I’ve got this book on Isaiah, a Bible study guide from the Navigators. And as I’ve been reading through Isaiah, I haven’t even cracked the thing open yet, but a reader advised me to take a look at what it says about chapters 13-23 and to consider skipping that section or only looking at a portion of it. And here’s what the study guide has to say…
Sometimes the shortest chapters are the hardest to write about. Isaiah 12 is six verses about giving thanks to God. I read it and think to myself, “That’s pretty self-explanatory. What could I possibly add to it?”
There’s more on the Messiah in today’s passage. Right off the bat, Isaiah tells us, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (11:1). The Messiah will come as a descendant of David, who was possibly Israel’s greatest and most well-known king, the son of an ordinary guy named Jesse. He will usher in a time of righteous judgment on behalf of the poor, a time of peace when “the wolf will dwell with the lamb” (11:6). I wonder if the passage is intended to hark back to the Garden of Eden, free from death and therefore free from predator-prey relationships, an ecology free from suffering.
Took me long enough to notice, but there’s a mantra going in yesterday’s and today’s chapters of Isaiah: “In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away, and His hand is still stretched out” (9:12, 9:17, 9:21, 10:4). The Contemporary Jackson Ferrell Version reads, “Ain’t no party like a God’s wrath party ’cause a God’s wrath party don’t stop.” It’s a prophetic indication that even after the judgment of Aramean and Philistine invasion, even after the judgment of Israel losing its leadership, even after the judgment of self-consuming evil, even after the judgment of devastation and captivity, there’s more.
I like music. You know that, not only because everyone likes music, but also because I’m constantly sharing music on this blog that is ostensibly about the Bible. But did you know that, in addition to Christian rock from the 90s, I also enjoy classical music? I can’t read this passage from Isaiah without thinking of the section of Handel’s Messiah that sets it to music. Let’s let the London Symphony Orchestra perform it for us on Youtube, shall we? That’s the ticket.
The Bible has got some great names. I’ve always been partial to Arpachshad. But in today’s chapter from Isaiah, we get Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz. That’s an entire sentence in Hebrew. Can you imagine naming your kid an entire sentence, like “Raise high the roof beam, carpenters” or “All my best friends are metalheads?” Well, at God’s instruction, that’s exactly what Isaiah does.
The first handful of chapters in Isaiah are a prophetic message from God to Israel, but chapter 6 begins a tradition into historical narrative, and by chapter 7, we’re fully into the story. The two Jewish kingdoms are at war with each other, and Pekah, the king of Israel, has teamed up with King Rezin of Syria to lay siege to Jerusalem in Judah. King Ahaz of Judah freaks out over the attack, so God sends Isaiah and his son out to reassure the king that Judah will not fall. If it seems like there’s a lot going on and it’s hard to make sense of, don’t worry; you’re in good company. I myself had to check out a study guide by David Guzik just to distill it all down to that summary.
Ah, Isaiah 6: the temple vision. I remember first learning about this passage in Sunday school in Charlotte, NC, which means that for my first encounter with it, I couldn’t have been older than five years. Everything is new at that age, but as I get older, I run the risk of getting inured by familiarity with passages like this. But even if you’re reading it for the first time, if you don’t take the time to visualize it or read it attentively, you can gloss over it without getting the impact of Isaiah’s vision. If you “keep on looking, but do not understand” (6:9), the words remain mere words on the page.
There are some things that it’s bad to be good at. For example, it’s bad to be good at getting drunk.
I often lead with a song, and this post’s gotta get written, so let’s go with that. Jan and Dean’s 1963 hit single “Surf City” depicts a fictitious town of surfing and partying that boasts “two girls for every boy.” The Israel-to-come of Isaiah’s prophecies boasts an even higher ratio of seven to one. Isaiah states, “For seven women will take hold of one man in that day, saying, ‘We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach!'” (4:1). But this is no surf party, no cause for rejoicing. If the desperation of the women didn’t give it away, flip back to the previous chapter and read Isaiah’s prediction: “Your men will fall by the sword and your mighty ones in battle” (3:25). Why are there so many women compared to the men? It’s because some 85% of the men have been slaughtered in war.