I have been in Isaiah for several months now. I had no idea that it contained so many water references, about 70 by my count. I spent the last couple of days on an Isaiah Iditarod. It has been both grueling and enlightening. I am blown away by the ways in which the gospel is present in the book of Isaiah. Not just in the well-known reference to a virgin birth and other verses quoted by Jesus and John the baptist, but woven throughout the book of Isaiah. There is truly a “New Song” that God is teaching to the people of Israel. I feel like this is the true beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who will come many centuries later as we humans measure time.
The first post in Isaiah, back on August 24, was one called “come now, let us settle the matter“. A lot has happened in the world, and in my life, since that post, but the core message remains. God has settled the matter and His arrival is what we are celebrating today, Christmas day 2015.
Clearly God values His relationship with the people of Israel. He wants to be in community with them and for them to be in community with each other. Why did God create community? Why does He value it? This was explored in Isaiah 1:21-23. It was not so we could be comfortable with each other or provide dinner parties for one another. It was so we could more effectively accomplish what God has asked us to do. If our community is not achieving this end perhaps we need to rethink and retool this community.
God has many words for the nation of Israel, and all those who follow Him, about the importance of being like a bud of new life on a plant. New buds sometimes only come after severe pruning and that is what much of the early part of the book of Isaiah is about — pruning. The vineyard that God carefully prepared is simply not producing fruit, or in some cases it is actually producing bad fruit.
What can God do to get the attention of a distracted and dysfunctional people? God tips His hand at the aqueduct near Jerusalem. He promises to come and be with us through a young man who will eat curds and honey. Many of us will call this young Man the Messiah, Jesus. The grace that will sweep over the land of Judah and Jerusalem had its origins in the “gently flowing waters of Shiloah” long before the time of Jesus, but Jesus will come like a flood and cover great kings and nations “up to their necks”.
This new thing that God is doing will be unlike anything previously imagined. The earthly order will be turned on it’s head and “The wolf will live with the lamb” and we will all be “Filled with the Knowledge of the Lord“. This knowledge will be different than the earthly knowledge many of us are familiar with that originates in books and on the internet. God is introducing the idea that not only are we to share in this new knowledge, but we are to be a part of the ushering in of this new order to come. In my post from September 12 I said it this way:
“We should not make the error of being a passive spectator, but neither should we be a distracted disciple trusting too much in our own knowledge and skills. We are to be bold and curious children helping to lead all we meet further up and further into God’s Kingdom.”
In Isaiah God makes it clear, for the first time that I can remember, that His grace and love will extend beyond His chosen people. He will call all people to Himself and use all available “scraps of cloth” to construct a beautiful new quilt of many colors and cultures.
We are to draw our strength and wisdom from the well that is God. In Isaiah 12:1-6 God tells us to “draw water from the wells of salvation“. We are to 1) seek salvation from the well of water that is God no matter how hard we have to search and dig; 2) Be joyful and thankful when we find salvation; 3) share what we have found with the world.
The book of Isaiah is honest about how difficult following God can be. There will be weeping and “waters full of blood” along the way. In the midst of hardship and the storms of life God has promised to “send the lamb” to comfort us. Isaiah provides some amazing details about “the lamb”. He will be one who will “sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness”.
The idea that God can be distant, yet present, is explored in Isaiah 18:1-7. God says “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” This reveals the dynamic and elusive nature of God’s presence. We are sometimes unsure He even exists, like a mirage on the desert. The fact that God acknowledges these “dry times” actually makes me love Him more not less.
God is speaking to many people groups through Isaiah, including Egypt and many other contemporary nations of the day. God is asking many of these people and nations to follow Him and love one another, even those who are enemies. The focus of this grace will be, Jerusalem, City of David. A region described in Isaiah 22:1-11 as the “Valley of Vision“. God is concerned that many people, both then and now, are giving up their souls without a fight. He desires that we look to Him for our water supply and protection rather than walls, reservoirs, and earthly leaders. All of us God followers who are to come may be in a sense “lesser vessels” for His spirit, but He wants to fill us none the less.
The dual and eternal nature of God is also explored in many places in Isaiah. God is both Lion and Lamb at the same time. He brings both the storm and provides shelter from it. He will provide a shelter during the storm and remove “the shroud that enfolds all peoples”. The process of coming close to God will not be a Hallmark reunion, it will not be without pain and writhing. The means by which God will remove the veil is truly a strange work.
We are all broken pieces of pottery trying to scoop water from the Great Cistern to satisfy our thirst. There is a promise of Peace like a River for those who can figure out how to maintain both a fearful heart and a heart that is quiet and confident. There are also very real consequences to choosing to go our own way rather than God’s way, like smoldering streams of burning pitch for example. God wants to be our Water in the Wilderness and provide a way of holiness amidst what sometimes looks like a very messy world.
The “Good News” shared in Isaiah is clearly meant to extend beyond the previous borders of God’s chosen people. In Isaiah 40:3-14 God makes it clear that we are all “in the hollow of His hand” and He is the hope of all who “search for water”. He summons us by name and for those who pay close attention to His commands He promises peace like a river. He will sprinkle many nations and will be pierced for our transgressions. Like a flooding stream God will accomplish the strange work described in great detail throughout Isaiah. It is fitting to end with one of the most famous of Isaiah passages (even though it is not a water-related reference).