The Bible in a Year – 12 May

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

12 May. Isaiah chapters 59-63

Towards the end of this book of prophecy, the style becomes ‘apocalyptic’. Which does not mean it is all about terror and vengeance (though there is some of that, in chapters 59 and 63).  But like other apocalyptic works in the Bibles such as Daniel and Revelation, there seems to be a conflating of the way God was working in the prophet’s own time, and what will happen at the end of history, the day of judgement.  Some of the descriptions of ‘Zion’ here refer to the earthly Jerusalem, being rebuilt by those who had returned from Babylon.   Some are clearly references to the future Kingdom of God when day and night have ceased to be, and God himself is the light of his people.  That is the vision of St John at the very end of the Bible, and Isaiah caught it too.


We see more clearly than ever now that when God comes to rescue his people from either external oppression or their own sins, whether in the ‘here and now’ or at the final judgement, he will restore ‘justice’ (more than legalism, rather fairness, wholeness and harmony), a word that occurs throughout Isaiah and especially in these chapters. At those times, two things always happen: those who are open to God’s justice and have repented of their sins will experience his coming with joy and a sense of liberation.  And those who have resisted justice and ignored God, and have let sin take over their lives, will experience it as terrible judgement – God “treading the grapes of wrath” (63:3, one of those well-known quotations that I had not realised was from the Bible until I came across it here).  There is no chance given at that time to change sides – we will be judged on our relationship with God as it has been until this moment.  That is why there are many verses in the Bible along the lines of “now is the day of salvation” or “seek the Lord while he is near”. The old billboard sign “repent, for the end is nigh” may be a simplistic and in many ways negative way of summarising the Gospel message, but it is still true.


In between these two visions – of the rebuilt worldly city of Jerusalem and several centuries of prosperity, and the final day of judgement – comes Jesus.  Of course he is not named here, except in the sense that his very name Yeshua means something like ‘God saves’, which is a good summary of these chapters.  But it is recorded by Luke that at Jesus’ first sermon following his baptism in the Spirit, he read the beginning of chapter 61 of Isaiah (“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 …”) and told people that it was being fulfilled even as they listened.  He knew that he was the Messiah, the suffering servant that Isaiah had seen in his visions, and that his role was indeed to bring in the “year of the Lord’s favour” in anticipation of the end times when justice would finally be brought to bear.


So, if you have not already turned to Jesus, now is the time to do so, to experience the day of God’s favour, and be ready for when he comes again in glory.


The Bible in a Year – 4 May

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

4 May. Isaiah chapters 23-27

These oracles of woe, interspersed with songs of praise, make strange reading. Webb’s commentary that I am following makes sense of them by explaining them as predictions, not of actual historical events (except the oracle against Tyre in chapter 23, which could refer to one of several invasions), but of the final judgement of God against human sin and the establishment of his ultimate reign from Jerusalem with any who would come to him. The oracles therefore belong more in the New Testament tradition of the Revelation to St John, than in Old Testament style prophecy.  Those who reign from Jerusalem  are those who turn to God through Christ, since there is no temple any more and God’s grace has been shown to all people.


If I am to pick out any particular passage it would be the start of chapter 24, headed (in the NRSV) “Impending judgement on the earth”. The images are of both economic and environmental disaster, all because people have broken God’s laws and covenant.  Again, Webb is helpful here is suggesting that the reference is not to the Abrahamic covenant but that with Noah. God promised never again to destroy mankind (at least by a flood), so why does he reveal to Isaiah that he will destroy civilisation?  Because once again people have ceased to be what it is to be human. Long before Abraham or Moses, God put humanity on the earth to be stewards of it and to care for and support each other.


When societies break down so that people are neglected and abused, and the earth robbed for its riches at the expense of the poor, then the most basic of God’s covenants is broken and the consequences are inevitable.  In our day with inequalities rising, hatred and suspicion growing and climate change destroying livelihoods across the world, we need more than ever to understand this and turn back to basics and to God in repentance.