Fiction Book Discussion Group, 6:30 PM by Zoom
—Intercession Salad supper, 5:30 PM @ parsonage
–Welcome Class Bible study, 7:00 PM by Zoom
Winchester Friends Church email@example.com
124 E Washington Winchester IN 47394 765-584-8276
July 18, 2021 Reflection for Sunday Morning Worship Sharing on Zoom and in the Meetinghouse-
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal….[When] the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.
Isaiah 26:3,4 and 32:15-18
It was Christ who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up…. From him, the whole body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16
Isaiah, Kazi Mingi Prophet
I wrote for last Sunday about the advance preparations Pam made for cutting my hair while we lived far from a barber shop for three years in southern Sudan. In that same preparation information packet we received was a suggestion to procure a Swiss Army knife as a useful tool to carry in remote, rural Africa where there were no real hardware stores. The irony of being advised to buy an army knife — by a peace organization sending us into a war zone to promote nonviolence – escaped us, I think. Back in those days, there was no internet, no Amazon.com where we could inspect and compare the various Swiss knife models that were available, then order one and have it delivered to our door. We had to find a store in Idaho that carried them, then drive there and decide which features we wanted and how much we were willing to spend.
In the end, we each bought one. Pam’s was slender, had just two blades and a couple of other tools, was easily carried in a pocket, and caused only minor shortness of breath when we saw the price. Mine, on the other hand, was bulky because it had two cutting blades, a wood sawing blade, a hacksaw blade/metal file, a fish descaler, a scissors, flat and phillips screwdrivers, a magnifying glass, can and bottle openers, an awl, a corkscrew, tweezers, and a plastic toothpick. Unfortunately, it had no instruments for the heart surgery one needed after seeing its price tag. We bought the knives, and I found a small leather pouch I could adapt for carrying mine on my belt to spare my pants pockets. We were warned that such things sometimes disappeared from checked baggage on international flights, so we carried them to Africa in our carry-on luggage – that was allowed back in the old days. We found them quite useful as we worked around our house and traveled through the countryside to refugee camps.
Our closest Ugandan colleague in the refugee program saw me using that knife for something one day and exclaimed, “Ah, kazi mingi!” I asked him what that meant, and he told us it was Kiswahili for “many jobs” or “multipurpose.” He seemed as amazed as we were by how many different tools were packed so efficiently into that relatively small knife body that could be carried in a pants pocket. Kazi mingi was probably the first non-greeting expression of Swahili I learned, and it is still resident in my conscious brain all these years later. (My knife also still resides in that leather pouch on the headboard of our bed, and it gets used fairly frequently. Pam’s disappeared at some point in our travels, snatched from airline luggage or perhaps borrowed by someone and never returned.)
As I read and thought about Isaiah this week, it dawned on me that he was a kazi mingi prophet, a spokesman for God to whom many different prophetic roles were given over his nearly sixty years of ministry. His work as prophet in and to Judah began with his calling by the Lord in 740 BC, eighteen years before the northern kingdom of Israel finally fell to the Assyrians in 722-721 BC. As stated last week, both Israel and Judah had become smug, idolatrous, greedy, unjust, and presumptuous of God’s favor during the years of relative prosperity while their enemy to the north (Aram) had to contend with Assyria. Isaiah was from Jerusalem, was related to some of Judah’s royalty, and was an exceptionally well-educated Hebrew with significant knowledge and understanding of the nations and kingdoms of Palestine and the world beyond. He was an exceptional and prolific writer who usually expressed his messages in the poetic style apparently favored by the scholars and decision-makers of his day. And because of his calling by God, he was given an exceptional prophetic gift – a listening relationship with God that gave him spiritual insight to see what had brought people and nations to the point where they found themselves, to discern what was going on currently, and to see where people’s choices and God’s sovereignty would take them in the future.
Scholars’ Questions About Isaiah Some scholars who study Isaiah have questioned whether the Book of Isaiah might have been written by two different writers because of the clear shift of focus and tone that takes place starting with Isaiah 40. Chapters 40-66 project into the future when the Israelites would be allowed to return to Judah from exile in Babylon, leading those scholars to suggest that those 27 were added to chapters 1-39 by a “second Isaiah” after the return which occurred many years later. They also point out that there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament to suggest that God might have led new writers to complete the story of Israel’s “Old Testament redemption” which Isaiah started. Evangelical scholars, however, have mostly held to the view that all 66 chapters were written by the original Isaiah. Other scholars have attempted to find some sort of symbolism or meaning in the order in which Isaiah’s prophecies against the nations surrounding Israel appear in the scripture text. Those prophecies (chapters 13-24) do not seem to occur in the chronological order of Judah’s conflicts with those nations. The question of chronology arises also regarding Isaiah’s displeasure over King Hezekiah’s hiring of Egypt’s army to help repel the Assyrians (Is.30), the payment of all of Judah’s treasure to Assyria to avoid being crushed militarily (II Kings 18:13-16, Is. 36:1)), and the visit of Babylonian envoys to Jerusalem who were proudly and foolishly shown the great wealth in the palace and temple (Is.39). If the Babylonians visited Jerusalem after the Assyrian crisis, there would have been no wealth to show off. Rather than seeing troubling inaccuracies in these passages, most students believe that Isaiah simply chose to assemble his collected prophetic writings in an order which meant something to him personally that he never wrote about.
