Introduction to Isaiah
Isaiah is a book with a good number of what you might call "mood swings" in it. It goes back and forth between describing the total destruction of all nations and human civilization (boo), to looking forward to a time of universal peace and goodness (yay). This is because Isaiah—or the people who put together Isaiah's book, arranging the prophecies—lived at a time when destruction and retribution seemed to be at hand. At roughly 800 BCE, Assyria was attacking Israel (which, in the Bible, is a pretty typical Assyrian move), and Isaiah was trying to explain how this was really the result of Israel's own sins. But on the plus side: he also keeps predicting a future time when it all gets better.
Isaiah was a person—but he was also a tradition. The Book of Isaiah wasn't, as a whole, written entirely by the original prophet named Isaiah. Many parts of it were written by other people who were inspired by him, and wrote under his name, in his style—kind of like "fan fiction," except this was extremely high quality, prophetic fan fiction (not some sort of "Harry Potter marries Hermione" alternate fantasy thing). Of course, plenty of people believe it was written by one person, but this is the way scholars of Hebrew typically break down the text to try to understand it:
Originally, scholars thought that there were three different "Isaiahs"—known respectively as Proto Isaiah (Chapters 1-39), Deutero-Isaiah (Chapters 40-55), and Trito Isaiah (chapters 56-66). (This is basically a fun, Latin way to say First, Second, and Third Isaiah.) But now it seems like there were (possibly) many more. The relationship between all these different "Isaiahs" is sort of like the way the band Dread Zeppelin does reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs, except that the original Isaiah's imitators were much more talented and inspired than the consciously not-good members of Dread Zeppelin.
Isaiah fits into the Bible as one of the prophets at the top of the bill—his book is filled with classic examples of the kind of things you would expect a Biblical prophet to say. He's definitely a "major" prophet, and not at all a minor one. In fact, he's up in the big leagues with Ezekiel and Jeremiah, since the books bearing their names are also long and full of plenty of striking images, visions, and predictions. Isaiah has always been a big hit with Christians, too, since they usually interpret him as prophesying the coming of Jesus with his famous passages about the "Suffering Servant." Some have even called Isaiah the "Fifth Gospel" (so, you know, the book's got that going for it).
Whereas Ezekiel's visions are really far-out, and Jeremiah's visions are saturated with gloom and doom, Isaiah's visions always reach towards the hope of finding peace and rest at last. He helps center the other prophets by keeping his eyes on the prize, looking forward to the finale at the end of time, the moment when peace and love are finally allowed to rule overall.
What is the Book of Isaiah About and Why Should I Care?
Well… Isaiah really cares that you care. He's an intense guy, and he wants your attention. He can speak with the voice of God, and he strongly thinks you should hear what it's saying. So, with the dude insistently tugging at your sleeve, are you really going to ignore him?
Maybe—if you've got no idea what he's talking about. But what Isaiah has to offer up is something pretty important: a description of the lowest lows and the highest highs that human beings can conceive of. On the one hand, he's spinning out various visions of total destruction: the wrath of God destroys entire nations and cities, annihilating every man, woman, and child.
But the highs might capture your attention, as well—although they lack the destructive flair of the lows, which you can picture as being like so many well-wrought death-metal album covers. Isaiah continually balances out the massive-scale slaughter with visions of world-wide peace and love. He sees that planet earth will end up being a place where "the lion lies down with the lamb", and where you can play with poisonous snakes without fear of getting bitten.
So, Isaiah isn't just about bringing the wrath, he's also about bringing the love (he's maybe even more about bringing the love, in the end). While reading Isaiah, though, you can keep looking at both aspects. You can also keep wondering whether this is the worst that we're capable of envisioning and the best that we're capable of envisioning—to see how far your imagination can reach in either direction. Isaiah says that wrath will ultimately give way to forgiveness and mercy. He holds the nice stuff and the not-so-nice stuff up against each other.
