Most of what is revealed in Isaiah is like finding a discovery in a time capsule. The book contains two fraternal characteristics of both foretelling and forthtelling in harmony from the words of God to the people through this prophet during pre-exile times to both the southern and northern kingdoms.
There were other prophets in the Pentateuch period (i.e. Moses, Enoch) in the historical books (Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Samuel, Nathan) along with Isaiah and some twenty others recorded. Many are referred to like the 70 elders Moses appointed in Numbers 11. There were female prophetess (the named ones are Mariam, the judge Deborah, Huldah) listed in the OT. And as it has always been, and still is, there were the false prophets and priests. Many of these spokesmen and women were probably the most persecuted of all.
Isaiah’s forthtelling is applied to current situations (chapters 1-39) and foretelling (Chapters 40-48) to the future. The forthtelling is about God’s judgment. The foretelling is scheduled to occur after the exile, two hundred years later, recorded by Isaiah in scrolls saved by his disciples (Is. 8:16) to be read in future times. The last part of the book (chapters 49-55) is God telling the hard-hearted Israelites that He is going to do a new thing to bring hope to the people. It ends with a description of what happens to the wicked and the servants who accept this new conception of what God is doing and the new Jerusalem, which isn’t a new city per se but a new creation that all nations are invited to come and join.
Isaiah, the first book in the major prophet section, is the most quoted one of all the Old Testament. It has a comprehensive hopeful picture of Jesus in the second half of the book. Karl Barth said the Old Testament points forward to Jesus in expectation; the New Testament looks back to him in recollection. Isaiah is occasionally referred to as a fifth Gospel to the four found in the New Testament. Isaiah passages include the scope of Jesus’s life from the announcement of His coming (Isa. 40:3–5), His virgin birth (7:14), to his sacrificial death (52:13–53:12). then His future claim of the people as his own (60:2–3). Against a backdrop of God’s judgment that Isaiah pronounces to his era, he heralds in Chapter 40:9 the “Good News.” He is known as the “evangelical prophet.” George Frideric Handel’s orator in Messiah uses twenty scriptural texts from Isaiah as the inspiration for his historical musical masterpiece. This book is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments, bringing them together. There are sixty-six chapters in the completed works of Isaiah, the same number of books in the complete works of the Bible. In nineteen of those chapters, there are fifty-nine verses interspersed with the foretelling Jesus.
Then after the Good News is announced in the Gospel, it shifts to the future promises of his return in the remaining New Testament books. There are arguments, of course, trying to explain away the foretelling of Jesus in the Hebrew Bible. One argument (taken from the Oxford Index) is that there is no prediction of Christ in the Hebrew (OT) Bible, but instead, it’s Christians reinterpreting or reapplying the Hebrew prophecies. To me, each book of the Bible is in unity toward the message of Jesus. For it to be an only a coincidence that the OT would predict what happened in Gospels seems too far of a reach for me. Besides as the saying goes, coincidences are miracles in which God prefers to remain anonymous. It is being on this side of the cross (as Tim Keller says) that confirms the inspired words of Isaiah to the truth.
Like most of the other prophetic books, this one takes its name from its writer who was living in Jerusalem when Isaiah wrote it. He, during the last years of the reign of King Uzziah, was the royal court chaplain. Prophets function as preachers, predictors, spokesmand watchmen (Is. 21:6, Ez. 3:17). For example, in Isaiah 66:8 he foretold that a nation would be born in a single day, even before birth pains. This prophecy was fulfilled in May 1948 when Israel declared independence without a war, only to be at war within hours of its claim. His watchman message was to the nation of Israel who was again turning a deaf ear to God and were among other things offering meaningless sacrifices. He also prophesized 150 years before that Cyrus would be a benevolent king and release the Jews from exile. Isaiah’s contemporaries were the prophets Micah and Hosea.
The late Harper Lee’s release of her book Go Set a Watchman defines a watchman by its context. “Watchman” is the first draft of what became the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winner To Kill a Mockingbird. Isaiah (62:6) says “This is what the Lord says to me: ‘Go, post a lookout and have him report what he sees.’” The “Watchman” book was published fifty years after “Mockingbird.”
Her editors recommended she flesh out a backstory when they first reviewed the “Watchman” producing one of the most significant books of the twentieth century. The protagonist in “Mockingbird” appears as the antagonist in the recently published first book (Watchman) which did not sit well with critics and readers. Atticus Finch’s, now with his presumed hypocrisy, is the antagonist. But he is still a man who is civil and non-antagonistic in his discourse with his daughter Jean Louise.
