As I read the words of the prophet Isaiah I think of a troubled marriage. Like a fly on a wall I can eavesdrop on this troubled relationship. “You’re never here!” she yells in exasperation! “Even when you are here, you’re not here! Where are you?” “You treat me like I’m some kind of stranger! Worse! You act like I’m your enemy! My heart can’t take it anymore! I’ve grown cold because of your obvious indifference toward me!”
The husband is silent, but burns with anger! She’s been unfaithful, sleeping with other men. Her adultery brought about this troubled time this their marriage. Had she remained faithful to him alone, they wouldn’t be in this mess. So he decided just to let her go. In chasing after love, she’s become a prisoner. Her other lovers are not kind.
She blames him! “I wouldn’t have gone to other men, if you would just open up to me! Show me that you love me! Prove your faithfulness to me!”
You get the picture?
The language of marriage is often used in scripture to describe God’s relationship with Israel. Just as marriages hit troublesome times, so did God and Israel. Israel went after other gods, the religions of the surrounding countries. Rather than remain faithful to The Lord, they followed the worship practices of Chemosh of the Moabites, Molech of the Ammonites, Hedad of the Assyrains, Baal of the Canaanites, Ashura of Babylon, and Dagon of the Philistines. This unfaithfulness angered the one true God. God handed them over to the nations whose gods they chased after. The Assyrians decimated the northern tribes of Israel in 722 BC and stopped short of taking Jerusalem.
Then Babylonia rose to power and sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC, burning the city and leaving the temple in rubble. The survivors of the Babylonian invasion were taken into captivity.
The prophet Isaiah portrays the situation between God and wayward Israel. It’s a marriage in trouble. In the midst of captivity under a brutal nation Israel cries out to God. Where is this great God our ancestors told us about? Where is the Almighty One who delivered Israel from the hand of Egypt, who split the Red Sea and conquered the army of Pharaoh? Why won’t God split the sky and come and rescue us? Like those days in the wilderness when God’s appearance made Mount Sinai shake; we need that God now! We know the stories, but we need action! We need deliverance!
And so Israel confesses her unfaithfulness, even though she blames God’s absence for it. In a way Israel says, “Look what you made me do! You turned me into a harlot, because you didn’t show me love!”
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself, we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa 64:5-6)
But the prophet reminds God and Israel the truth of this relationship. Israel says to God, “You are our father.” It sounds incestuous to speak of God as both husband and father to Israel. But this is simply a poetic tool to portray Israel’s dependency upon God. We speak of spiritual fathers, who are not our real fathers. We speak of God as father, even though God is beyond gender. So when Israel says to God, “You are our father”, not once but three times in this passage, the prophet hopes to remind both the Lord and Israel of their covenant with one another.
Let the beauty of the intercession remind you of your own relationship with God.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. (Isa 64:9-10)
The good news is that God does not completely abandon Israel. God promises a restored future for the faithful who return to God in loving obedience. God promises to create a new heaven and earth, and to make Jerusalem a delight. Jerusalem, the city that bears God’s name will remain pleasing to God. Jerusalem will be a sign to the world that says, “God is with us”. The future will be so good that the troubled past will be forgotten.
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight. (Isa 65:17-18)
I look forward to the day when life is so sweet that I will not remember my troubled past. All who trust in Christ are made a new creation! In times of communion with the Lord, I get in touch with that place of peace deep within my heart.
May we all live in this hope and share in this joy!