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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 19:16–25
On that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts raises against them. And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians; everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the plan that the Lord of hosts is planning against them.

On that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of the Sun.

On that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the center of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior, and will defend and deliver them. The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day, and will worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing; they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their supplications and heal them.

On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.” (NRSV)

In Isaiah’s oracles against the nations (chapters 17–19) it seems like God is giving the prophet a message that is just as merciless and vindictive as any you might hear in American politics. Worse, maybe. It’s shocking for me to listen to God speak of scattering other peoples like chaff, lopping off the heads of their “spreading branches,” and draining their land of all water.

Yet God does not hold on to an attitude of righteous vengeance against the enemies of God’s people for long. Isaiah 19:16–25 brings us a message of hope and new relationships. Isaiah pronounces a reprieve, saying, “The Lord will strike Egypt; striking and then healing. They will return to the Lord, who will hear their pleas and heal them.” And later on he includes all the nations who have been judged, and amazingly, he speaks of them as if they were also God’s children: “The Lord of heavenly forces will pronounce this blessing: Bless Egypt my people, and Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

Once Abraham Lincoln, when confronted by a woman who couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t condemn Southern secessionists as irreconcilable enemies, asked the question, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Perhaps we can discern a way, in our message from Isaiah and even from an American politician, by which we are to bring a close to conflict without closing off our relationships with our adversaries.

God of the nations, remind me that even you—seated above all and justified in all your judgments—do not withhold mercy from anyone, no matter how much they might deserve punishment. Help me to live by your example and to embody the message given to us by your prophet Isaiah: that even our worst enemies are your children too. So help me to believe this truth that I might reform who I am and, being reformed, work with others to remake our world in the image of your kingdom. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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