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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 66’

By the time the book called Isaiah crescendoes to the culminating dizziness of its final chapter, the prophetic voice has trafficked on the image of Daughter Zion with no reluctance to speak of her beauty and dazzlingly unlikely ornamentation.

Not for this prophet the reticence to shape words that admire the feminine body and a woman’s beauty. These were different days, a different aesthetic. The rules were not our rules.

Now, as the end of the massive work draws near, the author turns yet again to feminine metaphor. This time, the point is YHWH’s unstoppable determination to redeem Jerusalem, indeed to convert her or to restore her to her rightful place at the cosmos’ center. The very envy of nations.

To the biblical eye, redemption is always unexpected. Quite often, its component moments are sudden. So here:

Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children.

“Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the LORD; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.

(Isaiah 66:8–9 ESV)

Now Zion—so often the surprised or bemused or astonished female personification of YHWH’s unlikely chosen—is pregnant. Indeed, she is in labor.

Yet it is an unusual labor, one that lasts but a moment. Contractions have only begun when suddenly her children—not one, but many—race through throbbing womb to join us here in the light. In this light.

This doesn’t happen under normal conditions. No one has ever heard of such a thing. Yet in this moment, it is YHWH’s purpose and so it shall be.

Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children.

The mere description of accelerated and preternaturally productive labor is then framed in YHWH’s own interpretation of events.

“Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the LORD; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.

Perhaps the metaphor hints at YHWH as Divine Father of Israel, a people’s Divine Progenitor. Or perhaps YHWH stands in here as Midwife. The imagery is patient of polyvalence, its reference perhaps singular, perhaps multiple, always suggestively open to reflection beyond initial impressions.

In any case, YHWH is determined to redeem Mother Zion, to multiply her children, to populate her future with daughters and sons. His live-giving, community-engendering purpose shall not be stopped in its tracks any more than a woman well entered into labor shall be told ‘No go!’.

Redemption, here, is inevitable.

Yet one wonders whether the metaphor of a woman’s heaving labor invites its reader to consider another inevitability about the process: its pain.

Zion has throughout sixty-five of sixty-six chapters of the book never been far from trouble. Indeed, she has been bloodied by trouble. Made bereft by trouble. Cast out and rejected, by trouble.

Perhaps YHWH’s unstoppable thirst for redemption, the very inevitability of it all, must be seen as leading his daughters and sons to the glory of it through pain that loudly cries redemption’s impossibility.

Yet for this prophet, the giddy, redeemed cacophony of the people’s final glory only appears to be impossibly, a damned mirage, the haunting practiced upon the hopeless by a thousand zombied dreams.

In fact, suggests the Isaianic voice, it was always going to be this way. This joyful, abundant, glorious way. Inevitable.

“Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the LORD

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