Isaiah 27 thru 30 – Study and Ritual

I must say that I am getting quite a lot out of all this study of Isaiah even at this early stage. In my prior readings of the prophets I found them completely disorganized, flipping randomly between topics, curses and blessings, with no clarity as to the subject of the various messages. Taking the time to go through these passages more slowly, and comparing several commentaries, helps to make a little more sense of things. The passages still appear to be scrambled, and my commentaries attest as much. However, with the guidance of the various commentators I’m able to recognize where one passage ends and the next begins, and in many instances even discern the topic of the little chunks of text.

Take, as an example, the verses of chapter 27: The translators’ notes in the JSB (actually from the JPS Tanakh translators rather than the JSB commentators) suggest that verse 9 might be better moved to after verse 6 as it seems to complete that thought, and verses 7, 8, 10, and 11 flow well together. This is not the first time that they have suggested moving verses; in fact, in some instances they have actually done so, with footnotes explaining the reason. It seems odd to me that a single verse might have gotten out of order in the original Hebrew such that translators would consider moving it, but I do see their point in this instance, as well as the others that I’ve noticed. However, things like this would not have occurred to me on my own without considerably more decades of study.

These chapters are long! I remember reading this a couple years back with the 66 Books group, when we read four chapters each day. I was just skimming, didn’t get much meaning out of it then. I know I must have written something about these chapters, will have to go back and look at that sometime.

Isaiah, it seems to me, dearly loves Israel, both north and south, and views them as the people chosen by God to redeem the earth. Still, he sees them going wrong, and fears what God will do to them in either correction or retribution. Much of his writing in these chapters¬†focuses on the punishment and torment that is coming, but scattered here and there we see mentions of God’s overarching love for His people, along with promises that they will be saved out of their seemingly impossible circumstances if they just turn to Him wholeheartedly. Their haughtiness, their pride, their stubbornness, all just block them off from God’s freely-offered Grace.

One particular passage that struck me today: Is. 29:13-14. Rote ritual will not bring a person closer to God. This is not to say that all rituals are bad: I know that having a regular set of practices to pray at certain times, show up at Church, do kind things for people, these are good habits. If I don’t develop good habits, I will surely develop bad habits. The nature of humanity is to follow our habits, so being proactive about what we allow to become habits can only help. However, the habits by themselves will not bring us closer to God. We cannot rely solely on ritual to save us, else it too becomes an idol. The thing we must do is hardly a thing at all, but at the same time is the deepest and hardest and contrarily perhaps even the easiest: we must love God and love our neighbor(s) as ourselves. This, the most difficult thing to measure, something that can never become ritualized because as soon as it does it ceases to be love.