“Breath of Fresh Air” Isaiah 35

Isaiah 35 is like a breath of fresh air. The preceding chapters developed a picture of God’s people constantly “riding the fence” in regards to their trust and faithfulness to God. Isaiah 35 sets a distinct contrast to chapter 34 (620). The picture in Isaiah 34 (like elsewhere Isaiah) speaks of judgement regarding the nations and contains many descriptions void of hope. Images of God’s anger and death seems to reign throughout Isaiah 34. Chapter 35 changes the picture toward life, beauty, and God’s redemption plan.
It is interesting that in both chapters the creation plays a vital role in how the proposed future will be experienced by humanity. We see that God’s engagement against sin can and will bring destruction. God’s full engagement intention, however, will bring about holistic healing for the creation.
Oswalt notes how poetic language is difficult to try and always pin down into literal meanings (621). Even though poetic language is being used, the text is talking about two very important and distinct possible realities. There is a reality that relies on sinful humanity judged by God, and there is a reality where humanity surrenders to God and is redeemed. I believe that the second picture is God’s favorite one and intrinsic to God’s nature (Isaiah 35). The original intention of creation gets put back into place because God acts in creation.
Isaiah 35 immediately violates the mind by putting forth a paradox. The picture of a desert is basically synonymous with death in most minds. This baron wasteland however, gets a resurrection. This was not the case in the language of Isaiah 34. This seems to be a major turning point in the book itself. Chapter 35 in many ways serves as a hinge from the theme of judgment to the hope of God’s redemption (626).
The striking turning point for the reader of Isaiah is that what has been broken will not remain. God comes for the broken and hopeless (vs. 4b). God’s control over the nations and all reality is a very good thing for those who cry out to God. Oswalt writes, “God has been coming to us across the millennia: through the process of revelation, in the acts of his providence, in the first coming of Christ” (623). This hinge chapter is hanging on the message of hope in a good God. The result is life which is represented by the pictures of healed bodies, thirsts quenched, and places of violence made safe.
I think it is worth noting how Chapter 33 contains a prayer to God for the people’s salvation and strength (33:2). This has been what God has wanted from the start (592). It is when the other perceived powers and gods have failed that God can be seen as the only true remedy for hope. No longer will God’s people depend on human powers to feel safe from fear. This God will come to the rescue when the people remember, repent, and return to God.
The last part of Isaiah 35 deals with those who participate in the abundant new life that God wants to provide. When the image bearers respond to God’s saving activity then the world will change into the type of place where deserts become lush gardens. This happens because God is different than the other idols and humanity finds its true identity and restoration from sin and death. The most vivid observation is that humanity starts to live in a new way as a result to trusting a Holy God. The ultimate end is joy found in relationship to this God.

Works Cited:
Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

Chapter 6 of Isaiah

Chapter six of Isaiah is a popular and central text in the whole of the book. Oswalt notes that it functions as a hinge between the chapters preceding and following it (173-175). This text is about response to an encounter with a holy God. This God emerges throughout the vision as one who has power and royalty. This God is actually the king of all reality in which Isaiah gets a glimpse. Isaiah’s response has wide spreading implications for God’s work in the world.

Many thoughts and questions arise when reading this chapter several times in a row. Isaiah’s vision, as Oswalt notes, is rooted in real time (176). Is the text highlighting a struggle for trust in earthly kings verses a reliance on God? An important king has died and the text immediately moves one’s mind from an earthy king to thinking about the King of all of the earth. The image of a temple filled with God’s presence reminds me of Genesis one and two where God’s inauguration is taking place. The earth is YHWH’s temple and full of God’s revelation.

The creatures in the vision have a unique description and fascinating job. They move about in attributing worth to King YHWH through unison covering and apparent repetitious praise chants. It is unique that in this vision Isaiah experiences the physical surroundings in tangible ways. The very building structure is being impacted by this encounter and the air has changed by the result of fire. The place where Isaiah finds himself has been radically changed by the one who is in the loud and smoky place.

