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Isaiah 50:4-9a

This passage opens with what may be the greatest desire of those who are called to preach—that the Lord would give to us the ability to sustain the weary with a word, the ability to preach good news that actually upholds the worn out, exhausted, drained, and disenchanted, day after day. It’s unusual to incorporate pop culture verbiage into scholarly commentary, but as I read verse 4, I couldn’t help but think that Isaiah essentially proclaims, as bringers of this good news, “We must first be woke!” This is legitimately what he writes when he speaks of listening as those who are taught. It is awareness and empathy. After all, how else would Isaiah know how to comfort and assist?

Isaiah responds in obedience to the Lord. He does not rebel, even when it seems that this might be the easier option (it usually is, at least for a time). Instead, Isaiah responds to the point of enduring insult and abuse, and he doesn’t look back. Why? Well, these words about the teaching and about the being taught come from לִמּוּדִ֔ים (or limmudim) which means that Isaiah is a disciple teaching other disciples. This is no casual education, no offhand or spontaneous proclamation to random listeners. Isaiah is bringing an intentional word to the people who not only need it but who also expect him to teach. There is preparation involved. There is anticipation. And although some disappoint when they do not respond commensurately, that is only part of the story.

Isaiah’s words seem to incite a split, of sorts, between the people, but he knows God will be faithful to help him. He sets his face like flint, which is hard… and strong. The language becomes combative, but Isaiah holds his ground, persisting. Polarity is not the goal, but Isaiah feels strongly that he must continue to pursue a word of truth and compassion that speaks to the hearts of the downtrodden. His words fall on ears whose perspectives are divergent, but he speaks nevertheless, because he has been woke, and the response to such movement must not be only knowledge but action. He calls the somnolent disciples to his side and says, “Let us stand up together!”

It’s a terrible risk. After all, how well can exhausted, depleted, needy people fight? Isaiah has a choice in the matter. He could leave them and turn to the others who are more rested, more qualified, and more appealing. But he doesn’t, because they are also more wrong, and he wants to stand on the side of justice and righteousness. I worried that this sounded like a stretch, but the word for “vindicates” in this passage (מַצְדִּיקִ֔י, matzdiki) actually translates to, “to be just or righteous.” Isaiah emphasizes that he will not be disgraced or put to shame, and a large part of that is not necessarily about coming out on top, uninjured and unharmed, but about holding steadfastly to what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

Interestingly, it is as if Isaiah understands (perhaps afresh and anew) that he does not have the ability to attain or offer short term success, but he knows that this moment in history is not the end, and he can rely on the Lord to support him, as he supports those around him who need provision. In fact, they might collaborate and become a community that holds one another up, long-term! If the question is whether or not this kind of thought and practice can bring complete and immediate solutions, the answer is no. But we are apt to ask the wrong questions. Redemption is messy and time consuming. Most worthwhile things are.

With a greater understanding of who will stand with him, Isaiah finally issues a challenge to those who would put him to shame. Essentially he says, “Get on with it,” because he is as certain as he can be that there is no shame to be had, at least in God’s eyes, which is what matters.

As I was considering this passage, which ends without adequate closure (even if you finish the chapter), I ran across this applicable quote from another unlikely source. Credited to John Lennon, it is, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

I love that. I think it’s the kind of thing that Isaiah wrestled with, and I think it’s the kind of thing that we wrestle with, today, particularly in a politically charged culture where there are multiple sides to every issue and everyone legitimately thinks their way is the right way (and often the only way). May we be as brave as Isaiah, awoken by the Lord, every day, looking for ways to understand, relate with, and make a difference in the lives of the weary, bringing the good news, whatever the temporary cost.