divine exasperation

“God the Father”, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel


Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 25, 2007)

Isaiah 43:14-28

The lectionary reading actually stops at verse 21. This is understandable, as “that they may proclaim my praise” is a much happier ending than verse 28: “So I will disgrace the dignataries of your temple, and I will consign Jacob to destruction, and Israel to scorn.”

What is actually going on here? I still find it difficult to drop right into the middle of Isaiah and figure him out. With long books like this a good commentary can really help. One of my favorite one-volume commentaries on the whole bible is _The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition_ by IVP. The notes there confirmed my suspicion: v. 28 is a key verse for Isaiah chapter 43. The Hebrew word used for “destruction” in v. 28 is HEREM, which is the strongest possible term that could be used. HEREM was something you did to Jericho or the Amalekites. Would God really want to HEREM his own people?!

The strange thing is that in the very next verse, 44:1, God is singing a very different tune: “But now listen Jacob, … Israel whom I have chosen.” Let’s review our interpretive options:
1) Chapter 44 wasn’t written by the same guy who wrote chapter 43
2) God is schizophrenic
3) God is exasperated

My vote is for option “3”. God delivered his people out of Egypt, and into the promised land, giving them chance upon chance to get right with him. How did Israel respond? By burdening God with their sins and wearying him with their offenses. What an obtuse group of people those Israelites were!

Yet are we any different? Have we thanked God today for forgiving our sins and providing for us abundantly? Or are we too caught up in ourselves even to give any of this a thought? The good news is that even when our behavior leads God himself to the point of exasparation, his commitment to love us and save us overrides even his own desire to destroy us and be done with it. Not even divine exasperation can separate God’s people from the love of Christ.

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