Foundations

Wednesday

Isaiah 58

9bIf you remove the yoke from among you,
     the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
     and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
     and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
     and satisfy your needs in parched places,
     and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
     like a spring of water,
     whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
     you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
     the restorer of streets to live in.
13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
     from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
     and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
     serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
     and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
     for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

English: Avdat: view from top of Tell Avdat to...

English: Avdat: view from top of Tell Avdat to the Negev Photo by Uri Juda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The city still lies in ruins.  Lamentations declares it has become the haunt of jackals.  With the city sacked and its people taken into captivity or scattered among the surrounding countries, wildlife came to scavenge and take shelter among the rubble.  The plaintive cry of the owl echoes through abandoned streets at night.  By the time the prophet speaks, it has been at least 50 years.

The first returning exiles cleared the rubble from the place where the altar of burnt offerings once stood and built a new one, but how much more?  Perhaps they cleared the steps that led up to the temple doors, though the doors themselves had been stripped of their bronze and burned.  The rich and fragrant cedar-lined walls of the temple are but ash long washed away by the rains.  When the beams burned, the roof caved in and walls collapsed   Do the two great pillars that guarded the door lie in pieces behind the altar?

No one could gather to offer sacrifices without being reminded of all that had been lost.  And it is not only the house of God that is crumbled, but the palace, the homes of the great families, the city walls and gates, the public pools and markets.  It is a city haunted by the cries of its dead and the lost hopes and dreams of a people.

It is not easy to speak in such a time.  No one is interested in cheap promises.  No one wants to hear blame for what brought them to such an end.  For many, talk of God is best left unsaid, filled as it is with unanswerable questions and broken hopes.

The word given to the prophet speaks a sweet and gentle promise, guiding them back to the basics.  God doesn’t ask the people to be optimistic; he asks them to be faithful: to feed the hungry, care for those in need, and honor the Sabbath.

Later prophets will challenge the people to rebuild the city walls and the temple, but first God speaks of spiritual foundations.  From unfaithfulness, the city came to ruin.  From faithfulness, a new city shall arise on its ancient foundations.

Then your light shall rise in the darkness
      and your gloom be like the noonday…
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
      you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
      the restorer of streets to live in.

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