Gospel. Women. Everyone.

Not for nothing is Isaiah referred to as the fifth Gospel. Listen to this (and I do mean listen--read it out loud and hear yourself):

He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

And they made His grave with the wicked but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.

When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. 

Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:2b-12)

I don't know about you, but sometimes I have trouble identifying with the crucifixion--an event that occurred not quite two thousand years ago, in a land I've never seen, to a person I've never seen. I do have trouble connecting with that emotionally, feeling its effect on my life.

To be brutally honest, I often have trouble seeing my value as a woman in the kingdom of God, and as an overseas worker I struggle with purpose. When other people get really excited about the nations, and Psalm 2, and Psalm 17, and so many other references to the nations' worshipping God, I have almost no emotional connection to that. I can't carry the burden of the nations--this heart isn't big enough. Heck, I can't bear the burden of the million+ people in my city.

"They" say that "whatever bugs you in the States will hippopotamus you overseas," and in the time I've been here in Mexico, I've definitely seen that. Isolation, frustration, and purposelessness have raised ugly, longstanding doubts out of the murky depths of my heart--questions like:
  • Do you care if I'm happy?
  • Do you actually care about me?
  • Are you just wasting my life away from family and friends? Why?
  • Do you actually want these people to be saved--and if so, what are you doing about it?
  • Do I actually get to make choices in my life, or am I just trapped in this?
  • How can I talk to people about a joy I'm not sure I feel?
  • Why don't you just send someone else--someone male, married, qualified to train leaders and plant churches and talk to people, someone sinless and healthy and not so very broken?
Is that maybe a little too raw? I don't know. Part of me feels like a Christian shouldn't struggle with these questions, much less an overseas worker sent to represent the name of Jesus in another nation. But I do.

That's where I was this morning. I skipped church to spend some time complaining to God and crying and looking for answers. My reading started this morning in the Suffering Servant passage that begins at the end of Isaiah 52. As I said, I have a lately had hard time connecting emotionally with these things, which tends to make me feel like a failure as well. So reading Isaiah 53 and other such passages is often intimidating for me, because I feel like it should be profoundly affecting, and like something's wrong with me if it isn't.

Today I started praying through it as I was reading it, and writing it down with myself as part of the passage:

"Do you actually care about me, God? . . . The Lord's love for me is such that he has borne my griefs, sorrows, and rejection, been wounded for my evildoing and bruised for my rebellion, has been punished that I might have peace, and his welts have brought me healing and sanity. I chose what I wanted, went my own way, and God laid on his son my rebellion. He said, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" so I wouldn't have to.

"He was silent under oppression and affliction, while I complain when I feel purposeless. There was no deceit in his mouth and no violence in his hands, but I plan deceit when I sin, because I don't want people to know. I heap sin over sin.

"His knowledge, our justification; our rebellion, his judgment.

"I walk around, talk to people, often so self-conscious, terrified that they'll guess or suspect how much I struggle with sin, that they'll see the real me, the ugly, leprous me; I feel naked and vulnerable in front of everyone. But I'm not. I'm so not. No one can uncover what God has covered. I am a new creation, but I live like the new creation is just a mask laid over the old, like a bad mask that doesn't actually cover the rot underneath. But I'm not rot underneath. I'm a new creation. I'm a saint in larval form."

Hebrews 7:25, one of my very favorite verses, says, "Wherefore He is also able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to intercede for them." That's what he does in Isaiah 53. He's a man of sorrows so that we don't have to be. He wore ugliness like a cloak, to bring us beauty. He was misunderstood so that we could live in his understanding of us. He carried our sorrows and our griefs to make life lighter on us. He identified with us so that he could trade places. And he still ended in glory and honor and righteousness and pleasure and satisfaction. He legitimately beat all of those other things.

It's good news, isn't it?

Want to see something really crazy? What's Isaiah 54 about? A woman. And what is God's first command to her? "Sing!"

The gospel comes, and who is the first person God talks to? Woman. Why is this important? Would it be audacious to say that maybe the woman is God's first priority in terms of the gospel? Maybe not!

What happens in the garden? Woman is created second, then woman is attacked, and then woman receives the consequences of sin. She's always second, lower, put down. And when we look at the world as it is, women receive less education, are more often the victims of violence and especially sexual violence, are more often the victims of human trafficking, are the victims of sex-selective abortions, are hurt, wounded, regularly put down, stripped naked for the pleasure of others, and are generally considered less-than, even in the church. Would it be odd, then, that the first chapter after the gospel in Isaiah is addressed to a woman?

