Prophet Project: Isaiah 1-12 (Learning From a Little Liberal Leaning?)

—Continuing with my and Delve’s study of the prophets.

The John Bright text which, for some reason in my last post, I referred to as OT History instead of its actual title, A History of Israel (paraphrasing, I guess) has proved interesting. Let’s just say it has more liberal leanings than most of the OT histories I’ve had cause to read. While I’ve been sometimes annoyed by his seemingly arbitrary vacillation concerning the plausibility of God’s activity in the story and the accuracy of the text, I feel I’ve benefited from interacting with Bright’s perspective.

I’ve noticed this most significantly in the area of “seeing” Isaiah, and considering the voice of the prophet, himself.

But before I get into that too much, I have to say, Delve was right. When last we met, she observed that it is often difficult to tell where God is being directly quoted, and where Isaiah is simply preaching a message based on the things he has been told and shown by God. As I struggled with this a bit myself, I began to wonder how translators determine where to place quotation marks. Anyone know? Since the prophetic exhortations, warnings, and promises all sort of run together in many places, how do they know when they’ve come to the end of a “thus sayeth the Lord” section?

Reading Bright’s work, one could get the impression that the quotation marks oughtn’t be placed anywhere. God’s voice isn’t denied; it just sort of doesn’t figure into the discussion. Instead, he talks about the influences of primitive yahwism on Isaiah’s message. Or he juxtaposes Isaiah’s emphasis on the conditional Siniatic covenant with the national appeal to the unconditional aspects of the Davidic covenant.

That’s all fine as far as it goes, I guess. But it leaves aside important cause and effect principles of human sin and rebellion, the actual spiritual effect on a people over time, and the self-deceit and self-justification necessary to “comfortably” maintain a personal or national refusal to repent.  To be fair, Bright’s purpose seems to have been to provide an academic history of Israel for undergraduate students of Christian theology.

He isn’t really trying to answer some of the questions I’m trying to ask.

But, from a Christian perspective (which he claims), I’m just not sure it can be parsed out like that. Universal human principles (and God’s response) play into history every bit as much as specific cult influences, don’t they? One can’t get away from bias. If these factors are ignored, then other factors must replace them in order to explain events.

That said, though, his focus on Isaiah’s influences (religious, cultural, and political), caused me to reflect more on Isaiah’s own probable perspectives, feelings, passions, fears, and frustrations than I otherwise might have. I have tended to think about him primarily as the chosen mouthpiece of the Lord (which he certainly was), while neglecting to think about him much as a man.

I mean, if God showed me (in the midst of a very spooky, personal encounter with his holiness) the extent of the depravity in my own nation and my own people, as well it’s direct connection to impending judgment, I think I’d bear a little of that load. Even if every word of my message were directly quoted from the mouth of God, I think I’d feel a sense of passionate ownership. I, with my God-infused perspective, would grieve, long, plead, storm, and exhort right along with the Lord.

In fact, if I lack this kind of passion and purpose in my life, it might be fair to wonder how God-infused my perspective really is…

Along a related line, how have I missed the fact that Isaiah’s oft quoted, “Here am I, send me!” is immediately followed by God commanding the prophet to,

“Go, and tell this people : Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.” (6:9) ?

And then,

“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.” (6:10)

How would you like to have that commission? Talk about unpopular. I’d certainly be intimidated. I feel like verses 9 & 10 are usually left out of those charismatic sermons that rely on verse 8 to inspire us to respond to God’s call to service.

And I don’t even know what verse 10 means.

Some suggest rhetoric or some sort of ironic reverse psychology on God’s part. Some suggest that render might mean prove or show to be true. I just don’t know. Interestingly, Jesus thought it worth repeating (Matt 13:14-15).

There’s much more I could discuss, but this is getting lengthy. So I’ll just point out one more thing. I noticed that I struggled a bit with God being satisfied by the pouring out of his wrath. I was okay with God being passionate, and with the fact that wrath is a progressive, emotive response. And I didn’t have a problem with the actual exercise of God’s wrath being right and appropriate. But I found myself being a little uncomfortable when God says things like,

“Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries and avenge Myself on My foes.” (1:24)

Finding relief in vengeance—even righteous vengeance—just seemed over the top to me. (Not to mention the eerie “Ah” part. What’s with that?)

I didn’t like thinking of God this way because I couldn’t come up with a healthy personal scenario from which to draw empathy. When I expressed my discomfort with this concept to someone, I was asked,

“Are you wrestling with whether it is right to feel better when justice is accomplished?”

Well, maybe… Probably. Yeah, I guess so. :)

Your thoughts on any of this are most welcome…

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One thought on “Prophet Project: Isaiah 1-12 (Learning From a Little Liberal Leaning?)”

  1. Hmm… yeah, I knew that quotation marks and punctuation were added, but the idea that their placement isn’t well-substantiated bothers me.

    Concerning God’s instruction to Isaiah to “…Render the hearts of this people insensitive…”, my totally non-expert, not-very-well-read take on that is that this is a big-picture, long-view issue. Perhaps for the people to understand and repent at this time would affect the bringing to fruition of God’s plan. Perhaps their failing is a necessary part of history because it is the most direct or least detrimental way to establish grace and justice.
    Talk to you soon!

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