Connections 01.15.2017: The Polished Arrow

Isaiah 49:1-7

My older daughter Samantha is twelve. She adores fashion, hairstyles, and accessories. For Christmas, someone gave her a gift card to Claire’s, a small boutique that carries earrings, hair accessories, and other novelties. I took her shopping last weekend so she could spend the gift card, and she took about forty-five minutes to debate the wisdom of each potential choice. While she browsed, I studied the tiny silver earrings available in a wide range of designs—dragonflies, starfish, elephants, flowers. Then I came across single arrows, one per ear. There were several different sets in a variety of metals, some adorned with little jewels.

While the other designs made sense to me, I wondered about the arrows. What did they mean? A nod to Cupid’s arrow? An interest in archery? A direction to travel? Then there are the pop culture possibilities, including Katniss from The Hunger Games, the superhero TV show Arrow, Black Widow wearing an arrow necklace in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (presumably an allusion to Hawkeye, a fellow Avenger), and the continued popularity of the elves of Middle Earth. With these characters in mind, arrows suggest purpose and direction, but also elegance, strength, self-sufficiency, and protection.

When I read today’s Scripture, I found a beautiful meaning for the single arrow. Isaiah says that God “made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away” (Isa 49:2). In the rest of the passage, Isaiah remembers his calling from God. He remembers, too, his protests to the Lord. God has a giant plan for his life, and Isaiah feels woefully inadequate. Even so, God calls and Isaiah follows. God has chosen him (v. 7)—and not just for small tasks. God wants him to be a “light to the nations” (v. 6), sharing God’s love and salvation with as many people as possible.

So why an arrow? It seems to me that God has “polished” Isaiah. God has prepared him and made him ready. And, until the right time, God is protecting him and keeping him safe. When the moment arrives, Isaiah will fly out into the world, polished by God, ready to pierce people’s hearts with the truth of who the Lord is. In this case, the arrow isn’t an aggressive tool of battle; it’s a precise instrument of love.

Just as God chose Isaiah, God chooses us. If we make ourselves available, God will polish us—prepare us and make us ready. Then God will keep us safe until the right moment comes. And when it does, we’ll be ready to fly out and pierce the world with light and hope and love.

Discussion

1. Do the items you wear (clothing, jewelry, hats, etc.) ever represent something about you? If so, what?
2. How do you feel about wearing items that specifically point to God, such as Christian T-shirts, cross jewelry, and other articles?
3. In the passage, Isaiah uses several images to explain what God has done in him: sharp sword, polished arrow, servant, light. What do each of these mean for Isaiah? What could they mean for us as we follow Christ?
4. How do you feel about the Bible’s use of battle imagery to describe God’s work in people (for example, swords, arrows, shields, etc.)? What are the positive meanings of this imagery? What might be some negative meanings?
5. Do you feel that you, like Isaiah, are chosen by God? If so, how do you live as a chosen one? If not, what can you do to draw closer to God and realize that God has indeed chosen you?

Reference Shelf

The opening speech, the first part of which (vv. 1-6) is often treated by scholars as the second of the “servant songs,” is addressed to coastlands and peoples from far away. These may well be the nations in Palestine along the coast and in the interior. The speaker identifies himself as Israel (v. 3). He recites his testimony to having been called by the LORD before birth. The calling was to be the LORD’s servant in whom he will be glorified (v. 3). But it had not worked out that way; God knows why not.

A second voice answers with a similar testimony to having been called of the LORD. But his task is to bring Jacob back to him (v. 5). In contrast to the first voice, this one testifies that he has been honored in the LORD’s sight and received his strength from God. Cyrus received a similar command in 45:13; here the command is renewed to Darius to fulfill what Cyrus had not completed.

The commission is enlarged to include becoming a light to nations (v. 6). Darius has become the LORD’s instrument to extend his salvation to the end of the earth. Earth may also be translated “land”; if so it refers to the farthest extent of the land of Canaan, that is, to all Palestine.

A second ORACLE is recited in v. 7. The speaker of v. 5 is now described. He is one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers. Darius had been a lowly aide to emperor Cambyses, with no royal status, no position in line for the throne.

The oracle proclaims that recognition and status await him because of the LORD…who has chosen him (v. 7). Darius’s success in establishing his throne and authority over the Empire is attributed to being chosen by the LORD. Darius in fact did gain complete control of the government in all the parts of the existing empire and then proceeded to enlarge it to become the largest empire known to that time.

John D. W. Watts, “Isaiah,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, Watson E. Mills et al (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995) 602.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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