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Fr. David's Lent Reflections Day 22

Day 22:

Here we come to the 22nd day of our Lenten journey, we begin the fourth week of the fast. God bless you as you travel the path to the Cross and to our Lord’s resurrection. Our reading from scripture is Isaiah 14:24-32.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, As I have said, so it shall be: and as I have purposed, so the matter shall remain: 25 even to destroy the Assyrians upon my land, and upon my mountains: and they shall be for trampling; and their yoke shall be taken away from them, and their glory shall be taken away from their shoulders. 26 This is the purpose which the Lord has purposed upon the whole earth: and this the hand that is uplifted against all the nations. 27 For what the Holy God has purposed, who shall frustrate? and who shall turn back his uplifted hand?

(Let me stop here for a moment. The Assyrians were the nation that had subjugated Israel, and had laid a heavy tax burden on them. We saw on the 17th day of Lent that Isaiah (in chapter 10) called the Assyrian king an axe in the hand of God, and pointed out that God could cease to use that axe, since it had accomplished its work. Indeed, we will start to hear more and more prophesies about the restoration of Israel as we continue through this book. In this passage, the perspective is on God, that He has decided what is to take place, and no one can stop Him from performing His will. And this is the lesson for every generation: God has a plan. You may not like what is happening right now, but remember that each moment is only one small part of, as Isaiah says, God’s purpose for the whole earth. Let’s continue the reading:)

28 In the year in which king Achaz died this word came.

29 Rejoice not, all ye Philistines, because the yoke of him that smote you is broken: for out of the seed of the serpent shall come forth the young of asps, and their young shall come forth flying serpents. 30 And the poor shall be fed by him, and poor men shall rest in peace: but he shall destroy thy seed with hunger, and shall destroy thy remnant. 31 Howl, ye gates of cities; let the cities be troubled and cry, even all the Philistines: for smoke is coming from the north, and there is no possibility of living. 32 And what shall the kings of the nations answer? That the Lord has founded Sion, and by him the poor of the people shall be saved.

Today when we hear the word “philistines,” it usually refers to people who don’t appreciate beauty or culture. Isaiah doesn’t use the word that way, but he does use it in a general sense - he’s not speaking specifically about the people of Philistia, but about all the non-Jews in the land around Israel (a little like today, the modern word for Philistines is Palestinians). They are also going to be liberated from the Assyrian yoke, but God wants them to know that it has nothing to do with them. God did not restore life for the people of that land in order that they might revive their pagan beliefs and their terrible treatment of the poor. Rather, these other tribes, these Philistines, will find that the worship of the living God and justice shall prevail.

We hear the word “howl” again in this passage. ὀλολύξατε, from which we get the English word ululate. Today, ululation is normally reserved for happy occasions, weddings and baptisms, but in ancient times it was a cry of despair. That’s the way Isaiah used it - but how do you tell someone to scream in despair? This is not something that can be done by request, not something that can be practiced beforehand so that one is ready when the axe falls. Rather, the people are being told that the prophesy itself is a cause for cries of despair. The actual fulfillment will be terrible, but the prophesy is, or should be regarded, as just as bad.

Indeed, this one word is another lesson for us from Isaiah, and indeed from all the prophets and from all scripture. In the scriptures we read about things that we cannot see and that have not happened yet. We can casually dismiss what we read, and wait for the actual event to occur, if (we may say to ourselves) it ever does, or we can take the scriptures to heart and believe that what they say is true. ὀλολύξατε means: this will happen. As it said at the beginning of today’s reading: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, As I have said, so it shall be: and as I have purposed, so the matter shall remain.” Indeed, brothers and sisters, as we continue our journey through Great Lent, let us look to the scriptures as our guide for all that is unseen or yet to occur.

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