Isaiah’s early chapters are a breathtaking account of God’s righteous judgment of injustice and idolatry. Israel and Judah become so enamored with wealth, prosperity, and self-obsessed lifestyles – that they lose all sense of integrity, character, and righteousness. They have “rejected the instruction of the Lord … and they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:24)
As judgment comes and riches fail, the prophet offers this description of the situation:
When one looks at the land,
there will be darkness and distress;
light will be obscured by clouds. (Isaiah 5:30)
A cursory glance at the news or Twitter and one cannot help but think Isaiah is speaking of American life today. There is an abundance of darkness. Violence seemingly lurks around every corner. Children are suffering, while the adults are grandstanding. Honesty and integrity are for sale to the highest bidder. We lust and thirst for power as if it is our salvation. We “call evil good and good evil”. (Isaiah 5:20) Our land is filled with distress in the form of chronic mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty.
We cry out, “Where is the light?” “Where is God?” “Is there even such a thing?”
This is not new. This is the familiar refrain of people throughout the ages. But Isaiah’s poetic turn of phrase speaks as vividly today, as it did in days of old:
“…light will be obscured by clouds.” (Isaiah 5:30)
The light has not gone anywhere. The Sun continues to shine. However, the clouds formed from war, sin, and judgment obscure our ability to see it. The light is shrouded by our pride and indifference. Our windows are darkened by the stain of injustice and evil. A cloud of judgment hangs over our heads. The light is further clouded by our failure to self-examine and repent. We are quick to boldly prophesy about the evil of others, while our own house is in disorder. Isaiah, the prophet stands in contrast to our self-righteousness:
Woe is me for I am ruined
because I am a man of unclean lips
and live among a people of unclean lips,
and because my eyes have seen the King,
the Lord of Armies. (Isaiah 6:5)
Not they. Not them. But “I” and “we”. Isaiah’s prophetic response to the darkness was to acknowledge the truth about himself.
If we want the darkness to lift. If we desire for the distress to dissipate. If we want the cloud to lift, so that we might feel the warmth of the light – then we must begin our prayers with confession and repentance. Israel and Judah’s downfall did not lie in their captors, but in their insolence, and stubborn refusal to heed the Word of the Lord.
Lord, show us a different way, and let it begin with me.