28 January 2006

Isaiah 40

A sign that you're on a one-way ticket to Nerdland: you chose to spend Friday afternoons chuckling over Hebrew idioms and puzzling over odd ancient word choices with a handful of other like-minded individuals. (Then you blog about it.) But, there are benefits to what might sound like self-torture, especially when you're reading Isaiah 40. Here are some movements and images that I found really poignant this week:

This passage demonstrates the insignificance of all things earthly in comparison to the Lord, whose Word endures forever. The heavens, mountains, seas, forests, the nations and their most powerful rulers - all these can't begin to measure up. Before the majesty of the Lord, these are like grass that whithers away.

Anyone remember that children's song "My God Is So Big"? Well, it sounds a lot like Isaiah's singing his own version here (complete with hand motions). In fact, I keep thinking that it sounds a lot like a string of object lessons that a Sunday school teacher might use. Imagine water cupped in the palm of your hand. It's not much. That's what the seas are like to the Lord. Picture an athlete palming a basketball. In the same way, the Lord "palms" the cosmos - it's merely the span of his hand. Remember the last time you baked and added a third of a cup of something? Well, all the dust of the earth is like a third of a cup to the Lord. (Not even a whole - just a third.) Picture the Rockies and their foothills... now add the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps, the Appalachians (my favorite)... the Lord weighs the mountains and hills of the earth on scales. The nations are even less - they're like a little bit of dust on the balances, or like a little speck or residue in the bottom of a bucket. The Lord spreads the heavens out like a veil and pitches them like a tent. Ever flown in a plane and watched the horizon stretch out and curve away out of sight? The Lord perches up there on the horizon, and from his lofty vantage point, the peoples of the earth are like grasshoppers. Their mighty rulers are nothing; the Lord blows them away like chaff in a whirlwind.

Over and over, the Lord asks, "To whom will you compare me? What am I like?" In the midst of vivid images demonstrating how incomparable the Lord is, brief interludes display the utter ignorance of humankind in regards to the divine. First comes a reference to the idol makers - they take a chunk of wood, carve it, beat out gold and plate it, and then worship it! How dumb can you get? Even those whom God chose as his people can't seem to get it. Israel looks around and complains that her way is hidden from the Lord and that he overlooks the injustice done to her. Not so, the author counters. The Lord's understanding is unsearchable and nothing escapes his notice.

Maybe you'd expect One whose understanding is unsearchable to be a bit aloof, to say the least. It seesm that Israel might have made the same assumption. Reading parts of this passage makes me think the Lord must be unapproachable. In the middle of a string of passages that are trying to blow your mind with "the Lord's not like this or that" or "my God is bigger than...," there's one passage that says what the Lord is like. It's not what you might expect to find. "Here is our God":

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have
(v. 11)

Mighty, unfathomable, sovereign, glorious... the Lord is all those things, but much more. The Lord murmurs, "Comfort," to his exiled people. He sends good news in times of utter despair. He infuses the weak and weary who trust in him with strength. But verse 11, is the one that really speaks to me. It makes me say, "If that's what this Lord is like, then sign me up."


Amber Joy said...

Beautiful words, Kelli. How interesting too, since we were JUST talking about Isaiah!
It reminds me of when I was a kid arguing (competing) with other kids about how "my dad can beat up your dad!" Or "my dad can bench press waaay more than YOUR dad." That competitive streak's always been in me, I guess...
But how awesome is it that my DAD is the Father of the ENTIRE WORLD! And that he really CAN beat up on anybody. But instead, he chooses to show us mercy and grace and love us despite our stupidity.
Sign me up!

Tera said...

I am also finding images of beauty and inspiration in Isaiah; it's what keeps me coming back to Nerdland!