Sometimes I overreact and spew out a string of harsh words, like when a certain child of mine refuses a nose-blowing attempt, or when another certain child of mine whines “hold you” when my arms are full of grocery bags. What a frustrating life I have.
And then I read about ancient Israel and I have one of those monumental perspective shifts. They not only had to deal with the weight of their sin through a flawed sacrificial system, they had to fight for daily survival, surrounded by enemies. All of a sudden, the aggravating sound of my son’s cough seems trivial.
Many Messianic prophecies are dropped right into the dark circumstances of ancient Israel. God parachutes down words of hope right when the darkness has threatened to utterly devour his people.
While God’s people are under siege, Isaiah proclaims, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” In the midst of their struggle, God promises himself – a baby that will be “God with us.”
The prophet Micah, ministering during the same time as Isaiah, proclaims, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” What an odd thing to prophesy when enemies are beating on the doors of your cities. A ruler from pitiful little Bethlehem? Yes, words of hope delivered into the midst of a dark time that would only get darker before that promise was fulfilled.
From Isaiah 9, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” If you hear these words as an Israelite living under threat of Assyria’s army, how do you react? Do you expect immediate deliverance from your physical foe, or do you see a deeper promise, that of deliverance from spiritual death? Do you look at your darkness and mock such a promise, or do you see those words as a lifeline of hope?
You may be like me, light on physical suffering, but heavy of heart. Or you may be like ancient Israel, heavy of heart and your very existence being threatened. Whatever darkness is bullying you, God’s words of hope cannot be withdrawn or forsaken. When we see the fulfillment of his promises to Israel, we realize that his promises are never left unfulfilled. We look at our own struggles and know that the fulfilling work of Jesus stretches forward in time to swallow our darkness, just as he reached back in time and embodied the prophets’ words of hope.