All Things Shining is a Wicked Book Indeed

Dreyfus and Kelly (D&K) connect their book, All Things Shining, with Melville’s book, Moby Dick.  Right underneath the title on the cover is a little image of a whale and Moby Dick is referenced throughout the book and they devote a full chapter to Melville’s whale tale right before the concluding chapter.  In All Things Shining, D&K lament that today’s secular age is remise of sacredness – missing all the shining things of a sacred world.  Their claim is that the lives of Homer’s Greeks and the Christians of Dante’s time lived lives rife with meaning in a bright and shining world – unlike our world today, which is an abyss of dark nothingness (nihilism).  Melville has shown D&K the way back into the bright lights of yore through Moby Dick, the book that Melville recognized to be a “wicked book,” but one that left him feeling as spotless as a lamb after having written it.  (143)[1] The “evil art” of Melville is rather obscure in his writing, and he might not have even consciously known what the wickedness was that he had written, and even D&K who seem to know exactly what the hidden evil of Moby Dick is struggle to clearly name it as they sift the lives and motives of the characters on the “hunt for the mighty sperm whale.”[2]  The way forward as discovered by Ishmael in Moby Dick is to find your own polytheistic truths and live in them in joy and in sorrow. (188)  Though D&K try to hide their malevolence in lengthy, rambling, quote-filled chapters, they directly call for an all-embracing dive into an old-school life of polytheism within our modern, technologically driven age.  They give this invitation void of any moral compass besides one’s own passions and subjective standard of morality.  I sense that what D&K have written is far more wicked than what Melville wrote because they directly call us to surrender ourselves to the gods – to be carried away (whooshed up) by them to wherever they want to carry us before the drop that will inevitably come as the sacred wave crashes. (220)

Mastodon Leviathan Album 2
This image reveals more of the complete picture of Mastodon’s Leviathan album that is a concept-album based on Melville’s Moby Dick

 

This “whooshing up,” D&K say, is when “[t]he most important things, the most real things in Homer’s world, well up and take us over, hold us for a while, and then finally, let us go” (200).  The name for this in Homeric times was the word physis which “was the name for the way the most real things in the world present themselves to us” (200).  D&K consider this whooshing up to be the sacred breaking into our world and shining for all to see and they explain that “[w]hen something whooshes up it focuses and organizes everything around it…” so that “everyone understands who they are and what they are to do immediately in relation to the sacred event that is occurring” (201).  Of course, the best that they can come up with as an example in our modern age is sporting events, when some player does something unimaginable during play… I guess I’ve just never been whooshed up when watching others play sports.  I have had such wooshing experiences at live rock shows in small clubs (when a crowd wide mosh pit erupts in unison or everyone’s face melts at a guitar solo that must be from the rock gods on high – though I’ve never had this moment at an arena or large festival show though – only small, shoulder to shoulder club shows, so I can kind of get what D&K are talking about in terms of responding in a way without thought to the physis overtaking the bystanders).

D&K’s focus seems to be on the wooshing that takes over a group of people as one individual in their midst is wooshed up by the gods.  They do not entertain the individual being struck by the sacred in a moment of isolation in nature (maybe floating in the middle of lake under the star lit sky) or while reading a book or watching a movie alone or laying on the floor listening to an album start to finish with headphones on and eyes closed – these are the times that I am overcome the most by a force outside myself that I could recognize to be sacred.  I don’t quite understand why their focus is on all things shining in crowds – apart from sports giving people a communal meaning their main wooshing up example was Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech on the National Mall.

This group response is where their evil really lies… because they have no absolute and objective standard of morality in their polytheistic endeavor.  D&K admit that there can be madness in the crowds, but they say we must be courageous and leap in to experience this polytheistic path. (220)  They understand that things can get turnt[3] “in new and more shining and meaningful ways” or maybe… “Sometimes, by contrast, one dances with the devil” (220).  Because we’re just getting wooshed up (overtaken by a force of the gods) in their paradigm of finding meaning, they explain that it is “[o]nly by having been taken over by the fanatical leader’s totalizing rhetoric, and [after having] experienced the dangerous and devastating consequences it has, does one learn to discriminate between leaders worth following and those upon whom one must turn one’s back” (220).

