The dark days before Israel’s destruction by Assyria’s might left few untouched. Even the children.
Then the Lord said to me, ‘Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, “Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.
And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry “My father” or “My mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 8:1–4 ESV)
When the prophet affixes this grim moniker to his baby boy, he signals the imminent destruction of Israel’s threatening neighbors. The name means ‘Hasten the booty, speed the spoil!’.
Yet there is no relief in the tale, for this same Assyrian bulldozer will scrape the land clean of Israel’s ten northern tribes, the storied ‘lost tribes of Israel’.
The prophet’s role was no 9-to-5 schtick. It went home with him.
The extremes of the Isaian legacy cannot be underestimated. When the prophet’s burden is grim, it is very, very grim. When it is exuberant, deserts bloom to the sound of it.
In each case, the book taunts the reader out of his complacency, urging him to look beyond the siren of the war-dogs’ baying, prodding her to ask ‘What in YHWH’s name is going on here?’
What is his purpose? The question’s uncomfortable relevance does not expire.