In these times of uncertainty and disarray, Isaiah’s community is engaged in self-destructive behavior (this discussion is informed by Professor Walter Brueggemann’s and Mrs. Vera White’s study of Isaiah entitled From Despair to Hope).
From the beginning of his discussion, Isaiah makes it clear that the disarray is not God’s fault. The failure of his religious community to offer healthy alternatives to the secular society around him is, without a doubt, the result of individuals in that community. Culpability is never a doubt in Isaiah’s discussion: clearly the religious community is responsible for its own misery. Not the economic forces, not the Assyrians or the Egyptians, not Satan–Isaiah’s community is responsible for its own chaos.
Do I need to apply this verse to our world? Does anyone here disagree that the mess in which we find ourselves is not our own doing? Can there be any Skinnerian, Rogerians, Gestaltians, or Existentialists who would still argue that Auschwitz and David Koresh were momentary products of a bad environment? Is there anyone who honestly can blame anyone or anything but our bad choices for the rise of a divorce rate from one in six (1960) to one in two (1990)? No matter how you may feel about abortion, is there anyone who would still argue that having to abort–or as I believe “murder”–40,000 fetuses a year is merely a lapse of the inexorable human movement to perfection? And, is there anyone, who can honestly blame the depravity of human nature for the sad case in England where two 11-year-olds are being tried for the murder of a two-year -old? How times have changed! In 1940, public school teachers rated the top disciplinary problems to be talking out of turn and chewing gum. In 1990, public school teachers rated the top disciplinary problems to be drug abuse, rape, robbery, and suicide. Why? Are we not responsible for our own problems? Now, this pastor feels that we are–and so does Isaiah–and the dealing with this culpability is what Isa. 59 is all about.
The central theme of Isaiah 59:1-8, then, is a bill of particulars for the kinds of conduct that have gotten Isaiah and his people into the problems they are now experiencing.