Sunday, February 13, 2011

Isaiah 42-46: O, Hai Blog

Right, so where were we?

The book of Isaiah continues with the teachings of this great prophet of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Unfortunately, he continues to impress this naïve reader as at best a ranting enthusiast, at worst a genuine lunatic. The effect is only heightened by dipping back in after an inexplicable half-year absence, right into the thick of things.

Isaiah 42

Verses 1-4 introduce the Servant of the Lord, a soft-spoken messianic figure, but verses 5-9 go off on a different tangent altogether, reminding the Israelites that they are supposed to be a good example for all of humankind, and reaffirming (as is so often reaffirmed) that idol worship is a big no-no. Verses 10-13 are a Psalm, encouraging various communities to raise their voices in songs of praise and joy, because God will assure their military success. Verses 14-17 represent God’s intention both to lavish destruction on the Earth and to lead people to enlightenment, as long as they don’t worship idols. Verses 18 to 25 assert that things go bad for Israel because it’s God’s punishment for sin. In short, in a higgledy-piggledy sort of way, Chapter 42 brings us right back in where we left off. Say what you like about Isaiah, he knew how to stay on-message.

Isaiah 43

Verses 1 through 21 are about God’s love for the Israelites, who are precious and honored in [His] sight. (4)  Fear not, God is given to say, for I have redeemed you (1).

Verses 22 through 28 are about God’s anger at the Israelites, who do not properly conduct the rituals he laid out for them. Even He, who has infinite love for them, will therefore condemn them to destruction and humiliation.

Isaiah knew how to stay on-message, but he doesn’t seem to have had much of a feel for irony.

Isaiah 44

Verses 1 through 5 are a continuation of Chapter 43, and now the message is not to worry about the destruction and humiliation, because God intends to bless later generations; Verse 5 speaks vaguely again of a possible Messianic figure.

Verses 6 through 23 take aim at idols, and for the first time that I remember employs an interesting rational argument. (Generally, up to this point, there have been three takes on idols: (1) those other gods are nowhere NEAR as powerful as God; (2) obviously idols are fake, because God is the only God; and (3) it’s a bad idea to mess with idols, because God says not to.) Here, Isaiah goes into great detail about where an idol comes from, carved out of a block of wood or a stone. He points out that, from a wood carving, the chips will probably be used as kindling, and asks why the rest of the block of wood should be more special than the kindling part. It’s fairly clever, and drives home the message that worshiping human idols is just silly superstition.

The remainder of the Chapter is God reaffirming his greatness and power in all things. This, too, has been a very common theme throughout Isaiah.

Isaiah 45

This entire Chapter is Isaiah transmitting, if that’s the right word, a speech from God. It strikes several time on familiar key themes: God is very powerful, God made the Earth, there are no other Gods, idols are very bad. This Chapter is in what you might call the Israel-triumphant mode, with various nationalities foreseen as subject to the Israelites; the Israel-punished mode is pretty much absent for a good page and a half.

Individuals who carve idols or who shoot their mouth off to God are in trouble, though. Do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? (11) God asks. It’s a rhetorical question, but the drift is clearly that one ought not ask such things.

Does the clay say to the potter,
“What are you making?”
Does your work say,
“He has not hands”?
It’s a stern metaphor, and it is perhaps unfair to point out that although the answer is certainly no – clay is nothing if not humble – there is also no mandate for clay to follow a rigorous legal, religious, and ethical code lain down by its potter.

By the by, Both Chapters 45 and 44 make specific references to God using “Cyrus” as an instrument of his will, and in Chapter 46 God says that he will bring from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose (46). This Cyrus fellow is, if I am not mistaken, an emperor of the Persians, who was at the time a very powerful actor in the human community. Isaiah’s explicit references to a known contemporary figure, whom he sees as a puppet carrying out the will of God in real time, certainly makes one look again to those passages which, ever so vaguely, seem to prophesy a messianic figure sometime in the future. Maybe those passages, too, were just referring to Cyrus.

Chapter 46

Primarily another anti-idol Chapter, Isaiah points out another problem with idol worship: what do idols actually DO, anyway? They just sit there! They can’t even talk back when you talk to them! So, here we have another and, I must say, really rather reasonable demonstration that idols are just so much empty superstition.

This Chapter remains in Israel-triumphant mode, and its final words are “I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel.”

NEXT TIME:  I will try not to let a half-year go by.


Jennifer said...

Hurrah for the return of MRtB!

Jessica said...

I am glad u r back as well! I've basically read all the posts up until this post and can't wait for more!!

Jessica said...

Hi Michael,

Just wanted to give you this link if you were interested. I just heard about this book today - and thought of you! It's out of stock on this website I'm about to give you - but is in stock on Amazon - I ordered myself a copy as well!
There is also another series by this author called The Answers Book Series Part 1-3 - I am interested in those as well!

Anyway - here is the link!

Michael5000 said...

Thank you Jennifer and Jessica for the welcome back.

Jessica, thanks for the resource offer. However, one of the tenets of this project is that the Bible has to stand or fall on its own merits; I make very sparing use of a concordance and the Oxford Companion to the Bible, but otherwise stick close to the original text -- or at least, the original text as placed in my hand by the ministerial association of my home town at my high school graduation.

I will, however, tip my hat to the creation museum founder of the link, who is clearly not one to shrink from a challenge.

Jessica said...

Hi Michael, I absolutely agree with you. I should be getting the book any day now, but my understanding is that the authors are strictly using the Scriptures to clarify assumed contradictions. Using the Bible as a complete text, as well as clarifying transnational "discrepancies" among the various translations, I.E. Hebrew word is "winged creature" but different translations will say bird, others "bat".
When trying to understand the Bible, we must see the Bible as a complete picture, considering translations, as well as cultural times when each piece was written to get a full understanding of the message being conveyed.
I will keep you posted on any applicable things I find!

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back. This blog was the inspiration for my own blog, Nate Navigates the Bible, which I started last July.