Breaking wind – Thursday, 15th Week in ordinary time – Isaiah 26:7-9, 12,16-19
The prophet Isaiah foresaw that Assyria would one day be replaced by a new emerging power; the Babylonian empire. Babylon was a nation far more destructive than Assyria. It was they who would attack Jerusalem and eventually succeed in destroying it. This is taken up in chapters 13-27 with will climax in chapter 39 with the fall of Jerusalem. chapters 13-27 has a large collection of poems that express God’s judgment and God’s hope for the nations. In chapters 13-27 we will also learn of the fall of Babylon and also the fall of Israel’s neighbours.
The kings of Babylon claimed that they were higher than all other gods and so God vows to destroy Babylon and all of Israel’s neighbours who practiced the same kind of pride and injustice. Isaiah predicts their ultimate ruin. But in the book of Isaiah, Gods judgment in never the final words for Judah.
Chapters 24-27 are called by scholars the “little apocalypse” of Isaiah because they deal with a future theme, an apocalyptic theme. The prophets often did this. They would talk about an immediate event going on around them but they used that as a model of something that would be fulfilled to a greater extent in the future. It is sort of like prophetic bifocals; you see something close but you can also use that to see something much further away.
Chapter 26 is the third of four chapters describing God’s victory over all His enemies (24:1-27:13 )including Babylon. It is the day of God’s ultimate triumph; the day when God will reign over Israel, and over all the world. This section describes the song that Jerusalem will sing on that day. It will be a song of salvation when their enemies are defeated. Our text of today talks of elements in that joyful song that will be sung in the land of Judah because God has come to reign. Our text covers only certain parts of chapter 26 and so I recommend you read the entire chapter because I am going to make references to some parts of chapter 26 not in our text.
Verse 1 kicks off this song of praise. Jerusalem will be the strong city (verse1) unlike the old Jerusalem which was ravaged by wars and attacks. The new Jerusalem will have strong walls and an imposing army. While the walls will keep the unwanted away it is the gates that will be open for the righteous to enter. The righteous who will be welcomed in its gates are those who have kept the faith as opposed to those who have compromised the faith.
It is in this city that God will grant those of steadfast mind; those who have been faithful, the gift of perfect peace. Peace is not the absence of something; it is the presence of something. God’s definition of peace is the presence of God in the midst of the conflict. This is the meaning of Shalom.
The text of today also tells us that In the new Jerusalem His righteous people will walk in uprightness. Isaiah accurately gives the sense of order in this; the LORD makes His people just by a relationship of faith and trust in Him, then they walk in the way of uprightness. You can’t walk in uprightness unless you share a deep relationship with God. When we walk in uprightness then we are able serve God in the way he demands our service.
But the LORD also looks at His righteous ones and He evaluates their path, he makes those paths smooth (verse 7) for he cares about the walk of His just ones. It is so wonderful to see how much God cares for us when we serve him in righteousness; he cares enough to be bothered to make our path smooth. Making our path smooth does not mean taking away the obstacles in life; making our path smooth means that when we reach our destination we will realise that it was worth it. But we have to be faithful to that path, for only in the path of fidelity can we find the Lord.
Yet Isaiah also warns the new Jerusalem of the futility of its old ways. Judah, like us, turned to God only in a time of calamity. They like us, poured out prayers to God when they felt that God had punished them for straying away from his righteous path. We must understand God’s mind in punishing his people and sending them into exile. When a child is punished, the object lesson is not to remove the child from the parent but to draw the child closer to the parent.
While this is a song of praise it is also a song of remembrance of what Judah failed to become; a holy nation, a people set apart. Judah suffered much due to the exile. But the point being made here is that suffering should have some positive result. Verse 17 compares Judah’s suffering to the childbirth pangs of a woman in labour. While their suffering was agonising it did not bring birth to a child but was a case of bad gas…yes you heard that right. God says to them, your suffering gave birth to wind or in other words you just ‘broke wind’. This suffering is for nothing it was so needless.
A woman who had a baby suffered for something; that is a suffering that was worth suffering for. But Judah suffered in captivity and suffered for nothing. So this is Judah’s ‘time out’ and while it is agonising there will be no silver lining. God is simply telling Judah that they suffered needlessly and now ‘don’t do that again’. Don’t turn against God and you won’t suffer for nothing.
The final word is always a word of hope. God pictures Judah as his nation which is dead but it will live again. The suffering of Judah is only for a time. Some of the remnant will live again in the new Jerusalem