The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” 2 So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. 3 Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4 For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”
5 The Lord spoke to me again:
6 “Because this people has rejected
the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin
and the son of Remaliah,
7 therefore the Lord is about to bring against them
the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—
the king of Assyria with all his pomp.
It will overflow all its channels,
run over all its banks
8 and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,
9 Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!
Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
propose your plan, but it will not stand,
for God is with us.
11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:
12 “Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
14 He will be a holy place;
for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.”
16 Bind up this testimony of warning
and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
17 I will wait for the Lord,
who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.
18 Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.
19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
Since this is our first dealing with Isaiah, here’s a very brief background before we dive into the text: Isaiah was a prophet writing during the decline of Israel and expansion of Assyria around 700 BC. He took a wife (the prophetess), and had two sons, the second of whom is named here. (His son’s name means “quick to plunder,” and is part of Isaiah’s prophecies. How’s that for some family-name baggage?) The chunk of text this chapter comes from specifically is warning the King against certain alliances, and the wrath of God if Israel doesn’t listen. But, the beauty of all these OT prophets is that their words transcend their time, hence they’re included in our Bible. Yes, Isaiah was warning against the Assyrians, but he was also talking about the coming Messiah, and many of his messages (my favorite being for “complacent women” in another chapter) still have wisdom to share with us today, so let’s talk about it.
Here, God is calling Isaiah to stand apart, to not be like the people of Judah or Jerusalem who have placed their trust in the wrong things. This distresses God. These nations have “rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah” (8:6), a stream in Jerusalem and also a metaphor for God’s love and gentle commandments. As a punishment, God is allowing the King of Assyria, characterized as the “mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates,” (8:7) to attack Israel. Isaiah allows for a ray of hope – not all will be lost because God is with us (also the meaning of Immanuel, another name for Jesus, and why I chose to read this chapter).
What I find most interesting is that God will cause not only opposing nations but his own people to stumble. In 8:14 he says: “For both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.” But isn’t God also our hope and salvation? 8:13 just affirmed “the Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy.” So why would our holy God make his own people stumble?
Here’s my take on it: I don’t think he’s causing us to stumble at all, I think it’s our own fault. God’s commandments are based in love. Yes, even the Old Testament ones, and when we wield them like a weapon we misuse his gifts to us, and end up harming ourselves even more than those we set out to harm. This gets back a little bit to reading the Bible holistically and in context. It’s important to read the Bible for the greater truths of love and acceptance, practices that will bring us together, rather than getting hung up, or, if you will, stumbling upon, the passages that divide. When a Christian says “I hate Muslims” or “Gays can’t be Christians” or “Women are less than men” because the Bible says so, they are stumbling. The word of God has become a trap and a snare for them, because their heart isn’t open to His light.
Now, before anyone calls me a hypocrite for hating on conservative Christians with that last paragraph let me just state that I don’t hate them. Also, I believe in their belief in God. I just think they have a lot of spiritual maturing to do. The reason I call them out so much is because their actions are leading to the harm of others. Intolerant attitudes lead to inequitable societies, and this often leads to violence. That is unacceptable. Here’s another parenting metaphor for you. Let’s just assume I’ll have one per blog-post, shall we? You expect a small child to misbehave sometimes. Maybe a lot of times. That small child still loves you and you still love them. But if that child starts hurting someone else, you’re going to step in and stop it, right? I can’t go around putting conservative Christians in time-out until they’ve thought about what they’ve done, but my earnest hope is that all of us will become a little more thoughtful about our actions, and how they impact others.
The best way to change minds is to lead by example. “Here am I,” Isaiah declares in 8:18, “and the children the Lord has given to me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty.” In these last few days of Advent, as we prepare for Jesus’ return, let us think about how we can be signs and symbols from the Lord Almighty. I want to prepare a world for Him that is kind, and equitable, and worthy of returning to. That starts with acceptance and love. Big actions, like charity work, are great. But kind words for a trying neighbor or coworker, holding the door for the woman in a headscarf, not staring condescendingly at the non-binary person in line…all of these seemingly little actions also add up and make the world a better place. Through these mindful little actions, the stone upon which we once stumbled can become the foundation for our Faith, and a platform from which we can be an example to all the world.