Thursday, January 29, 2009

TCITB: Cht 5 - Isaiah

from Chapter 5
"Look! The Children and I Are as Signs and Portents in Israel"
Children in Isaiah

Jacqueline E. Lapsley

Isaiah is known as a prophetic book. Various faith communities define "prophetic" in different ways. My brain started a bit distracted by prophetic implications but soon refocused on the rich picture language of the book, made richer by Ms. Lapsley's understanding of language and culture, and it's implications for our attitudes towards children. There is a lot in this chapter that I am not even remotely qualified to explore in a blog - endless opportunities to ponder her observations and what they mean to us but here are some basic things that jumped out at me.

Ms. Lapsley examines various "images of children that appear in Isaiah, including the prophet's own children, his focus on orphans, and the way Israel itself is described metaphorically as a child in the book." (TCITB p. 82) She says that the children in Isaiah may seem "background figures for the primary drama of God's judgement and promise of redemption, but upon closer reading they come to the fore. . . The fortunes and faithfulness of Israel are represented in the welfare of Israel's children" and, she believes, humanity in general. (TCITB p. 82-3) and likewise, God's judgement. It's rather interesting that children are so much a part of the scriptures but we don't see them unless we look.

"Regarding the need to protect the powerless from the greed of the powerful, the emphasis in the Torah is less on rights and more on the responsibilities of those in power." She says the language used in the OT for what we think of as "rights" has less to do with the rights of the victim and more to do with "the responsibility of making sure that the welfare of these vulnerable individuals be upheld according to the law." (TCITB p. 86) The way I understand it, this means that responsibility for justice and mercy lies in the hands of those making the decisions.

"The relationship between the child Israel and God the parent is a fundamental one that pervades much of the Hebrew Bible." (TCITB p. 87) She discusses different dimensions of this role including but not limited to God's understanding of motherhood, God's experience with rebellious children and adoption, God's tenderness and His delight and playfulness, naming. (TCITB 91-102)

I'm wondering where our system falls on God's spectrum. The scriptures were written in a time when women worked hard but widows, orphans, and the fatherless were very dependent on marriage and family for economic and social welfare. Today, women are encouraged (allowed? expected?) to look out for themselves (and their children). Yet in ancient Israel God judged Israel for intentionally withholding legal justice and provision from widows and orphans. Ms. Lapsley's explorations of this book suggest that God's expectations far exceeded basic charity and hard-work.(TCITB p. 88)

Referring to language used (and the words used to name one of Isaiah's children) she says, "The appearance here of 'spoil' and 'prey,' which are wartime practices, signals that, far from engaging in benign neglect, the rulers are waging war against their own helpless women and children." Lapsley continues, "that the enemies are one's own leaders is shocking indeed." (TCITB p. 89) God is judging them because the practices of their leaders, in a sense, wage war on widows and orphans - on those who have no power.

Her understanding and the word pictures that she paints add great depth to our traditional understanding of Isaiah 9-12. (TCITB p. 89-90) Earlier she mentions that an after-life wasn't part of Hebrew thinking but that God's promises for the future were promises for future generations in this life. Another Hebrew scholar I've read said the same thing. I find that profound for more reasons than I can post here. I have to say that lions lying down with lambs, children safely working to contribute to the good of their families, and nursing babes safely playing beside the holes of venomous snakes in this life is even more awe-inspiring to me as evidence of God's blessing than visualizing those things in heaven. (TCITB p. 90)

This is a very small dose of all there is to ponder in this chapter. I'm impressed by her ability to "see" the children in this book. There is also a very different long-range, though not sentimental, multi-faceted appreciation for children in Isaiah that may be fast disappearing in our own culture. But who knows. Maybe this is the generation that will take it back.

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