The result of this scene is that Isaiah becomes acutely aware of his needy identity. Individually he recognizes with humble clarity that he is in need of grace. A mission from this moment is being born out of his own confession. He moves with further understanding to the idea that corporately the need is beyond just himself. The confession is a result of an evolving understanding that YHWH is king.

One of the creatures engages Isaiah’s response further by placing a hot coal against his lips. If this is an angelic being, why does the creature have to use tongs to grab a hot coal? Is this a further connection that the spiritual and material are closely intertwined? One must keep in mind the nature of the event happening is a vision. One cannot help but ponder the significance of these details. A theological suggestion is that it is not only “live” but it is consecrated to YHWH and therefore sacred.

The coal is pressed against Isaiah’s lips with a message of guilt removal and forgiveness of sins. I see an element of prevenient grace that Isaiah was able to confess at all. Does the seraph place it against his lips out of grace to simply point out that such a confession requires something sacred from a place of sacrifice? The next voice is a question from King YHWH. Isaiah’s response is one we would expect from such a spectacular meeting.

The message of sacrifice, I think, is encrypted in the imperatives given to Isaiah. It was from Isaiah’s own encounter that he must go and share a truth that will likely fall on deaf ears. Isaiah, like the people of God (and all humanity), have forgotten YHWH. Isaiah is called to give a hard message to a hard hearted people. However, it is in their familiarity that they have become blind. God encounter in the long run will always produce hope in those called to tell important news. Once sin has had its destructive day, God will continue his redemptive drama. 

Praise to this kind of King… The God-King of sacrifice. The God-Man (Jesus) of Resurrection is worthy of praise!

Works Cited:

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

On Isaiah

The content of the book of Isaiah is best/only understood in the historical context in which its message is seated. The section for summary is over the years 739-701 B.C. As Oswalt notes, these years correspond with Isaiah’s life and chapters 1-39 (4). It is in this period that the Hebrew people continue to struggle with remembering God. The test to trust God is apparent throughout the account of ruthless Assyrian emperors and the real threat they posed toward their enemies. Isaiah’s message is one that highlights the contrast of trusting the fickleness of foreign powers with the true reliability of the Hebrew God. Trusting foreign powers with other gods might bring short provision, but not trusting the only true powerful God leads to destruction (5).

The period that the text covers could be called “Assyria’s moment of glory”. Prior to strong capable leaders, Assyria had been fairly weak in its force. Those who had felt Assyria’s might in the past found a time of rest. This led to Israel and Judah’s complacency which assumed God’s favor resting on them (5). With the rise of Tiglath-pileser III things strongly changed. The days of peace were over if you were in Assyria’s path. It quickly became known that when Pul flexed his muscle the entire world feared it (6). The book of 2 Kings provides much background for a proper understanding of Isaiah.

Judah was torn on which way to turn regarding Assyria. They eventually sided with Assyria in hopes that they would be protected and find favor with the main power. Looking for help from a bigger protector seems to be the theme for Judah throughout this period. Isaiah rightly perceives that striving to survive by linking to a foreign power is useless and harmful in the end. Conquering kings often take what is freely handed over and then forcefully taken when it is not. For the Hebrews apostasy often comes about due to amnesia of God (6-7).

Pul died in 727 B.C. who was then succeeded by Shalmaneser (7). This king too maintained a sweeping power hold on any Assyrian opponent. The next king that followed was Sargon. He continued the domination that had become expected by the Assyrian military strength (8). It is in this time period that a somewhat decent king named Hezekiah reigned over Judah. He tried to rid the land and temple of worship to false gods. One time he even tried (unsuccessfully) to unite Northern Israel with the South through celebration of Passover (9). Another time Judah chose to rely on Egypt for protection which did not prove to be any more successful than the trustworthiness of Ahaz’s confidence in Assyria. Sargon maintained a world dominance posture that had been built on the wins of his predecessors. He, however, died disgracefully on the battlefield and is forever remembered as an example of pride coming before a fall (Isa. 14).