That final statement is brutally wicked.  Was Germany whooshed up by Hitler?  Um… Yeah.  But what if Germany had won the war?  Would Hitler then have been “the devil” when we know that the victor writes the history books?  Were many whooshed up into a violent frenzy during the multi-day LA Race Riots?  Um… Yeah.  Was the violence, arson, and looting justified?  Who gets to decide and why?  Were many whooshed up when they followed Jim Jones into his Kool-Aid suicide massacre?  Um… Yeah, and many realized they danced with the devil, but the doors were blocked by gunmen and it was too late to find a different partner to woosh them up into a new and shining dance.  Was Ishmael and the others whooshed up by Captain Ahab’s fanaticism to kill the beast?  Um… Yeah, but only Ishmael survived the whoosh!

The people who got whooshed in the examples I just provided were people who, according to D&K, hadn’t yet “acquired the skill” to let themselves “be overwhelmed” by the gods yet possess the “discrimination” to keep themselves from getting “drawn in by the rhetoric of the fanatical and dangerous demagogue” (221).   But remember, there is no way to “acquire this skill” until one has already “been taken over by the fanatical leader’s totalizing rhetoric, and experienced the dangerous and devastating consequence’s it has” (220).  An “evil art” indeed.

What D&K are selling is still essentially nihilism, which is what they are trying avoid, since they recognize nihilism fails to provide meaning in life.  They don’t et that their pitch is still nihilism.

By what standard is one to know if he is dancing with the devil or with the gods?  These whooshing forces were never all good in the Greek pantheon of the gods.  And since D&K aren’t really asking us to accept the Greek gods as being real, again I’ll ask the question but in a slightly different way, by what standard are we to judge what is good and what is evil?  The standard is one’s own opinion.  We can pick and choose what we follow..  In the end, this is still nihilism, a nihilism that has each man be his own god… because it’s truly each individual person who gets to say what whoosh is right and what whoosh is wrong, or if there is even a whoosh to be had at all.

What happens when there are two whooshing parties who come into direct contradiction with one another in terms of who they are and what they are to do and they each consider the other party to be whooshed by the devil?  Well here, we just landed back at what D&K want to avoid, sitting in the contemporary world with “no ground for choosing one course of action over any other” (15).   They offer that there are many gods that can whoosh us up and let us see the shiny good things as they really are, but we’re the final judges of what is shining or not.  Since we’re still the judges of what is right and wrong and what is sacred and shining in the D&K model of finding meaning in life, they’re still dealing the Nietzsche pill of being free to do what we whilt, which I prefer to label as Anton LaVey chose to name it – Satanism.  And in this label, we get the grandest understanding of how evil D&K’s book is – All Things Shining – because as Christians we know that Satan dances among us as an angel of light.  (2 Corinthians 11:14)

Satan deceives through telling lies, but his lies are tricky to recognize, because they’re steeped in truth.  In other words, his lies come to us in partial truths.  It is in this sense that I do try to approach all things as shining.  Every worldview and every culture and every religion and every zeitgeist has some elements of truth within them – I’m rather certain of this.  Christians would do good to point these truths out from time to time.  Since Christ’s claim is true that he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), then all truth is God’s truth, no matter where it is found.  Where truth is found, declare it, use it, put it in its full context of which it is fully and directly revealed from God in the Bible.  The Apostle Paul did this when he quoted the philosophers of the Athenians (Acts 17).  We can do this too, but we must realize that when we seek the shiny things in life in this manner, we must always cling to the truth of Christ so that we are not deceived into the lie that all is one, and one is all, and that all that glitters is gold.[4]

The nuggets of truth that I am referring to that permeate all of the world are reflections of the Creator within his Creation.  In the Christian account of everything the world is now fallen from its very good original state at creation, but that does not mean that all is now evil within it… there is much that is good and much to be enjoyed and praised and thankful for within God’s world.  Through man’s natural knowledge that there is a God, known from what he has created, from God’s law written on the hearts of all men, and from God’s love for all of his creation in which he showers both the righteous and the wicked with good gifts in this temporal realm, the sacred things of beauty and truth bubble up all around us.  It is in this sense that I highly appreciate D&K’s call for us all to develop the “skills for responding to the manifold senses of the sacred that still linger unappreciated at the margins of our disenchanted world” (222).  It is here in the margins that I have seen people tend to embrace and enjoy the full freedom of being who they want to be, being their own god creating their own little kingdoms, and with their creative juices unstifled by the restrictions and conformity of society they really do shine and stand out among the herd, and people are drawn to such whooshed up individuals and they find their identity and meaning in such communities.   From my Christian perspective, they are letting the image of God that they bare (as broken as it may be) shine as they show off their creative abilities and flair, as they reflect their Creator that they may not personally know in the slightest.

