Epiphany II--Jan. 14, 2007
Bill Long 1/2/07
The NRSV of this passage is as follows:
"For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder (or "your sons") marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you."
Three things of significance for understanding this passage are: (1) an appreciation of the flow or larger context of this passage; (2) the removal of Israel's "old name"; (3) the bestowal of the new name--"My Delight Is in Her."
I. Understanding the Context
For more than a century scholars have divided Isaiah's prophetic message into three sections: (a) 1-39; (b) 40-55; (c) 56-66. Even if we posit separate authorship for the three sections, however, we recognize they are thematically linked so that the overall prophecy of Isaiah speaks with one voice. The themes of this passage are adumbrated earlier; the new name of 62:3 is foreshadowed by the new song of 42:10; the notion of God's delight in Israel helps to answer the long-standing complaint that God does not "delight" in the sacrifices of the people (1:11). Seen in this light, the message of 40-66 is a "response" to the "call" of 1-39. In 1-39 the message was desolation and judgment and divine displeasure; in 40-66 we see God's presence and blessing and delight.
Even within the section of 56-66 we see the larger drama of Isaiah in miniature. Is. 56-59 probes themes of divine dissatisfaction because of the unrighteousness of the people (e.g., "The righeous perish, and not one takes it to heart--57:1; or "Israel's sentinels are blind, they are all without knowledge"--56:10), while Is. 60-62 explore themes of salvation and hope. Who can forget the brilliant and exuberant hope of Is. 60:1--"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you"-- or the even more well known Is 61:1-- "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed..." It is in this context that our reading for today, Is. 62:1-5 is found. It is in the "upbeat" section of Is. 56-66. The bold and hopeful message of 62:1-5 is that God will no longer remain silent (v.1; see 57:11, where God admits to keeping silent) but will grant a new name to the people. But this new name will come in the midst of scintillating beauty and honor (v.3), witnessed by the kings of the earth. Thus, Israel's and our hope rests on a divine decision not to remain silent and to provide us a new name. The rest of my reflection concerns that name.
II. The New Name--What it Isn't
We shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. But note first that the author tells us what we will no longer be called. No longer are we called "Forsaken" or "Desolate." There will be a great "instead." Part of the appeal of Isaiah's rhetoric in this part of the book is through his use of "instead" language. For example, when the spirit of the Lord comes upon the prophet to enable him to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (61:2), he says that this will "provide for those who mourn in Zion--to give them a garland instead of ashes." Or, even more trenchant: "Instead of bronze I will bring gold, instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron" (60:17). The theme of "instead" betokens a change in circumstance. The tent that was small would be enlarged; the children of the desolate will be more than of her that is married. Indeed, "you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns" (54:3). Thus, note the contrasts in Is. 62. It bespeaks a great "instead" that will lead to redemption.
But what will this "instead" lead to? Well, Israel will no longer be called "Desolate" (v. 4). Can't we hear an echo of 1:7 in this verse: "Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence alients devour your land; it is desolate" (1:7). Desolation has been with the people for 60 chapters; now they will no longer be called "Desolate." No longer, also will they be called "Forsaken" (v. 4). The passage that comes to mind to illustrate the forsakenness of the people is not from Isaiah but from Lamentations:
"How lonely sits the city/ that once was full of people!/ How like a widow she has become,/ she that was great among the nations!/ She that was a princess among the provinces/ has become a vassal" (Lam. 1:1).
The spirit and experience of forsakenness stung and dogged the people. "How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land," they complained? This, then, was the former condition or name of the people. How will it change? Read on.
III. The New Name--What it Is
The author moves right to what that new name is: "My Delight is in Her" (v. 4). In the next verse the image of a wedding is used: "as the bridgroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." Rejoicing and delight now fill the air. So joyfully sudden and complete is the change. We ought not to leave the text before exploring the concept of delight. Usually in the Scriptures it is the people who are said to delight in God--"Delight yourself in the Lord, and the Lord will give you the desires of your heart" (Ps. 37:4). We also have the concept a few chapters earlier in Isaiah.
"If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight....then shall you take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth" (58:13-14).
But note that all of these passages suggest the priority of our delighting in God. In contrast, we have God's delight in Israel in 62:1-5. It is almost as if we are exhorted to delight in God so that we will truly be able to understand and appreciate God's delight in us!
But that is the Good News for today. Our new name will be "My Delight is in Her." God will rejoice over us. For those who have too long walked through the valley of the shadow, who have felt the sting of reproach, rejection or despair, there is the word now of God's delighting in the people. That is a message that will melt the most obdurate heart.