What are some of the things God addresses when talking to this woman?
  • Lack of children, and a desire to care for others--"Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman, says the Lord" (54:1). The States might not particularly understand this, but most societies on the earth get the importance for a woman of having someone to care for, especially children. Not having children, to most of the world, means that there's something wrong with you. It's weird and maybe a curse. But God says there are children when there aren't any. He makes children for the childless, gives her honor.
  • Descendants--"Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited" (2-3). Generally, the property of the tents has belonged to men, and descendants have been counted after men. God here tells the woman that she will have descendants who will inherit nations and fill whole cities. 
  • Disgrace and shame from her youth--"Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth . . ." (4a). If you chip away at pretty much any woman's facade, you will reach some area of shame--whether it is over appearance, over relationships, over rejection, or over how she's used herself--or been used--in the past. God says to the woman, "I will never shame you. You will forget how it felt to have someone shame you, because I won't ever do it."
  • Widowhood--". . . and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth" (4b-5). I read an article recently about polygamy in India, where this guy married two extra ladies so that someone would be around to carry the water needed for the house; the first wife couldn't do it alone. These two ladies were delighted to be married, because they were widows, and now they had honor back as married women. As widows, they lived under shame, couldn't even eat with their families because they were unclean. This is what women really deal with in parts of the earth. Yet the God of the whole earth has chosen women as his, to carry his name as their husband.
  • Chosenness and calling--"For the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused" (6). I am probably like every woman in that, deep within me, so deep I almost always bury it because it's just too vulnerable, I want someone to choose me over all others and stay with me, over all others, out of love. Any woman who's ever had a guy talk to her about relationships, engagement, marriage, etc., and then choose to actually do those things with another woman understands how this feels. It is a forsaken feeling, a grief of spirit. So God says, "I have called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit." This is gospel, is it not?
  • Anger--"For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. For this is like the waters of Noah to me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so I have sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you" (7-9). The same way we never wake up worried that the earth is suddenly going to flood and we're all going to die, we never have to worry about God's anger or rebuke. He's not a hitter, and he doesn't give the silent treatment. His love is perfect. He promises everlasting kindness. Gentleness and tenderness without fail.
  • Steadfastness--"For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has mercy on you" (10). God says that the hills will fall away before his kindness does, and that he makes a promise of peace with the woman. Why does someone make a promise? So that the other person will feel secure. 
  • Security--"O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children" (11-13). Every woman instinctively looks for security, beauty, and safety for her children. God promises all three. We move from the image of a tent in the first part of this chapter to a castle made of jewels--impregnable and beautiful. This world isn't secure for women. A 15-year-old girl here was raped and left for dead on her way home from school a few weeks ago. There's a reason we want security. Parents want security and safety for their kids. It's just not here in this world. This is why the gospel is so important. God really does promise it, and He provides it in changed hearts. People who really know Him don't treat other people as objects.
  • Safety from oppression--"In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear, and from terror, for it shall not come near you" (14). Like I've said, this isn't a safe world for women. Rape is a weapon of war, pretty much every time there is war. Look at Somalia. Look at the Yazidi women (and others) kidnapped by ISIS. I don't understand this impulse. Women and children are vulnerable, and God says, "I'm not like that." God offers distance from terror. This is comfort, and this is gospel.
  • The judgment of others--"Indeed they shall surely assemble, but not because of Me. Whoever assembles against you shall fall for your sake. Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy. No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn" (15-17a). Every woman has felt the lash of the tongue. Both men and women talk smack about women, and it hurts. But God gives the promise that the woman will be able to condemn the tongues that rise against her in judgment. People can talk about the woman's appearance or her actions, or they can spread lies, but there is an end to all that.
  • Heritage and legacy--"This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me, says the Lord" (17b). The woman also inherits as a servant of the Lord. The woman also gets righteousness.
Then in Isaiah 55 God opens the blessing up to everyone--and what beautiful promises there are in this passage. It's some of the most beautiful poetry in Scripture.

As I thought about today's reading, from Isaiah 53 and onward, I saw the following progression: gospel (53)--women (54)--everyone (55)-- foreigners and eunuchs (56:1-8). If this looks familiar, see the New Testament: gospel (crucifixion and resurrection)--women (immediately after the resurrection--they were the first people to see Jesus out of the tomb, and the first witnesses to the resurrection; and the main one was Mary Magdalene, a woman who apparently had no husband and who had had seven demons cast out of her--what would Isaiah 54 mean to her?)--everyone (Acts 1-7)--foreigners and eunuchs (Acts 8 and onward). 

Coincidence? I think not.

So where is my place as a woman in the kingdom of God? Somewhere in Isaiah 54. Somewhere in the resurrection. As a gospel-receiver and a gospel-giver, in line with my sisters back in the day, who were the first. Does God care if I'm happy? Yes. Is he wasting my life away? No. Why doesn't he send someone else? I have no idea, but there's a reason I'm here, as I am. Do I always have answers to all of these questions? No. But today I have what I need.

Thank you.

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