Scripture Focus: Isaiah 26.17-18
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life.
Reflection: A Difficult Birth
By John Tillman
Humanity was created to create. God’s command in Eden was to enhance, to cultivate, to grow—to birth more life from life. Despite our fallenness, we can take up our Edenic call to birth goodness. Birthing life is a holy and painful process and it does not always go smoothly.
Isaiah describes an agonizing and difficult birth. The woman strains, groans, and cries in her effort. But after all of that sweat, pain, and blood, she has no child to hold. She hasn’t birthed anything at all—only “wind” or ruach.
Ruach is a common word meaning wind, breath, or spirit. Ecclesiastes 2.11 uses it to express a similar feeling of uselessness and pointlessness. After all his work, even working with the blessing of divine wisdom that was beyond any other human, Solomon came up short. All his labor was meaningless. A chasing after ruach.
Isaiah sits in mournful disappointment following this failed birth. Israel was supposed to birth goodness, salvation, and life into the world. Instead, they brought death, enslavement, and evil.
We may feel similar disappointment. Like Israel, the church is to birth goodness, salvation, and life into the world by being Christ’s embodied presence. It is a difficult birth. Despite all our labor we may at times despair. Has the church failed? Is our labor meaningless?
John picks up Isaiah’s image of a woman in labor in Revelation. John encouraged his readers that birthing is not over and it will not fail. The woman in Revelation is supernaturally assisted in her birth. (Revelation 12.2-6) Today, God’s people still struggle in labor, and God still steps in to supernaturally help us.
“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.” — Samwise Gamgee, The Two Towers
In a way, we are all Samwise. Gardeners, meekly navigating an impossible course between mighty foes. By rights, we shouldn’t be here. We aren’t strong enough to bear this burden. Yet, where we are incapable or fall short, God will step in.
Along with us, God strains, groans, and cries as a woman in labor. (Isaiah 42.14; 49.15) People, groups, or nations may fail now, but God won’t. In the end tears, sweat, and blood will all be wiped away by God’s tender hand.
There will come a day when the difficulty of labor will be forgotten in the joy of the birth of God’s kingdom. (John 16.21-22) “…and no one will take away your joy.”
Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7
Isaiah 26 (Listen -2:58)
Luke 8 (Listen -8:09)
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