Scripture: Isaiah 13-17
Key verses: (14:3-4a) “When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon.”
Reflection: It is a moment ingrained in my mind. The year was 1985. The place was Legion Field, Birmingham, AL. Van Tiffin had just kicked a 52-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the Iron Bowl to beat Auburn, 25-23, snatching victory from what moments earlier seemed the certain jaws of defeat for the Tide. As an Auburn sophomore, I was devastated. Then their “Million Dollar Band” played that infernal song, “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer,” and their fans taunted us singing, “Hey Auburn, Hey Auburn, we just beat the he(double-toothpicks) outta you!” I hated that song. They must have sung it 100 times that night. Uggh. Twenty-five years later, in 2010, after an unlikely 24-point comeback in Tuscaloosa, Auburn defeated Alabama, 28-27. In Bryant Denny stadium that early evening, the Auburn band turned the tide, and the visitors’ section changed the lyrics, replacing “Auburn” with “Alabama,” singing that taunting song right in the midst of the Auburn’s Babylon. Here’s a video if you’d like to see it : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g05QG_p1U1E
That’s what came to mind when I read the oracle against Babylon in Isaiah 14. Isaiah writes, “You will take up this taunt against Babylon.” That’s what 2010 felt like to me. “How the oppressor has ceased! How his insolence has ceased!” However, such taunts, such longings for vengeance do not emerge from our best instincts, do they? Certainly they do not come from what is holy. If our world were ruled by the mentality of such taunts, we would only have endless cycles of vengeance. Our ultimate destiny would surely be destruction. As our Lord said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” (Mt. 26:52) Yet here is Isaiah’s invitation to take up the taunt in response to his oracle of judgment against the hated Babylonians, an oracle tucked amid other oracles against the nations, against Assyria, Philistia, Moab and Egypt. What are we to make of this?
As is true of all scripture, it must be understood in its larger context. These oracles and this taunt are not ends, in and of themselves. They are part of a bigger picture. While they reflect the judgment of God upon the powers of the world, that judgment is part of the redemption of creation. “The whole earth is at rest and quiet,” in v. 7a. The cedars of Lebanon are rejoicing because the powerful no longer chop them down to erect their mighty houses. This is but part of a process that will involve judgment not only upon Israel’s enemies, but also upon Israel itself. That judgment is a necessary part of redemption, for God’s judgment always grows from God’s love. The goal of all this judgment is a new creation that calls forth a new song to be sung in Isaiah 42. It’s the new creation where lions and lambs lie down together (Isaiah 11, 65), where swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2). That’s God’s big picture in Isaiah.
Amid the tensions and taunts of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, I’ve glimpsed that big picture. Less than five months after the 2010 Iron Bowl, on April 27, 2011, a terrible tornado devastated Tuscaloosa, killing 41 people. It was a horrible tragedy. In response, Auburn and Alabama students came together to build Habitat Homes and to repair homes seriously damaged by that tornado. In March of 2019, tornados hit Auburn, killing 23 and leaving hundreds homeless. Alabama students came east in the wake of that disaster to help rebuild people’s lives in Auburn. It was a glimpse of the peaceable kingdom that is God’s vision for the world’s tomorrows. Life’s ultimate destiny is not defined by the temporary taunts of victors born of a particular moment, but rather by the redemption of all that is the destiny of creation.
Prayer: “Amid life’s temptations to taunt, open our eyes to the vision of your big picture, O God, and open our hearts to respond in faith that the world might know the power of your redemption. Amen.”
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].