Note – this is a continuation of a shared reflection and discussion on Isaiah that began on Facebook. Past reflections may be posted here retroactively as time permits.
What I find in this chapter is ultimately about leadership, a message that should be read in the context of the kinds of leadership Jerusalem had been experiencing in Isaiah’s time, the effects of that leadership, and the promise of a different kind of king, and the effect that would have on the people. The leaders and people of Jerusalem had been looking to an alliance with Egypt to serve as protection against the Assyrians (who had wiped out the northern tribes by violence and exile). Instead, God called on the people to return to and trust in Him – ‘the one whom they have deeply betrayed’ – who is truly able to protect them from the armies of Assyria.
Chapter 32 opens with the description of a wise ruler (as opposed to a foolish one).
The characteristics are worthy of note. A good leader exercises that power and authority (rule) with:
- Righteousness (Hebrew: sedeq – what is right, what is honest and good)
- Justice (Hebrew: mispat – exercising judgment according to what is just)
What is the effect of righteous and just leadership on the people? (v.2)
But what they people are experiencing is the effect of foolish and wicked leadership. (v. 3-5) [the start of verse 3 indicates that this section isn’t yet a reality, but reflective of a reality when the king rules with righteousness and justice]
- The eyes and ears of the people are closed and they do not hear or understand
- The people are rash instead of using good judgment
- The people do not communicate clearly
- They call the foolish noble, and the villainous honorable.
- The people’s needs are not cared for. (i.e. the hungry are not fed, the thirsty are deprived of relief)
- The poor are ruined by the lies of these leaders
- The [leaders] speak folly, plot iniquity, practice ungodliness
This is all in contrast to the noble, who aim at – plan for – better things, and stand by what is generous.
The impact of noble and wicked leadership on the people is a timeless reality. What is our responsibility in our own time and place? While it may be easy, even accurate, to look at present examples and make connections, let’s start closer to home and do some reflecting.
- In what ways do we use our authority and power? Are we in this for ourselves?
- Where are we tempted to listen only to things that support our point of view over seeking the truth?
- Where are we quick to speak before thinking, or to pass on memes or information that may not be accurate?
- Where are we quick to point out the failings of those we are against, while quick to overlook those who are on “our side”?
The chapter continues with a description of those who are complacent; they are an image of those who have ‘enough’ in life; they are doing well with the status quo, and they are at ease, looking forward to continuing to enjoy life as it is. But Isaiah warns that this attitude is out of sync with the reality around them.
The center section of the chapter reflect on those (in this case, women) who are complacent with the way things are. There are threats on the horizon, but they have enough for the moment, and look forward to more of the same. Except that it won’t be the same. Isaiah warns the people that instead of complacency, they should be responding with a lament for what is to come; the orchards that will turn to thorns and briers and the joyful city become desolate.
- What is going on around us that we are tempted to be complacent about?
- What kind of response would be more appropriate?
- What kind of response reflects Christ-likeness and the kind of wisdom lifted up in this chapter?
The last section of the chapter speaks of the desolation of Jersualem continuing until “a spirit from on high is poured out on us.” That is, until God intervenes – not militarily, but in a way that transforms us from the inside. We then see the impacts of that outpouring of God’s spirit in the effects on the people and the world.
- If we read this back through the lens of Pentecost, where Christians believe God’s Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, then what do the following images evoke for you in terms of understanding what it means to live in light of the Spirit of God as Christians and what that means for the world we live in?