I spent about an hour this evening reading Second Isaiah. Yep, Second Isaiah. Its in your bible, but its not called that. Its just called Isaiah. Its apparent that the book of Isaiah was written by two different prophets – the first one prior to the exile of Israel to Babylon, and the second one towards the end of the 70 years of exile. If you look at the book as not one complete thought but as two different thoughts, it kind of makes more sense. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are warning of coming calamity (with some excellent departures from the warnings like Isaiah 2). Things had gotten really bad in Israel, and God was about to take everything away from her. They didn’t “take warning” (thanks Operation Ivy for that last line).
Then Israel goes into exile, again. They became like Egypt, like empire, a kingdom that was like, or worse than, all of the other kingdoms on earth – complete with oppression, slavery, ridiculous amounts of wealth and power, war, and idol worship. This was not God’s design for his people, and he warned them to knock it off or they will end up back in Egypt, or worse.
Second Isaiah, then, starts like this:
“‘Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed.’ Isaiah 40:1-2
It’s a new song. Something new is afoot. God is restoring his people. Their exile is soon going to be over. They have paid the penalty for their sin and there is hope for a better tomorrow.
“‘I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will anoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who dwell in darkness from the prison… Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.’ Sing to the Lord a new song.” Isaiah 42:6-7, 9-10
God’s plan for his people has always been to be the very embodiment of him in this world. He set them apart to show the world what He is actually like. Here, Isaiah says that this people will be a light to the nations. He says elsewhere that all people will come to them to see this “new thing” that God is doing. And what is this new thing?
“‘Is this not the fast that I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked to cover him; And not to hid yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.'” Isaiah 58:6-12
What God is saying here is quite remarkable. He says that, as his people care for those that are oppressed in various ways, they will become a light in the darkness. They will attain to what he had started in them way back at Mt. Sinai, and before that, in Abraham. This is the way that God wants his people to live.
That phrase: “And you will be called the repairer of the breach,” really jumped off the page when I read it tonight. Second Isaiah writes twice about God looking for someone who would “stand in the breach” and he found no one. Ezekiel talks about “the breach” as well. I think “the breach” is a metaphor for the cracks in creation, the distance caused by our infidelity to God. There’s a gap. God says here that, in showing the world what he is like, his people will be called repairers of that breach. That they somehow will pull together the holy and the broken and restore creation.
And all this is said to a people who have no hope. Who see no future. Who have forgotten who they are. They have turned their back on God and blamed it on God turning his back on them. I think there is something to this idea of God’s people being the body in which God lives on earth. This is hinted at over and over in the New Testament as well (“May the words of Christ dwell richly within you,” comes to mind). And God has always been on the side of the oppressed, and has always wanted his people to do something about it. He has always been working through us to “repair the breach” between us and Him. He’s doing it through his people doing it through His power instilled in His people.
God’s plan involves you, and me, and God, together repairing what is broken in this world. That’s a good combination.