For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling…”
What must it have been like for Isaiah to have felt the pressure of God’s presence upon him — like a strong hand? What must it have been like for the prophet to hear this particular word from the Lord? Was he comforted? Or discomforted?
Unlike many of the oracles Isaiah received, this one was directed specifically at him. However Isaiah “heard” God’s messages, he knew, in the deepest part of his being that this one carried the weight of God’s glory. And the message underscored what Isaiah had, no doubt, already learned — to see things from God’s perspective often puts one at odds with the rest of the world.
God reminds Isaiah, in the starkest of language, that his role as a prophet is to be the contrarian. Isaiah is to meet God’s rebellious people at every turn and tell them that they’ve got it all wrong — that they are seeing everything backwards.
Conspiracy isn’t conspiracy.
The things that are engendering fear shouldn’t.
The things that aren’t causing feelings of fear should.
There’s no reason to dread the foreign powers with their threats of invasion.
But it’s probably a good time to dread the invasion of God’s justice.
When people are stumbling left and right — taking offense at the notion of God’s power and judgment, Isaiah will be tucked in the sanctuary of God’s presence.
All around Isaiah there is panic. His job is to continue to give witness to the God who has not abandoned Judah, even as Judah endures the consequences of its abandonment of God. Casting an alternative vision, when the majority believe they are seeing clearly, can be frustrating to say the least. And yet, in Isaiah, we see someone who is gifted with holy insight, tenacious obedience and pragmatic hope. Even in the face of the direst of consequences, Isaiah goes about his work — thankless as it is.
A few chapters back, God had warned Isaiah that to respond to the call of God was to enter into the vocation of the babbler — constantly telling people things they didn’t want to hear and likely would not heed. Prophet as professional contrarian. Hardly a safe job — given Judah’s unsafe and tenuous situation. No wonder Isaiah needed a little push every now and then from the “strong hand of the Lord”!