This set of chapters revolves around coming back to God and coming back to Jerusalem.
Chapter fifty six begins the section by talking about how anyone who keeps the Sabbath can be one of God’s people. It’s important to note, though, that keeping the Sabbath is not the same as we refer to it today. This means living in the way of God with all the laws and sacrifices, not just showing up to church or temple on a certain day. It goes on to talk about how irresponsible the people who got them taken into exile were too.
Chapter fifty seven mostly begins about people praying to “false idols” but does make a reference in the third verse about the people who do this.
3But you, draw near,
sons of the sorceress,
offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.
Okay, so I have nothing for that. It almost sounds like ancient name calling, you know? It’s the only references to lineage in this passage and it’s irksome. Nevertheless, the next passage is about God forgiving and coming back to the “contrite”.
Chapter fifty eight is rather glorious. No direct mention or reference to women but the whole thing is about people praying and not feeling heard and God responding that they only go to Him when they need something and don’t keep faith with the way He has told them to treat each other. Here’s the part that talks about what He actually wants of them before He’ll listen to them again:
6“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressedb go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
There’s some more after about the ways that God will respond to them, but I feel like it would be pretty great to live somewhere that this is a reality.
Chapter fifty nine doesn’t reference women or femininity.
Chapter sixty only makes reference of the way women are expected to nurture and care for children, which is in verse 16:
16You shall suck the milk of nations;
you shall nurse at the breast of kings;
and you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
To me, it presents God as not just a “father” but a “mother” too. I know that there are far more references to God as a father figure than this one maternal one here, but I feel like the nurturing or maternal side of God is erased from our interpretations of God’s actions. Like that somehow a being that created two images of Himself to create us couldn’t possibly be without gender and therefore have the whole spectrum covered. Not that we see a lot of feminine actions, but perhaps we downplay our own part of the actions that are not directly masculine because we, as a culture, tend to gender behaviors rather than let people just act like themselves.
Chapter sixty one verse ten has a quick mention of a bride alongside that of a bridegroom and the way people dress up for a wedding. It makes a reference that people’s souls will be similarly dressed up with salvation, which is a nice sentiment.
Chapter sixty two begins with a similar sentiment about marriage in that the relationship that the city of Jerusalem and/or Zion have to God and the covenant will be similar to a bride and groom. Later there’s another reference to women in that whatever group the prophet is talking to are called the “daughter of Zion”. Are these the women in Zion or the city that is Zion? Or are another nations of the time that is supposed to be a “daughter” of Zion in that they are subjected to that “mother” city? I’m not really sure and it seems rather ambiguous that way in the others places I tried to look.
Chapter sixty three doesn’t make references to women in any way, but there is this one piece that I just couldn’t help but comment on because it relates so well to chapter fifty eight above.
15Look down from heaven and see,
from your holy and beautifule habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
are held back from me.
16For you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us,
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O LORD, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name.
17O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways
and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
18Your holy people held possession for a little while;f
our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary.
19We have become like those over whom you have never ruled,
like those who are not called by your name.
Is it my imagination, or are they blaming God for making them feel this way and that they turned their back on Him and stopped following the guidelines of the covenant and all that? If nothing else, the Bible does prove people’s propensity for trying to blame any one else for our problems.
Chapters sixty four and sixty five don’t make mention of women or femininity but they do kind of respond to the last chapter in that God seems to be upset with their assessment that He did this to them and reminds them that though it was their own doing, He’ll still forgive and redeem them.
Chapter sixty six begins along the same lines, God telling the people that their sacrifices don’t mean anything because “their soul delights in their abominations”. But later, in verses 7-14, God is quoted using quite a bit of female imagery about Jerusalem giving birth to what sounds like a new people. God is quoted as insisting that all the pain that they have gone through is like labor pain and that it will come to fruition with a sort of child of Jerusalem that is new and different from what was there before. It goes on to include imagery of a woman nursing her child as God would nurse them and that He will comfort them “as a mother comforts”, bringing back the maternal and perhaps feminine side of God that we so often take for granted.
It ends with an idea of Jerusalem and the Israelites, or perhaps just the Jews, evangelizing in a really interesting way.
18“For I knowb their works and their thoughts, and the time is comingc to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. 21And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.
22“For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the LORD,
so shall your offspring and your name remain.
23From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the LORD.
24“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Here again, I’m not sure if this is what was supposed to happen just after the end of the exile or if this is a prophecy of Jesus or are we still waiting for this time to come? Are we supposed to expect a time to come when the evangelizing is done and everyone worships the same God?
I suppose that’s the problem with prophecy.