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Nation

The book of Isaiah is one of my favorite books of the bible. When I was young I heard the adults around me talk about how it was a difficult book. Their comments became an internal challenge that thrilled me to no end. Someday I would grow up and study the bible. It seemed inevitable to me that I would be the one to laugh and explain Isaiah to everyone else. That is, until I did grow up, and did finally try to read Isaiah on my own. As Proverbs warns us, “Pride comes before the fall,” (Prov. 16:18) and boy did I fall. Flat on my intellectual face. Isaiah might as well have been printed out in the original Hebrew, for all I understood the first few times I read it. Honestly, the only part I could grasp was the Christmas passage in chapter 9, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be on His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV) Thank you Peanuts Christmas Special for that one. I gave up on Isaiah for a long time.

I couldn’t tell you why, but the year I turned 30, I gave it another go. Suddenly the book came to life. Everything connected to everything else I had read over the years, Isaiah belonged to the rest of the bible. It wasn’t a stand-alone book at all. I would get up in the middle of the night just to read it alone in the quiet. I would cry over some parts, and put other parts to music and sing it all the time. This went on for about two years until one morning I reached the end of the book, and just like that the experience was over.

In a way my journey through Isaiah became a part of me, a part of my prayer language. It became an old friend that understood the human struggle with darkness and light, blessing and famine, fear and trust. Really, it became a picture of Jesus that I could hold onto in the complex landscape of adulthood and parenthood.

I think that’s why this last advent season I returned to Isaiah. After the darkness of 2020, I needed to find my way back to the light of Jesus. I returned to chapter 9, not because of the Christmas passage (although it is nice when things tie in together) but because of the verses leading up to it:

“Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven to darkness. Nevertheless the gloom will not be on her who is distressed, […] The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For you have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, and the rod of his oppressor, as in the days of Midian.” (Is. 8:22-9:1, 2-4 NKJV)

I just lived in these in those verses for the whole of December. Oddly enough, I wasn’t the only one. It seemed like every sermon in person or online referenced these verses about the light of Jesus breaking into the darkness. There was a certain comfort in knowing I was not alone in the book of Isaiah, and I was not alone in the body of Christ.

The only rub was that bit about increasing the nation right there in the middle. After the painful political season of November, that was now bleeding into December (and now we know it kept going on into January), the last thing I wanted to hear about or think about was anything to do with “the nation” multiplied, or otherwise. Knowing Isaiah was talking about the nation of Israel did not alleviate my disease at all.

Then it dawned on me. Israel was more than an ancient nation. It was the embodiment of a revelation, the revelation of the Triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit. The nation is the revelation, and the revelation started with Abraham and the subsequent nation of Israel.

When I looked at my haven in Isaiah with this new perspective it all fell into place. If I might paraphrase, it looked something like this:

“Those of you muddling through darkness, there’s a light, and the light is Jesus. The Father, in His love, has multiplied the revelation of Jesus to you that you may see Him better and your joy may be increased. Now that you can see Jesus, His light will dispel the darkness. Rejoice! You have found the comfort of plenty from harvest, and you have come through a battle only to find treasure waiting for you.”

The light is Jesus. The comfort is Jesus. The treasure is Jesus. Just to make sure we all knew it was Jesus, after one more verse about battle, it’s the Christmas passage, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” That awesome light that brought all the hope and peace? Yeah, that’s Jesus. The guy who lifted the oppressive burden off of you? Yeah, still Jesus. I mean, that’s exciting!

Now every time I read about the nation, or the house of Israel, I can’t help but see “The revelation of Jesus” in my mind’s eye. So when Moses prays for God to blot him out in the place of Israel after the golden calf incident (Ex. 32), he is pleading for the nation of Israel but also the revelation of Jesus. I can just hear the words under the words, “Let me pay the price, only don’t take away Your revelation. Don’t remove our ability to see and know Jesus.”  

Or when Ezekiel is in the valley of dry bones, and God tells him the bones are the whole house of Israel, and He asks Ezekiel to prophecy over the bones (Ez. 37). First he prophesies the bones to come together and to have muscle and skin again. Then God tells him to prophesy breathe into them, so he does and the bodies become living people. I just hear God whisper to Ezekiel, “Here’s My revelation that seems dead and over because of the Babylonians. It isn’t over, prophesy My resurrection power into the revelation that it may live for all to see.”

I might be getting carried away to some degree. I have not read this in any of my commentaries. But I have heard it preached that Israel was the embodiment of the revelation of God; and I have read the genealogies in Matthew to see that Israel is the physical heritage of the Son incarnate (Jesus). So I’m not too off base here.

The light is Jesus. The hope in the face of death is Jesus. The peace in the midst of oppression is Jesus. The nation is the revelation, and the revelation is Jesus. He is with me and every time I see that he is with me, I rejoice.

-Etta Woods

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