Sometimes the psalm summarizes itself for you. Consider the opening lines of today’s psalm: “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments!” (112:1). The rest of the psalm is basically a litany of blessings for the man who fears the Lord. He receives a well-established family tree, material wealth, a good legacy, victory over his adversaries, and more. But let’s zero in on a verse in the middle of the psalm, characterizing this man of many blessings. The man is merciful–and a creditor.
I’m having trouble finding it, but I swear we’ve seen a psalm like this before: written by the king, extolling the king. Psalm 110 is another psalm of David, and the NASB has provided a perfectly serviceable summary: “The Lord Gives Dominion to the King.” It’s also a Messianic Psalm. If you’ve read one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or checked out the book of Hebrews, you may recognize a few verses from this psalm that were also quoted by those New Testament writers. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews takes this psalm as referring to the Messiah–and so does Jesus.
There was a time that I had this chapter memorized, and I could probably still recite a good bit of it from memory. It depicts the Lord’s Servant as suffering for the well-being of others, with a number of concrete prophetic descriptions which are fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
Okay, let’s get thorough. The prophecy of Ephraim’s captivity in Isaiah 28, which we looked at yesterday, isn’t merely about drunkenness, and it’s intended as a warning for the kingdom of Judah. Isaiah addresses the second half of his message to the “scoffers who rule this people who are in Jerusalem” (28:14). The head is rotten and the leadership is subject to judgment.
Religion has historically had no single consensus on what to do about alcohol. The Jewish Havdalah tradition that marks the end of each Sabbath involves drinking glasses of overflowing wine together. In a more extreme example, the Greek Cult of Dionysus saw drunkenness as possession by the spirit of the god of wine Dionysus, a means of communion with the divine, and according to some records the Roman Bacchanalia frequently degenerated into drunken orgies. On the flip side, Islamic Sharia law prohibits the consumption of alcohol entirely, based on particular verses of the Quran. In practice, historical Christianity has landed on various positions between these two extremes. But what does Isaiah have to contribute to the Judeo-Christian perspective on The Hard Stuff?
At first read, it seems to me like Isaiah 27 is all over the place. We’ve got Leviathan, we’ve got a vineyard, then we’ve got judgment and forgiveness in the same breath and…women making a fire from the broken-off limbs of a calf? I’m not sure how to bring it all together, so I’m just gonna hit it point-by-point and see what we get.
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.