Matthew 13 – I Hope You Like Subtext

If you’ve ever wondered what the kingdom of heaven is like, you came to the right chapter. Matthew 13 is over 90% parables by verse, each one a simile comparing the kingdom of heaven to something else. So what is the kingdom of heaven like? It’s like a sower sowing seed, a man whose enemy sows weeds in his wheat field, a mustard seed, leaven, a treasure hidden in a field, a merchant seeking fine pearls, and a dragnet. Need an explanation? If so, you’re in good company, because the disciples ask for one as well.

Isaiah 65 – In Which the People of Israel Front a Lot

I can’t read the opening verses of this chapter without thinking of the MC Frontalot track “Indier Than Thou,” which precedes each of its verses with spoken lines quoted from Isaiah 65. “I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people,” intones a booming voice, “who say, ‘Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou!’” (2, 5). God is disgusted by his people’s hypocrisy, as they claim holiness as a sign of social status while ignoring both God and his law. In his song, Frontalot humorously casts himself as a religious devotee of “indieness” in the mode of the Israelites, seeking to garner indie cred through a mixture of obscurity and ignominy. As he puts it: “Should I ever garner triple-digit fans, you can tell me then there’s someone I ain’t indier than” ([*]).

Isaiah 64 – Filth and Mammoths

I read an article this morning about the Social Survival Mammoth, which keeps you from doing stuff that will make people kick you out of your tribe and leave you to fend for yourself in the wild where you will probably starve or be eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. It’s largely useless to listen to your Social Survival Mammoth these days, as there is lots of food and the saber-toothed tiger is extinct, but we still do. And I am trying to write this post, wanting to write a good post that you will get something out of, and not wanting to write a bad post that you will ignore and not like and that will cause you to stop following my blog, and that’s my Social Survival Mammoth talking. God does not have a Social Survival Mammoth.

Isaiah 63 – Bloodgrapes

You know the grapes of wrath, right? No, not the novel by John Steinbeck; he based the title of his novel on the phrase “grapes of wrath” from the first verse of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” You know the line, right? “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Well, that refers back to Revelation 14:17–21, in which an angel executes God’s judgment on the earth by harvesting “grapes” for the winepress of the wrath of God. Before the basket press and horizontal screw press became widely used in the late Roman Empire and early Middle Ages, workers would juice grapes by stomping on them–and in the winepress from John’s vision in Revelation, the workers in the winepress squeeze out blood that runs for two hundred miles. And I used to think the chain of references ended there, but no.

Isaiah 62 – Reminding God

Welcome to 2017, and to Isaiah 62. The chapter continues to look ahead to Zion’s restoration, and as lines do, a few lines jumped out at me. Isaiah begins the chapter with a promise to keep prophesying; he tells us, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent” (62:1). He also promises that the watchmen of Jerusalem will not be silent either. And then we come to this bit: “You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (62:6-7). Now, God is omniscient, so we humans shouldn’t need to remind him of anything, and he’s going to refrain from resting whether we allow him to rest or not (Psalm 121:4). In short, these are eyebrow-raising verses.

Isaiah 61 – Wearing Your Messiahship

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Sound familiar? It’s not just the first line of today’s chapter. It’s also what Jesus reads in his hometown synagogue in Luke 4:16-21, which he concludes by telling the congregation: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This is my mission, Jesus tells his hearers. God has chosen me to accomplish what Isaiah hoped for, and you are witnesses to my commissioning.

Isaiah 60 – Wealthy Again

When in doubt, start with a summary: you gotta know what the chapter says before you can figure out what it means. This chapter is about God restoring Israel’s fortunes. Remember the last chapter of historical narrative we read, Isaiah 39, where Hezekiah showed the Babylonians all his wealth and Isaiah prophesied that Babylon was gonna come in and take it all? God’s prophetic message in chapter 60 is that there will come a day when Israel will have neat stuff again. Camels and gold and the respect of the nations: in time it’s all coming back.

Isaiah 59 – Sin in Isolation

First things first: remember that extended metaphor of the light at the end of the tunnel that I employed while discussing Isaiah 57? At the time, I felt a little odd framing the chapter that way, since it doesn’t use the words “light” or “dark” at all. But look at these lines from today’s chapter: “We hope for light, but behold, darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope along the wall like blind men, we grope like those who have no eyes” (59:9-10). It seems the metaphor hews a little closer to the source than expected.

Isaiah 58 – The Giving Tightrope

Today’s chapter is about fasting. It comes as a response to Israel’s complaint: “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” (58:3). Remember yesterday, when God accused his people of forgetting him? Today, they’re all, “Nah, God, we remember you! We’ve been fasting and humbling ourselves! Come on, why are you ignoring us?”