Babylon hoped to gain some ground, but was soon met with defeat by the consistent supremacy of Assyria led by Sennacherib. It was not long before Assyria was strong as ever and as Isaiah had predicted, was knocking on Judah’s door (10). With the increased threat close to home, Hezekiah tried to pay off Sennacherib with a tribute. There is also a possible account of a plague that took out the Assyrian army saving Jerusalem. Due to pride, Assyrian history probably would not have recorded such an event or allowed the city to remain. Mystery surrounds the details of how it happened, but Jerusalem was spared from the crushing sweep of Sennacherib. Hezekiah, however, was faithful to God due to Isaiah’s message (12-13).

Despite Circumstances of any Empire…May we not forget God. May we put full trust in YHWH.

Works Cited:

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

Grief of Place

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.”–C.S. Lewis

Grief… “A universal human experience”. Gary Collins explains that grief is a normal response to the loss of any significant person, object, or opportunity.* The past couple of years, I have borrowed others experience of grief. Sometimes I have absorbed and experienced the feeling/knowing of loss myself. I have seen the loss of my grandparents, my step-mom, friends, and even had the honor of leading the funeral for an awesome lady from my church.

Not to downplay the grief born out of the loss of someone special, my focus here is that I want to reflect on the grief caused by the loss of place. I want to think about the loss of space and environment. In fact the reason to start this blog is partially caused by the feelings of a certain event. This past week I learned that the college I went to has decided to close its physical doors. Nazarene Bible College will move to a completely online platform. NBC was founded in the 1960’s and aimed at preparing men and women to serve in various ministry capacities. The campus will move to a completely virtual reality. Obviously this is the logical outcome for many reasons, I assume mainly, due to economics.

This place is very significant to who I am. To what makes me tick. To what makes me think that the Church that proclaims Jesus matters. I moved to Colorado Springs in 2003 fresh out of High School to attend NBC. That decision changed my life forever. I enrolled with the intention of becoming a Youth Pastor and obtaining at B.A. degree in Pastoral Ministries (with the help of many my goal was achieved). There were no dorms and I was broke without any financial help (outside of student loans). I worked three jobs throughout college which took me nearly six years to complete. One of those jobs was cleaning each of the six buildings on campus.

Many other things shaped me in that place. I met the girl I would marry from my former youth pastor (who graduated and nudged me to attend NBC). I married my wife in the chapel on campus. The professors were (are) of the highest caliber (academically and of character). I am forever grateful for these teachers of Scripture and life. They did not give easy answers to my questions but challenged me in all areas of my mind, heart, and soul. Their influence shaped me for the better. I did take online classes when I needed to, but I would not be the person I am today if I had not been in the physical environment of that place and in the presence of the great mentors. I believe that NBC will continue its mission, but I believe that an important shaping of that mission has been tragically lost and will need new mediums to recreate and foster human interaction beyond the computer screen.

I felt deep parts of me were hit, like when you hear someone close has a fatal accident. It is interesting how the loss of place can even cause incredible “shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance”. This causes me to reflect on the sacredness of creation. The life we live and the people who make up the moments and spaces in which we share them truly do wind their way into the fabric of the reality of who we are.

Spaces are important and not meaningless. Nazarene Bible College as a place will remain a constant reminder of the special reality that place has in life. It also reminds me that places come and go but just because they are gone does not diminish their value. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul found his geography “in Christ” able to live in a larger reality happening. One commentator notes that the language of “In Christ” appears over 160 times throughout the New Testament.* As humanity goes through life creating spaces and memories, those who trust a loving God can always grieve like those who have hope (1 Thess 4:13). Maybe someone can relate to these thoughts. Grieving is not easily understood or easy to process. May the God who holds all things together and in who we live, move, and have being give each of us hope when we feel loss of someone or something special.

Works Cited:

Collins, Gary R. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Snodrass, Klyne. The NIV Application Commentary, Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

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