The God Isaiah represents is a God of strict justice, but he's also merciful. This might seem to be a contradiction, since pure justice and pure mercy can't really exist at the same time (since you can't forgive someone while simultaneously punishing them)—and in Isaiah, they don't exist at the same time. The justice and wrath of God decimate everyone and pretty much everything for a span of time, but in the end, they fall away totally. What you're left with is a vision of what living in a world governed entirely by mercy would look like and as, it turns out, it's pretty sweet.
The chance to wrestle with these issues—to explore the contradictions between mercy and justice on the page and in your own life—is one of the most important reasons to take an interest in Isaiah. After all, what could be more basic than that? They're big concepts, tough to work your mind around, but rewarding just the same. So, buckle up and dive into all that Mercy and Justice, Love and War.
Wednesday before Laetare Sunday
Isaiah, Chapter 7, Verse 3-6
3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah: Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field, 4 and say to him: Take care you remain calm and do not FEAR; do not let your courage fail before these two stumps of smoldering brands, the blazing anger of Rezin and the Arameans and of the son of Remaliah— 5 because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you. They say, 6 “Let us go up against Judah, tear it apart, make it our own by force, and appoint the son of Tabeel king there.
These verses contain a series of oracles and narratives, all closely related to the Syro-Ephraimite war of 735–732 B.C. Several passages feature three children whose symbolic names refer to the Lord’s purposes: Shear-jashub, Emmanuel, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Judah and its Davidic dynasty should trust God’s promises and not fear the combined armies of Israel and Syria; within a very short time these two enemy states will be destroyed, and David’s dynasty will continue. Human plans contrary to those of the Lord are doomed to frustration.
Isaiah tells King Ahaz that the invasion will be unsuccessful and tells him to ask God for a sign. Ahaz refuses, claiming he does not want to test God. Isaiah then announces that God himself will choose the sign:
A young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.— Isaiah 7:14-16
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.— Isaiah 8:18
Wednesday before Laetare Sunday
Prayer. GRANT us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that, instructed by wholesome fasting, and abstaining from dangerous vices, we may more easily obtain Thy favor.
EPISTLE. Exodus xx. 12-24.
Thus, saith the Lord God: Honor thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house: neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his ser vant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his. And all the people saw the voices and the flames, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mount smoking: and being terrified and struck with fear, they stood afar off, saying to Moses: Speak thou to us, and we will hear: let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die. And Moses said to the people: Fear not: for God has come to prove you, and that the dread of Him might be in you, and you should not sin. And the people stood afar off. But Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was. And the Lord said to Moses: Thus, shalt thou say to the children of Israel: You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver, nor shall you make to yourselves gods of gold. You shall make an altar of earth unto Me, and you shall offer upon it your holocausts and peace-offerings, your sheep and oxen, in every place where the memory of My name shall be.
GOSPEL. Matt. xv. 1-20.
At that time there came to Jesus from Jerusalem scribes and Pharisees, saying: Why do Thy disciples transgress the traditions of the ancients? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But He answering, said to them: Why do you also transgress the commandment of God for your tradition? For God said: Honor thy father and mother; and: He that shall curse father or mother, let him die the death. But you say: Whosoever shall say to father or mother, the gift whatso ever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee; and he shall not honor his father or his mother: and you have made void the commandment of God for jour tradition. Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying: This people honoreth Me with their lips: but their heart is far from Me. And in vain do they worship Me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men. And having called together the multitudes unto Him, He said to them: Hear ye and understand. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but what cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came His disciples, and said to Him: Dost Thou know that the Pharisees, when they heard this word, were scandalized?
But He answering, said: Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit. And Peter answering, said to Him: Expound to us this parable. But He said: Are you also yet without understanding? Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy? But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man. For from the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man. But to eat with unwashed hands doth not defile a man.
Mid-Lent, the week from the Wednesday before to the Wednesday after Laetare Sunday, is a note of joy within the context of sorrow. The perfect symbol of this complex emotion is the rose vestments worn on Laetare Sunday instead of penitential purple or exultant white. Rose stands somewhere in between, as a sort of joyous variation of purple. The last day of Mid-Lent is when catechumens would learn the Apostles' Creed for the first time; the days leading up to that great revelation were thus for them a cause for gladness. This spirit eventually permeated to the rest of the community as "a measure of consoling relaxation... so that the faithful might not break down under the severe strains of the Lenten fast but may continue to bear the restrictions with a refreshed and easier heart" (Pope Innocent III (d. 1216)).
