A Difficult Birth

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 26 (Listen -2:58)
Luke 8 (Listen -8:09)

Read more about This Present Age
You have placed us here and called us now, to live for you in this place, in this culture, in this time.

Read more about New Year, New Adam, New CreationBetter than a baby new year, Jesus is a new Adam. All creation will be renewed in him.

Knowing Promises in Part

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 26.3
3 You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.

Isaiah 27.2-6
2 …Sing about a fruitful vineyard:
3     I, the Lord, watch over it;
    I water it continually.
I guard it day and night
    so that no one may harm it.
4     I am not angry.
If only there were briers and thorns confronting me!
    I would march against them in battle;
    I would set them all on fire.
5 Or else let them come to me for refuge;
    let them make peace with me,
    yes, let them make peace with me.”
6 In days to come Jacob will take root,
    Israel will bud and blossom
    and fill all the world with fruit.

Reflection: Knowing Promises in Part
By John Tillman

In many of Isaiah’s writings three things are being described at the same time—the destruction of Israel in the immediate future, the return from exile in the near future, and the reconstruction of Israel in the far future.

Perhaps one of the most often quoted bits of Isaiah that we remove from its context is the promise to “keep in perfect peace” those who trust in God. (Isaiah 26.3) 

Isaiah’s audience may have misread this promise as an assurance of earthly political peace and the absence of suffering or conflict. Many modern readers make this same mistake. It is not invalid for us to pray this verse and long for peace. However, we should understand that earthly peace we can experience now is partial and temporary and only foreshadows the peace to come.

Throughout the scriptures, God gives his people previsualizations of ultimate reality. These are intermediary places or persons or events that stand as a picture of the promises of God. 

The Tabernacle and the Temple of Jerusalem are previsualizations of Heaven and the City of God, where people can approach God, see his glory, and understand his holiness. 

Joseph, Moses, and David are previsualizations of a suffering servant, a liberating savior, and a reigning king that are fulfilled in Jesus.

The enslavement in Egypt with eventual liberation and exodus, and the exile to Babylon with eventual return and rebuilding are previsualizations of our current state and our ultimate eternal destiny. We live now as exiles and foreigners in a world enslaved and ruled by sin, but one day we will be ultimately freed and the world we are meant to live in will be rebuilt.

In this context we will experience the ultimate fulfillment of the peace promised in Isaiah 26:3. This passage is part of a section (Isaiah 25-27) that refers to the coming of God’s eternal city to Earth, also described in Revelation. (Isaiah 25.6-8; Revelation 21.1-7). This banquet is for all the peoples of the world and every face will be covered in tears, yet God himself will wipe those tears away. 

As we take refuge in him and make peace with him, he will wipe every tear from our eyes and we will bear the fruit that we were always intended to bear. (Isaiah 27.5-6) This promise we may know and fulfill now in part, but then, we will know fully and be fully known. (1 Corinthians 13.12)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 27 (Listen – 2:16)
1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)

Read more about The House God Desires
When we make room for God in our hearts and lives, he will enter.
And when our lives are over, we will awake in the house of God.

Read more about Praise from a Stump
We, in Christ, can see ourselves in both the unworthy and shamed stump, and in the new supernatural growth of the remnant.