Me reading the “Watchman” book occurred while I was working at an office where the majority of my associates were millennials (the generation born between 1982 and 2004). I was trying to grasp their professional mindset and ideals. That, coinciding with reading Lee’s second release, begged the question of what happens to our ideology as we age? I began my adult life desiring a worldview of moral absolutes: good/bad, success/failure, and right/wrong. I would catch myself in the trap of ageism of hearing my cynical self (probably rooted in fear of change, of being put out to pasture) about the direction of current worldviews that are different from mine. As will each generation contemplate before and after me. What the late Pastor Francis Schaeffer, theologian, philosopher and founder of the international community L’Abri (French for Shelter), wrote his book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? helps me understand my unrest over the sign of the times. That is when the unthinkable (in recent history) becomes the thinkable.
A young man shared with me that people don’t have ideology anymore, ideas have people. There’s truth to that. When I think about ideology I think it is akin to dogma, something you would fight for even die for. But not just something that is repeated because it had a hint of truth to it.
Each age group thinks theirs is the best time to be born. Today’s generation could note the discovery to more cures for disease, more acceptance, and tolerance toward lifestyles, interracial marriages, different religions, more opportunities for women and more access globally and educationally through the Internet, just to name a few. Like the song lyrics from What a Wonderful World (written by George Weiss and Robert Thiele) say, “I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know.” The newest current generation (tentatively called homelanders) will be this group for me.
Each generation doesn’t know what they don’t know about the other which is a testimony to study history. It almost seems like it is part of the circle of life for us to forget history and repeat mistakes. By and large, most of us seem more nearsighted than far (with or without the optical diagnosis) by only focusing on the here and now, this moment of time in spirituality, politics, economy, education, and environment. I came across a similar phrase used in the 1970’s: the “me” generation to describe my age group at the time. Quickly in my mind when I read me the comparison came about the proliferation of “selfie” pictures ( a comedian calls these pictures “lonelies”) now in vogue. Now we call the current generation millennials. It’s not so hard to recognize why the narratives in the Bible seem to have repeated themes. At our core the seven deadly sins (first described by Thomas Aquinas as pride, envy, anger, overindulgence, lust, laziness and greed)are still present, just packaged differently. History does not have to repeat itself if we learn from our history about what did and didn’t work. To defend ourselves from the deadly sins (virtues to counteract the sins are listed in same order as the mentioned depravities) are humility, kindness, forgiveness, temperance, chastity, diligence, and charity.
Anyone who is under thirty, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over thirty, and is not a conservative, has no brains so said and repeated by our friends the English prime ministers Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, and the Frenchman Victor Hugo. To put it more nicely it is to say the left of the political spectrum is the young and idealistic, while on the right is the older and more pragmatic. The irony is older people once were also considered quite liberal when they were young, and today’s younger people will become more conservative as they age. What the youth have in their ideals can be complemented by the perspectives the older adults have.
It is inspiring to be surrounded by young professional adults and, now as I teach, school-age children with their fresh sense of ideology versus the bemoaners, closer to my age, of the loss of what’s going or gone. Once I was scolded by my daughter because I tended to enjoy hanging out with people who were older than me. My daughter was referring to my association which she perceived to only be with an age of more like my parents’ age. Parker Palmer says the cross-mentoring between generations can be “midwifed” into life. Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance of learning. It is one of teaching’s great rewards to give back on this dance floor. It is the waltz of the spiraling generations, with the old endowing the young from their experience and knowledge and the young inspiring the old with a breath of new life, allowing for different dance steps in the human community as they touch and turn.
I enjoy friendships with people my age but also people whose first language is not the same as mine. When I can, I get to know people who come from different social classes than mine. All these associations stretch me to grow and to look at life through their eyes. I particularly enjoy working with and listening to kids when they get passed mimicking adults and what society is saying, to hear how they view the future, and with any luck how they want to change the dial on how we look at the world. Any person of any age can change the dial but children indeed are the freshest, not yet too tainted, in their view of the future.
This poem Questions Before Dark challenges to self-ask these questions. It is written by Jeanne Lohmann:
“Day ends, and before sleep when the sky dies down, consider your altered state:
has this day changed you?
Are the corners sharper or rounded off?
Did you live with death?
Make decisions that quieted?
Find one clear word that fit?
At the sun’s midpoint, did you notice a pitch of absence, bewilderment that invites
What did you learn from things you dropped and picked up and dropped again?
Did you set a straw parallel to the river, let the flow carry you downstream?”
