In my twenties I decided to read through the book of Isaiah in one sitting. Just when I was getting ready to quit (there’s only so many oracles of doom and gloom you can read at one time), I reached chapter forty and found myself awash with consolations. The poetry was outstanding, the imagery compelling, and the words of comfort brought tears to my eyes. Isaiah has been my favorite book of the Bible ever since that day.
Isaiah is composed of three sections, each written by different writers, all writing under the auspices of Isaiah. First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) tends to be filled with oracles of destruction. There is more narrative than the succeeding sections. Written before the exile in Babylon and destruction of Jerusalem, God’s people have turned away from the one true God. The prophet calls upon the people to repent.
Second Isaiah (40-55) offers words of comfort to a people in exile. They have suffered enough and will soon be restored, the prophet proclaims. Written during the time of exile, it includes messianic references to a suffering servant. Third Isaiah (56-66) is the return from exile and work of rebuilding a land devastated by war and conquest.
During Advent many of the Old Testament church readings are taken from each of these sections. They feature some of my favorite passages: passages about beating swords into plowshares, lions lying down with lambs, flowers blooming in the desert, and rejoicing at the coming of the Lord. Each Advent I look forward to taking some time with these passages, reflecting on God’s words of comfort and hope.
The Psalms are wonderful poetic hymns to God, but they don’t encompass all of the poetry of the Bible. Some of the finest examples of Hebrew poetry are found in the prophets, particularly Isaiah. In light of these factors, I’m going to continue my hiatus from my weekly psalms in order to focus on the poetry of Isaiah during the Advent and Christmas season. Each week I will be giving you a “cup of Advent”: just a taste of the richness of these passages. I hope you will enjoy this diversion into the poetry of Isaiah as much as I do.