Isaiah: Creator of Darkness, Designer of Light, Maker of Peace ‎

What is God? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 40

			It’s not easy to get through the book of Isaiah. With 66 pretty tough chapters to tackle, what ‎seems like 100 different themes, only the really determined reader is going to make it through ‎all the way. This book is like running the marathon. You get tired fairly quickly, but realize ‎that you still have a long way to go. Bible critics divide the book into two parts, an early ‎Isaiah and a late Isaiah. The first part is a lot of observation about events that were current to ‎the prophet, and a good deal of forecasting what will become of the various players on the ‎ancient Biblical landscape. The second part is a long series of inspirational preaching directed ‎to the Jews either in exile or shortly after returning from exile. This final section is loaded ‎with messianic hints, among other things. The Christians go wild over these chapters. ‎
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Interspersed with all the messianic hopefulness are numerous paragraphs and verses that lay ‎down many of the foundations of Jewish theology. Many of the basic ideas of monotheism ‎were selected from these verses. After the Chumash, Isaiah is the primary Biblical source for ‎the understanding of God. In the context of the book these verses are meant to justify the ‎messianic faith that God can actually do all that must happen, but they stand alone as ‎theological ideas. ‎
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‎‘To whom will you liken Me, (to whom) am I compared, says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes ‎to the heavens and see who created these, the One who brings out their hosts by number, He ‎calls them all by name; from the magnitude of His might and the strength of His power not ‎one of them is (ever) missing’ (40:25-26). ‘I am the first, and I am the last, and aside from Me ‎there are no gods’ (44:6). Judaism has taken these statements and others like them, out of the ‎historical context of Isaiah and used them to lay the foundations of monotheism. Reading ‎them is like reading a primer on God. ‎
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In the middle of all this is a message from Hashem to Koresh, the king of Persia.  ‘Thus says ‎Hashem to Koresh, his anointed, whose right hand I have clutched to subdue nations before ‎him and loosed the loins of kings to open doors before him and gates which will not be shut. I ‎will go before you, I will flatten the mountains and break the brass doors and cut the iron ‎bolts. I will give you treasures of darkness and hidden riches in order that you know that it is ‎I, Hashem, who has called you by name, the God of Israel. For the sake of my servant Jacob ‎and my chosen Israel I have called you by name and named you, though you did not know ‎Me. I am Hashem, and there are none besides Me, there are no other gods; I girded you ‎though you did not know Me. In order that that all should know, from the rising of the sun ‎unto the west, that there is nothing other than Me; I am Hashem and there is nothing else. I ‎form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil; I, Hashem, do all this’ (45:1-7). ‎
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Analysis ‎
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These verses all speak a similar message - God, and only God can make things happen. One ‎has to wonder why Isaiah, or whoever it was who penned these verses, felt such a strong ‎need to drive this point home. There must have been doubt in the air. It must have seemed ‎completely unrealistic, fighting against invincible forces, an impossible dream.  How does an ‎invincible God somewhere in the distant heavens stand a chance against invincible odds on ‎earth? What difference does it make if God brings out all the stars and never misses a single ‎one? Who cares if no other gods can match God in power and might? Hashem may form light ‎and create darkness, but does He gets involved in politics? ‎
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There was another problem at hand with the Jews. Their not so distant former co-religionists, ‎the kingdom of Israel, had been booted off their land by this very God. Depending on when ‎these chapters of Isaiah were written, even the Judeans may have already gotten the boot by ‎that same God. If this is an exilic or post-exilic text, Isaiah’s audience should have been ‎pretty skeptical that God would forgive them, let alone treat them like the Chosen People. ‎
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But this is exactly what Isaiah was telling them. The thrust of his message is that God created ‎the universe. God stretched out the heavens and weighed out the mountains. There are no ‎other gods with whom God must haggle or contend. There is only Hashem. With an act of ‎finality Isaiah puts the last nail in the coffin of the pagan gods. They are no longer puny in ‎comparison to Hashem. They are non-existent. This is the final chapter in Biblical ‎monotheism. ‎
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The Israelites may have had doubts about whether they deserved Hashem’s intervention but ‎Isaiah refused to let those doubts get in the way. Hashem created the Israelites as a people ‎and guided them throughout their history. The non-existent pagan gods may have been ‎helpless against the tides of history, but Hashem was the ‘first and the last’. Hashem makes ‎history happen. Isaiah goes so far as to suggest that Hashem conveyed a message to Koresh ‎the Persian king, calling him ‘His anointed’. The message rather blatantly puts out the idea ‎that Hashem ‘opened doors’ for Koresh, that obstacles were removed and kings were ‎weakened. Koresh was given ‘treasures of darkness and hidden riches’ not for his own ‎storehouses, but for the sake of Israel. Though Koresh was unaware of all this, and did not ‎know about Hashem, it was Hashem who was behind it all. ‎
