Coffee Joints for Mugger-toadery + Sunny Holidays for Pie and Good Old Isaiah
We were at different coffee places over the last few days, mugging hard. The seasonal blend (Columbia, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Costa Rica) at 40 Hands Coffee (facebook) was not half bad though the foam was slightly strange. Pity the cakes were obviously rather tired at the end of a Saturday.
The Thumper blend in a flat white at Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar (facebook) was much better than previously experienced. The barista this time was Darren Chang – roast was still dark but well-extracted in the milk. And the ET Artisan macarons were delicious as usual.
L’etoile Cafe (facebook) in a corner shophouse along Owen Road was the bomb: natural light during the day, space galore, power sockets in the wall, wifi, pleasant music, nice people who actually offered repeatedly to top up the hot water in the teapot, well-made coffee from Highlander Coffee blends.
When the sun came out and the skies were blue and the wind beckoning, it was too nice outside to be studying and i was extremely glad for a bit of croquet, frisbee and excellent Windowsill Pies (facebook. pecan and toffee, Christmas, morello cherry from the Farmers’ Market at Loewen Gardens, Dempsey), and also to have David Jackman give an Introduction to Isaiah.
Isaiah prophesised during reigns of 4 kings of Judah – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1, about 732-686BC). During this time, the northern kingdom of Samaria (Israel) was besieged by Assyria and eventually overthrown at its people, God’s people, scattered. Isaiah was called on the year Azariah (father of Jotham) died (Azariah had fancied himself to be priest as well as king and tried to offer incense in the temple. He was struck with leprosy and co-reigned with Jotham his son before expiring (2 Kings 15)). At that time, Assyria was the top nation (2 Kings 15-17). But Babylon would get rid of them eventually. It was a time of great political upheaval.
The prophesies of Isaiah were unsettling. They were warnings of judgment on the people of God in the north (Israel) and south (Judah, though also called Israel in Isaiah, metonymically, because “Israel” also refers to “God’s people” since they all came from Jacob who was renamed “Israel”)(Isaiah 1:2). What did God have against them?
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the LORD,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged. (Isaiah 1:3-4)
It’s the same issue that has been plaguing mankind since The Fall – creatures who don’t acknowledge their Creator, though God has already made himself known in many times and many ways to Israel. The faithful city has become the whore (Isaiah 1:21), the people who had entered into a covenant relationship with God had very quickly abandoned him. How will this sinful people become the holy righteous nation of Isaiah 66?
Isaiah tells us how. And again, it is the great promise of God willing to reach out to his own rebellious people instead of just destroying them as he could have as their Creator. Surely this is not what an almighty God does – humbly (or rather humiliatingly) sending prophet after prophet to call his people back to him? Isn’t that rather…needy? But this God isn’t a god thought up by humans and so is quite outside our expectations – he is all powerful and yet needlessly compassionate; he is all about both divine judgment and divine love, simultaneously:
Here, there are great promises of God reaching out to his people, but the severe threat from God of consequences for not turning back to him. Isaiah introduces the choices that people of God will have to make – accept that God is really God and obey him, or reject him and face judgment for rejecting him (Isaiah 1-5). But this is a reiteration of what so many of God’s servants and prophets from all the generations since Adam have been telling the people and nothing much has changed – the people just can’t snap out of their sinfulness. So Isaiah 6-12 contains that great hope that God is going to come himself to do something to change the situation. The focus is on a figure called the Immanuel (meaning “God with us”) who will come to do something for his people – God isn’t a distant deity but one who cares enough to be intimately involved in his creation. The Immanuel would be a shoot from stump of Jesse (that is, a human from the line of David. Jesse was the son of Boaz and Ruth and father of David), a great king who would be God’s witness, yet also God (Isaiah 9:6 – “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace). (The people later called “Christians” didn’t make up the divinity of Jesus.)
