One of the greatest difficulties of reading prophecy is to stay within the text, by which I mean listening to the words as they were written, not as they came to be interpreted in the future. For prophecy, this means dwelling in the time and place that they were first proclaimed, and considering, along with the original hearer, what they might mean. This is no small discipline, but will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the riches of God’s word.
Isaiah 61 is a prime illustration of this dilemma. In chapter 61, the prophet proclaims that “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me… to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…” Put yourself into the imagination of the Jewish listener. You are the poor one; you are the brokenhearted, the captive, the prisoner. What does it mean for the prophet to declare the Year of the LORD’s favor? What does it mean to be healed, released, unbound?
This approaching moment – a Day or Year of the LORD – will be definitive and singular, yet its impact will vary according to ones’ relationship and obedience to the LORD. Tables will be turned and overturned. It will be a moment of both vengeance and freedom. Foreigners will tend the flocks, and dress the vines, and plow the fields for Israel, but “you shall be called the priest of the LORD; they shall speak of you as ministers of your God… For I, the LORD, love justice…”
The final oracle reads again like a Psalm of memory: “I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us.” It remembers when the LORD “became their savior,” how Israel “rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them.” However, when Israel “remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people…” he also remembered to pray, “Look down from heaven and see… For you are our Father…our Redeemer of old is your name…”
Our verse for this week is Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Isaiah 61 through 63. Now let’s read it!
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”