Isaiah 33-35

Good morning! In today’s reading (Isaiah 33-35), we encounter one vision of “end times” after another. There is breathtaking promise in these texts, but also terror for those who are not redeemed or “saved”. The question I bring to this passage is whether it is possible to envision an ultimate future that doesn’t involve some losers as well as the winners.

These chapters are all good news, unless you’re a person who has acted unrighteously or are not an Israelite. In the case of the unrighteous in Isaiah 33, the prophet describes the desolation of Israel (suggesting that these chapters may be from a time after Exile), and then shows God awaking as a sleeping giant. God’s arrival on earth is fierce and terrible, inspiring tremors in all who experience it. But the way to survive “devouring fire” and “everlasting flames” is to act with righteousness and speak uprightly (33:14-15). After this comes the first of several sublime visions of the future, this one with a beautiful, verdant land and its victorious king once all the occupiers are driven away. Those occupiers “meet their Maker” in Isaiah 34 in a condemnation of “the nations”, meaning non-Jews. The Edomites come in for particular punishment, as genocide among them is foretold. This grisly chapter is followed by more beautiful visions of restoration, where all that is terrible in Judah is redeemed and restored by the very presence of God.

Here’s my question though: Would the heavenly visions of Isaiah 33 and 35 be less pristine and inspiring without the massacre against the Edomites? Is it possible to have a vision of salvation without corresponding destruction? I ask because I’m deeply uncomfortable with the wished-for extermination of a people, even if they aren’t “our people”. They’re someone’s people! And I believe that they’re the creation of God as well, even though they might not recognize it as such. But perhaps this reading of the Bible—wanting to take the good and leave behind the bad—is a privileged reading that fails to appreciate how threatened the people of Israel were. Perhaps liberation for them could only come if the ones who threatened their existence were wiped out (at least in the written word). But I contend that this is actually only partial liberation, and the final “salvation” human beings need is from the venom against others that we carry around inside ourselves. There must be ways to imagine—or at least attempt to provide space for—the possibility that even bitterest enemies are bound up in divine grace as well. But does that make these depictions of salvation less meaningful? I welcome your thoughts. Happy reading!

Read Isaiah 33-35.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Isaiah 36-39. Thanks for reading!

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