Archive for January, 2015

ISAIAH 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice,
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
    and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
    that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
    my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to spring up before all the nations.

It would be a significant oversight, indeed, if we didn’t take notice of how the identity of the one speaking these lines almost imperceptibly shifts from a messianic figure (the anointed one) to God himself (who promises a new covenant in verse 8) and back again. Of course, we can’t leave out the voice of the prophet himself, who is unnamed but writing in the tradition of the eighth-century Isaiah of Jerusalem.

Try to imagine the shock to orthodoxy introduced by someone who is not merely speaking about God to the people, but who is speaking as God to them. All of the established and sacrosanct certainties about insiders and outsiders, about the nature of faith and what the future may hold, what it means to follow God’s will and where that might lead – all of it is thrown into question by the in-breaking first-person declaration of God himself, in and as the prophet standing before them.

The divine possession of the prophets – or their daring and imaginative impersonation of God – is different from what is commonly found today among so-called charismatic assemblies. Isaiah was not pumping up his congregation with bellowing recitations of scripture. He wasn’t trying to arouse a complacent audience with pulpit-pounding promises and warnings. Quite the contrary, Isaiah (and the other major prophets) was using the voice of God to challenge the orthodoxy of his day, and to leverage a ground-level transformation in the spiritual consciousness of his generation.