One of my kids is caring for animals at a nearby farm this week. She loves animals and has always had a dreamer’s impression of what farm life would be like–harmonious, lovely, routine. But this week with hot and humid summer temperatures, buzzing flies, and work that leaves her sweaty, tired and achy has shown her a different perspective. She comes to my car dirty, disheveled, smelly, exhausted. The next day, she awakens with aches as her body remembers. Anne of Green Gables meets The Hunger Games, and the arena doesn’t seem anything like you imagined when you’re finally in it.
When I read through Isaiah 20-22, instead of consuming words while I drink my coffee, I step into the horror. In my NLT, each section begins with a subtitle “A message about …” and a city is listed. In A message about Egypt and Ethiopia:
3 Then the Lord said, “My servant Isaiah has been walking around naked and barefoot for the last three years. This is a sign—a symbol of the terrible troubles I will bring upon Egypt and Ethiopia. 4 For the king of Assyria will take away the Egyptians and Ethiopians as prisoners. He will make them walk naked and barefoot, both young and old, their buttocks bared, to the shame of Egypt. 5 Then the Philistines will be thrown into panic, for they counted on the power of Ethiopia and boasted of their allies in Egypt! 6 They will say, ‘If this can happen to Egypt, what chance do we have? We were counting on Egypt to protect us from the king of Assyria.’” (Isaiah 20:3-6, NLT)
Or in A message about Babylon:
My stomach aches and burns with pain. Sharp pangs of anguish are upon me, like those of a woman in labor. I grow faint when I hear what God is planning; I am too afraid to look. 4 My mind reels and my heart races. I longed for evening to come, but now I am terrified of the dark.
5 Look! They are preparing a great feast. They are spreading rugs for people to sit on. Everyone is eating and drinking.
But quick! Grab your shields and prepare for battle. You are being attacked! (Isaiah 21:3-5, NLT)
In A Message about Jerusalem:
You inspect the breaks in the walls of Jerusalem.
You store up water in the lower pool.
10 You survey the houses and tear some down
for stone to strengthen the walls.
11 Between the city walls, you build a reservoir
for water from the old pool.
But you never ask for help from the One who did all this.
You never considered the One who planned this long ago.
12 At that time the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
called you to weep and mourn.
He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins
and to wear clothes of burlap to show your remorse.
13 But instead, you dance and play;
you slaughter cattle and kill sheep.
You feast on meat and drink wine.
You say, “Let’s feast and drink,
for tomorrow we die!” (Isaiah 22:9-13, NLT, emphasis added)
In the New Testament, Paul’s words begin with the subheading Paul’s Message of Wisdom. These readings, all messages to the reader.
Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7 No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8 But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. (1 Corinthians 2:6-8, NLT, emphasis added)
I reflect on these readings and the underscoring of God’s sovereignty and plan. And like farm life, it’s more comfortable to read about war, choices, nations from the ease of my couch than it is to personalize a message. What if I stood before God’s judgment? What if I didn’t ask for help from the One who planned all this long ago? What if I didn’t understand?
13 When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. 14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,
“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to teach him?”
But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:13-16, NLT)
Lord, I don’t want to do life apart from you. I’m thankful for reminders that you are sovereign and you desire true relationship with me. Your word puts it out there for me–warning, wisdom, guidance, truth. You make known what you want. Help me to understand.