August 17, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Prophecies from the Book of Isaiah

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings next week are once again from the Book of the prophet Isaiah. The Church apparently wanted to include Isaiah’s prophecies among those of other prophets we’ve been reading lately—and there are more to come.

As I wrote last November, Isaiah is really three books spanning three centuries up to about 500 B.C. Only the first 39 chapters were written by the prophet Isaiah, who lived in Jerusalem from about 765 B.C. until sometime after 701 B.C. Next week’s readings are from those chapters, including the chapters that were skipped then.

They begin with Isaiah’s call to be a prophet (Is 6:1-13). This was the vision he had during which an angel touched his mouth with a burning ember, removing his sins. When he heard God’s voice saying, “Whom shall I send?” he replied, “Send me!” (Is 6:8 ).

Before Isaiah described his call in Chapter 6, though, he had already prophesied God’s judgment of his Chosen People. So next Monday’s reading is what he has to say about the judgment of the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem (Is 3:1-15). “Jerusalem is crumbling, Judah is falling; for their speech and their deeds are before the Lord, a provocation in the sight of his majesty,” he says (Is 3:8).

Tuesday’s reading is Chapter 7 (Is 7:1-17). This incident took place when King Pekah of the northern kingdom of Israel allied with King Rezin of Syria and attacked Judah. You can read the full story in Chapter 16 of the Second Book of Kings.

It’s here that we have Isaiah’s prophecy while talking with King Ahaz, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Is 7:14). The Church has always followed St. Matthew in seeing the fulfillment of that prophecy in the birth of Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Isaiah didn’t know the full force of his prediction because he went on to tell Ahaz, “Before the child learns to reject the bad and choose the good, the land of those two kings whom you dread [Pekah and Rezin] shall be deserted” (Is 7:16). However, the Holy Spirit was preparing for another Nativity which alone could fulfill the divinely given terms of Immanuel’s mission.

Wednesday’s reading is Chapters 9:7 to 10:4. This is Isaiah’s prediction of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. This happened in 721 B.C. when Assyria conquered the kingdom, becoming the unconscious instrument of God’s wrath. The story is in Chapter 17 of the Second Book of Kings.

Thursday’s reading is Chapter 11:1-16, the prediction of a messianic king that rose from “the stump of Jesse”—David’s father. We believe, of course, that that king is Christ.

Friday’s reading jumps to Chapter 30:1-18. Now the Assyrians are threatening Jerusalem. Isaiah warns against an alliance with Egypt.

Saturday’s reading is Chapter 37:21-35. Isaiah tells King Hezekiah that God despises him, but he would protect Jerusalem. That’s what happens. Read the details in Chapter 19 of the Second Book of Kings, where Isaiah’s prophecy is repeated. †

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