So, here’s the skinny. My friend over at Delve and I have embarked on an adventure. We have decided to study the prophets together in the manner of a tragically relaxed Bible college class (minus the prof). Sadly, this little exercise will likely represent the greatest amount of discipline I have applied to study in some time.
(1) We will read through a predetermined number of chapters each week
(2) We will each interact with at least two resources outside the Bible (though not necessarily the same resources as each other)
(3) We will each write at least one somehow study-related blog every two weeks
(4) We’ll “meet” every two weeks to discuss
Before I go on, I should back up a bit and do a little explaining. Delve (as I shall henceforth refer to this mysteriously anonymous web personality) and I live in very different parts of our beautiful country. We have never met in person. Yet…we have been meeting regularly via Skype to talk shop (Jesus, Bible, life) for a couple of years now. During this time we’ve done Q & A sessions, read a book together, discussed Bible and theology, philosophized poorly, shared burdens, and prayed for each other.
It’s been fantastic!
I highly recommend finding a stranger online to share life with.
Besides, I’ve discovered that screen meetings are the only kind where you can eat in front of someone, offer them nothing, and not really be considered rude.
That alone makes it worthwhile.
These first two weeks we have decided to fuel up on as much background and history as we can, as well as read / listen through the book of Isaiah in its entirety, in order to get a solid historical / contextual foundation and a good feel for the flow of the book.
For my resources, I just raided my husband’s library. I ended up with A History of Israel, by John Bright, The Prophets of Israel, by Leon J. Wood, and Walton’s Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. I’ll also be using an online NASB with clickable Hebrew.
Since this initial phase has been so survey in nature, I only have a few general observations that I may or may not discuss in more detail later:
God repeatedly appeals to reason (1:18). It really stands out how often God builds a case by asking people to consider facts, history, and common sense. I’m not sure why this should be so significant…except maybe that the prophets have a reputation for being all about visions, symbols, and mysteries. There is definitely an element of the wild and weird, but visions have to do with reality, and signs and symbols are most often interpreted and explained on the spot by God. The point is most definitely to communicate…not to mystify.
God wears his heart on his sleeve (5:1-7). This is sad. He begs. He pleads. He painstakingly explains and justifies his actions. He laments. The appeal is clear throughout; Don’t you see why for your sake I can’t let this go on? Can’t you see that you were made for more than this? You are destroying yourselves, misrepresenting me to the world, and absolutely squandering all that you have been given. Please, please, please stop!
God’s is explicit about his interaction with other nations and their leaders. I think because of the OT focus on what God is doing with the nation of Israel, I tend to operate with some indistinct but persistent conception that (during this period of history) God was only nominally interested in other peoples as a way to generally shape world history. Since this is contrary to all I understand about God, I’m glad for how Isaiah has helped me see this completely unjustified and previously unrecognized filter.
Restoration is always the end game. I feel like this is obvious, but one really can’t get away from it in Isaiah. This is related to the previous observation as well. Other people groups (including the sometimes oppressors of Judah) are specifically included in restoration texts (19:21-25). I wonder what the ancient Jews did with that?
Understanding history is so helpful! I already had a basic grasp of the ups and downs of major empires throughout the history of the Old Testament, but taking a closer look at the political and military situation of the ancient near east prior to and during the time of Isaiah’s ministry has brought a great deal of clarity to my understanding of his message and what it meant to his hearers.
And last, but not least, I now know the Hebrew word for cucumber field. All I can say about this is that the word pictures keep me smiling. Well, most of them…
Next week we dig into Isaiah chapters 1-12. If anyone is interested in joining us, you are invited to read along, blog if you have one, or subscribe and interact with our posts if you don’t. :)