Some biblical passages explicitly note God’s status as uncreated Creator. Among the passages that don’t, I will invariably view them in the context of God’s status as uncreated Creator–perhaps even at the expense of the passage’s point. But I’m in luck, because today’s chapter explicitly notes God’s status as uncreated Creator.
This chapter marks the first of Isaiah’s “Servant songs,” a series of poems that describe the Lord’s servant. Christians traditionally interpret these as messianic prophecies pointing to Jesus Christ, but in Jewish circles the Servant is generally viewed as a personification of Israel in aggregate. And that should come as no surprise; if they took the Servant as Jesus Christ, they’d by definition be Christians. But it would appear the Jewish interpretation has the text on its side. The previous chapter identifies the servant clearly in the words of God himself: “But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen…” (41:8). Why should we take the servant as an individual, let alone Jesus Christ, when Isaiah has already established that the servant is Israel? And…I guess that’s what I’m writing about today.
Yesterday’s chapter from Isaiah focused on God’s greatness and power. Building on the foundation that God is strong enough to come to his people’s aid, today’s chapter emphasizes that he’s good enough to come to his people’s aid.
Greetings, all you Black Friday blog-readers. I’m writing live from scenic My Grandmother’s House, as indicated by the different plate and tablecloth. I wanted to get a post up on Thanksgiving, but after spending half the day driving, and then Thanksgiving dinner and checking out the Christmas lights display…well, the post didn’t happen. But here I am again, back today with Isaiah 40. The chapter begins with a command from God: “Comfort, comfort my people,” (40:1), so let’s take a look at the comfort he proposes.
You ever get sick, and then get over the sickness, and get so glad to be over the sickness that the son of the king of Babylon sends you presents and so you show him all your stuff? And then a prophet of the Lord kinda rebukes you and prophesies that Babylon will take all your stuff and some of your sons? And also in this scenario you are the king of Judah. The Bible is nothing if not relatable.
In third grade I got the chicken pox. Right around day four, the itching became nigh-intolerable. I remember laying on the floor in pain that afternoon, just outside the upstairs bathroom. I was nowhere near the edge of death, my chicken pox was hardly as severe as Hezekiah’s life-threatening illness, yet I recall wanting to die so that the itching would stop. Did I actually pray for God to end my life? I don’t remember. But I’m glad he didn’t grant my wishes, because if he had, I wouldn’t be here today, eating chocolate and reading Hezekiah’s song and writing a blog post about it.
Today’s chapter begins with King Hezekiah getting the news of the Assyrian commander Rabshakeh’s threats against Jerusalem. After mourning, Hezekiah sends his steward Eliakim to get Isaiah the prophet. Rabshakeh has claimed, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.” (36:10), and the king needs to find out from God himself whether God has sided with the Assyrians. His inquiry and command for Isaiah: “Perhaps the Lord your God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which the Lord your God has heard. Therefore, offer a prayer for the remnant that is left” (37:4). If Rabshakeh is putting words in the Lord’s mouth, then perhaps the Lord won’t stand for it. Perhaps.
As the narrative opens, Sennacherib launches a military campaign against Judah, quickly seizing its fortified cities. Then, Isaiah reports, “[T]he king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah with a large army” (36:2). When Eliakim and his crew go out to meet him, Rabshakeh threatens and taunts the entire kingdom, proposing a deal to secure Judah’s compliance. Rabshakeh mocks the uselessness of the alliance with Egypt, and even questions the utility of relying on the God of Israel, YHWH. “Have I now come up without the Lord’s approval against this land to destroy it?” he asks. “The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it’” (36:10). He asserts that he himself, not Judah, has God’s will on his side, and that he has divine authorization for his attack on Judah.
Here Isaiah describes a restored future for his homeland. He begins with a prediction that the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like a crocus. Don’t know what a crocus is? Neither did I. Fortunately, we live in a world with the internet.
Here’s your summary of Isaiah 34: the first half is a bloodbath and the second half is a wasteland. Put on your hip waders and let’s dig into the gritty details.