One of the things that I wanted to do this year was to study my way through the book of Isaiah seeing as he is considered the Gretzky of prophets.
First, though, I wanted to do some research on what a prophet really is, and why should I care what they said thousands of years ago? How do they fit into the overarching narrative not just of the Bible but of history too?
For the Biblical prophets I found this page which does a pretty good job of laying all of it out.
Basically, prophets were kings, princes, priests, governors, tribal leaders, dad’s, mom’s, widows…. In other words, being a prophet, wasn’t always exclusively a profession, (although there were a few prophets who were just a prophet). The important thing I realized is that the words or writings of these people have lasted the test of time and in lasting they have proved they were a ‘prophet’. Most of the oldest recorded written words throughout human history we have are attributed to them, indicating to me that it would be worthwhile spending time studying them.
Take all the ancient kingdoms and societies throughout recorded time – boil down all the stories, religious beliefs and poetry and you will end up with what the prophets wrote. Or, think of it this way – take the best musical artists of the last 10 years you know. Next, which of those artists will still be remembered and listened to in 20 years? 50 years? 100? 1000?
If in 1000 years people are still listening and playing their music then there must be something very special about it.
You would say that there was something in their music that was analogous with the very nature of being a human.
So, hold that thought in mind while I go down a rabbit hole…
In Genesis, near the beginning of humanity there is a story about a guy named Lamech. Now Lamech was known for a couple of things but the main things were that he was the first one to have multiple wives and also that he was pretty good with a brand new invention his son Tubalcain had figured out – the sword.
So, whether you believe this story was really true or not it is still a metaphor for a couple of real things (mathematical principles one could say) about the nature of humanity. If you have ever played the computer game Civ you might understand this better.
- One, that humans used their cognitive ability (rational) to invent things that allowed them to kill other people more effectively increasing their dominance.
- Two, the strongest people that had the most children could grow their family or tribe at a faster rate than those around them also increasing their dominance.
Now, this is logical.
Of course, there were other factors such as disease and food supply that can affect how fast a civilization would grow but one can understand that the best way for a man to make his family (DNA) dominant would be to have the most children with the most women. Likewise, defeating your strongest enemy with something that makes you more powerful than them would also increase your dominance.
So, some people were smarter and/or stronger and their families become dominant. Those families then became tribes, then races and eventually countries like Mesopotamia and Egypt. These countries developed as a direct result of hierarchical dominance. The ones on the top were particularly vicious.
Another way to look at it is that at one time there wasn’t this competition for dominance; there was no death so no ‘evolution’ (since to evolve you need lots and lots of death). This natural law of competition was actually a curse (for lack of a better word) that had been placed on humanity. This curse was not just placed on humans, though, it was also placed on all nature – survival of the fittest.
This law of the dominant survives let whoever was the most dominate make the rules. If you were weak – too bad.
This went on in human history until one man – Abraham.
He was the first voice in the wilderness and he left one of the largest civilizations of his day (Of which he was pretty successful) to strike out into the wilderness because he somehow heard God’s words (which came in the form of poetry).
Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed
There were a couple of really huge problems, though, that did not align with the existing rules of dominance. One, he was 75 when he started, a little late to be kingdom building and two, as pretty as his wife was she couldn’t get pregnant. You see, he was monogamous and anyone who was anyone building a name for themselves had lots of wives as mentioned. But, Abraham did something incredible; he chose to listen to this poetic voice of God instead of his own reason. Not that he didn’t struggle with the whole idea, he knew in his head it was impossible (as did his wife) but he also had a belief that the voice from God was real and that He could make it happen. God had the power to. Now get this, that belief is what God had been searching for.
The Apostle Paul, of course, puts it more eloquently:
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
So, we see that even though the law of dominance existed, and by it nations were made, there suddenly was a new way to make a nation – using a new law – the law of faith.
But this was just the start of God talking to people and so He slowly created a nation on earth that was built on Abraham’s act of faith. This ‘seed’ of faith led to the birth of Isaac (which shouldn’t have happened), and was passed along and hammered out as a family became a tribe and then a nation in slavery which was the least dominant nation on earth. It was then that another man heard from God, and guess where – yep, out in the wilderness. That man of course was Moses.
Once again, like Abraham, this tiny slave nation had mathematically impossible odds to move up out of the dominance of Egyptian rule. There was no logical way Moses was going to get Pharaoh to release his free work force and there was no way that Israel could defeat the strength of the Egyptian dominance. It would take a tremendous leap of faith to even attempt to do what God asked of Moses and can be seen in his anxiety about going to talk to Pharaoh. Rightly so, since if he was seen as a threat to Pharaoh’s dominance he would have been executed instantly. Moses understood the dominance hierarchy of the Egyptian culture well.