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But what is that final verse in the message to Koresh? ‘I form light and create darkness, I ‎make peace and create evil; I, Hashem, do all this’. How does this verse fit in to this message? ‎How is this verse supposed to convince the doubting Jews that Hashem will sway Koresh to ‎facilitate their return and rebuilding? For that matter, how is it supposed to convince Koresh? ‎
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That final verse is a whopper by anybody’s standards. There are three verbs that are used in ‎this verse: yotzer ‘form’, boreh ‘create’, and oseh ‘make’ or ‘do’. They all mean something ‎slightly different. Boreh, to create, has the familiar connotation of making something from ‎nothing. Yotzer, to form or design, has the connotation of shaping or designing something ‎that already has been created. Oseh, to make, has a dual meaning. It is a specific word ‎referring to a process that is a further step removed from creation than form, and a general ‎word that refers to all three of the processes. ‎
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Applying these meanings to the verse we have: darkness and evil are creations, light is formed ‎or designed, and peace is made. Hashem does them all. Darkness and evil are contrasted to ‎light and peace. The first two are creations in the sense that they are the default conditions ‎that reality works by. It may sound more than a little surprising that the default condition of ‎the world is evil. It should. It is radical. But it is also true. Everything would be dark, chaotic, ‎and formless if Hashem did not shape it into its intended purpose. ‎
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The process of ‘making’ is putting everything into its final form. This was the stage of putting ‎all of the creations that were formed from the original chaos into a cohesive arrangement ‎through which they could function and achieve their intended purpose. Peace is a classic ‎example of such an end-product. Chaos is the default state – war, death, destruction. What ‎may shape that chaos into something more productive is light – using wisdom and insight to ‎shape something better out of the chaos. ‎
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This is the message that the Jews, and perhaps Koresh, were supposed to receive. The wars ‎that Koresh fought were the natural state of things. The evil and darkness that lurks in the ‎minds of men is the default condition. There will always be wars unless light is shed on the ‎situation. This is exactly what Hashem did with Koresh. Koresh may have been under the ‎impression that it was his victorious army and his brilliant strategy that accomplished all this. ‎The message here is that it is only through the light of God that these things come about. ‎Peace, the final product of the long journey away from chaos and war, is achieved through ‎God shaping the process until the outcome is harmony. Hashem does all this. ‎
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This is an image that we have not yet encountered. It is God playing on the political stage, ‎shaping the minds and conditions of humanity to make things turn out in the intended way. It ‎usually doesn’t work this way. The norm is for Hashem to take a back seat and let things ‎develop the way they will. When Hashem takes a more active role, that order and that peace ‎can come about almost supernaturally. We may not see the hand of God behind it all, but that ‎does not mean that it wasn’t there all along. This image shows God manipulating things from ‎start to finish. From the default condition of chaos and darkness, to the formation of light, to ‎the final product of peace, God is there, making it happen. ‘I, Hashem, do all this’. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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It is nothing short of supernatural the way that darkness and evil always seem to be lurking in ‎the background of any situation. The potential for chaos perpetually hovers over society. ‎Light has to be brought in from outside. Without the constant application of light things will ‎always revert back into chaos. The famous novel, “Lord of the Flies’, by William Golding ‎depicted this reversion to primordial chaos in terrifying clarity. It will take over unless it is ‎leashed and controlled. This is the messianic task of humanity. ‎
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But we are not entirely alone in this task. It may be true that it is impossible to fulfill this task ‎due to the default condition that cannot ever be removed, but that does not make the task ‎futile. We are not on our own. God created the default condition, but God also forms the ‎light and makes the peace. If we look deep enough into our own situation, both on a global ‎and on a local scale, we may see evidence of this. It is not easy to spot, and it is extremely ‎easy to deny, but it is there. Sometimes peace comes about under the oddest of ‎circumstances. A chance conversation, an unread message, a freak accident, a fortunate turn ‎of events – these are natural events that don’t really need God. But God may bring them ‎about nevertheless. ‎
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The real message of these chapters in Isaiah is that God does play a part in setting the political ‎stage. This may sound very Biblical and messianic, but is that really all that terrible a way of ‎looking at things? Perhaps we could use a little of that Biblical vision in our lives. Perhaps we ‎all need to perceive this image a little more – the image of God as the ‘Designer of light’ and ‎‎‘Maker of Peace’. God may very well be behind all the evil and darkness that always ‎threatens our lives. But God is also there in the light that shines through the cracks and in the ‎peace that makes it all worthwhile. Light and peace may be messianic dreams, but they sure ‎are a better image than chaos. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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We tend to resent the idea of needing God to get us out of the messes that we make. Maybe ‎the key to getting around this obstacle is to recognize that the very chaos that we always face ‎is also a creation of God. Is the messianic vision really all that naïve? ‎
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