Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Getting excited with Isaiah

As I get into our series on hope, I'm scurrying around my study looking for resources that might contain answers to questions that are popping into my head. Well, today as I was reading Isaiah 65 I kept asking myself where I got the idea that Isaiah spoke about the nations bringing their wealth into Jerusalem and that this act was a key part of Isaiah's vision of the end times?

I found my old tattered copy of Richard Mouw's When the Kings Come Marching in: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Eerdmans 1983) and realised that this little book has shaped my understanding of eschatology probably more than any other text (apart from the Bible). It was republished in a revised and expanded form in 2002 (I've ordered that).

I read it the year it came out and remember being very excited about it. Since then, its message has insinuated itself into my thinking about the coming city of God, life after the eschaton, all that stuff. And today, as I read what Mouw has to say about Isaiah 60, an enigmatic chapter that John Goldingay suggests is 'the longest unstructured stream-of-consciousness prophecy in Isaiah', I found myself getting really excited all over again.

In particular Mouw points out that a number of characters - notably the ships of Tarshish - which are judged earlier in Isaiah, feature in chapter 60 coming laden with goods and gifts into the holy city to serve God. What's happening? Mouw suggests that earlier references to these players are about purification, not destruction and that what's happening in Isaiah 60 is a description of God redeeming culture, the fruits of human creativity.

Starting from Psalm 24:1 - 'the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof' - Mouw takes us back to Genesis 2 and the mandate to subdue and fill the earth, arguing that the 'fillings' that humans make are our cultural artifacts, arts and crafts, political and economic systems, everything that makes life sustainable (and unsustainable - because of the Fall) on planet earth. All this is not written off by God. Rather it is redeemed, washed and brushed up for the great parade as His holy city is revealed to his rather stunned people.

More than that the politicians who have 'filled the earth' with governments that have instigated wars and campaigns for justice, empire building and grand initiatives to feed the hungry will march into the city to account for themselves before the people they ruled over. God will decide between them (Isaiah 2:4) as they bow before the king of kings (Phil 2:11) who has stripped them of their power (Col 2:15) and who exercises judgment on behalf of those who've suffered at their hands and cry out for a just accounting (Rev 6:9-11; 1 Pet 2:12, etc).

Whatever is going on in Isaiah 60 - and it is impressionistic and raises all sorts of questions about who remains in the city, for how long and what is the nature of the final judgement, of the settling of accounts and setting things straight - one thing is certain: the eschatological hope of the Bible - for this and other Isaianic texts sweep into the New Testament underpinning all its eschatological teaching - is absolutely rooted on planet earth; it is a physical, tangible hope with a recognisable shape. More than that, the way we live now, the things with which we fill the earth, shapes what we experience there.

In God's eschatological scheme our lives matter. How exciting is that?!

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