Lord , you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone do we honor. They are now dead, they live no more; their spirits do not rise. You punished them and brought them to ruin; you wiped out all memory of them. You have enlarged the nation, Lord ; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land. Lord , they came to you in their distress; when you disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer. As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, Lord . We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life. But your dead will live, Lord ; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer. – Isaiah 26:12-21
This is an interesting riffle here in Isaiah. I was expecting a class I or class II rapid and this passage delivered a bracing class III or IV. It starts out with deceptively calm water acknowledging that God is the source of all our accomplishments and peace. So far so good, then there is a section about how even among earthly rulers the people of this passage honored only God. It seems that this honoring is not easy and may involve pain and writhing — whitewater ahead!
“As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, Lord.” Now I confess being a male I have not experienced childbirth, except my own of course. When my wife gave birth to our daughters I was there and I am pretty sure the pain she experienced is not something my wife would have chosen. Yet it was necessary to bring our beautiful daughters into the world and begin the adventure of love and learning that is parenting.
So this verse is saying something really profound. Our entering the presence of God may sometimes come with “pain and writhing”. I don’t remember learning about that in Sunday School. The outcome will be an amazing rebirth, but the process of entering God’s presence may require that we strip down to our souls, and we may not like it at the time.
The passage take a confusing turn in the next line: “We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind”. I am not sure what his means, but it sounds like it is describing pain without purpose — all the pain and writhing without the peace afterward. This is not a bad description of much of Israel’s history of rebellion and running from God…a prodigal people.
In the next part we finally come to the water reference in this complex and confusing passage: “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” So it seems God will resurrect the dead who have returned to dust. God’s “dew” (grace) will fall evenly on all like dew in the morning. It sounds like for some this rising will not be pleasant as God will come “out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins.”
God is the God of both resurrection and wrath, the lion and lamb. We may fear entering his presence, as I am sure women at times fear the pain of a coming childbirth, but the peace that results from the process is worth the pain.
Prayer: God You know the fate of our bodies and our souls, Help us to be at peace and boldly enter your presence.