Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bible Reading: Isaiah 11:1-3, 12:1-4

Isaiah 11:1-3
But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 12:1-4
On that day, you will say: I give you thanks, O Lord; though you have been angry with me, your anger has abated, and you have consoled me. God indeed is my savior. I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior.

With joy you shall draw water at the fountain of salvation, and say on that day: Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim his name; among the nations make known his deeds, proclaim how exalted is his name.

I have pulled here the first few passages from one of Isaiah's most well know descriptions of the Messiah to come. He will be a descendant of Jesse (the father of King David, and thus the Messiah will trace his lineage through that of Jesse and David's). This is why Matthew's opening lines of the Gospel is to list the lineage of Jesus, demonstrating the direct line through David and Jesse, who fulfills all of the prophecies.

Isaiah goes on to explain that people will also know the Messiah by his spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength and fear of the Lord. Isaiah emphasizes that the Messiah will not take his delight in those traits except in his fear of the Lord. By fear of the Lord one can understand that to mean total humility and obedience to God, whose will he perfectly understands (through God's gifts to him of the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel and strength). So the Messiah will be recognized through his total emphasis and delight in fear of the Lord rather than any other trait or gift. False messiahs are always known by boasting of their mental or magical powers, but the true Messiah only delights in his fear of God, whose will he knows perfectly. Remember to these modern times that a person who is not totally focused, as Jesus was, on delighting in obedience and fear of God, but who claims arcane knowledge and "insight" is demonstrating that he or she are not at all following in the footsteps of the true Messiah. Notice too that Isaiah implies that the Messiah will not be a man who spent years at scholarly study because the Messiah has from the very beginning a fullness of understanding of the knowledge and will of God for the spirit (of God) rests (constantly) upon him. If someone has to "decode" God's will through years of study then they are obviously not with the spirit of God and not the true Messiah. We have seen many examples of that. And indeed the religious scholars marveled at Jesus and his knowledge of God, wondering how he achieved it without years of study.

I then skip forward to the opening lines of the next chapter, where Isaiah prophesies the comfort and joy that will be brought to followers of the Messiah. Notice that Isaiah pours his gratitude directly toward God, and not to the Messiah. This is because Isaiah had perfection of insight from God that the Messiah and his fear of God is truly a direct gift from God, to whom the praise and thanks must be directed. God is his savior because he will send the Savior. When the Savior arrives there is rejoicing because the faithful realize that God is no longer angry if he has sent the Messiah.

Notice the image of drawing water from the foundation of the Messiah, through him from the foundational source, the fountain of God and his graces. This can be read both symbolically in the context of the culture (where in arid lands water is the saving grace) and prophetically, foreseeing the sacrament of baptism as affirmation of drawing upon the water of the fountain of God. Isaiah exhorts and prophesies that as a result of drawing joy from the water fountain of God, the faithful will proclaim the Lord God "among the nations" (thus beyond the Israelites) and acclaim his name and his deeds on behalf of human salvation.