The verse that inspires me to write today is a bit obscure. Nestled in a long series of addresses to the nation-enemies of Israel, it’s not likely to make anyone’s list of life verses. But it speaks to me:
Do not rejoice, all you Philistines,
that the rod that struck you is broken;
from the root of that snake will spring up a viper,
its fruit will be a darting, venomous serpent. (Isaiah 14:29)
I know all about snapped sticks. I spent the day recently hauling a pile of fallen branches to the edge of our street for pickup.
But this is no ordinary branch. As calamity approaches the nation, Isaiah has in mind the great example of God’s deliverance: their exodus from Egypt. And here, he imagines Israel as the Moses’s miraculous staff, that struck the Nile and turned it into blood, struck the dust and rose a plague of gnats, and most dramatically, transformed into a snake.
But now that rod is broken. The nation that, with David as king, had often defeated Philistia, was itself to be crushed by an invading army. And the enemies of God’s people were rejoicing.
I’ve been catching a similar schadenfreude in public discourse lately. For instance, the news that some churches have continued services despite the ban on public meetings has given rise to derision. One person in my social media feed said that he had always thought Christianity would die off from irrelevance; now it seems that Christians will simply kill themselves with stupidity.
In some people’s minds, the mighty holier-than-thous have fallen. The miraculous staff is broken.
But this is the week that we should remember that God brings wholeness out of brokenness and power out of defeat. The spiritual powers that oppose the Lord’s work in this world, rejoiced to see the Son of God on the cross, not imagining the victorious life that would spring from his death.
Isaiah makes the point that, even with half a staff, God can still make a venomous snake. I struggled with the violence of that image until I read the next verse:
The poorest of the poor will find pasture,
and the needy will lie down in safety. (14:29)
The venom is meant for those true enemies of God – who Paul calls “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12). They are the ones who want to derail our mission, who aim to distract us with comfort and materialism and church schisms and spiritual distancing.
The resurrection life – with all its transforming wholeness – is still as toxic to them as ever.
God can still use us in the present darkness of this pandemic to accomplish his will. Brokenness doesn’t defeat us. It only makes the work more miraculous.
Father in heaven, strike a blow against those spiritual forces arrayed against your people during this difficult time. Use us, even in our brokenness, to show the world your powerful love.
Reader: How has this time of isolation made you more aware of your need for God?