Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 60’

The opening lines of the book called Isaiah’s sixtieth chapter perfectly capture redemption’s cadence.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah 60:1–3 (ESV)’

If this is so, a subtle interchange between two closely related words drives the point home. Because cognate vocabulary maps differently from one language to another, this is easy to miss when reading in translation. The Hebrew words behind shine (אורי) and light (אורך) are in fact the same word, deployed first as verb and then as noun. The less obvious link between English ‘shine’ and ‘light’ is an unfortunate and inevitable loss in translation.

The reason this subtlety deserves a moment’s consideration is that the Isaianic voice persistently calls desolate Judah (‘Zion’ in its most common personification) to action. Yet the summons is never the call to an initiating action. It is always a response to what YHWH has just done or is about to do.

Arise! … Shine! … because your light has come!

We are talking not so much about cause and effect. The dynamic is rather best expressed as cause and response. The solicited response would never make sense, indeed would be impossible and perhaps unthinkable if YHWH had not acted first. But since he has done so, the summons is now a response to YHWH’s renewed mercies to Zion.

This cause-and-response dynamic splays out across this magnificent chapter, with its glory, its beauty, and its wealth of kings and nations streaming into Zion. Quite literally, Zion’s glory and its beauty are derived from YHWH’s glory and from YHWH’s beautifying intentions. Yet both Zion and her now subservient kings and nations participate with YHWH in the transformation of a city that will once again become both holy and beloved.

Whether those nations do so willingly and as a facet of their own redemption is a debated matter. My inclination is that this is so. Yet the passage also hints at pockets of resistance that shall know no future.

Down to its final verse, the chapter knows no good thing that does not flow from divine initiation.

The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it.

Isaiah 60:22 (ESV)

Yet not for a moment is the role of Zion’s sons and daughters, to say nothing of the children of the nations now caught up in YHWH’s project, anything less than exalted labor.

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YHWH’s blessing comes not as a single product, well-worn branding splashed across familiar package.

Rather, it sneaks into life variegated, diverse, subtle, nuanced, its hues settling in across the broadest range.

Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. (Isaiah 60:17 ESV)

The prophet reaches for a poet’s pallet to explain to a weary people why return to all that once was and has been snatched away beyond repair will be more glorious than a captive nation can just now imagine. The cadence of his Hebraic persuasion does indeed speak of shining extremity, for example in the ‘wealth of nations’ that will flow to resplendent Zion, in the transmutation of empty abandon into urban majesty. (more…)

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