But, God showed His dominance in the most interesting of ways – In the most impossible of odds He would show up. He chose to manifest his power not directly like in the days of Noah, but rather he used weakness to demonstrate three things about who He is to the most powerful and dominant on earth – One, He has great power, two He has great compassion and three He has the greatest glory.
Why those three? Because He was demonstrating not only that He was the most dominant simply because He had the most power but that even though he had the most power His nature was not to just destroy those who opposed Him and use those who were under Him for His own means. He gave them opportunity to recognize their mortal limits and submit to Him (or rebel against Him) freely which is an act of His compassion. The greater the dominance on earth the greater the glory when God overcomes that dominance by using the weakest instrument. Don’t we see this and love when the underdog somehow wins even with impossible odds against them. Is their glory not the most magnified and remembered in history?
Almost every story in the Old Testament involves overcoming situations with impossible odds using God’s power activated by faith. These situations would have destroyed the nation of Israel and wiped them from history should they not have resolved how they did:
David and Goliath, the Walls of Jericho, Queen Esther to name a few.
The point is that Israel as a nation would never have existed originally or continued to exist if God did not intervene and help overcome the dominance of other nations with His greater power manifested through the submitting faith of humans. The law of faith not dominance is what God looks for in order to do His work.
To prove the point, any time the kings of Israel would become dominate through their own power instead of faith, God would limit their dominance with the dominance of another nation. He would plunge them back into the cyclic futility of struggle for dominance and they could not compete with the Babylonians or Assyrians or Egyptians or any other dominant nation.
Ok, now i’ll jump back out of the rabbit hole – this is where prophets like Isaiah come in. They provided signposts along the road continually reminding the Israelites of this transcendent law of faith. Everything they are saying is to warn them about falling into the futility of struggling for dominance or God would put them in a situation where it will be impossible to get out of until they returned to living by faith. To remind them that they wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for God’s demonstration of power through faith in the past and that because of that fact they essentially belonged to God.
But there was something even more important at work going on – since the most dominant made the rules like I mentioned before, and since the power to overcome dominance through faith came from God then it follows that He got to make the rules for the nation.
And, that is the other thing the prophets kept reminding the Israelites about – to follow God’s laws that He had given to Moses and that a huge part of following His laws was treating other people not as mere objects or a means to dominate like Lamech had. That even though people such as widows or orphans were on the bottom of the dominance hierarchy they still needed protection and resources from those higher up.
The conclusion is that humans have value intrinsically and a sacredness given by these law’s of God.
Of course, there are many people who have figured this out and said it with much more eloquence.
The law transcends human dominance applying itself to all humans by its nature and in so doing limits the power of any one person or group of people while at the same time giving intrinsic rights to everyone.
Since the law came from God then it follows that the law is a reflection of who He is.
This is why King David wrote:
“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”
And the apostle Paul wrote:
“The righteous will live by faith”
Because they saw that if they studied the law believing that it came from God through the vehicle of faith, by it they could know and understand God.
This is also true when bad kings and politicians create laws that are a reflection of themselves. Wasn’t the laws and society that Hitler created a reflection of his own evil soul?
But God is the greatest good that we can aspire to because if we found something better, then that would be God, and is essentially what we are doing when we deviate from God’s laws. We are saying that we have found what is a better, more perfect way than what has been exposed across the ages through faith.
But, we should be very careful because the hearts of man are deceitful and they who make the laws are the most dominant as Tolkien so deftly warned.
“…the hearts of Men are easily corrupted. And the Ring of Power has a will of its own”
Or as God said to Cain as he sat brooding over the jagged edge of inequalities fresh wound – a newly discovered part of the human experience.
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
There has been a lot of talk lately about lobsters and the dominance hierarchy by Jordan Peterson along with the patriarchy and inequality in society. Is this leftover from evolution? Or, is it a byproduct of the knowledge of good and evil? Like how nuclear waste became a problem only after the knowledge of the atomic age.
Almost all decisions we make in life are an appeal to our natural instinct to climb up or maintain our level in the dominance hierarchy (who we are attracted to, what we want for a career, where we decide to live, what car we buy). If we feel we should be higher up than we are by a certain age we feel depressed, or we feel anxious that we could lose our place. Just like lobsters defending their little piece of a coral reef or just like any wild animal really. It is a constant motivating force built into our DNA.
The prophets remind us that God was the one who did this, though. He was the one who ‘cursed’ us and not just us but the whole earth and everything in it.
Why would God put humanity into a recursive futile loop of climbing and conquering a hill only to die and leave it to another? – I think Paul helps us with that.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.”
Hope for what? Hope that by faith our pursuit of righteousness and doing good will not end in futility. That when we are at the end we can say our struggle was worth the effort. That even though we will leave this ’empire of dirt” still something will remain. Something more than hope. Something more like love.