Week of Aug. 12: Hope comes in the midst of despair
Lesson for the week of August 12
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7
By Kim Reindl
Opening question: What gives you hope?
Sometimes it is difficult to be hopeful.
I have often heard people say that they are worried about the future. I have friends who express a concern for what life will be like for their children or grandchildren. They consider the world around us and it leads them to a state of despair. When the news is filled with stories of senseless violence, like the recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado, it is easy to understand why people feel threatened and uncertain. The world is clearly a broken place. From whom should our hope come?
Today’s scripture passage finds the prophet Isaiah in a dismal time in Israelite history. According to scholars this passage was most likely written as a coronation hymn or enthronement liturgy for king Hezekiah of Israel. This would mean that it was written around the year 715 BC. At this time the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians in 721 BC and the southern kingdom of Judah existed as a vassal state (vassal meaning that Judah was subordinate to the ruling power of Assyria due to earlier political alliances). This is a time when those in power in Jerusalem were just as corrupt as surrounding nations. Isaiah spoke words of judgment against the leaders of Judah for “crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor” (Isaiah 3:15). He spoke words of further indictment, stating:
“Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statues, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make orphans your prey!” (Isaiah 10:1-2; NRSV)
Isaiah reminded the people that God is a God of justice and righteousness and that because of such evil the people would suffer (Isaiah 5:14-15).
Yet, in spite of such dismal circumstances, Isaiah’s understanding is that God’s promises are eternal. Isaiah trusts in the fact that what God has promised through the Davidic line, God will accomplish. Therefore, the words of Isaiah 9:2-7 are words of hope. Those who once walked in “darkness” will see a great “light” (Isaiah 9:2).
Isaiah reminds the people that they can trust in God’s deliverance from their oppression because God has delivered them before. He states, “For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:4). The day of Midian recalls a day when God delivered Israel against all odds. Gideon, a member of the least tribe in Israel as the least in his family, was chosen by God to lead an army of only 300 men to defeat the Midianites, an army as “thick as locusts” with “camels as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Judges 6-7). Isaiah’s recollection of Midian elicits hope based in a knowledge of God’s previous faithfulness. Interestingly, the story of Gideon’s call involves him being reminded of God’s deliverance of the Israelite people from oppression in Egypt (Judges 6:7-10). Isaiah’s faith in God is founded in a firm understanding of God’s character as the eternally faithful deliverer of God’s people.
Isaiah’s words indicate that God’s deliverance brings forth a special kind of joy; joy as “at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder” (Isaiah 9:3). This joy is a kind of exuberant relief that comes with the reversal of uncertainty or hopelessness. As with the farmer who is never sure that the fields will produce or the warrior who never knows if he or she will survive the battle, joy is that much sweeter when the harvest is reaped and the battle is won.
Life for us is often uncertain, yet God is the one who comes through for us. Isaiah is able to offer words of hope simultaneously with words of judgment because his hope rests in God and not in humans. Thankfully God’s final word is a word of redemption. Isaiah prophesied that this redemption would come through the Davidic monarchy in a king that would rule “with justice and with righteousness” as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7). We, as Christians, know this King to be the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. Hence, God never leaves us in a state of despair, but always moves us from despair to hope. In this we recognize God to be the one who brings light out of darkness and life out of death. Therefore, God is the one from whom our hope comes!
Questions for further reflection:
• Other than the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the day of Midian, what other stories of deliverance can you recall from the Old Testament?
• How, as Christians, do we find it possible for judgment and hope to coincide?