For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity 1 – Isaiah 65
One commentator on today’s passage likens it to a game of divine Hide and Seek. As always reading around the passage is important, as chapter 65 is a direct response to the questions raised in the previous chapter. Much more well known, Isaiah 64 is a complaint about the silence of God. Almost certainly dating from the period after the Exile, when the national life is gradually being rebuilt, it recollects times in the past when God was clearly at work. But now he has vanished and his voice has become silent. He has allowed the destruction of the Holy City and the enslavement of the people far from home. The really big question is this: will he ever speak to us or do anything ever again? The following chapter, our passage for this week, seeks to address these questions.
The main problem, it appears, are some strange and unorthodox worship practices. We don’t know exactly what the activities in v.3-4 are all about, but when linked with the more familiar eating of forbidden meat such as pork, it becomes clear that God is not pleased with this kind of behaviour, and particularly with the belief that engaging in such worship makes people super holy. And yet the earlier verses suggest a God who has not exactly been silent – it is rather that the people haven’t been listening. It isn’t that God has hidden, it’s just that the people have been seeking him in the wrong places, and in wrong ways.
In the next paragraph, God certainly does speak. He assures the people that the fruit of their corrupt worship will be bitter, and that they will be punished for their seeking of him in inappropriate ways. The interesting phrase ‘into their laps’ in v.7 suggests something very physical which is to be repaid to them. God has come out of hiding, and perhaps the people wish he hadn’t!
But then in the final paragraph, there is a promise to balance out the threat. The picture is of a bunch of grapes ready for the harvest. Whilst harvest is often a violently negative image elsewhere in Scripture, here it is used positively. These grapes still have some juice left in them, which can be squeezed out and fermented into the blessing of wine, a difficult text for those who believe that the Bible teaches teetolalism. So there is still enough potential in Israel that they might yet be the blessing to all nations which has been God’s purpose for them ever since he called Abraham in Genesis 12.
But not only do we have to read ahead of this passage in order fully to understand it: we also have to read on a bit to discover the real meaning. There is a contrast in v.10-11 which makes sense of the whole passage. The contrast is between ‘my people who seek me’ and ‘you who forsake the Lord’ and forget his holy mountain. As is the case throughout Scripture, God gives us a choice, and his giving or withholding of blessing depends on which way we go. The people complain that God has been hiding from them, but it is they who have been hiding from him, behind their own perverted styles of worship and no doubt the resulting wrong behaviour. The solution is clear – to find him, they simply have to seek him, but in places and ways where he is to be found, not in the false rituals of man-made worship. The fearsome and fateful phrase in v,8 ‘I will not destroy them all’ suggests that some of them may well be destroyed, no doubt those who are unrepentant and refuse to obey even once God has come out of hiding. This passage, therefore, speaks to us of God-centred religion, and not the human attempts to manipulate God through our own created rituals. Compromise might cause God to hide from us, or at least to appear to do so, whilst a whole-hearted search for him, on his own terms, will lead to us becoming that blessing to the world which has always been his will for us, as we enjoy a renewed relationship with him based on true worship. The passage invites us to search out within ourselves anything which is false, of human origin, compromised or plain corrupt in our devotion to him. Only then will we enjoy his blessings for ours