If human beings ever had a reason to feel pessimistic, it was during the time of Isaiah the prophet in the 8th century BC. The world was in political turmoil.
The nation of Assyria was ascending in power and gobbling up vast amounts of land. Israel and Judah had experienced the violence of Assyria when the Assyrian army swooped down in military soirees, totally destroying the northern part of Israel and also punishing the southern part. Countries surrounding Israel were trying unsuccessfully to create political alliances to withstand Assyria’s gathering power.
During the time of Isaiah there was governmental corruption, political intrigue, international disruption, and natural disasters.
If newspaper headlines of the times could be transposed to our own age they would have sounded similar to the Twin Tower disasters, gas attacks on helpless citizens in Syria, drones strikes in Pakistan, worldwide economic collapses, hurricanes named Katrina, and a host of other contemporary world crises. Again, many reasons to feel pessimistic.
Despite all this, you could say that Isaiah was an optimist. His prophecy blossoms with hope, and he describes a time when political inequities will be resolved and natural enemies will dwell in friendship. “The desert shall rejoice and blossom,” he writes. Isaiah 35:1.
What Isaiah describes throughout his prophecy is a return to compassion, respect, and grace. Power and violence do not work in this new world order. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened…the lame shall leap like the deer, and the tongue of the speechless shall sing for joy,” Isaiah 35:5-6.
It has been interesting and exasperating to watch the criticism of the new Pope Francis over his compassion toward the weak and disenfranchised. Yet it sounds like he has taken his text from Isaiah. What’s not to like about that?
In Isaiah’s future world swords are beaten into implements of food production and harvest. The poor are judged with righteousness. And the desert breaks into bloom, signifying the life and vitality of a formerly barren place.
This is a reason to feel hopeful about the future. God is at work bringing moral and political change to our world. We get to experience that when we see someone such as Pope Francis call us to embrace what is important to God.
God’s down payment on this hope was the coming of Jesus who modeled a life based on the knowledge of the Lord rather than the pontification of the self-righteous and enfranchised. Whenever we read Isaiah, we get a little glimpse into the crescendo to which history is building.