Isaiah 9-11 and Psalm 99
In the reading this morning we ride the rollercoaster of great news about the birth of Jesus and the flagrant disrespect that Israel shows toward God. The upside is wonderful, the downside is devastating, literally.
Four times we read the refrain:
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.
Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4
More than a warning, this is a statement of fact:
Those who guide this people mislead them,
and those who are guided are led astray.
The leaders of the northern kingdom are described in this single statement. Each king is noted as doing evil, not following the ways of the Lord. Their wickedness is not unseen, though they have acted as though they were untouchable. The Lord sees all and will not be idle.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
Chapter 10 reminds me of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the battles fought, the rallying speeches of the kings.
See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
the tall ones will be brought low.
He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.
But there is hope, there is good news. “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” (Isaiah 9:1) The remnant will survive (Isaiah 10:20-23). Though they were once many, the faithful few will carry the glimmer of hope.
One of my favorite scriptures:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
A key part of Advent memories around the world, the hope of the world is born.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
I imagine these words were read over and over again by the remnant destined for exile. Chiseled in stone, written on parchment, embedded in the hearts of those who were cast out. What a great and glorious day it was when Christ was born, when the Branch came forth.
Amid the words of destruction, the prophecies of gloom, we read these encouraging words. “In that day…” there is hope. Though many will be swept away, the day of righteousness is at hand. It will be an amazing future where jealousy is vanquished, a place where old enemies live together:
- the wolf and the lamb
- the calf, the lion and the yearly
- the cow and the bear
- the infant and the cobra
Though the present is full of grief and anguish:
In that day the Lord will
reach out his hand a second time
to reclaim the surviving
remnant of his people…
Isaiah prods and comforts, scorns and soothes with words that speak bluntly followed by hope for the future. Out of the stump the shoot will arise…a second time!