In the OT, Yahweh regularly explains Himself by using imagery familiar to the time. Sometimes Yahweh even uses images associated with other gods to emphasize that He—and not the gods of other nations—has authority over the earth. This poetic exchange would have served as an intercultural dialogue between the Israelites and their neighbors. A classic example is the image of the rider upon the clouds: “Look! Yahweh is riding on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. And the idols of Egypt will tremble in front of [Him], and the heart of Egypt melts in [His] inner parts” (Isa 19:1).
Here, the prophet borrows a metaphor usually associated with the god Baal (from Ugaritic literature) to demonstrate Yahweh’s superiority over Baal: Yahweh arrives in Egypt in greater glory than that of the god feared by Egypt’s (and Israel’s) Canaanite neighbor. Because Egypt has oppressed Yahweh’s people, Yahweh will withhold the rains—a decision that Baal, the god of rain, was notorious for making (see Isa 19:5–8).
The writer goes on: “And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and each one will fight against his brother and each one against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom. And the spirit of the Egyptians will be disturbed in his midst, and I will confuse his plans, and they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, and the ghosts and the [spirits] (Isa 19:2–3).
The threat of violence in this passage may be intimidating, but believers can find hope in it. We take comfort in seeing that Yahweh intercedes for His people. We find joy in knowing that He loves people enough to explain Himself in ways they can understand, using whatever metaphor best reveals His power and glory. On all accounts, He is God of justice.
In what situations are you currently seeking justice? What metaphors is God using to answer your prayers?
JOHN D. BARRY
John D. Barry and Rebecca Kruyswijk, Connect the Testaments: A Daily Devotional, vols. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).