Commentary on Isaiah 61:10—62:3
Isaiah’s poem is a song for today.
An overture resonant with the faithful witness of Simeon’s song and the witness of Anna, the prophet, at the circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:22-40). These songs are held together by doxology. The giving of thanks for what God has done. For God’s faithfulness. The song that the prophet sings echoes through time as it witnesses to the heart of who God is — the One who clothes the naked, who brings forth righteousness even among the nations.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God…” (Isaiah 61:10a)
While the song is in the first person — it is the singer’s thanksgiving — it is not the singer but the song that is most central. The song recalls God’s heart in such a way that the incarnation is figured. The movement of God toward God’s creation is not an innovation that happens with Jesus’ teaching ministry. Consider instead that the teaching ministry of the Incarnate Son and the proper work of the Son, that is his gifting of his righteousness to sinners and his life to the dying, resonates from the words of the prophet.
Upon closer examination, Isaiah’s text rings forth with multiple metaphors. In the structure of Isaiah 61:10-11, there are two significant images: marriage and gardening.
The first is a marriage metaphor. Such an image is of course not without its textual challenges1 and contemporary abuses.2 As it is here, however, the image is one of care. Of love. Of tenderness of God toward God’s creation. This is a marriage. A reason for celebration. A sign of commitment.
For the Lord “has clothed me with the garments of salvation,”
and “has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61.10)
The impetus for the song — for the doxology — is the tender movement of God toward God’s creation. All problems with the metaphor aside for a moment, the text is beautiful insofar as the Living God clothes us, God’s new partners, with salvation and righteousness. The very bits that are unachievable from the creature’s point of view become that which clothes us and keeps us warm.
For the second metaphor we wander out to the garden, which (at least in the northern hemisphere) is both a memory and an anticipation in the throws of winter. The garden at our house is dormant. The promise of the fresh summertime tastes of its yields (homemade salsa!) is covered with snow.
Yet, the garden is where Isaiah takes us on this First Sunday of Christmas.
“For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is down in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61.11)
The image here is one of germination. Forgive me for a moment, but I recall planting and waiting on a garden with our daughter. While there is a beauty in horticultural science, there is also a sense of awe and wonder at the dirt being cracked open by a sprout. In this metaphor, the prophet draws the connection between the earth and the garden, cognizant of whence life sprouts and the generative movement of the Lord God. And what does the Lord cause to spring forth? Righteousness and doxology. The song of Isaiah is itself the result of God’s generative movement.
And why this attention and care whether wedding or vegetable garden?
For the sake of the nations.
For the sake of the world.
That the world may know and take delight in God’s loving, nurturing movement toward creation.
1. It is incumbent upon the biblical interpret to be mindful of the abusive flip-side of the marriage analogy in Scripture, for example Ezekiel 16 and 23, passim.
2. It seems fair to say that Christians have had a tendency to abuse the marriage images in Scripture with a particular proficiency. In what is (save the anomaly of Ezekiel) is intended as a grace-filled movement, when the metaphor is applied to human relationships the regular imbalance and abuse of power is disturbing and should not be ignored.
December 31, 2017