Woe to you, Ariel, Ariel,
the city where David settled!
Add year to year
and let your cycle of festivals go on.
Yet I will besiege Ariel;
she will mourn and lament,
she will be to me like an altar hearth.
I will encamp against you on all sides;
I will encircle you with towers
and set up my siege works against you.
Brought low, you will speak from the ground;
your speech will mumble out of the dust.
Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth;
out of the dust your speech will whisper.
But your many enemies will become like fine dust,
the ruthless hordes like blown chaff.
Suddenly, in an instant,
the Lord Almighty will come
with thunder and earthquake and great noise,
with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.
Then the hordes of all the nations that fight against Ariel,
that attack her and her fortress and besiege her,
will be as it is with a dream,
with a vision in the night—
as when a hungry person dreams of eating,
but awakens hungry still;
as when a thirsty person dreams of drinking,
but awakens faint and thirsty still.
So will it be with the hordes of all the nations
that fight against Mount Zion.
Be stunned and amazed,
blind yourselves and be sightless;
be drunk, but not from wine,
stagger, but not from beer.
The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep:
He has sealed your eyes (the prophets);
he has covered your heads (the seers).
For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed.” Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I don’t know how to read.” (New International Version)
Reading the Bible may sometimes feel like a weird Catch-22. We’re supposed to read, observe, and obey the contents of Holy Scripture; yet there is so much within it that we often just plain don’t understand – and even are not going to understand, at least on this side of heaven.
For many people, this is maddening. It may even cause them to throw up their hands and say that God is some mad scientist who merely tinkers and experiments with people like mice in laboratory.
I understand how some could think that way. The Lord comes along and does a mysterious dance of proclaiming judgment, then pivoting quickly around to assure deliverance. Reading through any prophetic book of the Old Testament is likely to make our heads spin with questions and our hearts to reel. No matter how you slice it, there are a lot of difficult passages in Holy Scripture.
So, I invite you to take a few differing perspectives.
First, if God is a Being who is infinitely higher and greater – the Creator who has made all things – then we are the creatures who are neither privy to all God’s reasonings nor even able to understand such a Being who is other than us.
Second, it seems we rarely even attempt to try and see things from God’s angle. We see our own situations, many of them confusing, and we wonder why the Lord doesn’t just step in and fix all the crud. However, none of us has the full picture, as God does – which is why we are continually invited to pray for wisdom, to see our life, relationships, and circumstances from a divine perspective. (James 1:2-5)
The prophet Isaiah, along with the other prophets, proclaims a double message of judgment and deliverance. Indeed, it appears there is a continual rhythm of identifying guilt and giving grace throughout a large chunk of the Old Testament.
And that is perhaps where we need to pay attention. People have a great predilection for saying and doing things (or failing to say and do things) which bring guilt. Our guilty actions and inactions are not okay; they cannot simply be dismissed as stuff that people do, as if we were just silly folks who don’t know any better.
Maybe we would like to view God as some geriatric grandfather who lets everyone do what they want, but that’s not the God we get in the Bible.
No, our words and actions have real impact and consequences for others. And the Lord is a real force to contend with, for whom we cannot escape nor ignore for long.
In Isaiah’s day, the people were called to account for their abject callousness toward their fellow humanity. God’s commands all have to do with living in harmony with creation. Chaos, disorder, and systemic evil result whenever the creature rebels against the Creator by trying to be a little god of their own making – taking the perspective of using people rather than serving them.
The Lord will have none of it; God will intervene. Hence, the judgment portions of Scripture. Yet, because God is gracious and loving, the judgment doesn’t last forever; mercy takes hold and overwhelms the guilty sinner.
If we could understand everything God does or doesn’t do, then God wouldn’t be God. But the very fact that God is mysterious, and in some ways unknowable, tells us that there is indeed a God.
Our task is not to take over God’s job because the Lord isn’t doing what we want. Our mandate is to reflect the image of God placed within us by loving the Lord and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Yes, we are all guilty of a great many things. Yet, grace always has the last word, and not judgment. This, then, gives way to a life of gratitude that has learned to sync one’s heart with the heart of God.
Catch-22’s are certainly maddening… if we are truly in one to begin with. It could be that we just haven’t yet gained a different perspective on our situation, learned to accept it, and made the choice to live in harmony with the world as it is, rather than the world as we think it ought to be.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.