Living Object Lessons Pam wrote in late June about Hosea, the prophet to the northern kingdom who was told by God to marry a prostitute (knowing she would be unfaithful to him). After the adultery, he was told to separate from her, then to take her back again as his wife as a visual object lesson to Israel of God’s desire and intention to accept them back. One of Isaiah’s many prophetic jobs was quite similar. He was given an equally distasteful assignment in Isaiah 20, to go around his city “stripped and barefoot” (likely wearing only a breechcloth) for three years. For godly men, those assignments had to be awfully tough on self-esteem. Isaiah’s was a visual condemnation of Egyptian and African (Cush) forces that had trekked up the Mediterranean coast to defend (for hire) the Philistines from the Assyrians who had conquered Israel and were advancing southward. As Isaiah foresaw, the Egyptian and Cush troops and their Philistine clients were badly defeated. Isaiah’s demonstration was a message to Judah’s king (and Isaiah’s friend) Hezekiah that it was folly to trust mercenaries from Egypt and Cush to “cover him” rather than trust in God to rescue him when Assyria came to overrun Judah. Isaiah’s later outcries (30:1-5) confirm that Hezekiah did not get the message.
Speaking Hard Truth to Opponents Isaiah 13-21 is made up of a long series of poetic denunciations of the nations that surrounded Judah and Israel in Palestine and beyond – Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Aram/Damascus, Cush, Egypt, Edom, and Arabia. They were nations that openly practiced idolatry, had been hostile to the Israelites and Judeans, worked pretty hard to lead them astray from Yahweh, and showed no interest in knowing the living God of all creation who had begun revealing himself through his dealings with the Hebrews. Each oracle is different and specific, but none of them is complimentary. One would think that assignment would not be too difficult – after all, human beings are pretty good at speaking unkindly about people they don’t like. The hard parts for Isaiah had to have been writing (and likely speaking) those messages publicly, which probably put a target on his back, and having to say those hard truths lovingly to people to whom the prophet knew God desired to show forgiveness, compassion, and transformation. Those tasks are no easier today, which is surely why it isn’t done all that often or all that well in our time either.
Speaking Hard Truth to Your Own People Starting in Isaiah 22, Isaiah tackles an even more difficult part of his prophetic role – delivering difficult truth to the people of Judah and to his friend King Hezekiah, the best, most devout king Judah ever had (II Kings 18:5,6). He was practicing Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:15 – “speaking the truth in love.” In 22:12,13, Isaiah tells the people of Jerusalem that their celebration of their sinfulness offends God. Isaiah 24 has an eerie resonance with climate change in 2021 in its description of the harm done to the Earth by selfish human sinfulness and failure to listen to the Lord. In chapters 30 and 31, he roundly criticizes Hezekiah’s decision to hire mercenaries from Egypt instead of turning to God to defend Judea from the advancing Assyrians. In 32:9-14, Isaiah warns of the harm the Assyrian army would do to Jerusalem. The narrative portion of Isaiah picks up in chapter 36 to describe the arrival of that army and the humiliation of King Hezekiah before his people by the menacing Assyrian commanders. To his credit, Hezekiah put on mourning clothes, went to the temple to pray, and sent messengers to get Isaiah’s advice. Hezekiah’s humble, heartfelt prayer (37:16-20) seemed to make the difference. Isaiah sent word that the Assyrians would not manage to enter the city and would run for home. In another of those Old Testament violent endings I cannot reconcile with the character of God revealed in the teaching and example of Jesus, 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died in their camp overnight and their army beat a rapid retreat. Jerusalem was saved. Isaiah 38 tells of another difficult assignment for Isaiah – having to tell his friend Hezekiah that he would not survive a severe illness. (From 38:6, this likely happened before the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem.) That was a bad day for Isaiah, and a difficult job for anyone in any age.
The Joy Outweighs the Difficulties Not all of the work of prophets and of Christ’s people seeking to live prophetically today is so difficult. Isaiah’s job got a bit easier after Hezekiah prayed and wept about his illness, prompting God to send Isaiah back to the king to tell him he’d been granted fifteen more years of life. In Isaiah’s writings, there are frequent interludes like Isaiah 25 and 26 in which he reminds the Hebrews that God will be with them in exile and will bring them back to a renewed Jerusalem in his time. He promises that “God will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is steadfast, because s/he trusts in the Lord” (26:3). In a world as complex and troubled as ours today, God needs faith communities filled with kazi mingi disciples. He needs us to be ready with Isaiah to say “here am I, Lord; send me” to do whatever task he is willing to equip and lead us to do, no matter how difficult it may seem. Like the kid in Mark 6 with a few bread rolls and a couple of fish gladly offered to Jesus, we will be amazed and blessed by what he can do through us.
–Ron Ferguson 18 July 2021
Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection
1) Do questions like those about the order of Isaiah’s text cause you to distrust the Bible? Should they? Why, or why not?
2) Like Isaiah “stripped and barefoot,” have you ever seen or participated in a living object lesson that taught spiritual truth?
3) What are some hard spiritual truths that need to be spoken to our 2021 culture and world? Why is speaking them so hard?
4) King Hezekiah made serious spiritual errors – hired mercenaries instead of trusting God, pridefully showed off
Judah’s wealth to the Babylonians – yet still was recorded as Judah’s best-ever king. What made that possible?
5) What ministry or service for the Lord has given you unexpected contentment, joy, peace, or blessing lately?
Winchester Friends Church 765-584-8276
124 E. Washington St. Winchester, IN 47394