I never thought I’d be comparing God to a used car dealer, but I found something funny in my Bible reading.
And I mean “funny” in both senses of the word.
In my Bible reading, I like to alternate between reading books of the Old and New Testament. I also try to alternate between “easy” books (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) and the “harder” books (Psalms for its length, Leviticus and Numbers for their repetition, and Revelation for its mystery). I had recently come out of my heavy work schedule, polished off I and II Timothy (intentionally – I am a deacon at my church, and wanted to apply myself more diligently), and looked to the OT for something more meaty.
I landed on Isaiah.
Isaiah is long, and Isaiah is deep. At 66 chapters, there’s a lot of reading there. That doesn’t bother me – I’m also working on a biography of Truman that clocks in at around a thousand pages. But with that book, I can put it down and pickup a different book, or a paper, or World Magazine or Linux Journal. With my Bible reading, unless I’m studying for a class or looking up a reference for somebody, it’s straight through until the end of the book.
Isaiah was also a prophet, and God gave him lots of prophecies. They applied to fairly local times (something is going to happen in just over a year) and several levels of distant time (many prophecies about Jesus’ birth, and some about Jesus’ triumphant return. I’m glad to have a commentary as part of my reading to help me sort it out.
But it’s not all work and no play. In Isaiah 2:6-8, God sets up a bait and switch – or rather He lets the listeners/readers fall into their own trap of assuming they know what God is going to say.
Verse 6 sets up the background of the story. The people of Israel have forsaken God (again) and turned to their own choices, with God walking away. Isaiah is asking God to come back to them.
For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob,
Because they are filled with influences from the east,
And they are soothsayers like the Philistines,
And they strike bargains with the children of foreigners.
And then Isaiah (speaking with God’s influence) gets into a rhythm. The first part of verse 7:
Their land has also been filled with silver and gold
And there is no end to their treasures;
Line A is “filled”, and line B is “no end”. It repeats in the last half of verse 7:
Their land has also been filled with horses
And there is no end to their chariots.
And then comes verse 8. It starts off the same way:
Their land has also been filled with idols;
Then comes the switch – “no end” has ended:
They worship the work of their hands,
That which their fingers have made.
Why is that? Was God trying to catch them in a “whoopsie”? No, that’s not it at all. The first two sets of things – treasures, and horses/chariots – are neutral. There is nothing inherently wrong with them. Like a knife or a gun, they can be used for good or for evil. But that last one, worshiping their own creation instead of their Creator, is wrong. God was trying to wake them from their complacency, both in the rhythm of the words and the rhythm of their lives.
Then, as now, God wants to be the center of each of us. Not on the side, not an assumption, not something where we know what God is going to say or do. God is a living, breathing Person. This is still coming up in my reading of Isaiah, but chapter 55, verse 9 has God telling us
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
It’s not quite a “shut up and listen”, but He certainly has the right to say it, and we certainly deserve to be told that.