Take Five – Passage Primer for 12.07.20 – 12.13,20
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Last week, in our Take Five, we saw the two different theories present in the book of Isaiah. One has Isaiah (chapters 1-39) speak of coming destruction because the people have refused to turn back to God, then (chapters 40-55) he speaks as though he is present during the destruction and exile (this is his prophetic voice since he has passed by this time), finally, he speaks (chapters 56-66) as if he is present during the release and return of the Israelites. The second theory recognizes this same breakdown, however, in doing so, it assigns the three different sections to three different authors who were present during these times. Isaiah, therefore would have only authored the first section. Regardless, we read it the same. So, our passage today is assigned to the third section, during and after the release and return.
Imagine being an Israelites returning home. You have been in exile and slavery for seven decades and now as you see home, it is devastating. The city, the temple, and the walls are all in ruin. The people are hopeless, they feel abandoned by God, they place the guilt on God, themselves, or both. They feel alone, vulnerable, and doomed. As you read verse 1 recognize that Isaiah is giving the reason he is talking, then progresses through what God has anointed him to say.
It is in this environment that Isaiah now speaks of hope. He reminds the people of the stories from their ancestors of how God not only rescued them in traumatic times but restored that which had been lost.
Before the Civil War commenced in our nation, a negro spiritual surfaced among enslaved and abused peoples in our nation. The song sounded much like Isaiah’s voice as he reminds the hopeless people of their God who not only rescues but also restores. Consider the words of this chorus as you read our Isaiah passage – actually, consider as you read all of our readings for this week, in fact, why don’t you consider this passage as you think about the coming Messiah.
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn
Didn’t Pharaoh’s army get drowned?
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep
The Psalmist who wrote this Psalm could have easily have been in the hopeless crowd as Isaiah spoke. The is a microcosm of the message of Isaiah in this Psalm. A call to remember the past works of God and to remember how God’s redemption and restoration took shape in those situations. The Psalmist is undoubtedly speaking from a place, and to a people who are in a place of devastation and hopelessness, his is a call of hope to a people who have given up all hope.
The easiest way to understand this passage is to remember what the prophet Isaiah was calling the people to do in the midst of their hopeless, and what the Psalmist was doing to those reading his writings. Mary has just comes to terms with what is going on, that she is pregnant and that the child she carries is the Son of God. Mary had probably heard Isaiah’s teachings about remembering the redeeming and restorative works of God – this is how these words came together, this is a song from her heart. The teenage girl was seeing her future and it seemed troubled to say the least, she was probably on the verge of hopelessness and despair as the Spirit comforted and reassured her. As she was reconciling all that she had been told, she returned to those teachings of recollection, of remembering the faithfulness of God. You can almost see her raising her head and looking up, a tilt of her head indicating that something had clicked in her heart and now understands that what she saw as a curse was actually a blessing, it was an honor. This song then flowed from her heart.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
The apostle Paul is closing out this letter to the believers in Thessalonica. He is concerned about this group, they are suffering persecution from those outside the church and dissension from almost everyone inside the church. They could easily be on the brink, they are in the same place as the people the prophet Isaiah is speaking to, the same place that the Psalmist is speaking about, the same place as Mary and Joseph. They are all on the verge of giving up, walking away, giving in. Paul is deeply concerned and that concern is portrayed in his even deeper encouragement. He tells them he will be praying that they will be faithful to God, and that they will remember that God is faithfulness.
Paul also gives some very specific instructions. Paul says that they must,
- Be respectful to others and to each other.
- Be at peace with each other.
- Encourage, correct, and be patient with each other.
- Do good rather than ‘getting even.’
- Pray, pray, and pray.
- Give thanks all the time.
- Listen for and to the Spirit, and follow.
- Remember the words of the prophets, the purveyors of truth.
- Check out everything before accepting it as fact – don’t be an easy target.
- Hold on tight to what is good, don’t do evil.
- Pray for Paul and his coworkers.
What a list! It is a long and specific list that applied to the Thessalonians and to us today.