Bible Study Notes (Isaiah 13:1-16)

On Mondays, a women’s Bible Study meets at my home; we’ve been winding our way through Isaiah this year, taking as much time as we can to turn the Word over in our hearts and dig into this prophet’s message for our own day.  Here are some of our gathered thoughts from this week:

The LORD declares war on the tyrants and oppressors, raising his own army to fight them (v.3,11); God is angry and fierce and full of wrath (v.9).  How does this jibe with the God we know whose “property is always to have mercy”?  (BCP 337)  We know that God is holy (this is one of the main themes of Isaiah), and so to look at this passage through God’s property of holiness, we may find that his “property” is holiness, and when holiness comes into contact–“reacts” (to use chemical jargon)–with sin and evil, the result is anger and wrath.  We throw ourselves on God’s mercy, knowing we are unworthy, depending fervently on Christ’s sacrifice to reconcile us to God.

What of the violent language used?  “war” and “armies” and “tyrants” and “fighting”?  How is this the same God who we know through Jesus Christ, who told us to put down our swords?  A clever woman amongst us (not me!) mused that this was the sort of language, the sort of bluff-calling, that was necessary to communicate effectively with Isaiah’s audience.  The tyrants and oppressors–the kings being addressed–say, “I have great armies and strong bulwarks, no one can touch me!  I am like god!”  God replies to them, “No no no–‘I myself have… summoned my warriors (v.3).’  Don’t be mistaken, there’s only one God, and it’s not you.”  Perhaps God earns respect with the kings by playing tough–speaking the truth in language prideful tyrants will understand.

Isaiah isn’t so cut-and-dry that we see those (pointing fingers) evil tyrants over there, and we are the holy people trusting in God over here.  We’re exempt.  We each have bits of hardness in us, no matter how much we love and trust God.  We’ll never stop being sinners, and we come to God again and again with our hardness and limitations–especially in our weakness and self-deception (which are times when we don’t come to God at all!).

The thing is, we live in America, we (attendees, and probably most readers…) are white and upper-middle class, we are educated and we have voices that “matter.”  We wield a staggering amount of power in our society, mostly because of our socio-economic status and because of our degree of education.  What is it that we’re doing or not doing with our power that may be making us tyrants?


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