Monday, May 24, 2010

Isaiah 1: Meet Isaiah!


So, I got transferred to a new job a few months ago, and between that and other items relating to home improvement and a million other things of no interest I have seriously lost traction with the Bible. Which is a real shame, as I had a lot of momentum going at the end of last year.

Truth be told, I have read the first chunk of the Book of Isaiah three times in the last few months. This time, I'm going to actually write something down. Whether this will kick off a stunning reemergence of Michael Reads the Bible as the best Bible blog that no one has ever heard of remains to be seen. But it can't hurt to move the ball forward a chapter.

The Book kicks off immediately with a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem experienced by Isaiah. It is a pessimistic but rather familiar vision, condemning the Israelites for their chronic waywardness and promising punishment a-plenty if they don't shape up. But it was a little hard for me to focus on this at first because, well, who is Isaiah, and why is he having visions? There's no introductory material, so I had to look back in my notes. I found that way back in 2 Chronicles 29-32 we read about Hezekiah, a king of Judah who rediscovered the Laws of Moses after what appeared to be a period of religious decline and reinstated real, by-the-Book Judaism. Well, Isaiah was the High Priest while all of this was going on. That gives us a context, and suddenly it makes sense that Isaiah would be having visions about the undesireability of religious backsliding.

Isaiah's complaints are many and mostly pretty vague: he rails against corruption, evil, evil deeds, poor treatment of widows and orphans, and forsaking of the Lord. But the most focused point of attack is against religious unorthodoxy:

"The multitude of your sacrifices -- what are they to me?" says the Lord.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats."
(1:11)
So wait a minute! Does this mean that God is telling Isaiah that he wants the Israelites (we've gone back in time to back before the Babylonian exile, so we're not talking about "Jews" anymore, but "Israelites" again -- well, I guess technically we're talking about "Judeans," but let's not get finicky.) to give up animal sacrifice? Because that would actually be a radical reversal from the Laws of Moses, which are in large part all about animal sacrifice. And the answer is no, God isn't angry about sacrifice in general, just that sacrifice is being done wrong.
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations -- I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
(1:13-14)
The Israelites have, it seems, gone all new age! They have a bunch of unsanctioned festivals and are ignoring the offical ones, they are sacrificing the wrong way at the wrong places and times, and they've made up a bunch of crazy new stuff that you won't find in Moses. You will be ashamed, thunders Isaiah, because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted. (1:29) And if they don't straighten up and fly right, says Isaiah, God will punish them mightily.

Back in 2 Chronicles, was read that after Hezekiah restored the Temple they weren't able to celebrate Passover the first year because nobody remembered how. Nobody understood the laws of ritual purity and cleanliness that are so central to the Laws of Moses, and a whole new generation of priests needed to be trained. Isaiah's initial rant lines up perfectly with this state of affairs. Whether Isaiah the priest and Hezekiah the king shared a common religious inspiration or at least a common agenda, or whether one of them had the other over a political barrel of some sort, is impossible to say. But, it seems like the religious and political leadership were very much on-message in this period of Judea's history.

NEXT: Hopefully relatively soon, we'll advance deeper into the Book of Isaiah. It's a long one, but hopefully we'll get this blog back into a rhythm! And by the end of the Book, I hope to be able to spell "Isaiah" without having to stop and check every time.

5 comments:

rebecca said...

Awesome, you live.
I'm still reading, even if I'm commentless at times.
I find this exercise extremely interesting to read.

Alisha @ Unusual Passions said...

Just when I found your blog, no activity! But that's OK. I'm a very sporadic blogger myself.

UnwiseOwl said...

w00h! Michael is back in style! Read that bible, man, then your bible trivia questions will become more obscure, leading to the BETTERMENT OF MANKIND.

Al Ebaster said...

Awesome to see you're back in business. I've been reading the Bible straight through as well and your blog has been an insightful (and awfully funny) companion read.

I started on Isaiah a few days ago and was a little disheartened to have outpaced MRtB -- hope your new situation works out well.

Michael5000 said...

Good heavens, I had no idea there were as many as four people reading this thing! I better get cracking.