Reflections on Isaiah 65
There is so much that The Bible has to say about God’s heart for the poor, the broken, the forgotten and those on the fringes. When one looks at the story line of The Bible as a whole it is possible to see how God is on His mission throughout history of not only reconciling people to Himself, but also of establishing His rule and His reign here on earth as it already is in heaven. Unfortunately it can be easy for us to water down this vision of Him establishing His rule and reign to a concept of heaven somewhere up there that I will get to go to someday where I will have a mansion, gold paved streets and there will be no pain.
While it is a glimpse of the picture, I believe that it is not the whole picture.The prophets and Jesus talked not about heaven so much as the breaking in of God’s rule and reign. The idea of us spending eternity with God in His Presence for those who put their trust in Him is real and true. We get an awesome picture of this in Revelation 21 as we read of God making His home with us. It will be awesome. However, at times it seems to me that we have made heaven out to be that place we go to when we die and where everything is going to be good for ME. This, at best, is a partial picture which can cause us to focus on the spiritual side of life while missing out on everything else that makes up life and is just as important, since God has made us to be “whole” people.
It is sort of like looking at M.C. Escher’s Day and Night. In that work of art it is easy to be drawn to either the white birds or the black birds and become fixated. However, there is so much of the whole work that we miss out on when this fixation happens. We lose well over half of the picture because of the perspective we choose and the filter of either light or dark that we choose to see the image through. It takes a change in perspective and the willingness to embrace the two worlds of dark and light in order to truly appreciate the artist and this piece of art for what it truly is. To catch God’s heart for the poor, the hurting and oppressed also requires a perspective change. It requires us to hold two worlds in tension at the same time – the here and now as well as what is promised to come in order to get perspective on the fullness of His Kingdom.
Isaiah helps me to get perspective when I read his description of the new heavens and the new earth.
17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. Isaiah 65
People held onto these words of Isaiah for hundreds of years as they awaited the Messiah to come and fulfill these words. I believe that when Jesus stood in the Synagogue and declared His Mission in Luke 4, this is what we had in mind as “good news to the poor.” The good news Isaiah refers to here is more than an “acceptance of Jesus as my savior so that I can go to heaven someday.” Rather, it was a radical declaration of a different Kingdom breaking in to the here and now which goes beyond that. Of course, having people come to faith in Jesus and grow in knowing Him is a critical component of the breaking in of this Kingdom, but I think if that is what we reduce this statement to, then we are missing the beauty of the whole piece of art, while we are fixated on a very important, critical, necessary component of the piece. Why do I think this? Because the same Isaiah that Jesus is quoting in the synagogue from Isaiah 61 is the same Isaiah who declared good news to the poor in Isaiah 65 about what The Messiah would do. They waited in anticipation for a picture which we believe Jesus fulfills.
As I read Isaiah 65, I see the heart of The Father coming out of it. I see The God who is at work in demonstrating His Kingdom in the here and now while we await its fulfillment at Jesus’ return. I read of the God who is in control and who rules. The One who is in the ongoing process of renewing all things. I read of the God who longs to bring transformation not only in the future, but who is doing it right now. The God who is in the process of transformational development of His creation, individuals, His Church and society. The God of mercy and justice who makes both His justice and His mercy known. It is a picture of what God has done, what God is doing and what God will do. That is good news.
In Isaiah 65 I also read of what The Father calls us to partner with Him in as He is making all things new by bringing His rule and reign in fuller measure. I get a glimpse of the huge image of what will be, and which He calls each of us to partner with Him in developing. Isaiah 65 is a vision of what The Father has been doing, is doing and will continue to do. (There are actually development agencies who use Isaiah 65 as a resource in tracking their development process because of its detailed imagery as it paints this picture of what God is doing and will do). We get the privilege of declaring that this Kingdom can break in at any moment and of partnering with Him in seeing it break in with all that we are. This is Jesus-style good news to the poor – and it is part of our vocation to participate in declaring and demonstrating this good news. The evidence of God renewing all things and expanding His Kingdom is all around us. It is good news.
Consider the picture that the artist is creating in Isaiah 65. I believe this becomes something for us to keep in prayer asking God to make known more and more in the here and now. I believe this gives us a glimpse into God’s heart of mercy and justice as we see what His rule and reign looks like. I believe this becomes a source of hope not only for us, but also for the poor as we look to the future for the fulfillment. But, I also believe this becomes a responsibility for the present as we ask God how He would have us partner with Him in seeing His Kingdom break into the here and now – with its message of Good News for the poor.
Consider these images of Isaiah with me…
17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” – A hope for the poor who believe that things could never be any better, and that an endless cycle of being cursed for generations could be broken.
18” But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people;” – A message of it being the year of The Lord’s favor and that God is for people. To a person who feels valueless, forsaken, and cast off it seems too good to be true that there is a God who would be glad in me. Yet, that is God’s desire – not just for someday by and by, but here and now, too. Zephaniah goes as far as describing it as God singing with joy because of us. What a powerful image for any of us – but especially for those who have been rejected, beat down and forgotten. We get to declare the gladness of God and His desire for relationship in Jesus with everyone, including the poor.
“no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” – Imagine the end to the collective mourning of whole communities, to the mothers who hold their dying children, to the war-torn regions of the world. A place of peace and life where suffering ceases. We get to mourn with those who mourn, but also partner with God in His Kingdom breaking in to ease suffering in practical ways before it ever gets to the place of mourning. We get to participate in the alleviation of suffering in preventative ways as well as in response to its occurrence.