In this way, all things are shining for a time.  Apart from God, however, there is no light – only darkness.  And God’s patience is running out.

 

[1] All parenthetical numbers are references to the page numbers within All Things Shining by Dreyfus and Kelly that was published in 2011 by Free Press.

[2] A line I stole from the epic song, “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain.

[3] Slang for “get really wasted and have a ton of fun” according to Urban Dictionary, but I’ve heard it used by many in Gen Z to refer to something very akin to getting whooshed up in a communal sense (and it sounds so much more lit to get turnt than to get whooshed).

[4] “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin lyric reference.

“God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways” – An Application to Preaching

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For application to preaching a few thoughts come to mind:

  1. Prayer – Before I can preach on a text of Scripture, I must understand the meaning of the text and the implications of that meaning for us. And too often I might have a different understanding of the text because my thoughts and my ways are not the Lord’s thoughts and ways.  I hope it is obvious that this prayer is not to say I don’t need to do any of the difficult work of exegetical study (an example of an exegetical study); it’s not because I pray God will download the meaning of the text right into my brain.  Instead, the prayer ultimately puts me in the right state of relationship towards God which should put me in the right mindset to appropriately approach the text.  It’s God’ Word I’m reading and it is God’s Word that I am going to preach – I can’t just be flippant about the process and I must make sure my reason and experiences are subject to God’s thoughts and ways.
  2. Quit apologizing for God or avoiding what God says all together.[1]We live in a very politically correct culture, where we don’t want to offend anyone or hurt anyone and we kind of just want to agree to disagree and we usually do that by simply not saying anything that we perceive would bring about disagreement.  It’s becoming more and more common to not mention sin and hell in our sermons – how much of that is us trying to appease people or tone down God’s words?  How much of it is us putting our ways and thoughts above God’s.  I need to not be afraid in my preaching to say God’s ways and God’s thoughts are what is right and what is wrong.
  3. Preach the stupid things of Scripture… and by that I mean preach the things that are revealed in Scripture that are antithetical to the thoughts and ways of the world that are antithetical to what I would reason to be true, right, and good. For example, Scripture teaches things like: “Living is dying and dying is living (Mark 8:35, John 12:24, 1 Corinthians 15:36,” “Save your life and you will lose it; lost your life and you will save it (Matthew 10:39),” “The best self-love is to not be self-centered (Matthew 6:33, Mark 12:29-31),” “The way up is down; exaltation requires humility (Ezekiel 21:26, Luke 14:8-9, 1 Peter 5:6),” “The way down is up; self-promotion leads to humiliation (Ezekiel 21:26, Matthew 23:12), “Please God and you will have pleasures forever more (Psalms 16:11, Matthew 6:33),” and “Please yourself and you will never be satisfied (Proverbs 27:20 and 30:15, Ecclesiastes 5:10).”[2] These statements of Scripture seem completely wrong to our thoughts and our ways, but because they are from God they are right… so in preaching such teachings from God, I really need to remember that even though it might sound stupid, it’s not, it’s the wisest thing there is in this world – the problem is that I’m just stupid.  So proclaim these revelations from God with boldness even if people might look at me and think I’m dumb.

[1] Much of this paragraph I drew from a Christian Post article that recounted Francis Chan’s application of these two Isaiah verses: https://www.christianpost.com/news/francis-chan-church-must-stop-apologizing-for-what-god-says-is-right-and-wrong-in-politically-correct-culture.html

[2] This is an abbreviated list of paradoxical tensions from Scripture that I pulled from Cris Putnam’s book, The Supernatural Worldview. 


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Reaction to Neuhaus’ Catholic Matters

Catholic Matters

 

This blog post is a reaction to Richard John Neuhaus’ book, Catholic Matters.  Neuhaus was a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod pastor who received ordination through his studies at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis.  He then left the LC-MS to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  Finally, he went to Rome and became a Roman Catholic priest.  This post is not a review.  It’s just a reaction.

