Reflections on Isaiah 62

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn
and her salvation like a burning torch.

In chapter 62 of Isaiah, so much of how we read this passage depends on who we understand to be doing the talking.  Is God addressing the people, reaffirming God’s commitment to upholding the promises of restoration?

It would certainly fit.  These are the kinds of things God has been saying through the prophets in the preceding chapters.  Yet if we read carefully, we get clues that suggest the point of view is from the prophet speaking to the people of Jerusalem and calling them to watchful and active prayer for God to fulfill the promises God has made.

Most pointedly, we find this in verses 6-7

Upon your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have posted sentinels;
all day and all night, they shall never be silent.
You who remind the LORD, take no rest,
until he establishes Jerusalem,
and makes it renowned throughout the earth.

What an interesting phrase: “You who remind the LORD, take no rest — until he establishes Jerusalem…”  This reframes the entire chapter as a prophet who speaks to the people about the promises God has made, and calls on the people to hold God to those promises.

That the nation will be vindicated

They will have a new name (indicative of a different status in life)  Verse 4 really highlights this through language that moves the redefines the identity of the people: from rejected and desolate to being the delight of God, even using the imagery of marriage.

We find this marriage image continued in the New Testament, as Paul uses it for Jesus and the church in Ephesians 5, and the image in Revelation 21:2 “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband“) [yet another reminder that one will miss a lot in the book of Revelation without being familiar with the Old Testament and particularly the imagery we have found throughout Isaiah.]

God will rejoice over them

And yet – even as the exiles return and the work of rebuilding happens in fits and starts, it’s not easy, and there is a real sense that they haven’t arrived yet.  NT Wright argues powerfully that there is never a sense in the Old Testament or even in the hundreds of years preceding Jesus that the people have actually fully returned and been restored from the experience of exile.  Jesus’ arrival marks the time when these promises find their deepest fulfillment.

What this chapter becomes is a sort of wrestling or engagement with God that remembers God’s promises and in faith, essentially commits to holding God to them.

Which is kind of silly, right?  How do we hold God to anything?  We don’t have that kind of power or position over God.  And why would we assume that God doesn’t want to fulfill (or might forget) the promises made to the people?  Do we have a better vision for what needs to happen than God does?

And yet.

Granted all of that, there’s something powerful here that goes all the way back to Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 32:22, where Jacob is wrestling with God and refuses to let go without a blessing.  He ends up with a new name: Isra-el; essentially: one who has wrestled with God – and has prevailed.  Yet he is not unmarked by the experience, he leaves with a limp.

Wait, how does that work?  How can a human being wrestle with God and have God tell him that he’s prevailed?

When winning isn’t about defeating God, but holding on, trusting, continuing to seek and strive until we have an answer.  Job didn’t need to be proven right, he just needed to know that God was still there.  He left that encounter with God humbled, but vindicated.

To wait and watch in prayer; to continue to ask and seek is to hold on to the presence of God in the midst of the storm.  And it is the kind of faithful wrestling that Jesus commends, as we see in Matthew 7:7-11:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?  Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! “

For what things in the world and in our lives are we driven to stand on the wall and “give God no rest” through our prayers?