By NEMS Daily Journal
“Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: … I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”
The past two weeks in the United States have been filled with almost anything but peaceful images because of the Boston Marathon bombings and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the investigation into poisoned letters mailed to public officials, apparently from Tupelo.
Most people want a respite from scenes of conflict, from news reports of plots to harm people of good will, a break from bad news and the return of good news.
In Isaiah, the great prophetic and poetic book in the Hebrew Bible, are beautiful images. In what modern scholars have designated the 11th chapter there’s described the peaceable kingdom: “The wolf shall live with the lamb. The leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the lion and the fatling together and the child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze. Their young shall lie down together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”
It creates an image of everything working perfectly for the good of all creation.
In the 20th chapter, another peaceable kingdom is described, arguably even more stunning than the first, in which jackals and the ostriches will honor God, bowing down in reverent worship and prayer.
Jackals are generally regarded as vile, violent beasts, and their image throughout history has been unflattering.
Ostriches, while not so reviled, are in fact dangerous birds capable of eviscerating a lion or a human with powerful leg muscles and a large foot claw. That suggests strongly the modern ostriches’ ancestors evolved from something much more sinister than a big-plumed, comic-looking flightless bird.
However, the powerful poetic images of the Bible offer a peaceable kingdom in which the unlikeliest creatures become gentle, even prayerful creatures.
The Rev. Jim Keck, a Congregationalist preacher in Nebraska, recently told his large congregation, “Whenever you open Scripture, if it creates in you any sort of fear or anxiety may be about who’s within the circle of God’s love and who is without the circle of God’s love, then you’re missing this inclusive peaceable circle. If any time you read Scripture it makes you feel superior or maybe a little defensive and kicking and pecking like an ostrich, then you’re missing the peace that it offers. If any time you open Scripture it doesn’t create this abiding humility, it should just come upon your heart. Then you’re missing it.
“ … Someone once said that this is the basic spiritual question: Is the universe a friendly place or not? If you believe in God, you believe there is a love and that deep friendliness at the center of all things. So the question could be, ‘Does the universe moo or growl?’ Isaiah reminds us that it moos.”
So, we can be untamed jackals and lions and ostriches and tear into one another, or we can listen and perceive that God, in Keck’s words, is “doing a new thing.”
He writes, “Scripture will always offer us liberation and peace. Let those jackals and ostriches in your mind bow down. Hear God’s good word.”