Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pick Your Favourite Chapter of Isaiah Night

The other night, three of us (the lovely Carol, the ex-teen, and I) chose a chapter of Isaiah to read. Here are the three chapters we chose, in ascending order, with some highlights; see if you can guess who chose which chapter.

Isaiah 40

... is justly famous; the beginning verses appear near the beginning of Handel's The Messiah:
Comfort, comfort ye my people 
    saith your God. 
A voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: 
    Prepare ye the way of the Lord. 
Make straight in the desert a highway 
    for our God.
from Isaiah 40:1-3
John the Baptist quotes this in John 1:23; Mark quotes it in Mark 1:3. Who needs comforting? The Israelites did then, and we do today.

This chapter also has the image of the Lord as one who measured the waters of the seas in the hollow of his hand, marked off the heavens with the span, held the dust of the earth in a basket, etc. "To whom will you compare me? And who is my equal?" -- indeed. Considering the Lord's greatness gives me a whole new perspective on problems. No problem I have is worth comparing with the One who brings out the stars one by one (and calls them each by name).

And there's that promise at the end of the chapter:

Those who hope in the Lord 
    will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; 
    they will run and not grow weary, 
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Isaiah 55

...begins with that great invitation:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, 
    come to the waters; 
and you who have no money, 
    come, buy and eat! 
Come, buy wine and milk 
    without money and without cost…
Isaiah 55:1
The Lord invites them, and us, to a feast he's hosting -- for free! He's inviting us -- urging us to stop defeating ourselves. Good idea.

There's also the verses that talk about seeking the Lord while he may be found, and the promise of being freely forgiven. Repent, he says, and “turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). That's good news. And this:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
   neither are your ways my ways,” 
declares the Lord. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
    so are my ways higher than your ways 
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
As the rain and the snow 
    come down from heaven, 
and do not return to it 
    without watering the earth 
    and making it bud and flourish, 
so that it yields seed for the sower  
    and bread for the eater,  
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: 
    It will not return to me empty, 
but will accomplish what I desire 
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:8-11
Notice the way his thoughts are higher than ours includes his generosity (55:1-3) and his mercy (Isaiah 55:7) and also that his word shall succeed. And right after that is this cool promise:
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

Isaiah 58

In this chapter the Lord rebukes those who do religious rituals but without doing justice: you fast, he says, yet you “exploit all your workers…You cannot fast as you do today and expected your voice to be heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:3-4). He says similar things about keeping the Sabbath yet continuing to sin. On the positive side, he's got some great promises for us: if you repent of oppressing people, he says,
… and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry 
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, 
then your light will rise in the darkness, 
    and your night will become like the noonday.  
The Lord will guide you always; 
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land 
    and will strengthen your frame. 
You will be like a well-watered garden, 
    like a spring whose waters never fail.  
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins 
    and will raise up the age-old foundations; 
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, 
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Isaiah 58:10-12
There's also a promise for those who keep the Sabbath, which I used to think meant that God didn't want us to just relax and enjoy ourselves. But when he talks about honoring the Sabbath "by not going your own way" (Isaiah 58:13) I think he's contrasting our own way (cf Isaiah 53:6) with his way -- his ways are higher than our ways, as we saw in chapter 55. Our ways aren't like his in that we aren't generous, we don't forgive, and we say things without necessarily carrying them out. This is what he means when he says "not going your own way."

So who chose which?

These are all great chapters. All of them deal with eternal questions and with heavenly priorities. All display the Lord's supremacy. Chapter 40 reminds us that the Lord wants to comfort and strengthen us; chapter 55 reminds us of the Lord's reasonableness, his generosity and mercy. When we work hard for things that don't satisfy, this chapter seeks to correct us. Chapter 58 promises rewards for us when we repent, when we serve the poor and hungry; it warns us not to practice religious rituals without changing our hearts.

So what do you think? Which did I choose on "Pick Your Favourite Chapter of Isaiah" night? Which one looks to you like a young person's chapter? Which did the lovely Carol choose? Any ideas? Maybe I'll update this post later with the answer.

and the answer is...

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1 comment:

jfille said...

Also ch. 55 has the great promises at the very end: "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."