 

 

 

 

Church-Hopping

Neuhaus points out that church-hopping, even switching between denominations, is common place and expected among most American Protestants today.  This occurs because people are looking for their needs, more aptly their preferences to be met, and the desire for these preferences to be met are placed above what is true in accordance to God’s norming word.  I visited at least ten or more congregations of various stripes while in high school for mid-week services outside of Lent and Advent and I distinctively recognized teachings and rituals that were not just issues of preference; I heard things that if I thought were true, I’d have to leave my Lutheran congregation.  My church-visiting occurred in the late 90s, close to when Neuhaus wrote Catholic Matters, so I imagine I must have been more of an anomaly of a church-hopping visitor at that time.

Neuhaus also points out that such church-hopping preferential judgment is not just relegated to denominational affiliation, but that in each and every denomination, American individualism has made inroads into turning religious allegiance into spiritual preference.  Doctrine is treated as an ala carte cafeteria menu that allows each individual congregation or believer to pick and choose which teachings they’ll confess, teach, and live.  In my experience in the LC-MS, I have seen such treatment of doctrine.  One of the primary ways I’ve seen this is what we spoke about in class through the Sasse reading, in which congregations of the LC-MS are no longer reading and using the Book of Concord, and thus they are also not ensuring that our confessions are a true exposition of Scripture.  This jettison of the Book of Concord in congregational life is so common that many, if not most, LC-MS members are not even aware that the Book of Concord is our church body’s confessions, which also indicates that they are almost certainly unaware of what it is that our church body actually confesses and expects of our pastors and teachers.

My take away from these Neuhaus observations is that when I am a pastor, I should emphasize the “why does this matter” element to each “what does this mean” catechetical moment to ensure that there is no room for doctrinal truths to be thought of as simply a preference of opinion.  I also must ensure that all the teachings from our confessions are demonstrated to be from Scripture, which would also mean actually using the confessions to teach the flock and not just using snippets of the Small Catechism.

History of the term Evangelical in America

I loved the brief but extensive history lesson on the emergence of “evangelicalism” in America that Neuhaus provides in the first chapter.  I will likely reference this section again in the future, or better yet, outline the main points and save a file of it that I can quickly access.  I personally want to identify as an evangelical, because we truly are those who share good news.  Lutherans are by etymological standards the legitimate evangelicals.  I have also heard that Luther didn’t want his followers to be known as Lutherans but wanted his followers to be called evangelicals.  I never quite understood why LC-MS Lutherans avoid wanting to make the evangelical label their own today, or why we aren’t typically lumped into that group in some capacity by others, but knowing the history as presented by Neuhaus has helped me understand why we are not lumped into the evangelical squad and why we don’t want to mix-it up in that camp.

Shocked by the Charity

Neuhaus spent much time on stressing that all Christians are Roman Catholics.  He says we’re just not in full communion – yet.  I had never heard such charity extended to myself from someone who is in full communion with Rome.  I was always under the impression that I was outside of the Church by not being Roman Catholic.  This was charity that I was shocked to receive.  It’s also a level of charity that I do not so easily extend to others, and if I do extend it, it is probably prefaced with a few asterisk marks.

I struggle to recognize unity with Rome, even unity with other Protestants.  I do not consider everyone to be Lutheran who confesses “Jesus is Lord.”  Neuhaus said that in his youth, “the Protestant-Catholic difference was hardly experienced as a matter of life-or-death urgency.”  From my youth, these sorts of distinctions were life and death; I got the very real sense that my family left the Church by having left Rome, and I realized pretty early on that because I didn’t have a date in which I gave my life to Christ and because I was baptized as a baby, I was on the skids and about as bad off as a Roman Catholic among the many Baptist breeds inhabiting “good ole Rocky Top, TN.”

When I first announced almost two decades ago that I was working towards ordination in the Lutheran Church, I was approached by someone in great seriousness to understand why “Lutheran.”  It wasn’t spoken, but it seemed to me as if the transgression of being outside of Rome had been excused of me as a child, but now that I was actually seeking to be a pastor in the LC-MS and was an adult, it was time for me to be held to task for not being in the true fold of God.  Our conversation led me to see that by the confession of the member of Rome that he had no certainty of salvation, that his salvation was not won for him by Christ alone, but that he was very much active in his right-standing before God through attendance of mass every week, through meeting the annual obligatory confessions, and by doing good the best he could.  I know of Roman Catholics who can only hope (with much uncertainty) that they are saved, who when facing death are assured through Last Rites and being reminded that they have met x, y, and z obligations.  After death, monetary collections for a mass for the departed will be collected (the mass in which the Roman Catholic Church will pray for their souls).  Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  It’s all life or death.

