Going Through Lent with Isaiah the Prophet

At the beginning of the year, you probably saw a lot of programs that offered a way to read the Bible in a year. It seems like a great thing, especially during the first week of January. But as time rolls along, it suddenly becomes more and more daunting until most people quit, rather early on.

It speaks to something in us, though. We know that we should know more about Scripture. We know that we should have some real change in our lives. Some people are attracted to something like Exodus 90, a program that combines prayer, fellowship and discipline to make a longer Lent. It is great, but it is not for everybody.

What if you were to take some books of the Bible each year? There are 73 books in the Catholic Bible, and some are more important than others. If you try to tackle them all at once, you will fail. If you take 1 or 2 a year, soon you will know quite a lot.

I would like to propose to take the prophet Isaiah during Lent. I think he is a good prophet and is used a lot in the liturgy. At the same time, most people know relatively little about him. He was a good preacher, and his message can accompany us during Lent, making it a more productive time.

Isaiah puts forth poignant, poetic passages that portray the great love that God has for his people. Isaiah is describing a relationship of love between God and man. Even the passages criticizing the foreign nations serve to underline God’s predilection for Israel. Reading this book will help to focus your Lent more specifically to make greater spiritual gains.

How long is Lent? How long is this book of Isaiah?

Lent is forty days long. We break it up into five Sundays of Lent, plus Palm Sunday and it starts a little early on Ash Wednesday. So we can look at seven periods during Lent that we have at our disposal to read the book of Isaiah and learn a little bit about the author.

The book of Isaiah is sixty-six chapters long. It is significant, but not too much if we spread it out over the forty days. These two realities can match up pretty well and offer you a deep spiritual experience during this time that should offer you an opportunity for conversion.

A long Lent needs a long book. Isaiah fits the bill, and his themes can help us live Lent better.

Themes of Isaiah that can help us during Lent

Isaiah’s ministry was from 742-701 B.C. He affirms that God is sovereign. This can be one of our great lessons learned from Lent. We can let God into our hearts and let him reign. Evangelical Christians stress often the importance of “accepting Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior.” While the terminology and focus may be sometimes misleading, there is a deep truth here. God is the sovereign of the world and he deserves the corresponding respect.

God is the redeemer. In Hebrew, there is a special term: “go’el” that comes up frequently in chapters 40-66. This word is linked to holiness. The redeemer of Israel is a holy one. Reflecting on this can help us to see Jesus as our redeemer and as the holy one.

Isaiah is also focused on salvation, to the point that he has been called the evangelist of the Old Testament. Though there is much condemnation of sin, there is infinite hope because of the goodness of God. Especially towards the end of the book, the message of hope breaks through.

Traditional themes of Lent

The hope present in the book of the prophet Isaiah is not alien to the liturgical time of Lent. The Church teaches us that Lent is a time of conversion. The Church invites us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are themes that come out in the book by the prophet Isaiah and reading and reflecting on his writing can help us live Lent with fresh eyes.

Reading plan

I suggest the following outline for your reading of the book of the prophet Isaiah during Lent. I think it is good to give each section its own emphasis. Focus on a few passages and read the whole section as well. Read with an eye to Lenten themes. This will help to make sure that you get the most out of it.

Ash Wednesday – Introduction to the figure of Isaiah and familiarity with his general themes and structure.

  • Week 1 – Chapters 1-11 Called to be prophets
  • Week 2 – Chapters 12-23 Song of Thanksgiving
  • Week 3 – Chapters 24-39 Who can live with consuming fire?
  • Week 4 – Chapters 40-55 Comfort, give comfort to my people
  • Week 5 – Chapters 56-66 Observe what is right; do what is just
  • Palm Sunday – 7:14 Virgin’s Son
  • Holy Triduum Focus on the Suffering Servant; 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12

Questions for reflection

  1. How did your plan for Lent go last year? Was it a good preparation for Easter?
  2. Do you want to do something different this year? Do you want to get to know the Bible better?
  3. What is one thing about Isaiah that you want to learn?

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Fr. Nicholas Sheehy has worked with adolescents and young people both in the United States and abroad, especially in El Salvador and Germany. He is currently serving on the formation team of the Legion of Christ seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut. He blogs, vlogs and podcasts at www.fathernicholas.com.

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