Because the first step toward a body’s healing is an accurate diagnosis, the physician is forgiven for laboring on with his details to the point of our fatigue. So do Isaiah’s prophetic oracles press again and again into the behaviors that are the very stuff of national illness. If Israel/Judah is to be healed, the prophet Isaiah insists, she must assent to understanding the mortal affliction that has brought her low.
She must see. She must hear.
For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.’ (Isaiah 30:9–11 ESV)
Isaiah’s rhetoric brings children to the fore on two accounts. First, in the dark diagnoses of the book’s earlier chapters, when adults who should know better are described as willful children.
Second, when the book’s redemptive promise comes to full bloom, a now adult Israel—having imagined herself a woman bereft of children—is stunned to see how many children return to her from afar.
In the passage just quoted, the ‘children’ are YHWH’s ‘rebellious people’, impatient with any word that might curtail their freedom to self-destroy, whether that word be instruction or correction.
Though here they make no effort to silence the seer and the prophet, they would coopt his message. They would turn the sharp and surgical edge of Yahwistic faith—an instrument whose blade is all about life and healing—into the soft coziness of religious self-absorption.
Whether silencing the prophet or buying out his message, the result is the same.
Rebellious children give the orders, in Isaiah’s survey, while those to whose word they ought to submit are ordered about like entry-level employees. The commands come in perfect chiasm (even here the prophet is an artisan), staccato-like:
Do not see!
Do not prophecy to us what is right!
Speak to us smooth things!
We prefer, too often, to have our piety in this way.
Absent some force, we would have the prophet be our comforter, our entertainer, our self-image coach.
Only because YHWH is willing to subject his own to pain in order that they might fall into redemption does our hope remain alive. And we with it.