I have many examples of friends, co-workers, and family members who are not Roman Catholic, but are of various Protestant stripes who have been robbed of the certainty and assurance of salvation that Christ has won for them through their churches’ weakening of the Law or their mingling of Law and Gospel.  Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  It’s all life or death. As such, I cannot so easily extend the charity that Neuhaus did to me by saying that he’s Lutheran, just not in full communion yet.  Of course, he didn’t say what it means for my salvation because I am not in full communion with Rome, so maybe it wasn’t that much charity being extended to me.  He seemed to act as if it was just all hakuna matata and that everything was going to be OK because I was Roman Catholic (by his labeling of course).  Based on Romans 4:4-5, I can’t just simply say those who are in Rome and under the authority of the pope, who is in the office of the Antichrist by the way according to the Lutheran confessions, have no worries in their right-standing before God in which they are by the doctrine of Rome very much active and not righty passive in their justification.

I certainly saw the helpfulness of his language however on this subject in describing my relationship with other Christians who I am not in full-communion at this time.  I’d still have to work out how exactly to use such language, but it was most certainly helpful to think upon.

Big T Tradition vs. Little t tradition

I thought his use of tradition vs. Tradition to be a tad disingenuous, since he used both tradition and Tradition in the text with no clear distinction or explanation between the two. When he first introduced this concept, he was pointing out that Protestants rejected Catholicism’s “two source” theory of revealed truth – the Bible and tradition” (page 71).  I’m not sure why he calls it a theory, since it is clearly a doctrine of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and not just a theory, but we certainly do reject that teaching of Rome.  Here he used tradition and not Tradition.  I find that to be very misleading because he immediately refers to a 2002 statement made by Evangelicals and Catholics Together that says:

Together we affirm that Scripture is the divinely inspired and uniquely authoritative written revelation of God; as such it is normative for teaching and life of the Church.  We also affirm that tradition, rightly understood as the proper reflection of biblical teaching, is the faithful transmission of the truth of the gospel from generation to generation through the power of the Holy Spirit.  As Evangelicals and Catholics fully committed to our respective heritages, we affirm together the coinherence of Scripture and tradition: Tradition is not a second source of revelation alongside the Bible but must ever be corrected and informed by it, and Scripture itself is not understood in a vacuum apart from the historical existence and life of the community of faith.  (page 72)

In this quote, tradition must be normed by the Scriptures and it is not a source of revelation itself, so lower case tradition was being used (except he also capitalized it), but Rome’s “two-source theory of revelation” uses upper case Tradition.  Rome’s Sacred Tradition is part of God’s Word.  Rome teaches that Scripture and Tradition together make up a sum deposit of God’s Word.[1] Neuhaus very soon after the Evangelicals and Catholics Together quote says that when he became a Catholic priest he had to profess: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed” (page 75).  The fact that he seems to interchange between tradition and Tradition with no clear recognition of what he is doing for the reader, while also trying to make me think that I should be accepting of Rome because their tradition (little t) is normed by Scripture, while not admitting and making it clear that their Tradition (big T) must be held in equal sentiment and devotion to Scripture, while also not letting me know that large and important parts of their Tradition (big T) are not even mentioned in Scripture to in any way possibly be normed by Scripture, leads me to distrust Neuhaus.  I am left to think he’s just trying to trick me and suck me into all the “more” stuff that Rome has to offer (and the fact that many times a sentence would start with the word tradition so as I couldn’t even easily discern if he was speaking of tradition or Tradition made it all the more less likely that he was going to win me over into full communion with Rome).

We Got More; Don’t You Want More?

