Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Isaiah: Predictions of Murder

            Holy shit, it’s been a long time since I wrote in this blog!

            In my (sorta) defense, I worked a lot of 12 hour days since March. And I lost the thumb drive where I keep my writing files. But I also managed to find time to put up several posts in my personal blog, so those excuses don’t really fly. But if you recall where we left off last time (or want to go back and read my previous post), you might see why motivation could be pretty low.

            Isaiah, also, is a bit of a challenge to blog about. After all, it contains a lot of stuff that Christians like to claim is prophetic. Some of it happened. Some of it happened, but in different ways than Isaiah predicted, and some of it has never come true. Plus, there’s good reason to think that the Book of Isaiah wasn’t even finished until after some of the events it “predicts” had actually happened. I can try to research all the claims, but the fact is that I’m neither a Biblical scholar nor a historian, and I kind of have a life outside this book. This blog is really only intended to be the impressions of an ordinary guy reading the Bible. So I think I’m going to have to proceed with the policy of just commenting on whatever I feel needs commenting on simply from a straight reading, and leave it at that.

            Anyway, when last we left off, we were in Chapter 6 of Isaiah, wherein God commanded his prophet to deliberately deceive the Israelites into sinning more so that they wouldn’t repent and therefore God could justify punishing them horrifically at a later date (people find this stuff inspirational?). From there, we go on to a story from the time of King Ahaz of Judah. In this, the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel has teamed up with Syria to start attacking Judah, and Ahaz started losing his shit over it. So God sends Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that God’s totally not gonna let that happen. He even promises to give him a magical sign to prove that he’s speaking the truth, which brings us to one of those passages that is, oddly, held up as a prophecy about Jesus.

Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  16 For before the boy knows how to refuse evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”

            This is very obviously supposed to be a sign that happens in the time of Ahaz (more than seven hundred years before Jesus’ time) specifically in relation to his troubles with Syria and Israel. I have no idea how anyone concludes it means anything else. I mean, the Immanuel character in this “prophecy” isn’t even supposed to do anything; it’s just predicting that Syria and Israel will cease to be threats to Judah sometime between the kid’s birth and him being old enough to eat solid food. Though maybe this was a case where the lands of Syria and Israel were never actually deserted, and since that makes it look like this was a failed prophecy the NT authors shoehorned it into the Jesus story in an attempt to rescue it. But that’s just speculation on my part. But what’s odd is how Chapter 8 starts out:

Isa 8:1 Then Yahweh said to me, ‘Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, “Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” 2 And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.’ 3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then Yahweh said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the boy knows how to cry “My father,” or “My mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.’”

            What’s odd about this? Well, it’s strikingly similar to the Immanuel sign; a kid will be born and given a certain name, and before he grows out of infancy the alliance of Israel and Syria will have been defeated. It’s just that the name is different, and this time the kid is Isaiah’s own son from banging a nameless prophetess rather than the fatherless son of a nameless virgin girl (dude, Isaiah, women have names. Because they’re people.). Is this maybe just a different telling of the same story? Because it’s pretty damn redundant otherwise. And what is the point of the tablet in the second story anyway? Just to illustrate that Isaiah had picked out the kid’s name before he was conceived? Big deal. We’d picked out my daughter’s name before she was conceived, too. None of this is explained, or even mentioned again.

            Anyhow, seeing as it’s been a long time since I read the Kings2 and Chronicles 2 versions of Ahaz’s reign (and I skipped over writing about it in my blog entries on those books since it was just another blip in the long parade of politicking and wars), I went back to see if there was anything corresponding to all this. When I did, I discovered that (surprise!) the two stories conflict: 2 Kings says Ahaz paid the king of Assyria to come help him, which he did by invading Syria and capturing Damascus, whereas 2 Chronicles says that Assyria took the money and still didn’t help. How does Isaiah address the situation? By claiming that Yahweh sent the Assyrians to wipe out Judah, and then would strike down Assyria for having the unmitigated gall to think they had acted of their own accord instead of as his tool.

            Why would a people who weren’t in Yahweh’s special favor and communication think to credit him for their own decisions? No reason. Just that the claim that this is the case supports the theological point the author is trying to make (that nobody should rely on anyone other than his god for anything).

            The next little bit is kind of tough to get through coherently. It mostly consists of supposedly prophetic passages about stuff that will occur in the future (relative to Isaiah’s time, though since much of it never happened it’s often interpreted to still be in the future relative to our time as well). Much of it is blood-drenched revenge fantasies against the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon, interspersed with other fantasies of future glory for the Israelite people (after appropriate periods of getting the shit whipped out of them by other people, who are really only acting as god’s instruments to chastise them for their lack of slavish devotion to him and his rules).

            Among the predictions of a glorious future is included the arrival of a new ruler for the Jewish people, who will be a descendant of Jesse (King David’s dad, presumably). And this fellow, it is said, will have an interesting method of ruling:

Isa 11:3 And his delight shall be in the fear of Yahweh. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the por, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”

            So, ummmm… any guesses what the fuck that is supposed to mean? It’s interesting that at such an early date the Bible is already disparaging such ideas as evidence in favor of judging via “righteousness.” Like, what does that even mean? Fuck information, if you’re righteous you’ll just know what’s the right thing to do? How does someone know they’re actually righteous, without any information? If we’re talking about a human ruler (and bear in mind that this passage gives no hints that anything else is implied), this would be a clear recipe for disaster. But of course, I’m sure Christians are convinced that the ruler talked about in this passage is Jesus. And since Jesus is God, and righteousness is doing whatever God wants, then naturally anything he does is righteous by definition. So I guess this passage amounts to “And he’ll do whatever the fuck he wants, and kill anybody who disagrees, and trust me that this is a good thing.”

            But what the hell could it possibly mean to “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth?” I’m at a complete loss there, and every image the phrase might conjure up is pretty disturbing to dwell on.

            Oh, incidentally, other features included in the reign of this fellow are: predator and prey animals living together in peace, children playing in perfect safety with poisonous snakes, and the descendants of Judah and Israel teaming up to kill the everloving shit out of the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, etc., and plundering the nations of the east. So… peace among animals, side-by-side with genocidal war among humans (with, of course, the author’s people doing the genociding)? Like it matters for shit that you’re no longer afraid of snakes, when God’s chosen people are just going to come murder you anyway? Seems like more jingoistic fantasizing, to be honest: things will be miraculously beautiful for us, while we run rampant over all our old enemies.

            This seems as good a point as any to call it a day on this one. Hopefully I’ll be able to put the next post up in less than the six months it took me to get around to this one. If you’re still reading, thank you for your patience. And, until the next time, be well!

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