“ 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,” – a care for the young and vulnerable. A place where life is celebrated. I think of our dear friends who work with children who are killed because they are seen as defective. I think of how many abortions occur yearly. I think of the thousands of children who die every day at a very young age because they are malnourished…while the rest of us in the world struggle with being overweight. A place where disease is addressed, watery diarrhea solutions are in force and there is food for babies to eat. God’s heart is that infant mortality would not have to be measured. In the new heavens and earth it won’t have to be…and in the in between time we cry out for His intervention and ours.
“or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.” – I think of the plight of the elderly. In The West the plague for the elderly is loneliness and that they are forgotten. In The Rest the elderly struggle with disease and disability and no security net. Here in Ethiopia, in a number of settings a person is “old” if they reach age 50. The plight of the elderly does not go unseen by The Father. The God of Justice and Mercy sees their situation – and has a plan which we get to participate in by addressing the issues that face those who are aging while caring for aging individuals. I believe it also is within God’s desires for the elderly to share all of their wisdom with the young and for the young to listen and learn – thus continuing to impart value towards those who go before us.
21 “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;” – God’s Kingdom brings about justice and equity. This of course was good news for a people who were living in under a system of extreme taxation and is good news for people today. The God who cares that people would be able to reap what they have sown and eat what they have planted. The God who cares that what people have built would be theirs. The God who cares that people could have a livelihood and meet their basic needs through it while enjoying freedom from economic oppression.
In so many places in the world people do not enjoy ownership or they act as slaves for someone else. It has always been the rich who have held most of the resources and owned property, yet, Brian Fikkert puts this in perspective for those of us who have much and who follow Jesus,
“Economic historians have found that for most of human history there was little economic growth and relatively low economic inequality. As a result, by the year 1820, after thousands of years of human development, the average income per person in the richest countries was only about four times higher than the average income per person in the poorest countries. Then the Industrial Revolution hit, causing unprecedented economic growth in a handful of countries but leaving the rest of the world behind. As a result, while the average American lives on more than ninety dollars per day, approximately one billion live on less than one dollar per day and 2.6 billion – 40 percent of the world’s population live on less than two dollars per day. If God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments were to have a concern for the poor during eras of relative economic equality, what are we to conclude about God’s desire for the North American Church today?” (When Helping Hurts).
Between modern day slavery and the widening gap between the haves and the have nots, we get the privilege of partnering with God in being agents of mercy, equality and justice in upside down type fashions, while we longingly await the day when all is totally made right and just.
“for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain…” – That distortion of work that was brought about by the Fall is in the process of being corrected. Work was a privilege (and still is a privilege) and was a way in which we were to bring glory to God. As God called Adam to care for the garden and work the soil, there was a God given vocation placed on him. Yet, The Fall distorted all of that and made work something that easily became laboring in vain. Isaiah’s image of the Kingdom is one in which people enjoy the work of their hands and labor does not happen in vain. People are able to be stewards of what God has given them and work to bring Him glory while also providing for their needs and the needs of others. This is an image of creativity being restored to us as those created in God’s image – that it is good for us to labor. It is a sign of God’s Kingdom among us. This is a restoration of value and vocation which applies not only to the poor, but to the non-poor as well. This also is a removal of the many barriers caused both because of the effects of brokenness on individuals and on systems.
“or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.” – Children being protected and allowed to be children. An image of children experiencing life apart from being exploited sexually or economically. An image of children being able to become all that God desires them to become and seeing themselves as a blessing of The Lord, rather than forsaken and cursed – a true and good message that they then pass on to the next generation as cycles of lies are broken. A glimpse like Jesus gave us of how He cared for children even when everyone else wanted to chase them away. He welcomed them and even used them as an example of needing to become like them to enter The Kingdom. Jesus gives us a Kingdom glimpse of His heart for kids and their place in His Upside down Kingdom.
“24Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” – Isaiah’s image includes being heard. What good news to the poor who are used to not being heard by anyone – that God hears them. He not only hears, but is also so attentive that He is already acting before the call ever comes. All of us, poor and non-poor alike, are welcomed into community with the living God and with each other. There no longer is any room for ladders of status or divisions between the haves and have nots. Jesus’ comments about the first being last and the last being first demonstrate that there is a new order to His Kingdom. The racial divisions are gone. While we maintain our unique identities, there no longer is room for divisions between Jew and Greek nor Male and Female nor Black and White. We are called into one family and one community – the Kingdom community. And, there we are called to work toward peace and to love one another. There no longer is room for devouring one another, but rather we work together for the good of others, of our communities and ultimately for the glory of God. We are choosing to not hurt or destroy our environments or our neighbors or others that we aim to have in economic submission to us. We work together in community with each other and God , seeking to partner with Him in seeing His Kingdom expand and transform ourselves, each other, our systems, our governments and our environment.
I know this is an ideal vision. Any Kingdom vision is. We live in that tension of the already and the not yet. We live in the tension of seeing how things are but also how things could be. We know what is coming, but at times we wish God would hurry up and make it happen. Yet, we know that God is at work. We see evidence of Him at work everywhere we take a moment to look. We know that He is in control and that He is continuing to expand His Kingdom in His time and in His way. And, we consider ourselves privileged to get to partner with Him in His business and what He is doing. Ideal? Absolutely. Yet, we are always living on that edge of knowing that at any moment He may break in and bring His Kingdom reality to this place at this time. And, in the meantime, we get to partner with Him in obedience, taking steps of peace, mercy, justice, love and compassion along the way.
The Spirit of The Sovereign Lord is upon Him. The Spirit of The Sovereign Lord is upon us. Oh, God, let your Kingdom come.