Mid-Lent customs predominantly involve pre-Christian celebrations concerning the "burial" of winter, where flower decorations and the like betoken the joyous end of the cold and dark. There are also customs involving either matchmaking or announcing the engagements of young couples. In either case, a joyous meal is celebrated during this time.
In England Laetare Sunday came to be known as "Mothering" Sunday because it was the day that apprentices and students were released from their duties to visit their mother church, i.e., the church in which they had been baptized and brought up. This custom tied into the theme of Mother Jerusalem.
The Bible is a weapon and in the hands of the untrained, “You could shoot your eye out kid”. Therefore, the Bible should be handled with care. Using an approved translation of the Bible; we should approach scripture reading in light of the liturgy and church Dogmas. “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture.” (Pope Benedict XVI) Dogmas are the Church’s infallible interpretation of Scripture. In the 1970’s the Catholic Church revised its lectionary—the order of scriptural readings for the Mass. The readings now unfold in a three-year cycle and include almost all the books of both testaments of the Bible. The great thing about lectionary is that it presents the scriptures and also teaches us a method of understanding the Scriptures: Showing us a consistent pattern of promise and fulfillment. The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed the New. Perhaps a good practice would be for us to read the daily scripture in the lectionary, maybe even before Mass.
"Lectio Divina", a Latin term, means "divine reading" and describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk called Guigo, described the stages which he saw as essential to the practice of Lectio Divina. There are various ways of practicing Lectio Divina either individually or in groups but Guigo's description remains fundamental.
1. He said that the first stage is lectio (reading) where we read the Word of God, slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us. Any passage of Scripture can be used for this way of prayer, but the passage should not be too long.
2. The second stage is meditatio (reflection) where we think about the text we have chosen and ruminate upon it so that we take from it what God wants to give us.
3. The third stage is oratio (response) where we leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.
4. The final stage of Lectio Divina is contemplatio (rest) where we let go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. Obviously, this transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer. We must take what we read in the Word of God into our daily lives.
These stages of Lectio Divina are not fixed rules of procedure but simply guidelines as to how the prayer normally develops. Its natural movement is towards greater simplicity, with less and less talking and more listening. Gradually the words of Scripture begin to dissolve, and the Word is revealed before the eyes of our heart. How much time should be given to each stage depends very much on whether it is used individually or in a group.
The practice of Lectio Divina as a way of praying the Scriptures has been a fruitful source of growing in relationship with Christ for many centuries and in our own day is being rediscovered by many individuals and groups. The Word of God is alive and active and will transform each of us if we open ourselves to receive what God wants to give us.Aids in Battle When the enemy seeks to discourage
When dismayed or grieved let these scriptural promises lift up your soul in trust and hope. Listen to our Lords words of encouragement, and consolation.
· Because children have blood and flesh in common, so He in the same way has shared in these, so that through death He might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is, the Devil; and might deliver them who, throughout their life, were kept in servitude by fear of death. Heb 2: 14– 15
· Christ has risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made to live. But each in his own turn, Christ as first-fruits, then those who are Christ’s, who have believed, at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He does away with all sovereignty, authority, and power. For He must reign until “He has put all things under His feet.” 1 Cor 15: 20– 25
· You shall not fear them; for it is the LORD your God who fights for you. Dt 3: 22
· You draw near this day to battle against your enemies: Let not your heart faint; do not fear, or tremble, or be in dread of them; for the LORD your God is He that goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory. Dt 20: 3– 4
· No evil will befall the man who fears the LORD, but in trial He will deliver him again and again. Sir 33: 1
· I give them everlasting life, and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. Jn 10: 28
 Goffine’s Devout Instructions, 1896
 Hahn, Scott, Signs of Life; 40 Catholic Customs and their biblical roots. Chap. 16. Bible Study.
Thigpen, Paul. Manual for Spiritual Warfare. TAN Books.