A Reflection on Isaiah 11:1-10
Poetry. The art of God.
OK, OK, I agree that all art is of God, but poetry is the art form we often call The Word of God.
The Bible is poetry.
Almost all of it.
Even the bits that appear to be narrative are actually narrative poetry. The words written on paper were meant to be memorized and recited by poetic story tellers. Therefore, they were written in a poetic fashion easily memorized. Remember, up until just the past 100 years or so, the vast majority of people who encountered the stories of the Bible, encountered them through the lips of story tellers. It’s true, until just recently 90% or more of all people were illiterate (Even today, the U.S. is #125 on the list of literate countries. We are 86% literate, falling behind Jamaica, Botswana, Burundi, and Oman.)
It has been fashionable in some denominations to believe that the words written in the Bible should be read literally by the literate. Unfortunately, this simply does not work. It is impossible to read poetry literally. Poetry speaks to us where we are within a particular context in our lives. It has the potential to unveil new meanings with every reading.
For example, Jason Grey is a poet who wrote a song about the incarnation called I Will Find a Way. This is how he describes the effect his own poem has on him…
“What I like about it is that it refuses to be reduced, categorized, and then shelved. Something about the messiness of it forces me to engage it (and therefore the mystery of the incarnation) every time.” Click here to read the article.
This is probably how the poets who wrote the book of Isaiah would describe their work. Their poetry forces us to engage God in the messiness of everyday life. We are challenged to seek God now instead of waiting stagnantly.
Isaiah son of Amoz offers us this poem:
“A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the LORD,
just as the water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples.
The nations will seek him out,
and his dwelling will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:8-10 CEB)”
Prophecy? Poetry? Both?
Why do we have to view this as an end-time revelation? It certainly could talk about how God intends for us to live our lives today. However… Imagine if we worked to craft our society so that we could let our children play unobserved in public spaces without worrying that they would be killed by “poisonous snakes?” Why do we put up with politicians and social systems that do not actively work for such a vision? Have we given up on God’s vision for our lives? Or do we just hope that God will make it happen because we don’t know how to bring this vision to reality?
What if we truly sought out God? What if we truly dedicated our lives to living the Way of God? Well, then our lives might just might look like this:
“A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:1-4 CEB)”
This text is always interpreted to be prophecy of a time when the Messiah comes to rule the earth. But… what if it is not just that? What if WE are the shoot growing up from the stump? What if we are called to live as the poem describes? What if we chose not to judge by appearance or by hearsay? What if we looked at people with the heart of God instead of looking at them with our own eyes? What if the Spirit has descended upon us, and is waiting for us to grasp that vision?
Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh spent his career trying to describe the imminence of God in our lives, in all of creation. Oh, if we could all learn to see as he sees…
“O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me
In a web of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech.
Feed the gaping need of my senses.
Give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honored with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.
PATRICK KAVANAGH, FROM “CANAL BANK WALK”
This is the week of Advent in which we meditate on Hope. May we see the hope that God has for us, even as we hope for revelations from God. May we seek God out with our entire beings, with the expectations of discovering the Divine Dwelling place here in our lives, and may we discover that Dwelling Place to be truly glorious; perhaps it will be constructed of blue and green things that cannot be proven…