By Dr. Stephen Cook
Listen! Nations are massing together, roaring! You can hear it in the sounds of the Hebrew that begin Isaiah 17:12 14. The Hebrewof v. 12 is filled with “h” and “m” sounds, echoing the rumble and din of an agitated sea. The verse continues with a series of “sh” sounds followed by “m” and “n” hums, sounding forth with the crash and hum of breakers. This is a deafening Niagara roar, a Tsunami rush!
Jerusalem’s enemies roar in our ears, a tumult ofwatery chaos (cf.Psalms18:16; 29:3; 32:6; 46:2–3; 93:3–4). We hear the din of army ranks swelling: perhaps the joining of Syria and the Northern Kingdom in enemy alliance (735 BCE); perhaps the muster of the forcesof Assyria (701 BCE). From its inscriptions, we know thatAssyria portrayed its armies this way, as raging waters, as a primeval chaos-flood. The “gait” of its emperor, Assyria boasted, was nothing other than “the Flood” itself.
Without spiritual imagination, we tremble before such boasts. We melt in fear before the enemy tumult. Assyria’s king is bursting all bounds, pouring into Judah, sweeping away everything, water up to our necks. But with blinders removed, we see all this rumbling and hubbub as hot air. The threat of Assyria is empty; nothing can come of it. It is but smoke and mirrors up against God’s heavyweight substance.
In Isaiah 17:13 14, God silences all the roaring with a word, makes the enemy run. God unveils their threat as mere “chaff,” light and easily blown away. The foe is mere tumbleweed before God’s divine gale. Its downfall comes quickly,with the morning’s dawn—the dawn of salvation (cf. Psalms30:5; 46:5).
Isaiah lived to see the sunrise of God’s heavyweight salvation, unveiled for all to see. In 701 BCE the forces of the Assyrian King Sennacherib abandoned their siege of Jerusalem. God’s reality proved to be what’sreally real, what’s really substantial.
Consider C. S. Lewis’ description of heaven as a place where humans at first feel very insubstantial, transparent as ghosts. They easily go unnoticed—like dirt on a windowpane. Lewis imagines that in God’s reality our feet cannot at first even bend God’s grass beneath them. How will entering this ultra-solid world of Godmake you feel?Disturbed? Indignant? Challenged to grow more substantial, more solid?
God Almighty, we say that we believe in you, we say that your reign is real to us. But the truth is, world news and world politics feel like what is most really real. Free us from fascination with this present world of human making, so that we may see the world around us through your eyes—as something flimsy and transient, whichshall be fully transformed, made solid,at the coming of your rock-solid reign. Amen.
Dr. Stephen Cook is professor of Old Testament at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.