and covered himself with sackcloth, and came to the house of the Lord (Isaiah 37:1).” It looks like the messengers have conveyed their instructions. The king then sends his own messengers to Isaiah. They tell him about the tragedy of the day and the problems coming from Assyria. But luckily, Isaiah is able to reassure them. “And Isaiah said to them, ‘So shall you say to your master, ‘So has the Lord said, ‘Have no fear of the words you have heard, that the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me (Isaiah 37:6).'” But Assyria keeps threatening Hezekiah and the kingdom, so Hezekiah goes to pray to God.
“And now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord alone (Isaiah 37:20).” God does listen to this supplication, but not everything is going to be easy. Israel will be largely destroyed, but there will be survivors, and the remnant of Israel will reproduce and flourish once again. Assyria won’t be able to hurt Israel though, because God will protect Jerusalem. God ends up sending an angel to Assyria, and the angel destroys 185,000 in the Assyrian camp. It’s a tragic ending for the people, but a strong showing for God’s might.
Woohoo! Some narrative back in the mix to give us a sense of time and place! “And it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, that Sennacherib the king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them (Isaiah 36:1).” I never thought that a verse like this would excite me, but clearly this project is leading to some changes. Other than that excitement, this chapter isn’t particularly interesting to me. The king of Assyria is sending messengers to Hezekiah, and in order to do so he gives them a lot of instructions and caveats. But I guess we’ll have to wait for the next chapter to see the reaction to these messengers. To be continued!
“And the redeemed of Zion shall return, and they shall come to Zion with song, with joy of days of yore shall be upon their heads; they shall achieve gladness and joy, and sadness and sighing shall flee (Isaiah 35:10).” As I’ve written before, I miss Israel a lot of the time. I can’t wait to return, and yet I know that no matter how much I feel a longing for Israel, it’s minute compared to the generations of people who couldn’t have the experience for themselves. It’s a sensation that can only be felt on a removed level, at least for me. I try to connect with the magic of fulfilling the dream of so many who came before me, and when I see Israel written about in this idealistic way, it makes me wish for a utopia. Instead, Israel is a reality for me. It’s often flawed, and constantly challenging. But at its core it’s still this longed for place, which I’m spoiled by every day.