Sunday, May 30, 2010

Isaiah 2-4: Judgement, Utopia, and Haughty Women

Michelangelo's Isaiah, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
Isaiah in the Last Days

So! Isaiah 2 continues as a further transcript of the speeches of, who else? Isaiah! And in Verses 1 through 5, he makes good his reputation as a prophet by doing some good old-fashioned prophesying. Specifically, he speaks about the "last days," and it is a happy vision of the entire world turning to the Lord's temple in Jerusalem for binding arbitration of all disputes. These end times will apparently be pretty peaceful, and it is in Verse 4 that we get the famous quote they will beat their swords into plowshares. All the countries of the world will voluntarily demilitarize. It is a nice vision, but I feel obliged to bring up an inherent issue of "last days" prophecies -- they can not be disproven. No longer how continuously the prophecy goes wrong, as long as there's anyone around to read the prophecy, it's easy enough to say "well, obviously it just isn't the last days yet."

And hold on, anyway, because Verses 6 through 22 are much darker. They speak of how the Lord is truly pissed off about superstitions, divination, paganism, idols, and unorthodoxy in general, and has a day in store for all the proud and lofty (12) when the arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled. (17) When that day comes, says Isaiah, it will be best to throw away all you have and go hide in a cave.

Now, there's no indication of a timetable here, and the bit about the day of punishment comes after the bit about world peace, but I guess since the peace comes in the "last days," the punishment must by definition come before. Which brings up another problem with prophecy: he can be hard to tell if it has been fulfilled or not. The Earthquake of Lisbon, for instance, basically fulfills everything that Isaiah describes in Chapter 2. So, can we assume that (a) he was right and (b) we are over that hurdle now? Tough to say.

Isaiah 3 and 4

Next, Isaiah makes grim prophecies about the future of Judah and Jerusalem: See now, the Lord... is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support.... (3:1) He details all manner of nasty things that will happen to the city and its inhabitants, and of course history has proved him right on this score many times over, although perhaps not as quickly as the "about to" would have implied. He enumerates many specifics, and makes clear that the badness will happen because of God's anger: The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and the leaders of his people: "It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?" declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty. (3:14-15) That the punishment is itself a crushing and grinding of the faces of the people is kind of inexplicable, but that's the Old Testament for you.

Now, Isaiah is not what you would be likely to call a feminist. Here he is complaining about outrageous female behavior among the Israelites:

The Lord says,
"The women of Zion are haughty,
walking along with outstretched necks,
flirting with their eyes,
tripping along with mincing steps,
with ornaments jingling on their ankles."

For this bad behavior, they are going to be punished with sores and all sorts of other bad business. Here's the run-down:
24 Instead of fragrance there will be a stench;
instead of a sash, a rope;
instead of well-dressed hair, baldness;
instead of fine clothing, sackcloth;
instead of beauty, branding.
25 Your men will fall by the sword,
your warriors in battle.
26 The gates of Zion will lament and mourn;
destitute, she will sit on the ground.
4:1 In that day seven women
will take hold of one man
and say, "We will eat our own food
and provide our own clothes;
only let us be called by your name.
Take away our disgrace!"
And then -- rather suddenly it seems to me -- everything will be great. Isaiah 4 promises happiness, bounty, and peace for the survivors of the above troubles. There will be shelter from the heat of the day and from rainstorms, and the living will be good, just as soon as God has cleansed Jerusalem with a spirit of judgement and a spirit of fire and been able to wash away the filth of the women of Zion. (4:5) So! Something to look forward to, here in the prophecies of Isaiah!

NEXT: There are, I believe, 60 or 66 Chapters of Isaiah, and from the looks of things so far we're in for a real rollercoaster of doom and utopia. Onward!

1 comment:

al said...

It's great to have you back.