You can’t read these words and not be touched by some emotion. This is especially true when we let our minds fully imagine how this prophecy played out in Jesus’ final hours. Just as God orchestrated Israel’s fall to Assyria and Judah’s fall to Babylon, he sent his own son to die for us. God’s plan has always been full of purpose and intention. As mere humans, we are not always capable of understanding.
As I read this passage, I also try to envision what those first hearing the words must have thought. It’s easy for us to look back and see how well the descriptions fit with what we know happened. I understand that some of the imagery might bear resemblance to other heroes of the faith, like Ezekiel or Jeremiah. In what ways was this message helpful to those living in captivity?
We see another vision of Judah here that isn’t very pleasant. Unfortunately, we don’t need to look very far to see some of the same things in our current day reality. I have often thought God must be terribly disappointed in his children. There is so much injustice. People seem to have turned away from God. Our faith has been diluted with attempts to be more “inclusive” and accepting of people. Many are consumed with loving themselves and “things” rather than loving God. It was true then, and it is true now.
It’s pretty clear from God’s message that he is furious. “I will take revenge on my enemies.” God sees his enemies as those who have rebelled, turned against him, and become thieves, murderers, and bribe takers. God is also speaking to those who have failed to care for the oppressed, the orphans and widows. This will be a theme we’ll see over and again. God is calling for people to care for and defend those who have a hard time caring for themselves. Then and now, people have broken their commitment to God and turned their affections elsewhere. How about you? Where do your affections lie?
We are going to learn a lot as we journey through Isaiah together. These short verses today are sandwiched between the words of judgment proclaimed by the Lord. This image of being white as snow or wool has always been powerful for me. As I sit here, now living in Mexico, it strikes me it has been a long time since I have seen snow. Most of my Mexican friends have never even seen snow in person, so the power of this verse may not be fully grasped.
I can still vividly remember white knuckle driving on country roads in Iowa during my commute in the winter. This Iowa girl does not miss snow one little bit! But when it comes to this verse, I am taken back to a time when I could be nestled safely inside a warm house, looking out at the vast fields of white, glistening in the sun. That snow was so white it almost hurt your eyes to look at its gleaming. That is the image I think of when I imagine my sins being cleansed by a loving God.
Who is Isaiah? We aren’t given much of an introduction here, but from verse 1, we know he is the son of Amoz, and he received visions concerning Judah and Jerusalem. We will, as the book proceeds, learn more about who Isaiah is. For now, we can focus on the message. It’s time to listen, and the book of Isaiah doesn’t waste any time getting to it.
Before we get started, I do want to point out that the timeline puts Isaiah in history during the time when the original nation of Israel had been divided into two kingdoms. There was Israel in the north and Judah in the south. You may recall that the northern kingdom, Israel, had already gone down the road of sinfulness against God. Judah was heading in that same direction. Isaiah came primarily as a prophet to Judah, but his message spoke to those in the northern kingdom as well. We will probably glean some of the wisdom as well to be applied to our lives.
Who better to teach on the law than Paul? After all, he was so zealous in upholding it and enforcing it prior to his conversion experience. There is also the promise of God to Abraham we can’t overlook. The promise came first, and the law didn’t abolish it or change it. “For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.” We read yesterday about how that promise of God now extends to us because of Jesus.
Paul asks a question we are probably all asking, “Why, then, was the law given?” We could probably all give our answer to this question, and scholars across the ages have wrestled with it, too. Simply put, God knew we needed it. I love how Paul gives us the picture of the law being our guardian as we waited for Jesus. As a guardian, the law gave us a measuring stick of our sinfulness. It protected us by giving us rules to live by. It also allowed the mediators and judges to have a basis to rule on “legal” matters. God knew his people would need to have these boundaries to keep them safe from their sinful tendencies and from being weak in the face of temptation.