As I mentioned a few days ago, I'm reading through the Old Testament book of Isaiah as preparation for Christmas. If you have heard Handel's "Messiah", it can be fun to come across the many scripture verses referenced from this book in the oratorio. There are also so many beautiful passages about how God forgives his wayward people and provides them with their Messiah. But those come later in the book, and first you have to read through some hard-to-hear passages where Isaiah predicts the political and military fall of Jerusalem, and the horrors of war and forced exile to Babylon. It's tempting to sort of skim over all that. When I first started reading the Bible years ago, I would do that. Who wants to read the depressing stuff?
Nowadays, I recognize how important it is to process the whole story. Isaiah was writing before the bad times, which if course is what makes him a prophet. He was living in Jerusalem, and most of his ministry occurred during the reign of good King Hezekiah. It was a time of prosperity (for most people), and the king was a follower of God and tried to serve his people well.
But, what Isaiah, and his contemporaries Micah, Amos, and Hosea, were sensing was that the country was teetering on the brink. The wealthy were making their money at the expense of the poor. There was a pretense of religiosity, but it was practiced as a mish-mash of Judaism and other local religions. The king was naively aligning the country with enemies who were poised to take advantage of them. The judicial system was corrupt. There was a culture of profligate spending, feasting, and partying.
Hmmm. Some of this sounds familiar, doesn't it? Isaiah sums it up this way: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." (v. 5:20)
So, one thing I've been thinking about this past week is, what might I be thinking is true, but is in reality false? What do we think nowadays is good, that might really be bad? How much are we like those people in Isaiah's day, living like there's no tomorrow, ignoring the few voices that are saying, "Hey! Listen up! If you don't get back to right living, things are going to come crashing down on you!" It's definitely worth thinking about carefully.
Fortunately, as I progress through Isaiah, I know I will get to read once again about the restoration of those people (eventually, after a generation has passed), when they come to their senses and return to their love for, and obedience to, God. I will get to read about the promise of the coming of Jesus. All that will mean more, if I take time to read the hard part.
Prophesy of Isaiah- Marc Chagall