Monday, 10 September 2007

Isaiah 1

The first selection from some thoughts from studies I have just begun with a retired pastor who has been a great and godly influence on me over the last 5 years...

Isaiah 1

(1) announcement of recipient of vision and its duration, four kings' worth...
(2-4) The LORD says that his people have rebelled and are utterly estranged
(5-8) The LORD asks why the people continue to rebel even as they are desolate
(9) the survivors reflect on their close shave
(10-15) conparing them to S and G, the LORD declares their religious observance to be worthless
(16-20) commands to remove evil, bring justice to fatherless & widow, and promise of the good of the land
(21-23) the faithful city has become a whore, its population all corrupt
(24-31) the LORD declares his vengeance on foes, and purging of dross from Zion, renewing her but burning up those who forsake Him...

To ponder:
The more specific the prophecies are in no reference to real, particular events, the harder it is to give distinctively 'Christian' interpretation. Is the desolation of vv.5-8 the occupation of the land by Sennacherib during Hezekiah's reign? If so, is the rescue alluded to at the end of chapter merely the removal of the Assyrian army?

Maybe, but chapter 1 is not the complete vision of Isaiah. The time of the redemption and the nature of the redemption and the amazing effects of the redemption return again and again in the prophecy. Our understanding of Sion's future in Isaiah should not merely come from chapter 1. Instead, we must allow our vision to be gradually broadened as the book unfolds. Even allowing for hyperbole, something bigger than a seventh century military conflict is in view.

The covenant people of God are addressed corporately in Isaiah 1: how does this work for Christians today? Are we addressed corporately? If so, is that as universal Church, denomination or congregation? [This then raises the whole question of the organisational unity of God's new covenant people. Does Revelation 1-3 have something to say about the functional independence of different congregations from each other, and about the possibility that individual churches/denominations can lose their lampstand, ie. come under judgement? If so, can we ever be sure of identifying that? You can tell that ecclesiology is exercising my mind these days...!]

The most striking teaching of the passage to the contemporary evangelical reader today is verses 15-17: God will not hear our prayers if we ignore social injustice and the plight of the marginalised within the covenant community. So who are the widows and orphans known to me? And how seriously do I take Paul's cry that to abandon care of your relatives is to deny the faith?