When God laid out the china – Wednesday, 1st week in Advent – Isaiah 25:6-10a
The historical background for the book of Isaiah spans more than two centuries. In 745 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser III ascends the Assyrian throne and King Ahaz asks him to help Judah repel attacks by Israel and Damascus on Judah.
It was during this period that Isaiah began his ministry at the age of 30. Isaiah’s message is straight forward. He gave counsel that Judah should not look for security to Assyria or any other nation but to God. The enemy may creep in, he may be great, but our Lord is greater. Even when the enemy sneaks in, the Lord is greater! Ahaz did not seek out God first. Instead, he cried out to Assyria and not to God.
Tiglath-Pileser accommodated Ahaz by conquering Damascus and annexing most of the kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 16:5-9; Isaiah 7-8). However, as a result of this action, Judah became a vassal of Assyria and its people were required to recognize Assyrian gods (2 Kings 16:3-4). Isaiah communicates the anger of God. He said, “The faithful city has become a prostitute!” and “Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves” (1:21, 23). He warned, “the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; and Yahweh alone shall be exalted in that day” (2:17).
Then during the period of King Sargon II who came to rule Assyria (721-705 B.C.), King Hezekiah of Judah allied himself with Egypt instead of Assyria. Once again, Isaiah counseled reliance on God rather than foreign nations, but once again he was ignored. Hezekiah’s alliance backfired when Sargon defeated an Egyptian-led coalition near Ashdod, which is located on the Mediterranean Sea not far from Jerusalem.
Upon Sargon’s death, Hezekiah allied himself with Judah, Edom, and Moab. Once again, Isaiah counseled faith in God rather than foreign entanglements, but once again, he was ignored. Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.), Sargon’s successor, began a campaign against Judah. He besieged Jerusalem in 701 B.C
Isaiah 25 forms part of the Isaiah’s Apocalypse (Isaiah chapters 24-27) that envisions the final redemption of God’s people. After God has destroyed all that seek to oppress the faithful, God is said to host a feast of rich food, the choicest, most luxurious foods possible. Only one who loves cooking or enjoys being a great host will truly understand the opening lines of this text.
Food is not just the fuel that we use to propel our bodies through the challenges and joys of daily life. Food is also a source of comfort; food is associated with fellowship as people eat together, celebrate together, and mourn together. It is little wonder that when Israel was trapped in the chaos of nations at war, one superpower following shortly on the heels of another resulting in food shortages and even famine, they inevitably projected their hopes for salvation to the future in terms of food.
It is God himself who prepares a sumptuous meal. God crawls to the back of the wine cellar to retrieve the best vintage wines, wines that have aged for years, perhaps in preparation for this very occasion (verse 6). On Mt Zion where the china has been laid out and the wine glasses are sparkling, God will not only nurture and feed; God will destroy. God will destroy “the shroud” and “the sheet” that cover all people (verse 7).
God’s achingly tender side also emerges for a moment. Imagine God looking into the eyes of dirty-faced children, broken men, and care-worn women, wiping away each tear of grief and disgrace. And the people stand in awe, flooded with relief and joy, and they say, “This is our God”, the one we have waited for (Isaiah 25:9).
What does the text seek to teach us?
In sharp contrast with the deprivation and the destruction that marked the daily lives of the prophet’s audience, the banquet celebrating God’s victory is characterized by exuberant joy. This is what God truly desires for us if we obey him.
It is significant to see how God’s liberation extends to all people, as evident in the five-fold repetition of the word “all” in verses 6-8. In this eschatological vision, Israel imagined that God’s saving actions on their behalf should not only benefit the community of Israel, but also extend to all the peoples of the earth.
Reading a utopian text such as Isaiah 25:6-10 amidst the stark realities of our current context with the pandemic, economic woes, political strife, and rising unemployment that have consumed our lives, is interesting indeed. When things fall apart, when darkness is all around, amidst the hostility, fear, and cynicism that these days seem to be everywhere — at work, on the television, at home – it is good to remind one another that we believe in a God who is present in the chaos, a God who is fighting to deliver God’s children from whatever threatens their wellbeing.