As I began with the first six chapters of Isaiah, I asked myself what is a prophet’s job in the Bible? My first thought was that God literally speaks through a prophet, the very words of God. But what strikes me like ice water splashed in my face is the way Isaiah communicates harsh contrast between the glory of God and the depravity of Israel.
As I began to classify verses according to the Cycle, I realized that the first six chapters, at least, are largely a stark contrast – between unity with God and disunity from God. And the contrasts make it clear Israel has to choose. Either Israel consciously chooses the blessings of unity with God or reaps the devastating whirlwind of disunity. As Isaiah begins, Israel has chosen the latter. Their saga continues to be a cautionary tale for us, right to this very day, this very moment.
Another thought this triggered was that throughout the entire series of “If My People” disunity has been the least-revealed category in the Bible so far (Paul will have much to day about this later). The Book of Job addressed disunity, but that was more personal between Job and his “friends.” Isaiah is the first to focus deeply on our disunity from God.
So perhaps a prophet’s job is this: we are supposed to obey the commands of God unconditionally, which brings us into unity with God; a prophet’s job is to point out how grievously we disobey God’s commands, which is how we might define disunity.
There are at least two examples of these principles in Isaiah 1 to 6. Please read Chapter 2:1-8 right now. This vision is in the future, the “latter days,” when Jerusalem will be lifted up higher than any nation; and from Jerusalem, the law and the word of the Lord will emanate, bringing perfect unity at last. God will decide all disputes, peace will reign, and the nations shall not learn war any more.
Now read Chapter 5:16-23. This is more on a personal level of behavior. First, we are told what the fundamental basis of perfect unity is, at least up to this point in the Old Testament: God is exalted when there is justice and righteousness.
But those are very broad terms – what are justice and righteousness really? Thank you for asking, God says, just read verses 18-23! This is a series of woes declared by God; by definition, not doing these things is the foundation of perfect unity with God:
- Telling falsehood;
- Sinning as if we are pulling it around in a wagon behind us;
- Doubting that God is working fast enough to suit us;
- Calling evil good and good evil; darkness light and light darkness; bitter sweet and sweet bitter;
- Declaring ourselves wise and righteously shrewd – we are not;
- Being “heroes” at drinking wine and strong drink (sounds like today’s binge drinking!); and
- Acquitting the guilty for a bribe and depriving the innocent of their rights.
God concludes: “[B]ehold, quickly, speedily, they come!” (5:26b).
When I said that Isaiah is a cautionary tale for us, I was not kidding. Does America today behave much like the woes listed above? Have not enemies come into our country from the ends of the earth quickly and speedily?
Have we ever contemplated whether they have come speedily in response to God’s whistle? If so, would you declare that our nation is in perfect unity with God or disunity from God?