Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans
Today’s Passage: Isaiah 54
What was the word I made up the other day? “Jewishnesses?” The Jewishnesses are pervasive in this chapter. Even as a guy fairly familiar with the Old Testament and the history of Judaism, I feel like some of these chapters will always strike me as at least a bit alien. You never really know something until you experience it: that’s a very Jewish idea. And I’ve never experienced being a Jew.
In ancient cultures, it was desirable to have piles and piles of kids in order to continue one’s family, and ancient Judaism was no exception. Just consider Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, and her shame while she was childless. Isaiah refers to that sort of shame–the shame of barren women, unmarried women, and widows, the shame of being cut off from the cycles of human life through generations–when he states:
Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. (54:4)
Isaiah says no to shame; he denies it a place in Israel’s future. “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts” (54:5), he tells Israel. God has not rejected his people or cut them off from life, and Isaiah uses marriage and family as a symbol of that life. His people have a loving relationship with a cosmic husband who predates the universe, and who may grow angry with his wife but even in his anger has everlasting lovingkindness and compassion for her (8).
That’s the wife thing. But Isaiah begins the chapter with the children thing. He reminds Israel of their history as a nation of unexpected offspring:
“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord. (54:1)
I’m pretty certain this is a reference to Abraham’s wives Sarah and Hagar, and their children, Isaac and Ishmael. For years Sarah was the barren woman, promised a child that had yet to show up, laughing at the absurdity of conceiving in her old age, so desperate for her husband’s family line to continue that she asked him to conceive a child through her female servant. Isaiah promises Israel: “And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities” (54:3). He reminds them that they started with just one man, Isaac, the child of the promise. They may be just a remnant, decimated by generations of oppression from foreign nations, but they came from a single promise from God, and now God promises that his people will bounce back.
Isaiah also incorporates the story of Noah into his message. Speaking through Isaiah, God tells his people, “I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you” (54:9). The flood was a judgment for humanity’s sins, and in the analogy, God’s anger with his people has been a judgment for their sins. The point, though, is God’s forgiveness and mercy. He promises: “My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken” (54:10). And once again, it’s a reminder of what God can do with just one man. Noah was just one man, but every human being on earth can count him as an ancestor; Israel may be a remnant, greatly reduced in number, but at this point in history there are still a lot more of them than there were of Noah and his family. Thus, Isaiah declares: “All your sons will be taught of the Lord, and the well-being of your sons will be great” (54:13). Just like Noah and his family, the nation of Israel has a prosperous future beyond the current generation, bigger than one man.
As a single 21st-century American guy who’s more interested in reproducing culturally, socially, and artistically than reproducing biologically, it’s hard to imagine what it would feel like to be an 8th-century-BC Jew hearing Isaiah’s message. But for having read it, dug into it, and spent some time with it today, I feel like I’ve got a better appreciation of God’s love and forgiveness for it, particularly toward his people. Take the time, fam. Get to know the strange passages, don’t assume you know what they’re all about, be humble enough to learn from God. It’ll enrich your life.