bible blog 1239

 This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

THE COST OF KATY PERRY EYELASHES

Armless she works with her feet to make 20 sets of eyelashes a day. She is paid 20p.

Armless she works with her feet to make 20 sets of eyelashes a day. She is paid 20p.

ISAIAH CHAPTER 54

Sing, O Barren One who did not bear

Shout for joy, woman who has not been in labour!

For the children of the desolate woman will be more
than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.
Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will possess the nations
and will settle the desolate towns.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing wrath for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

This is like the days of Noah to me:
Just as I swore that the waters of Noah
would never again go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

11 O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
I am about to set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.[a]
12 I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
your gates of jewels,
and all your wall of precious stones.
13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
and great shall be the prosperity of your children.

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

This prophecy is placed towards the end section 2 of the book of Isaiah, which contains the work of a prophet who preached to the exiled people of Israel when they were permitted to return to Israel  from Babylon by Cyrus the Great from 538 BCE. They returned home over a number of years, finding a wrecked temple but also a Jewish society which had continued living in their ancestral land.

The prophet is concerned with the returning exiles not with those who remained in Babylon nor with those who’d never left Judea.

The whole passage is saturated in metaphors of marriage. The returnees are like a widowed childless woman whereas the settled community is like a married woman with children. The returnees however, will be  blessed by God with more fruitfulness than the people who remained in the land. The story hinted at by the prophet is that the people have been rejected by God as a young husband might dismiss a wife. Sent away from the marital home she has suffered disgrace,as the people have suffered in exile. But now the Lord regrets his hasty anger, as he formerly regretted his angry destruction of life in the time of Noah. He will gather the people to him once again in a love which will be steadfast. He will beautify Jerusalem with love gifts, teach its people his laws and make them prosperous.

Durer: Man of Sorrows

Durer: Man of Sorrows

The prophet speaks for God, but does he like him?

One doesn’t need to be a feminist to detect tones of authoritarianism and self-satisfaction in the Lord’s words, even although he admits that his destructive anger is regrettable. Is the rejected wife to be glad of this change of heart?

The answer given is that this husband is the creator, the almighty maker of all the earth. Surely he could have anyone  he wanted, any people to be his beloved. The previous chapter has revealed that this “privilege” enjoyed by Israel means that she has suffered vicariously, not for her own sins, but for the sins of all nations. Israel’s wounds will bring about the healing of the nations. 

That explains the Lord’s purpose but it does not explain his wrath. Why must he explode with anger and why are his people meant to accept the burden of it? Because for the prophet, that is the inner meaning of being the Lord’s beloved: one suffers on behalf of others. He does not explain the anger of God, nor does he exculpate the Lord by saying, truthfully enough,  that the actual harm has been done by other human beings. The Creator, the God of all the earth, cannot be excused in that way. God permitted the destruction and exile of his people; he remains responsible; but his anger had a redemptive purpose. Now he will cherish and reward his once- rejected  bride and make her the envy of the world. 

What a strange story! Perhaps the people might prefer to reject the whole idea of a God rather than accept this dark fiction. In fact the people chose to do neither. Encouraged by Ezra and the re-builders of the Temple, they chose to believe that they had been justly punished for permitting the worship of foreign Gods and rewrote their history books to make this clear. Post-exilic Judaism forgot the strange idea that Israel had suffered for the sins of other peoples. Better a punishing God than a one so strange.

Disciples of Jesus Messiah on the other hand were quick to seize upon “second Isaiah’s” work as the most extraordinary anticipation of God’s relationship with his beloved Jesus, the one mysteriously abandoned by God for a moment, but gathered forever into his compassion and reward.

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