Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 28

OT: Isaiah 54:1-57:13

Wow, there is a lot of good stuff in today's reading. I've decided that the end of Isaiah is my favorite part. The "fifties" have been fantastic so far.

In 54:1-8, the author sets forth a metaphor about a barren, widowed woman. Rather than weep, he says that she should rejoice b/c even though she is barren, she will somehow have a lot of children and many descendants. This progeny will not come because she gets a husband or becomes fertile. It seems that it will come solely from the Lord. The text tells the widow, "Your Maker is your husband" (5). It goes on to assure the widow, although God briefly hid his face face from her, He will do so no more. Instead, he will comfort her and show her compassion (7-8).

The text then compares God's treatment of the widow to His actions with the flood. The flood corresponds to the widow's barrenness and shame, and the promise that God is making about her descendants corresponds to His promise to never flood the earth again (9).

As I read, I was wondering who the widow was, and it seems to be Jerusalem. Verse 11 begins a section specifically talking to the "afflicted city," in the same way that God talked to the widow at the beginning of the chapter. His assurances to the city mirror His assurances to the widow. He promises some amazing restoration projects involving precious jewels, as well as peace and prosperity.

Sidenote: I thought verse 15 was interesting. It says,

"If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you."

One issue that comes up a lot with Christians (or at least the ones I hang out with) is the relationship between God and suffering. Does God cause suffering, or does He allow it, or does it vary based on the situation? Though it is a problematic interpretation, my reading of the Bible this year has pushed me toward the idea that God is in control of everything that happens. So...even though I don't believe that God causes someone to rape or kill another, for example, I have been seeing more and more how God is in control of all things. This verse kind of tempers the direction I've been going in, however, because it seems to state that there are some things that are not God's doing. The verse assures us that He can and will work through such things, but He did not cause them.

Anyway, moving on...

The beginning of chapter 55 continues the theme of comfort and provision that characterized chapter 54. This chapter begins with a beautiful invitation to,

"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost" (1).

The next verse urges the hearer not to waste his money on food and drink that is not authentic and that does not satisfy. Instead, it urges him to come to God to have his needs met. When he does, his "soul will delight in the richest of fare" (2b). To me, this invitation is a beautiful rendition of the invitation that God extends to all men. He wants man to come to Him because only He can meet their his needs. Only He can give him the salvation and satisfaction for which he longs.

It is in this context that I find one of my favorite passages, in which God declares that, "my thoughts are not your thoughts," and "neither are your ways my ways" (8). What is interesting to me is that I use that verse to help me with all the things I don't understand about God. These verses usually help me with negative aspects, like suffering or theological conundrums that test my faith. The context, however, is not negative at all. Rather, the reference to God being so different than us seems to be talking more about His goodness and His mercy. It's like, these words of comfort and forgiveness and mercy are what should blow our minds, not the idea of suffering. I don't know if I'm making sense, but I'm trying to convey how different the context in which I think about these verses is from the actual context of the verses themselves.

After that, God commands that man be just and righteous. If they are, they will be His people, even if they are eunuchs and foreigners. All men who follow His ways will be accepted. That was probably a radical message to Isaiah's audience, though honestly, the Law said the same thing. I guess it was something that they tended to forget.

Ephesians 6:1-24

Following yesterday's marriage passage, this passage both reinforces the social hierarchy while bringing all relationships under the ultimate authority of Christ, and not societal norms. Thus, much like wives are to submit to husbands, children are to obey their parents, and slaves are to obey their earthly masters. At the same time, wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters, are all under the authority of God, and so they are all bound by God's commands to love one another and treat one another as they would want to be treated. Regarding the slavery issue, I've heard many people say that slavery in that time was nothing like the slavery present in our country, the latter being far more inhumane and barbaric and thus, unjustifiable. Perhaps that is true; I have no idea. I do know that I believe that slavery as I have heard about it in this country (and for that matter, the slavery that still persists around the world) was, and is, evil. So I guess that does make Paul's statements about slaves and masters a bit disconcerting. I have more I could say about all that, and how I understand the truth of that passage in light of my strong disagreement with the concept of slavery, but the words are not flowing right now. Honestly, it's not what I focused on today, so I'm going to move on.

In verses 10-18, Paul speaks of our struggles in this world using the terminology of warfare. He emphasizes the fact that we do not fight against other people, but against dark, spiritual forces. Specifically, he says, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (12). I'm going to just go ahead and say that I don't know exactly what that means, but the bottom line is that there is darkness in this world, and we fight the darkness itself, and not the people. In fighting that darkness, we are to put on what Paul calls, "the armor of God," which consists of truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and God's word (14-17). Along with prayer, these are the tools we can use in this life so that we will remain standing at the end (13).

Psalm 70:1-5

David prays for God to come quickly and save him.

Prov. 24:8

People who blot evil will gain a bad reputation.


  1. Wow, how could I forget the wonderful 57:1-2:

    "The righteous perish,
    and no one ponders it in his heart;
    devout men are taken away,
    and no one understands
    that the righteous are taken away
    to be spared from evil.
    Those who walk uprightly
    enter int peace;
    they find rest as they lie in death."

    I'll let those words speak for themselves; I just had to note their presence.

  2. The slavery business is messy, because the last thing any modern American wants to be considered is racist. That puts many potentially powerful conversations outside the pale. Go ahead and assume all requisite disclaimers on my part, and I'll jump to the difficult part: Slavery is bad. And just because other stuff is even worse doesn't make it good. But many things our modern society finds far less offensive (and even celebrates) are, apparently, worse in the eyes of God. (And I just don't mean the vogue social issues like homosexuality, I mean greed and materialism and mocking God and scoffing at His people.) Sure, hate slavery. But like Jesus said to the Pharisees, "these things you ought to have done, WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE OTHERS." (The others in this case being justice and mercy and truth and righteousness and charity.)

  3. For me, the slavery bit is messy b/c I hate the idea of one human claiming ownership over another. If you want to take race out of entirely, take a look at modern-day sex trafficking, where women are bought and sold. In my opinion, it's not the race issue that so bothers modern Americans--it's our whole understanding of the rights of man (not to mention the teachings of Jesus).

    In fact, where the passage gets most problematic to me is when I try to reconcile the seeming tacit endorsement of slavery that Paul gives TO MASTERS, with Jesus' admonition to treat others as you would like to be treated. And again, I think arguments can be made about Paul's priorities (Christianity was #1; upending social norms was not as high on the list, which might have something to do with his view of the transitory nature of the world).

    Also, this probably doesn't need to be said, but I would like to go on record with it anyway. For me, working through these issues and asking such questions about the text is not a way to undermine the authority of Scripture or question God. I absolutely believe in the authority of Scripture. Rather, I want to understand the implications of this passage because I am interested in how God wants me to act today. What, for example, should my view be toward social institutions which I believe to be wrong? In light of Isaiah, the Gospels, and Ephesians, for example, how should I order my priorities between worshiping God, spreading His word, and trying to alleviate suffering? In my cursory reading of the text, I sometimes get mixed messages, and talking about them helps me to work them out. In that way, reading and discussing the Bible helps guide me in tangible ways as I seek to serve God in my own life.

    Again, probably doesn't need to be said, but...there you go.

  4. read..it was great today :) ..dont have time to write but wanted you to know I was hear :)