But Jesus would come only 800 years in the future. Meanwhile, the message to God’s people was the same then as it is now – they had to choose whom they would trust – God, or themselves or other people. So God tells Ahaz is not to be afraid (Isaiah 7) that Syria and Israel (their own brother!) had devised evil against Judah:
if you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all. (Isaiah 7:9b)
Are you going to believe in God’s promise that if you keep trusting him he will save you or will you rely on human promises to protect yourself? (Obviously, in all situations, it would be illogical to claim to “trust God” to provide things he never promised in the first place – like prosperity or health or a good marriage or a satisfying career.)
10 oracles are preached about various nations in 2 sets of 5. The nation of Babylon heads each set (Isaiah 13, 21). God will restore the Davidic monarchy who will rule Zion and also the world. Though in the short-term, Assyria threatens to destroy God’s people, it is but only a rod in God’s hands. People need to know that God isn’t just the national deity of Israel, and that all the nations are in the hands of God. No nation has any additional or independent power other than the power that God gives them. In the context of that era, if God can bring his promises to fruition by controlling even the great Babylon then nothing would be able stand in his way; God can do it in the face of human determination to resist him, fight against him and ignore that he is God. God has whole world in his hand; he is the lord of history of all nations, governs whole earth, and causes the rise and fall of nations. Why do the people of God rely on alliances or coalitions or human politics? They are useless because it is not other humans who are in control but God. And God had already given Judah pretty specific promises that he would not punish them with Babylon if only they trusted that same promise!
Isaiah 24-27 extends this idea to whole world in every period of history. God promises that he will eventually judge all human rebellion – everybody everywhere will come under judgment of God, not just creatures but all spiritual things in heaven as well (Isaiah 24:21). But there is never just the threat, but this is followed with the promise in Isaiah 25 that through judgment something better will come and eventually death itself (which came about only because of The Fall – Genesis 3) will be destroyed. The right reaction should then be great faith in what God will do (Isaiah 26-27).
In Hezekiah’s days, the threat is still from Assyria. Hezekiah faces same issues – does he stand firm in faith and believe God’s promises, or will he like Ahaz build alliances instead of relying on God? Would Hezekiah think that Egypt would work with him against Assyria? They would be a good ally since they were powerful and had the latest in military technology (horses and chariots – Isaiah 31). But why go to Egypt if you have God’s promises of protection if only you trust in his promises? Hezzy does the sensible thing when he receives a threatening letter from the Assyrians – he spreads it out before God, trusting in him to deliver (like he had promised) and there is indeed an amazing deliverance (because that’s what God had said he would do in this situation).
Unfortunately, this doesn’t end too well because Hezekiah, though generally faithful, isn’t perfect. And the next threat comes from Babylon and God tells Hezekiah that Babyloan will prevail and Judah will be destroyed (Isaiah 39)
But this isn’t the end of God’s people. Isaiah 40-55 centers around the second major character: the suffering servant, an individual who is again clearly divine as well as human. He will bring about a whole new community of redeemed people who will become citizens of a new Jerusalem. There are the great servant songs of suffering that we later realise (in the Gospels) is Jesus’ work of redemption on the cross. Because of his work, there will be a new international community – God’s people will come not just from the scattered children of Israel but from the whole world.
This we see in part in the church today, but complete fulfilment is only when Jesus (the Immanuel, the Suffering Servant and here also the Divine Conqueror) comes again. While we are waiting for this what should we be doing? Remember our human frailty and divine ability. We will never find the resources to live a godly life in ourselves; while we wait for him to return, we should know that we will always be sinful and weak and failing. But there is the promise of the divine conqueror/warrior who will eradicate all evil at the end of days. This extermination of evil includes the terrible destruction of those who do not ask for his mercy, with bloodstains on the garments of the anointed conqueror like the stains of those who tread the winepress. Only with this judgement will there be real justice and righteousness that we so crave.
In Isaiah 65-66, we are reminded again that God will do what he has promised as he has always done. We need only trust that he will save, to be saved from promised destruction and brought into the new heavens and new earth that God has said he will make.