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Isaiah 2:12-22 – A Day against the Proud

Summary

In God's judgment, all that is proud and lofty, that is, all that attempts to put itself in the place of God, will be humbled. God alone will be exalted.

Analysis

Here is another side of the "day of the Lord" theme. Most often in the eighth century B.C.E., the Day of the Lord was thought to be the time of God's great defeat of the enemies of Israel. Babylon is summoned by Isaiah to "Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty!" (13:6). Israel, of course, would rejoice (12:1-2). Sometimes that day was seen to be ushered in by historical events; sometimes it seems to look beyond history as we know it.

But prophets like Isaiah and Amos also gave the notion a new twist: now, as in this text, the Lord's Day could be directed against Judah (or Israel, in other texts) as well as against the nations. Amos makes it most clear: "Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light" (Amos 5:18).

This is a very significant move in biblical theology, for it marks a striking shift away from the general religious notion that obviously "our god" is on "our side" and that the superiority of a god is shown by decisive victories against the "enemies." Such a view can and does lead to dangerous notions of pride. But, as Isaiah points out in this text, such pride itself is perhaps the greatest impediment to fidelity and obedience to God. The danger to life and salvation is so great that God must proclaim a "day" in which all such pride and haughtiness will be humbled. Only God will be exalted--that is, worshiped and lifted up as God. The text seems to understand with Genesis 3 that the attempt to "be like God" is the most basic human sin.

This recognition of the chosen or the self as the problem, rather than seeing the other as the problem, is a step in the direction of a theology that can welcome all, for all are equally in need of God's salvation. This step is taken in other "day of the Lord" passages in Isaiah, which look forward to a day of salvation not just for Israel but for all (for example, 2:2-4). Nevertheless, Israel's positive "day" can still remain terribly negative for the nations (25:9-12).

Although First Isaiah uses the Day of the Lord theme more often than any of the other eighth-century prophets, it shows up only once or twice in Isaiah 40-66 (positively in 52:6; see a related use in 63:4, negatively). Perhaps because of the ambiguity of the Day of the Lord theme, it was not one of the traditions of God's future that lent itself well to the fuller universalistic perspective of God's saving work in the second half of the book.

Isaiah 2:12-22


12 For the Lord of hosts has a day
   against all that is proud and lofty,
   against all that is lifted up and high;*
13 against all the cedars of Lebanon,
   lofty and lifted up;
   and against all the oaks of Bashan;
14 against all the high mountains,
   and against all the lofty hills;
15 against every high tower,
   and against every fortified wall;
16 against all the ships of Tarshish,
   and against all the beautiful craft.*
17 The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
   and the pride of everyone shall be brought low;
   and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
18 The idols shall utterly pass away.
19 Enter the caves of the rocks
   and the holes of the ground,
from the terror of the Lord,
   and from the glory of his majesty,
   when he rises to terrify the earth.
20 On that day people will throw away
   to the moles and to the bats
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
   which they made for themselves to worship,
21 to enter the caverns of the rocks
   and the clefts in the crags,
from the terror of the Lord,
   and from the glory of his majesty,
   when he rises to terrify the earth.
22 Turn away from mortals,
   who have only breath in their nostrils,
   for of what account are they?

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10 February 2011

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