Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

The book of Isaiah’s thirtieth chapter decries the ironic dependence of Jacob/Israel upon Egypt, its erstwhile and iconic captor.

In the face of contemporary political threats, the people are strangely drawn to Egypt’s supposed shelter from the storm.

Alas, says the prophet, such a rejection of protection that lies closer to home, such a preference for worthless sanctuary in an empire’s embrace, is only the crashing of a different and more dangerous storm upon a nation that staggers about without a clue.

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel: Because you reject this word, and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them; therefore this iniquity shall become for you like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant; its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a sherd is found for taking fire from the hearth, or dipping water out of the cistern.

Isaiah 30:12-14 (NRSV)

Two metaphors jumble restlessly in the oracle’s denunciation. First a wall, then a vessel.

What they share is the everyday utility they afford: protection, first, and then provision. Perhaps their quotidian usefulness—imaged rather than articulated—is meant to play off Egypt’s purported uselessness.

Yet we see their usefulness sacrificed: Wall and vessel, two staples of everyday life, now lie shattered beyond recognition.

It is ‘this iniquity’ (העון הזה) that is described in the two metaphors. Yet it is not entirely clear whether we are meant to understand that Jacob/Israel’s offense will be smashed or—alternatively—that the people itself will come crashing down on account of their iniquity. The text seems unconcerned to clarify the point.

What is clear is the tumbling stream of descriptors. Here, the passage again with emphasis added:

…this iniquity shall become for you like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant; its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a sherd is found for taking fire from the hearth, or dipping water out of the cistern.”

Isaiah 30:13-14 (NRSV, emphasis added)

Regardless of how we identify the primary referent of the two metaphors, it is difficult to conclude that we are meant to understand anything other than Israel/Jacob in pieces, tragically rendered by its own folly as useless as Egypt herself.

A complementary oracle that begins at verse 15—or perhaps we should understand it as the continuation of the passage under consideration—will speak of better prospects. But not until the reader has absorbed the shocking image of Israel shattered beyond recognition by the stubborn stupidity of its realpolitik.

Advertisement

Read Full Post »