Yesterday was our first step upon our lenten journey towards Holy Week and Pascha. One of the purposes of the fast is to free up time within our busy schedules to dedicate to prayer, reading Scripture and serving others. To that end, I have decided to start logging posts about my experience of reading the OT readings for Lent. Over the course of Lent, the Church reads sections of the OT during the week. These readings start with Isaiah (from the Prophets), Genesis (from the pentateuch — the first five books of the OT) and Proverbs (from the Wisdom writings). As this is a lot of information to write about, I’m going to concentrate my efforts on those sections the Church reads from the Prophets — in this case, Isaiah.
Isaiah lived around the 8th-7th century B.C. at a time when Israel was split into two Kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Assyria was growing in power and turned its armies upon the Northern Kingdom, conquered it and enslaved its peoples. Isaiah fled to Judah in order to warn the people there to trust in God alone.
He offers us a vision of desolation brought about by a rebellious people; however, at the end of this first reading from Isaiah, we are given hope:
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. — Isaiah 1:18-20
This hope is echoed in Psalm 50:9 (51:7):
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
This cleansing is possible through obedience. In the Greek, the phrase translated as “obedient” is εἰσακούσητέ μου which literally means “listen to me.” This phrase is coupled with the call to “reason together” with God. In the Hebrew, this phrase literally means “to argue” and is reflected in the Greek with διαλεχθῶμεν, from the verb “to refute.” Imagine, God is actually asking us to argue with Him!
In other words, rebellion against God is to completely turn our back on Him — to refuse even to argue with Him. The first step towards salvation — being washed clean and made whiter than snow — is to face God, argue with Him and listen to His side of the story.