I have coordinated a fair share of community outreach events, learning along the way municipal conveyances, law, and liability for just how far my plans of advocacy in each area of what could be permitted within the community guidelines. One of my kids got bitten by a similar bug while in high school and wanted to create a community fundraiser for a fellow student whose family had multiple members battling cancer simultaneously. She wanted to do a fundraiser for financial support for their associated medical expenses. She brainstormed her idea to me, and I pointed her to key people, vendors, and city government departments to get permission and support. I tried to give her an idea of the amount of work it would take, the follow-up and follow through the planning and mishaps, the paperwork involved without raining on her parade of ideas. Some of her plans didn’t quite meet community guidelines for events based on my experience. But who was I to tell her she couldn’t do it when maybe it could work.
Am reminded of the young people of the Bible who didn’t think of their limitations consequently did great things. There was Elihu (mentioned in Job chapter), David vs. Goliath, the acceptance by a young Mary of her immaculate conception, Mariam watching out for baby Moses floating in the Nile then boldly speaking to Pharaoh’s daughter, the young missionary Naaman (2Kings 5) or the little boy who gave his lunch to Jesus to multiply for others (Jn 6) just to name a few. They didn’t stop to think about what they couldn’t or weren’t allowed to do by adults.
She did all the legwork and communication. For me when doing an event the most potent uphill battle of actualizing an event was with inspection procedures and processes for liability and insurance requirements. Maybe it was her youthful enthusiasm, the small-town environment where everyone pretty much knew everyone else, the compassionate cause; but the impediments I encountered seem to disappear when she asked to do similar things in her event. The rules were bent, or officials looked the other way. Maybe the community leaders didn’t want to dampen the youthful, innocent spirit of the ideology and concern knowing it would happen soon enough in life?
Life can get burdened down and messy. Things, for example like Supreme Court rulings, or the abuses of power, the mass shootings and other violence upon the innocents, the bad things that happen to good people, etc., continue to disturb and confuse society at a deep level. I haven’t abandoned my ideology, but circumstances out of my control don’t always allow me to live it out. There are laws and practices put in place that I am obligated to abide by despite whether morally agreed upon or not. So, do I then stop striving for a better world to live in, for all people? No of course not. If anything, I am more tempered in my expectations, expecting losses but still looking for that loophole that is safe and legal. Trying to understand or at least recognize through my life experiences creates empathy about why a person may have turned out a certain way, different from what they originally thought. Wondering and seeking out why is motivated more to understand motivations than it is strategies.
I resonate with Atticus’s character in the “Watchman” mentioned above with the example of him having to live within the ensuing laws and culture. I don’t think his character changes between the two novels; it’s the circumstances in life that caused him to have more perspective on what he could or couldn’t control. His ideals were intact. It’s amazing to contemplate what Lee was thinking (in her twenties when she penned them) in these two books and its sequence in publishing. That is the type of watchman found in Isaiah.
I am fortunate to have kids who are fearless and go-getters. They are fun and inspiring to watch. Although not all goes well for them or turns out successful they do have resilience. If anything, they are examples of overachievers, stretching a little further each day. Often their reach is beyond their grasp (for “What is heaven for?” asks Robert Browning) as I watch them get closer and closer to the goals. Meanwhile, they keep each other humble the way only siblings can.
I remembered my disappointment when I was told during my pre-adolescent years not to shoot so high in my hopes and dreams from a school counselor. It was said to try and shield me from the disappointment when my hopes would be dashed. I learned to consider life a lot like the start of a game of chess. You can’t change the way your life begins with the pieces you have that are put in their places, but you can decide your next move. You can find people of encouragement. Most of the reassurance I received as a young person came from school teachers, from the church community and occasionally from friend’s parents. I would rather risk trying than being left with the thought of wondering what if? Dag Hammarskjold, 1905-1961, (a diplomat who was the second general secretary of the United Nations, which doesn’t quite capture his spiritual depth) said that “the road to holiness passes through the world of action.”
Marianne Williamson wrote (and was quoted by Nelson Mandela at his presidential inauguration in 1994) in her poem Our Deepest Fear, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.
My children’s professional paths are different than their parents, so I get to treat myself when learning about their interests and somewhat live vicariously through them. I can see some of our good DNA in each one of them. It enables me to be more thoroughly engaged and of supportive during their adult lives. I am glad they each chose their path according to their gifts and not one that would fall under the family business nor one assigned or assumed for them at birth by parental preferences. Then there is the precious gift of one of the bonus kids whose giving caring spirit I particularly resonate with.