“But there is one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power…. I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.” – Theophilus Msimangu, Cry, The Beloved Country
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and might,
The spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. – Isaiah 11:2-3
These verses are the hinge that Isaiah’s prophecy hangs – that which changes everything in Israel’s world of exploitation, greed and war. It’s the Spirit of the Lord that makes the difference.
In bringing our lessons on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament to a close, it is important that we remember that the Old Testament acknowledges over and again the presence of God as a spirit, wind, and breath. The Hebrew word ruach means these three things. God created the world with his breath (Genesis 1) and if his spirit were absent, we would all die (Job 34). All of creation contains God’s spirit. We all have the potential to know God and serve God. The question is: are we really aware of this profound presence?
In Isaiah 11, we encounter a familiar passage we often associate with the person of Christ. As Christians, there is nothing wrong with this. After all, this is an idealized description of a righteous leader. Jesus, being a devout Jew, was certainly aware of this prophecy and, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, did become exactly what this prophecy described. Still, it is good to acknowledge that this wasn’t proclaimed in a vacuum. Chapter 9, beginning at verse 8 and continuing through chapter 10 describes a scene in which the leaders of Israel had forgotten their identity as children of God and instead filled their pockets with wealth and made alliances with other nations and deities instead of trusting only in God.
Isaiah describes Israel’s leaders in the first verses of chapter 10 as people who:
“Legislate evil, who make laws that make victims –
Laws that make misery for the poor,
That rob my destitute people of dignity,
Exploiting defenseless widows,
Taking advantage of homeless children.” (from the Message)
Therefore, God will use the invading Assyrians – those whom Israel feared and had thus turned them to neighboring nations for protection instead of trusting in God – to punish his chosen people. Yet, God will not let evil triumph and thwart his good plan for Israel. Isaiah describes Assyria’s king in chapter 10:13 – 14 as saying:
“I have done this all by myself. I know more than anyone. I’ve wiped out the boundaries of whole countries. I’ve walked in and taken anything I wanted. I charged in like a bull and toppled their kings from their thrones. I reached out my hand and took all that they treasured as easily as a boy takes a bird’s egg from a nest. Like a farmer gathers eggs from the henhouse, I gathered the world in my basket, and no one so much as fluttered a wing or squawked or even chirped.”
But God will not let the Assyrian king have the last word. God will not reward Assyrian arrogance any more than he will reward Israel’s arrogance. God will right the ship brought about by his people’s lost identity. Once the greedy and arrogant leaders are gone, God will establish a leader who will respond to the Spirit of the Lord and will lead God’s people righteously. Chapter 11 describes what this leader will look like.
Why all this background? Oftentimes we need to clearly understand the larger context of scripture in order to grasp the power of the focal scripture. Why is the fear of the Lord, directed by God’s Spirit, so important? The answer is because without it, God’s people lose all their holiness – their set-apartness. To put it in New Testament terms, the people of God lose all their saltiness, their lights go out. They become no different than all the other corrupt nations who exploit the weak and the poor for the gain of the powerful. Nothing of this kind of society reflects the God who creates all people in his image.
So our passage answers the question, what must those who have the power, the wealth, the prestige and the opportunity do to please God and create a community in which God is honored?
- Is more required of some in such a community than others?
- What more is required of the powerful?
- How can those with opportunity not give in to the temptation to gain more – to amass more money and influence at the expense of others?
Isaiah answers that it can only be through the leadership of God’s Spirit that gives us wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And the fear of the Lord is the balm to arrogance. The fear of the Lord leads to a humility that is grateful for every gift that comes from God. The fear of the Lord acknowledges that God is in control and that a leader is but a spokesperson for God’s will.
When a leader depends fully on the Spirit of God instead of him or herself, the following can happen:
- The weak and the poor have enough
- Deceit and envy will not be rewarded
- People will keep their word and remain faithful – they can be trusted
- Enemies will become friends – instead of living from a perspective of scarcity, those who used to prey on the weak will share all that God has graciously given all his people from a perspective of abundance.
- God will be worshiped as the provider of all good things – it will not even cross anyone’s mind that this could be the doing of anyone else.
All of this hinges on and starts with an awareness that God’s Spirit is in each of us and will lead us to embrace our true identity as God’s people.
- What keeps Christians from fully tapping into the Spirit’s power?
- Often, we associate the mysterious with the work of the Holy Spirit – healings, speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc… What if yielding to the Spirit more often brought about acts of justice, mercy and humility? Do we dismiss the miracle of restorative relationships?