Orthodox Mission – Hyde Park, Chicago

Isaiah 26-27 4th Wednesday of Lent

Isaiah 26-27 4th Wednesday of Lent. [26: 21 & 27: 1-9]

See, the Lord is bringing his wrath from the holy place upon those who dwell on the land, and the land will uncover its blood and will not cover those who are slain upon it. On that day God will bring his holy, great and strong sword upon the dragon, the serpent that flees, upon the dragon, the crooked serpent, and he will destroy the dragon. On that day a fair vine, a desire to make a beginning concerning it. I am a strong city, a city besieged, in vain shall I water it; for it will be captured by night, while by day its wall shall fall. There is no woman who has not taken hold of it. Who will set me to guard a reed in a field? Because of this enemy I have set it aside. Therefore because of this the Lord has done all the things that he appointed. I have been burnt up, those who dwell in it will cry out, Let us make peace with him, let us make peace. Those who are coming are children of Jacob; Israel will sprout and blossom and the inhabited world will be filled with his fruit. Shall he be smitten as he himself smote, and as he himself destroyed shall he be destroyed? Fighting and reviling he will send them away. Are you not the one who meditated with a harsh spirit to destroy them with a spirit of rage? Therefore the iniquity of Jacob will be taken away and this will be his blessing when I have taken away his sin, when they have broken all the stones of the altars in pieces like fine dust ; and their trees will not remain and their idols will be cut down like distant thicket.

Why does God bring his “wrath from the holy place?” Because wrath is an expression of power and holiness in the Old Testament, and holiness is an expression of a carefully bounded approach to God. But the boundaries of this approach to God are contiguous with what it means to be his people. To be set apart. To be consecrated, or else… the consequences we can see with those who merely “dwell on the land,” who sit in a place where they are called to approach but do not concern themselves with the desire for God. These are the same who are okay with the covering of the blood, the guilt of those who are at ease. However, God will “uncover its blood and will not cover those who are slain upon it.” The slain are those who are casually, as a matter of course for the ease of society “sacrificed” to the ease of the static and unmoved inhabitants of the land who do not yearn for God and do not see all the obstacles that confront us. What obstacles? The “dragon, the serpent that flees, upon the dragon, the crooked serpent, and he will destroy the dragon.” God has to make the transformation that is turning dirt and mud to fruit: “on that day a fair vine, a desire to make a beginning concerning it.” Desire is at the root. Are we squatters on God’s place or do we desire to manifest the goodness of the land, the human body-soul-and mind given to us? If we desire God we see all the snares set before us, we see, on the one hand, our strength, and on the other, the attack on us: “I am a strong city, a city besieged, in vain shall I water it; for it will be captured by night, while by day its wall shall fall.” However, we know that God has set us tests and trials, and that it fits into some incomprehensible plan: the “Lord has done all the things that he appointed. I have been burnt up, those who dwell in it will cry out, Let us make peace with him, let us make peace.” We need the peace that means that we can live with him—we have desired him and want him to be with us in peace—which is a gift of life despite our being surrounded by the enemy and being tempted to give in. If we fight we move from Jacob the trickster to the mature Israel who wrestles with God and is wounded for the sake of blessing, of fruitfulness: “those who are coming are children of Jacob; Israel will sprout and blossom and the inhabited world will be filled with his fruit. Shall he be smitten as he himself smote, and as he himself destroyed shall he be destroyed?” Let God destroy us, as long as it is the hand of God that blesses. If he blesses us with his terrifying power, even if it seems to be painful and to hurt, there will be peace: “fighting and reviling he will send them away.” Just like the trickster Jacob, we will move from “iniquity” to a “blessing” that takes “away his sin.” This blessing comes to stop just dwelling in the land, living as lukewarm, mediocre Christians; instead God will destroy our idolatry, have “broken all the stones of the altars in pieces like fine dust.” We will rise as a new human, not just an oppressed creature made of dust, but an enlivened image of the true God; moved from a blood drenched earth to a heavenward fruitfulness. We will no longer seek to eat from the tree that expresses our disobedience, or even worse to plant new trees and idols of disobedience: “their trees will not remain and their idols will be cut down like distant thicket.” We will peacefully accept his presence and no substitute.