Monday, September 25, 2006

Will the real Isaiah please stand up?

Ever heard the phrase "Deutero-Isaiah"? There's a theory, promoted by critics of the Bible, that the prophet Isaiah, who wrote during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah kings of Judah, only wrote the first 39 chapters of the book that bears his name. Supposedly, they said, there was another, maybe two others, who wrote chapters 40-66, and did so after Judah was exiled to Babylon.

Why do they think this? One reason is the mention of Cyrus in a few places - once in chapter 44, and twice in today's reading - 45.1 and 45.13. Cyrus, as you may recall, was the king of Persia who allowed the exiles to return to Judah to rebuild the temple, and here's Isaiah, some hundreds (I think) of years before that, talking about him. If you have an anti-supernatural bias, you won't like the idea that a prophet knew, hundreds of years in advance, about a king in a distant kingdom who would send the exiles of Judah back home to rebuild.

Now let's look at the text:
"This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
Isaiah 45.1-3

"This is what the Lord says -- the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty."
Isaiah 45.11-13
Unusual for the Lord to do all that for a foreigner, a Gentile king. Unusual, but not unheard of. And also unusual to talk about it hundreds of years in advance, but it is in a section where the Lord is talking about how he knows the future
(I recently heard that Eugene Peterson believes Isaiah's book had two authors. Well, I guess there are more reasons than the anti-supernatural one, 'cause I'm pretty darned sure Eugene Peterson doesn't have such a bias. This confuses me, because it seems to me that the New Testament thinks Isaiah is one book by one author. But it's sure hard to disagree with Eugene Peterson about anything regarding the Bible.)
But the thing I get out of this passage is this: The Lord is in charge of this world. He knows in advance, and he directs the affairs of mankind. He decreed the exile to Babylon, the return to Judah, and all that stuff.

Even our bumbling "blind into Baghdad" was also something that the Lord allowed, for whatever his purpose was (and is) in all that.

He's got the whole world in his hands, and he's not about to drop the ball. And that's good news.

posted 9/26

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