Reflections on Isaiah 51

I am waiting for you, Vizzini. You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have. This is where I am, and this is where I’ll stay. I will not be moved.
…when a job went wrong, you went back to the beginning. And this is where we got the job. So it’s the beginning, and I’m staying till Vizzini comes.

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

‘Remember where you came from’ is the call from this chapter of Isaiah.  The uncertainties of their present time and situation have the remnant of Israel locked in a spiral of fear.  As so often happens, when we live *in* fear; we develop a kind of tunnel vision, our ability to see possibilities decreases, and we tend to forget God’s presence and provision, instead asking only for flashy miracles that meet our immediate needs (v.9-10).

Fear is a pretty natural and healthy response to potentially dangerous or destructive situations.  It alerts us that we need to be ready to respond, that we are not in charge of everything.  But living in fear does the opposite, it dulls our ability to react and think and respond in faith.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn, the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah, who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.” (v2)

In a time when hope and fear comingled; when a Persian king was the instrument of God to return exiles to Jerusalem, God calls the people to remember their origins.

God called Abraham and Sarah to leave everything and everyone (everyone who wasn’t going with them, that is), and to set off for a place where they would be the foreigner and stranger.

This call was based on a promise – to a childless couple past the age of bearing children – that God would create a nation of people through him, that they would be blessed, and that all the nations of the world would eventually be blessed through them.

To a people living in fear, God is saying: remember where you came from!  Remember how unlikely your very existence!  Remember all the dangers and hardships and struggles that God saw your ancestors through.

These present sorrows and fears are not the end, not the purpose of God.  Instead, God purposes to comfort Zion, to renew the wilderness with new creation, to bring joy and gladness and thanksgiving and song to deserted places.

Verses 4-8 may in context be referring to Cyrus; an instrument of the Lord establishing a peace through which the exiles can return and be re-planted in Jerusalem, even in the midst of opposition.  Yet again we can also hear echoes of a deeper promise – a teaching (Torah) that goes out from God, bringing deliverance and salvation that outlasts both the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” – John 1:1-4  

In verse 9, perhaps all the way to verse 11, the voice changes – it is the people who are calling on “the arm of the Lord” to do mighty and miraculous works as in the past, to bring the ransomed back to Zion (Jerusalem) with singing and joy.

This is indeed God’s promise – though it may come about in a way that is different in nature and timing than the people are expecting.

Which – looking back to Abraham and Sarah, seems pretty apt.  Though God protected them through many dangers along their journey, it was twenty five years from the giving of the promise to the birth of Isaac.  And along the way, whenever Abraham or Sarah tried to force things to work out the way they imagined, it made things worse.

For Cyrus certainly did not have in mind the re-establishment of the kind of Davidic kingdom that the exiles might have hoped for.  And the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem would take longer and be more of a struggle than they anticipated.

Yet the waiting doesn’t mean that God is absent.  As we continue in v. 12, we hear God reminding them of God’s presence and power to save and restore.

Their time of punishment is at an end, and just as Israel and Judah faced the consequences of their injustice and cruelty masked in religiosity, so too will their tormentors encounter God’s resolute opposition to all that destroys and tears down God’s creation.

Where do our expectations of how and when God will work get in the way?  

What parts of your life story serve as anchors, reminding you of God’s presence and goodness in difficult times?

Where do we find ourselves being controlled, limited by fear?

Where may God be speaking to us through the stories of scripture and God’s work through history, to comfort, encourage or warn us about where we’re at right now?