Monday, May 21, 2012

Vivid Word Pictures in Isaiah 1

The title of this post is bland and boring compared to Isaiah’s writing. He spices up his communication with mental images that are useful for setting our brains and hearts on fire. I need to learn this communication technique.
“The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib,” (Isaiah 1:3 ESV). Today, we might think of the loyal, domesticated dog that is “man’s best friend.” But that would spoil the image. God’s people are not being contrasted with animals of high intelligence. Rather, we are on the unflattering end of contrast with a dumb ox or stubborn donkey.
“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds;” (Isaiah 1:5–6 ESV). This is systemic illness. We are described as septic. What is wrong on the outside has penetrated to the inside, and what is wrong on the inside is spilling out in ugliness on the outside. No bandage strip is going to cover this mess. The picture describes the size of our problem.
“like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field,” (Isaiah 1:8 ESV). What was to be glorious is worse than humble - it is embarrassing. How can Jesus the Cornerstone be the foundation for something so crooked and unstable as a field shack.
“though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 ESV). The blood-soaked rag indicates that something has gone terribly wrong. The blood “cries out,” as it were. Whiteness indicates a return to a former condition, completely wiping away the transgression. In fact, it may indicate that this new cleanness is even better than the pre-sin condition. 
“like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.” (Isaiah 1:30 ESV). This would be the tree that stands in stark contrast to the one described in Psalm 1. “Withered” and “without water” may describe a botanical problem, but they are powerful terms for a spiritual problem as well.
“And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them.” (Isaiah 1:31 ESV). Burning is undeniably an eschatological, judgment activity. This kind of arrogant, worldly strength is mere kindling when God comes to judge with fire.
And so, I have most likely ruined vivid word pictures by commenting on them, kind of like explaining a good joke. But perhaps you will be encouraged to watch for word pictures, and let your imagination be fired and your spirits sensitized to Biblical truth. 

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