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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Isaiah 51:9-16

the following are notes for the Sunday School class on the three readings assigned for the Daily Office in the book of Common Prayer, 4 Epiphany 
Isaiah 51:9-16
We begin with a plea ("Awake! Awake!") for God to show His power ("arm") to save. [Recall Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm for an example of how He is filling up every Scripture!] The two illustrations which follow demonstrate the inter-relationship of creation and salvation.
"Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the monster through?
It was you that dried up the Sea, the waters of the deep...a road the redeemed might walk" 

Rahab, in Jewish mythology, is a water dragon. Ancient Israel's neighbors included some myths about creation which included such dragons and chaos. However, the Hebrew word, rahab, means strength (see Is 30:7; Job 9:13; 27:12), pride and insolence. It is used as a code name for Egypt in Psalm 87:4, 89:8 and probably here as well. The general reference to Exodus (deliverance) is couched in imagery of Genesis (creation). It also employs mythological imagery. Mythology is grounded in history (poetry and symbolism are also true) and the Apocalypse of John will pick up this same imagery in chapter 12 & 13 in reference to Satan and his partners.

Fundamentally, Isaiah gives voice to a people who recall God's great acts of salvation in days long ago, and are desperate to see the same deliverance in their own time. v11 "so let the ransomed/redeemed of the Lord return...with and gladness, while sorrow and sighing flee." Salvation in time and place are an experience of divine deliverance. This language is echoed in the Apocalypse 21:3-4 in the final victory where "the old order of things has passed away"! Redemption is redemption and the Bible uses the same language whether referring to the end of today's problems or the end of the world.

God's response (51:12ff) is typical of what we read in Second Isaiah. "I am He Who comforts you" (one of my favorite St. Louis Jesuits songs is based on this chapter). Identity is a key issue. God is the comforter (nacham means to comfort, pity, or regretthis is the same word used to say "God regrets" in Job; see Wednesday, January 28th blog). When we look at the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) we find the word parakallo, familiar from John's Gospel as "Paraclete" (counselor, comforter) in reference to the Holy Spirit who will come after Jesus ascends to His Father. (Dare I say, another 'filling up' verse?)

God's response to their pleas? Basically, "what are you afraid of?" Your oppressors are temporal, contingent and weak. Human kings and kingdoms are transient (they die, they are like grass). God reminds them that He created sky and earth (heaven and earth is basically 'everything'). This is repeated in verses 13 & 16. So the basic premise is this, if God is the Creator then all things can be fixed. And yet another tie-in to the opening verses, He is the Lord who "stirs up the sea into roaring waves" (and the Gentiles are likened to roaring waves in Is 17:12; Ps 65 reminds God stills the roaring of the waves)

The parallel of to the first exodus from Egypt (as a new creation//redemption) continues in v16 "I have put my words in your mouth" are also found in Deuteronomy 18:18 (I will put the words in the mouth of my prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command) where God promises to raise up a prophet like Moses. 

Connecting Exodus with the return from exile is a common feature of the exiled Jews (see Ezra and Nehemiah). It is a paradigm which we find in the New Testament as well. All the stories are interconnected. As we read what happened to the Jews in Babylon, who looked back to ancient days in Egypt and the most ancient days of Creation to discover hope, we, so many years later moaning in our own exile (literal and figurative) can also cry out to God with confidence that He remains the Creator, the Comforter and the Savior.

Hence, the implied message of Isaiah in this reading: Fear not, know that I am God!
Faith saves because God is a Savior.

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