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Blessed Be the Nations We Hate

One of the most interesting – and perhaps most subversive – multicultural passages in the Old Testament is Isaiah 19:16-25, particularly vv. 24-25.

This passage describes the future fortunes of the people of Egypt and contains a series of five short prophetic oracles, introduced by the formula “On that day…” (v. 16, v. 18, v. 19, v. 23, and v. 24). Particularly striking is the way the text describes the Lord relating to Egypt and Egypt relating to the Lord. For example, in language reminiscent of Israel’s experience in the books of Exodus and Judges, v. 20 describes the Egyptians “crying to the Lord because of oppressors” and the Lord responding by “send(ing) them a saviour, and will defend and deliver them.” In v. 21, the Lord promises to “make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day and will worship with sacrifice and burnt offering.” Such assertions might have ruffled the feathers of any God-fearing Israelite. But it gets worse. In v. 24 the Lord announces that he will place both Egypt and Assyria (the nation who destroyed the northern kingdom and took its people into exile) on an equal footing with the covenant people and grants these nations titles which were usually reserved for the covenant people: “Blessed by Egypt my people [cf. Exod 6: 7], and Assyria the word of my hands [cf. Isa 60: 21].” I can almost hear the screams of enraged Israelites reaching me across the centuries! (The subversive nature of this text was well appreciated by the translators of the LXX who altered the passage to read “Blessed be my people who are in Egypt and in Assyria,” referring to members of the covenant community who were in exile in these two nations.) But perhaps this willingness of God to work outside the boundaries that we have created really shouldn’t surprise us. Consider the examples of Ruth, the Moabitess and great-grandmother of King David, or Cyrus the Great, Persian emperor and God’s anointed (= messiah), or the inclusion of the Gentiles in the book of Acts. Throughout history God has been at work in freedom, forming a community that exists outside of our normal (reasonable?) human expectations and including those whom our culture views as inferior or even despises. These examples lie before us – how will we respond?

Aaron Chalmers 22

Dr. Aaron Chalmers, Dean of the Faculty of Ministry, Theology and Culture

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