This post is part of a Bible study project a friend and I are trying. We’re studying the major prophets and posting new blog entries about our insights every two weeks. For the specific model we’re following (if you can call it that) and some background, feel free to check out our first posts here (hers) and here (mine).
The reading for our last couple of weeks was Isaiah 13-24. These are bleak chapters. Oracles of destruction aren’t light reading and I’m still grappling with some uncomfortable questions. Just fair warning, I’m not shying away from the violent and graphic today. Again this week, my sources were helpful and gave me a deeper study experience, but they didn’t really inspire my post. I did add some maps to my reference materials, which was beneficial. I would really value input on any and all of these topics, so comment away!
My thoughts are hardly unified this week. First:
In Isaiah Chapter 14, we read that upon the defeat of Babylon’s king, the Israelites will take up a “taunt” about the man and his downfall. Isaiah’s description of the king sounds like a not-very-subtle parallel to Satan. Indeed, if you Google “Where can I find the story of Lucifer’s fall in the Bible?”, a passage from this chapter is frequently cited. But scripture does not specify that we should read it that way. It made me wonder what Isaiah thought God was talking about. I also searched for but could not find any New Testament cross reference to this chapter (possible that I missed it – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!!), which might tell us at least how Jesus and the apostles interpreted this “taunt.” At any rate, it reminded me how little we actually know about Satan. If anyone has relevant opinion or scripture, please share! Side note: I thought the word “taunt” was interesting. To me it connotes mocking or needling, but the Hebrew definition is actually “parable” or “proverb.”
In the midst of reading all of these wrathful oracles, I happened across a verse in James about anger.
James 1:20: for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
We know that Jesus felt anger and that it was righteous. I have heard the argument that human anger is an important emotion. That it can motivate us and that its existence means we aren’t desensitized. But then I got to thinking about my own anger. I call it “irritability” because that sounds not-as-bad, somehow; but anger is what it is. It never produces good fruit. I don’t think I can always help feeling it, but I’d gladly take back any action I’ve ever made out of anger. What do you think? Is it our place to overturn merchant tables or should we leave that to the one who is incorruptible?
Final reflection (and the hardest one):
Like so many others, I have a very hard time understanding horrifically violent OT acts when they appear (based on my imperfect reading of scripture) to come directly from God. I don’t struggle when God warns about something that will happen as a natural result of peoples’ actions, even if that thing is horrible and ugly. I don’t even struggle with the idea that God would cause someone to die. We all die and my experience of God has led me to trust that he will deal with us justly, righteously and with love when that happens. That being said, when I read Isaiah 13:16, I get really nervous. I don’t understand it. I know that my reading may be completely incorrect; it probably is; but does it not seem to read here that God “commanded” his “consecrated ones” (Isaiah 13:3) to murder infants, rape wives and steal? Aren’t such acts evil, regardless of the people against whom they were committed? I mean, we aren’t even talking about the death penalty here. This is going after the families of the accused and torturing them. How can that be just? Just being completely honest here – if I received such a command I would doubt the goodness of the one from whom it came. Have I interpreted these verses all wrong?
Thanks for reading. Until next time.