Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Isaiah 9-10

After the incredible prophecy of the child to be born, the everlasting Prince of Peace (vv.1-8), there is a more sober message. This message comes with greater immediacy – it’s not just in the future (1) but is already rooted, it has already begun: The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel (8).

(9:8-12) whatever the talk of proud rebuilding, Ephraim and Samaria [Northern Kingdom] will be destroyed by Aramean and Philistine.
(13-17) the people have not sought the LORD; the leaders mislead, and even the ‘victims’ [fatherless and widow] are guilty
(18-21) wickedness burns, and so the LORD’s anger burns; the people will turn against each other
(10:1-4) those who make unjust laws will soon have no one to turn to
(10:5-19) Assyria, agent of God’s wrath, is too proud, and so he too will be judged with fire. [Note that this is prmarily a judgement on the Northern Kingdom, but it will spill over against the South, Judah, too (10:10-12). There seems to be some hope for Judah in all this – the judgement is not so devastating against her… yet. It will have the effect of purging wickedness, as we will discover in 10:20ff.]

This judgement will not be a simple or clean affair, either. Four times the refrain is heard, Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised (12b, 17b, 21b, 10:4b).

This talk of divine wrath should make us uncomfortable, but lest we try to wriggle away by claiming there are moral problems for God (‘how can God be a God of wrath?’ many ask; ‘surely he should be on trial’…) we need to look at how humans are implicated in the exectution of God’s wrath. The obvious example is Assyria, like a club (10:5) or axe (15) in the LORD’s hand, and yet still with its own intentions and ideas of grandeur (7-11) without regard for the Almighty who rules over history. [Some version of compatibilism best explains the way the Bible always speaks of the interweaving of divine and human purpose and interaction.]

Secondly, back in chapter 9, more shockingly, we read of Israelite devouring Israelite: part of the judgement is that the people will be given over to their most selfish and brutish instincts (9:19b-21). Experiencing the wrath of God in history is not pleasant – but don’t blame God, for it is often humans who devour each other. Being given over to unrestrained human wickedness may sound fun initially (‘wahey! Lots of indulgence, please’) but very quickly it is not fun at all. Second half of Romans 1.

In history and in Jewish telling of it the Northern Kingdom and its inhabitants did not fare well. Read 2 Kings 17 for the condescending write-up of their destruction. The fall of Samaria does not even feature in the Chronicler's account of the divided monarchy period - the Northern Kingdom simply slips off the pages around chapter 28 of 2 Chronicles.