An Easter Meditation on Isaiah’s ‘Little Apocalypse’

Zhivago_semen_afanasevich_1807_1863-tainaya_vecherya_1845_1846Isaiah 24-27 has often been termed his ‘little apocalypse’ and while it’s not generally well known it provides some fertile ground for theological reflection. It begins in ch. 24 with a vision of de-creation, with the only hope being some sort of new creation. In ch. 25 Isaiah has a vision of a mountain feast with the nations welcomed. Chapter 26 moves from a mountain to a city in which righteousness dwells, and chapter 27 moves from city to vineyard. God will watch over his vineyard so that it will be fruitful. So vineyards, mountains, cities, and new creation.

Perhaps the most interesting little piece comes at the mountain feast where we’re told that death rocks up uninvited. The Hebrew of Isa 25:8 begins with the words ‘death swallows’. Bad start. It looks like death is going to come and devour the guests at the feast. We then pause and reflect. Although, grammatically speaking it looks as though death is the subject of the verb, God is the subject of every other verb in the section, therefore he’s the implied subject here. The verb then is not active but passive and future. So rather than ‘death swallows’, the verse actually means ‘death is swallowed.’ No sooner does death arrive at the party than it gets unexpectedly eaten itself. It’s not just choice meats and fine wines that gets consumed – death itself gets devoured.

So, pause to think. A feast with God, followed by the ominous arrival of death, yet death doesn’t last too long before it gets swallowed up. Sound familiar this time of year!?

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