The voice of the prophet rings out in Third Isaiah. While the Prophet Isaiah of chapter 1-39 lamented of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Eighth Century BCE), Third Isaiah makes reference to the Promise of return and a few references in which the Temple has been restored (Is. 56:5). A date in the late sixth century is possible. So, we have an early post exilic text —the people of God have experienced vast suffering. The Babylonians have left Jerusalem in ruins, the Temple burned, bodies scattered across the countryside, and slaves taken to a place that is not their own. Furthermore, political turmoil continues. Cyrus the Great of Persia overtakes Babylon and paves the way for the hope of return.
Even though Isaiah represents a book pieced together through two centuries, many of the themes connect to make a whole. The Prophet is concerned with the Holiness of God, which is manifest in the justice and righteousness exhibited by God’s people. It could be said that that the aim of the prophet is to bring into union, in a metaphorical marriage, the holiness of God and the justice implemented by God’s people. And while First Isaiah speaks of coming destruction, the grief of death and loss, there are glimmers of hope that God is faithful. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in his book “The Prophets,” writes of the timeless message of Third Isaiah: “It is prophecy tempered with human tears, mixed with a joy that heals all scars, clearing a way for understanding the future in spite of the present. No words have ever gone further in offering comfort when the sick world cries” (Heschel, 185).
Our sick world continues to cry and we find that we are in need of the voices of the prophets. Refugees continue to flee Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Congo, and Venezuela; leaving orphaned children and mass graves. Central American violence has forced the dislocation of thousands seeking asylum. Each year brings deadlier storms, rising oceans, and massive extinctions — the planet’s way of sharing that all is not well with our changing climate. Black bodies fill our prisons and are etched in chalk on our sidewalks. Our sick world continues to cry.
The Prophets of Scripture teach us how to lift the confusing tumult of national power positioning “from the level of political history to the level of understanding world history as a drama of redemption” (Heschel, 184). Heschel saw this drama of redemptive history as he marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the segregated South. We see it now in the Church of the Nazarene sending medical teams to live with and care for asylum seekers sitting at a Port of Entry in Tijuana, Mexico.
In our text for today, the prophet resolves to not sit passively quiet; instead, the proclaimed word of the prophet will continue until Zion’s “Righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch” (Is. 62:1). We are reminded of earlier texts that Israel is to be collectively like one who is appointed a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). The people of God themselves are “appointed a light to the Gentiles (Is. 49:6) and is given the name “The Servant of the Lord,” a particular designation for a called-out Prophet. Israel is now to be the conduit of God’s message of salvation to the world.
But the one who shines the light of God must be committed in covenant with God. Thus, the prophet transitions to the metaphor of marriage — no longer is Israel isolated and barren; she is to be called Beulah (“married”) and Hephzibah (“My delight is in her”). Israel’s sins have been judged, and the exiles are now back to a land famished by war. The prophet speaks of things to come as an impending certitude. A future hope of redemption changes the present; it transforms mourning to rejoicing.
It seems fitting that our lectionary texts this week pairs Isaiah 62 with the wedding in Cana. Jesus inaugurates his ministry with his first miracle – a celebration of a covenant. Things are not as they ought to be. Israel has passed from one empire to the next to now be over taxed and subjugated by the Romans. But the flip side of lament is hope — those who cry to God practice the “anguished discipline of turning to and around God” (Emmanuel Katongole, Born from Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa, 19). It is the practice of the Christian hopeful to find ways to practice gratitude, accept blessings as a gift, and learn the art of surprise everyday ‘resurrections.’ The potential of such gifts rests in a wedding. In times of stress and anxiety, death or destruction, we are need of divine interruption — a miracle of covenant renewal to remind us that God’s holiness is wedded to earthly justice.