Jewish poetry loves a good simile. That was one of my comments on Isaiah 51.
It also doesn’t mind a solid use of imagery and metaphor.
Across chapters 50-59 there’s a significant amount of it. I find these final chapters full of so much imagery that it’s easy to miss the thematic elements. So, like last week I’ll punch out a precis of my thoughts on each.
Chapter 50: When I came, why was no one there? When I called, why was there no one to answer? God has not left his people. It is his people who have left him. He has searched for them but they have not responded.
Chapter 51: The imagery and symbolism become geological here. Abraham and Sarah are represented as a quarry that Israel has been cut from. However, Israel appear to have turned away from that quarry, judging by the command to “look to the rock from which you were cut.”
Abraham and Sarah are models of faithfulness. Evidently Israel is not.
Again there is feminine personification, as there has been across the entire book. Here, Zion is told her deserts will become like Eden. Despite the faithlessness, paradise will be restored.
Chapter 52: In my notes I wrote “A lot of waking up and expelling those that are unclean or blasphemous. Then there is a servant who will act wisely.” Sounds Messianic.
Chapter 53: By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people he was stricken.
If it is Messianic, then Christ has suffered under the ultimate slave driver, in suffering the punishment for sin, despite his sinlessness. Then he overcame it.
Chapter 54: Pretty much the ultimate message behind the feminine symbolism within Isaiah comes in this chapter (in my opinion):
The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit – a wife married young only to be rejected, says your God. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.”
Chapter 55: A well-known and loved chapter. An overwhelming sense of light bounces out of this chapter. It seems so pure and peaceful. Wine and milk and the trees clapping their hands. The war is over.
Yet, there is a reminder that God is still God and we are frail and foolish:
…my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts…
Chapter 56: Maintain justice and do what is right. As God’s people, we should fight for justice. We should ask ourselves what it looks like today to desecrate the Sabbath and ensure that we don’t.
God will gather outsiders as he gathers his people back from exile. Yet, Israel’s watchmen are a joke. They are lazy drunkards: spiritually useless.
Chapter 57: But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain. After listing terrible behaviour, this comes as ‘comfort for the contrite’.
There is hope for men, and women, that they can receive refuge in God.
Chapter 58: “Seems,” madam? Nay, it is; I know not “seems”. That was what jumped into my head reading this chapter. It opens with Israel seeming to be holy and devout. However, it is clear that they are not.
Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife and in striking each other with wicked fists.
Spiritual disciplines are not of any worth if our behaviour is so contradictory.
Chapter 59: The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths… no one who walks in them will know peace.
A number of similes are again used in this chapter to demonstrate how far from God’s ways his people are currently.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere it seems, the chapter shifts…
“The Redeemer will come from Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD.
God speaks and effectively says, ‘This is not the end.’
One will come and restore. Despite how it is now, one will come to restore and with deep compassion ‘bring you back.’
If that’s not an excellent segue into Advent, I don’t know what is…
Yours in loving a good simile,