Friday, October 27, 2006

Isaiah 16 - Bad news for Moab

This is a curious chapter to me, because it calls up for scrutiny what role Isaiah is playing in Israel.  So I’d like to start of with a historical thought.

This chapter is a sort of formal (yet literary) request/response communication between two countries.  Moab realizes it is in trouble and appeals to Israel for protection in the name of justice.  Israel’s reply is a rejection of Moab because of the pride and Haughtiness of that country.  The rest of the chapter is a prophecy of the miserable times ahead for Moab.  Again, the prophet is not happy about it, yet that is how it is going to be. 

So I wonder what this communication is all about.  Is Isaiah literally having this correspondence with some dignitary in Moab and using his political authority to reject the country?   Is he commenting on his influence with the King of Israel and a recommendation to turn away Moab’s pleas?    Or maybe Isaiah is using his literary gifts to prophesy the near future with Moab.   I tend to think it is this latter explanation that fits the best.  When I think about it that way, it also makes the chapter seem more beautiful to me.  I could imagine that if it were written in our time, it might look something like this:


            To: The President of the United States

            From:  The Prime Minister of France

Dear Mr Presdent, As a servant of the people of France, I solemnly call upon the powers of the United States to protect us in a time of need … etc.


            To: The Prime Minister of France

            From:  The President of the United States

Dear Mr Prime Minister, We have heard about your country and the great pride and arrogance there.  Your lies have finally caught up to you and you will have to suffer the consequences.  We feel great sorrow for you and your people, and yet you must understand that you have brought the following terrible consequences upon yourself: (a poetic list of terrible consequences .. )

God’s analysis suggests that these calamities will come upon you in about three years, at which point you’ll be small enough that Luxemborg could probably give you a hand.


It is kind of fun to think about Isaiah 16 this way because it makes it easier to imagine how it would catch the attention of readers in ancient Israel.

On a spiritual note, I think the message of the chapter is clearly a warning against pride.   It is a national sin and the consequences are absolutely devastating.  If it is true that we ought to pay attention to the words of Isaiah, I think it is incumbent on us as citizens to take heed of this warning.  Israel didn’t, and look what happened to them.


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