“In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and keep them. The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’ “
This passage from the prophet Isaiah came up this morning. It raises so many thoughts relative to the news of the day that one’s mind flies from one idea to the next, trying to capture it all. But among all the thoughts of great prophetic deeds done thousands of miles away, there is one thought supremely close at hand. I want to stick with that.
Just the slightest background – The reference is to three nations:
- Israel, the “chosen” beloved of God, a people set apart as God’s own.
- Egypt, a land of temptation, strength and trouble for Israel, looked to often as a refuge against famine, or a dangerous and mighty ally who could perhaps be played off of other dangerous but openly hostile neighbors. But looking for help from Egypt usually ended badly for Israel.
- Assyria, that “other dangerous but openly hostile neighbor.” Assyria is usually treated as simply a disaster waiting to rain down upon Israel. To be feared. Unlike Egypt, Assyria was only looked at with fear and dread.
But here, God is claiming all three. That they will worship together. That they will be spoken of in concert. These THREE will be part of one blessing upon this earth.
I could expand on that for enough pages to make weak and fearful the knees of even my most ardent reader, and perhaps have already.
So what is that thought “supremely close at hand?”
God’s goal, His purpose and intent, is the reconciliation of all peoples, of all things, of all creation in Himself. Not JUST that Amie is a blessing, and Mary is a blessing, and Rich is a blessing; but that “Amie-and-Rich-and-Mary” is (not are) a blessing. Singular. I know delightful people, close to my heart, between whom division runs as deeply as between these nations. I know the division, and its resulting pain is a source of grief to both, and to others. Including me.
The point is not that “God hates division, and you had better get right with each other!” Frankly, I have low expectations of that bearing much fruit. Been there for myself. Seeking reconciliation isn’t a bad thing, and refraining from doing harm to one another is very good. But the reconciliation Isaiah talks about is a gift from God. The good news is that it is THE gift from God. It is the gift that He has brought and is bringing.
It is the Gospel, and it will come to pass. He will do it.
As John the Baptist said, repent and be ready, make the path for God’s coming smooth. Don’t block the road to what He plans to do.
I have sometimes gotten a glimpse of the vision, of what reconciliation looks like. And I have made two great mistakes. One mistake was that I tried to force the vision of reconciliation. It didn’t work. Even if it does seem to work, it would only be a Pax Romana, not a true reconciliation; only the appearance of peace, enforced by the power of the sword. “I decree that everyone should get along. Anyone who does not embrace peace, love and harmony will be beaten to a bloody pulp!” Not a good plan.
My other great mistake was to pretend that the peace already existed, and act out of that supposed peace. Like the other, this has a germ of good in it. It looks like reconciliation. But it has a fatal flaw in that it has at its heart an unreality. Unless that unreality can be honestly observed (we are both reconciled, and in the process of being reconciled) and accepted, the unreality can grow to the point that deception is a chosen, habitual method of interaction. And all is lost.
The first few verses suggest part of the answer –
Egypt-and-Israel-and-Assyria is the one blessing. But for Egypt, it isn’t about Egypt and Israel (or Assyria). It is about Egypt and God. Israel and God. Assyria and God.
You and God. Me and God.
As I seek more and more to nestle into the place God has prepared for me, He uses means, employs the circumstances of my life to strip me of who I think I am, back to who He knows me to be. As I repent, as I am transformed, I find myself drawn into the heart of God. When God said at the very beginning “Let there be light!” He already purposed that I be drawn and transformed so. But the oddest thing happens, is intended to happen, and will happen, there. There, in the center of the Heart of God, is where I am to meet the Assyrians and Egyptians.
It is the place where He holds them, too.
That drawing and transformation, and the result of reconciliation may be neither quick nor painless.
But it will be real, and it will be certain, for it is the work of God. It is the Kingdom of God. It is the Gospel of God. He will do it.
None of our efforts will make this true and deep and lasting reconciliation happen. but even so, we are invited to join with Him in the great work of His coming. As St. John the Baptist told us, echoing Isaiah, “…the kingdom of God is at hand.” “prepare in the desert (of our hard hearts) a highway for our God.”