Good morning! Today’s reading from Isaiah 9-12 combines both hope and dread in subsequent chapters. The prophet anticipates in transcendent, memorable verses the near-term arrival of a national savior who brings peace beyond imagining, but then also describes the even more imminent judgment of God for Israel’s unrighteousness. The Hebrew people will suffer for their wrongdoings before they are delivered by an unprecedented ruler.
Chapter 9 starts us off with the promise of coming hope and joy, celebrating the coming leader who brings peace at last. Verses 5-6 are most powerful harbingers of coming peace. Warring boots and clothing will be no more, because a child is coming to save the people from destitution. Nevertheless, Isaiah also wants to be clear about the righteous anger of God. The capture of (northern) Israel was a sign of divine judgment against impudent, sinful people. Captivity and civil war were other signs of God’s displeasure. We read the clear charge against Israel’s leaders: oppressive statutes, the betrayal of justice, and taking advantage of the needy. For these reasons, Israel’s ship of state is in for punishing storms before the calm seas foretold at the beginning of the chapter.
To be clear though, Assyria (God’s chosen “weapon” against Israel) does not receive blanket forgiveness either. Assyria’s king and its forces too will endure divine punishment for his arrogance in opposing Israel. This section insulates Isaiah from charges of simple treason, which dog every prophet who says something that people find offensive or challenging to their national pride. Isaiah is not rooting for “the enemy”, but calling for Israel to adhere to the highest principles of divine law. Being “the chosen people” is not enough—they must act with all the compassion and tender mercy called for by the divine.
We have another classic text in chapter 11 that promises a holy remnant to survive the turmoil, and a righteous ruler who will lead them. The peaceful leader whose coming is foretold here is one in whom God’s spirit will be fully present. Despite this ruler’s unique characteristics, Isaiah also wants us to know that he is faithful to the lineage of David. He possesses supernatural power and charisma, such that under his rule incredible peacefulness will break out in the human and animal world. Predator and prey relationships will be traded in for unnatural, bucolic harmony. When the righteous remnant gathers around this ruler, they too will be transformed. Peace between the warring tribes of Ephraim and Judah will melt away, redirected against the common enemy of Assyria. Remember that Isaiah envisions the liberation of people from Assyria, which is different from what actually came to pass a century later with the liberation from Babylon. This is how it is with prophecy—the meaning and significance of the message are measured according to hope-filled, inspiring poetry, rather than by the short-sighted question of “did it happen just that way?” Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Isaiah 13-16. Thanks for reading!