Chapters 12-23 of the book of the prophet Isaiah have a lot of heavy material. There are many oracles against foreign nations. This can show an effort by the author to bolster Israel’s national spirit. At the same time, there is mention of Israel’s restoration. A message of hope shines through.
To read through and meditate these chapters, it is good to focus on the Song of Thanksgiving in chapter 12, which precedes the series of oracles against the nations.
Song of Thanksgiving, Chapter 12
Dealing with anger
The prophet speaks of his thanks to the Lord, even though the Lord has been angry with him. He proceeds to profess his faith and confidence in the Lord. This shows well how faith is not dependent on material well-being. This was an important message for Israel then, as it is for us today.
Sometimes, people speak about losing their faith because of some traumatic event. While these stories may be difficult to hear, often they come from people who never really walked with the Lord. God is with us, even in difficult moments. Hardships that we face in life are not proof that he does not care. Quite the contrary! Precisely in the difficult moments, God makes himself present.
The blessings that the Lord pours out should give testimony to other nations. There is a constant juxtaposition between Israel and the other nations. Other nations are more materially blessed, but Israel is God’s own nation. This gives Jerusalem, the City of Zion, reason to celebrate.
The great ones of the earth lord their greatness over the meek. Israel is meant to be a meek one that brings all others to salvation. Thus, the hope of universal salvation peeks out in the book of the prophet Isaiah.
Having a relationship with God is a great reason for joy. The people of Israel could look at their neighbors and feel envy or jealousy. However, a relationship with God is worth much more than material goods. Isaiah reminds them of this. They have every reason to be joyful.
Israel is called to lead all the nations in praising God. There are so many examples of prayers of praise in the Bible. This is one of them. We often speak of the types of prayer, using the acronym A.C.T.S. This means adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. Often, we reduce our prayer to asking God for things. There should also be room for adoration, or praise, in our prayer. Take this passage to learn how to praise God.
Restoration of Israel, Chapter 14:1-2
Here, there is a promise of the Lord bringing Israel back to its intended glory. This is a message of hope. “They will take captive of their captors.” A persecuted nation suffers tremendously. This message gives hope and builds up pride. There are peoples that are conquered, but whose cultures and values are so strong they influence the conquering nation significantly. It was similar in the case of the Romans conquering the Greeks. The Roman army prevailed, but the superior Greek culture spread throughout the known world. Israel was called to give spiritual leadership to the nations, because of its special relationship with God.
Chapter 19:19-22. The Lord promises a savior. Israel is to offer sacrifices and oblations at the pillar that serves as a remembrance. This short passage shows the dynamics of a relationship with God. There is a clear give and take.
Chapter 15:2-3. Here is a description of the suffering of the people of Moab, according to the oracle. They would shave their heads, wear sackcloth and cry streams of tears. A connection between contrition and conversion are evidenced here.
Chapter 22:12-13. Here, we see an unwillingness to do the proper penance. This is a description of people who do not want conversion. There is a desire of pleasure above all good things of the spirit. Where will this lead?
Chapter 21:14. Water is to be given to the thirsty in the desert. There is a general obligation to help the needy. Lent is a good time to remember this.
Questions for reflection
- How is your prayer life advancing during this Lent?
- Is thanksgiving a major part of your spiritual life?
- How do you deal with anger?
image: Isaiah from BL Harley 2803, f. 176 / British Museum via Europeana (Public Domain)