There are a handful of big ‘turns’ in Isaiah–one at chapter 6, as the prophet is commissioned; another at chapter 40, following waves of judgement and a brief historical recollection; another at chapter 60, as songs about the Servant give way to what the Lord will accomplish, and what His people can count on. It’s this final section that captures my attention this morning, with its vivid descriptions of past, future and present.
We’ve heard all three time zones discussed at length in this book already; indeed, much of the prophetic literature moves across the timeline quite freely. But in this final segment of the book, we have the essence distilled: you were weak, bereft, far away, dark, small, oppressed, without hope; you will be redeemed, restored, healed, victorious; you are loved, esteemed, the objects of grace and recipients of Spirit.
… darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you, and His glory appears over you (60:2)
Although you have been forsaken and hated… I will make you the everlasting pride and joy of all generations (60:15)
And then comes this marvelous passage, which later Jesus will later apply to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me, to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” (61:1-2).
Isaiah invites us to adopt his perspective for viewing reality: What was, because of human sin–wandering from God, preferring other options to His way; what will be, because in His grace and love, God refuses to leave us to our own devices, but comes in search, and throws out lifelines to those drowning in their own foolishness; and what is: a life to be lived right now ‘under the mercy’, as Sheldon van Aucken put it. This present life, for Isaiah, includes comfort for those who mourn, beauty for ashes, gladness, praise rather than despair (61:2-3). The prophet’s take is so good, for the life so many of us move through has these latter, depressing qualities–they are real; we notice them, and are weighed down. We might take solace in what lies ahead, that day when all will be made right, when people aren’t victimized, when greed is not championed, when our own shortcomings no longer impede–but Isaiah wants us to hear that now–now–comfort is ours and gladness, beauty, and praise. On this day–today–it is well to listen to this seer (as prophets were called) who describes life from the plane of God’s vision, where the future overwrites the past and informs the present, calling us now out of what once was into what also will be.