Neuhaus never clearly explained why he jumped ship from the LC-MS to the ELCA to Rome.  The best I got was that, “It seemed that, of all the good things we had, they had more.”  And since he knew the good things that we do have all came from Rome, he thought, “Why not just join Rome?”  It seems to me that Neuhaus has succumbed to the American individualism that he’s railing against by his full-communion with Rome.  He chose the spiritual preference of the Roman Catholic Church’s “more” over religious affiliation; it’s just that his preference had him bail out of Protestantism altogether into the open arms of mother Rome, instead of flopping around like a fish within Protestantism from Episcopalian to Pentecostalism, or what have you.  At least he didn’t go to the Hotel California with Anton LaVey, because there is no extension of charity to the Church of Satan that definitely lies outside of the one, holy, catholic Church.


[1]  Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Lines 80-82 emphasis added).  “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.” “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”


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The Kings of Isaiah

Isaiah 1:1 places Isaiah within history: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”  Uzziah reigned from 792-740 BC; Jotham reigned from 750-735 BC; Ahaz reigned from 735-715; Hezekiah reigned from 715-686.

King Uzziah

King Uzziah is also known as Azariah.  He reigned 52 Years, a very long time.  Isaiah 6:1 indicates that Isiah began his ministry in the year Uzziah died.  2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26 give an account of Uzziah’s reign.  Uzziah fortified Jerusalem (2 Chron. 26:9-10, 15) and he reorganized Judah’s army with 2,600 mighty men of valor who oversaw an army of 307,500 men (2 Chron. 26:12).  Uzziah experienced great prosperity during his long reign and was able to extend Judah, taking back land from the Philistines, while also extended Judah into the lands of the Arabians and the Meunites (2 Chron. 26:6-7).  He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 15:3 and 2 Chron. 26:4), but the high places remained and sacrifices were still offered at these locations dedicated to false gods.

Despite doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, Uzziah’s success led to pride that brought him great punishment from the Lord.  2 Chronicles 26:16-23 recounts that Uzziah took the place of the priests, burning incense in the House of the Lord.  And as a result, “The Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land” (2 Kings 15:5).

King Jotham

King Jotham reigned for 16 years.  2 Chronicles 27:2 summarizes his reign as follows: “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices.”  Two of his major accomplishments as king were fortifying the hillsides of Judah and beating the Ammonites, receiving a huge tribute from them.  (2 Chronicles 27:3-5) During his reign, northern Israel was taken by the Assyrians.

King Ahaz

2 Chronicles 28:1-2 tells us that King Ahaz “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.” During his reign Aram led by King Rezin and Israel led by King Pekah partnered against Judah. (Isaiah 7:1-16) Isaiah told Ahaz to not be afraid of them.  Isaiah prophesied that their invasion would fail, that their lands would be taken down by the Assyrians. (Isaiah 7:3-9) Despite this prophesy of safety from his adversaries, Ahaz sought to partner with King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria for protection.  (2 Kings 16:7-9, Isaiah 7:13, 20) In an attempt to show his submission to Tiglath-Pileser, Ahaz instructed Uriah the priest set up an altar like the one he saw in Damascus.  He had the altar to the Lord brought out to sit alongside this altar pagan altar.  (2 Kings 16:10-18) During Ahaz’s reign, Assyria defeated Israel in 722 BC.

King Hezekiah

King Hezekiah was the last king of Isaiah’s time of prophetic ministry.  Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Kings 18:3).  During Hezekiah’s reign, King Sennacherib of Assyria threatened Jerusalem.  (Isaiah 36:1-22) Against this threat, Isiah Prophesies that Judah will be delivered.  (Isaiah 37:6-7) Even though this prophesy is given with the assurance of protection for Jerusalem, Hezekiah still prays in response for deliverance.  (Isaiah 37:14-20) The angel of the Lord fulfills Isaiah’s prophesy and answers Hezekiah’s prayers by utterly wrecking the Assyrians, striking dead 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians while the slept.  (Isiah 37:6) Sennacherib was later cut down by the sword by his sons while he was worshipping his god, Nisroch.  (Isiah 37:7-8)

As noted in the opening of this paper, many have noted that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are predominantly law based, focusing on the wrath of God against a rebellious people, and that is the message of chapter 39.  Isaiah prophesies to Hezekiah that Judah will be taken by the Babylonians:

“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:5-7)

Sticking to the concept that the last 27 chapters of Isaiah focus on God’s redemption of his rebellious people, chapter 40 opens up with the good news that God will restore Judah:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isiah 40:1-5)