Formations 06.25.2017: A Little Child Will Lead

Isaiah 11:1-9

Between the cows and bears, the wolves and lambs, the goats and leopards, Isaiah was right to recognize a child leading. In fact it would be easy to imagine that his leader also told this story, as only a child could.

Margaret Wise Brown, the writer of Goodnight Moon and many other children’s books.

Margaret Wise Brown transformed children’s literature by bringing new educational theories from the Bank Street School into her stories. She held that children, unlike adults whose understanding of the world made it uninteresting, experienced the world as strange and mysterious.

So instead of telling stories that take place in other worlds, she examined our world closely in stories about barns, sounds, islands, traffic lights, and other ordinary objects. Goodnight Moon, for example, focuses on bedtime, but it does so with an eye to the mysterious. In fact, many reviewers consider it to be more spell than story.

As the old lady says, “good night,” to the moon and to the cow jumping over it, to the lamp and the comb that it lit, she addresses each part of the surrounding world. The animals and objects surrounding the woman and the child do not depend on them for existence, and they deserve to be addressed as such.

Rather than creating an environment of control, Brown asks us to see the mysterious relationships that emerge when we recognize the interdependence of all that exists in our midst. And she invites us to greet what we encounter in it by saying, “good night,” and maybe “good morning” too.

Isaiah envisions a similar world, one that challenges what we know. It asks us to commune with those we’ve learned to fear and calls us to eat with those we’ve preyed on. It would be easy to dismiss the prophet’s story as a fantastic vision. But it just might be that this world Isaiah sees is more real than the one we see most days.

Amy Crawford, “The Surprising Ingenuity Behind ‘Goodnight Moon,’” Smithsonian.com, January 26, 2017, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/surprising-ingenuity-behind-goodnight-moon-180961923/.

Discussion

• What parts of the world, both living and material, have grown boring, unsurprising, or uninteresting?
• What from your everyday life continues to surprise you? What has allowed these parts of existence to remain fascinating?
• What might emerge from allowing those we encounter to challenge our expectations?

Reference Shelf

The Spirit and Wisdom

Reminiscent of the world of creation in Genesis 1–3, vv. 2-5 advocate key prescriptions of good leadership. Possibly, echoing the six days of complete creation in Genesis 1, the sixfold attribute of YHWH’s spirit (cf. Gen 1:2) imply perfect qualifications of “good” dominion (v. 2; cf. Gen 1:31). No longer is there a dangerous tree with the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17) because YHWH’s spirit alone wile provide good knowledge. The sixth attribute, “fear of YHWH,” depicts the ability to judge beyond outward seeing or hearing (v. 3; cf. 6:9), motivated neither by matters of desirable to the eyes (Gen 3:6) nor by the “fear” of nakedness (Gen 3:10).

In another intertextual correlation, these virtues of a good king allude to their origin in Lady Wisdom, who grants prudence, knowledge, discretion, fear of YHWH, counsel, efficiency, understanding, and valor (Prov 8:12-14). Indeed a good king must delight in the fear of God (Isa 11:2-3). The ancients thought of a king as divinely elected and endowed, almost with divine qualities, as the son of God (cf. Ps 2:7). Yet such a divine approval of the kings did not reside in their special status but rather in their acknowledging the deity. Hence, the human king ought to fear the divine King. Human kings must wield authority and power in abject humility and total trust toward the power and stipulations of God (Prov 8:15-16).

Hyun Chul Paul Kim, Reading Isaiah: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2016), 74.

Predator and Prey

The problem of predators was a major theme in Isaiah 10. Directly after the imagery in 9:12, 20 (Heb. 9:11, 19) of Israel and the nations “eating” one another, Isaiah 10:2 had accused the powerful of Judah of preying upon orphans and widows. The verses following had established a clear connection between such practices and what was to befall predators, who would become the hunted, crouching among prisoners and falling among the slain. The role assigned to Assyria was to carry out this sentence “to take spoil and seize plunder” (v. 6). Delighting in this role, the Assyrian king described gathering the wealth of peoples like eggs from nests (v. 14), till the prophet described divine destruction for Assyria (vv. 16-18). In sum, beginning in chapter 9 and throughout chapter 10, one image after another of the strong preying upon the weak had piled up, Israel and the nations against one another; the leadership of Judah against the poor; Assyria against Judah; God against Assyria. The only dubious consolation was that in the end God was the strongest predator of all. But a different picture emerges in chapter 11.

Wild predators are juxtaposed one after another with domestic animals and humans, especially their smallest and most vulnerable, as they are seen sleeping, grazing, and playing harmoniously together. Here it is not that the tables will be turned. Rather, the cycle itself is broken. Aggression has gone so out of style that even the animals have reverted to eating vegetation as they did before the flood (Gen 1:30; 9:3). In v. 2, knowledge had characterized the king, but in v. 9, knowledge of God fills the entire land. Verse 1 had drawn an analogy from the natural world as it is; vv. 6-9 extends the hope of human peace to the natural world not as it is but as it can be imagined. All this occurs on God’s “holy mountain,” a term for Mount Zion found deep in Judah’s worship—especially in royal and Zion psalms (see Pss 2:6; 3:4 [Heb. v. 5]; 15:1; 43:3; 48:1; 99:9)—a term that seems to have become a favorite in postexilic portions of Isaiah (Isa 56:7; 57:13; 65:11, 25; 66:20).

Patricia K. Tull, Isaiah 1–39, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 231-32.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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