When Your Iceberg Melts – Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
A book by John Kotter, Our Iceberg Is Melting, is a modern parable about penguins living on an iceberg for many, many generations. Then one curious bird discovers a potentially devastating problem. Their iceberg is melting.
The characters in the story are like people we recognize – even ourselves. Their tale is one of resistance to change and action, creating creative obstacles to any solution for their situation.
This challenge has been faced by humanity over and over again. The prophets were the penguins warning of the drip, drip of melting icebergs. The resistance to their message was met ranged from anger to violence.
When you are a penguin and you live on an iceberg and that iceberg is melting, you have a choice to rethink your life and adapt – or die.
The prophet Isaiah loved his people. We do not know how he ended his days, but there is an apocryphal story that he was eventually executed by one of the kings of Israel for being such a thorn in the side of the establishment.
In those days the original Israel had already gone through a civil war that split the country into a southern and northern kingdom.
The northern kingdom had already been destroyed by their enemies after numerous warnings by their prophets.
Isaiah was preaching to the Southern kingdom, called Judah, warning their king and their leaders that God was disgusted by their lives. He warned that the drip, drip of their melting iceberg was about to become a disaster.
It is quite upsetting imagining Isaiah’s words leveled at his own people. He is calling the heaven and the earth (God and humans) as witness to what God had instructed him to say.
“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” –he says.
Everybody knew the history of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. How God had warned them and then how they had been destroyed. For shock effect Isaiah calls the rulers of Judah—“rulers of Sodom” and the people, “people of Gomorrah.”
How would we react if someone said that to us today?
What had Judah done that offended God so deeply?
We find the answer in verses 21-23;
…the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Your silver has become worthless garbage, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and chases only rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them.
Isaiah was describing a systemic corruption that left the most vulnerable in perpetual bondage. He pointed out God’s indictment of Jerusalem, Judah’s capitol city, (the equivalent of Washigton DC,).
Isaiah reminds Judah of God’s expectations of them, namely, to keep the peace, live with integrity, and defend the weak (the fatherless and widows).
But instead, they encourage corruption—“Your wine mixed with water.” (Bultema)
Isaiah was saying to these people that the social cohesion of the nation was coming apart because they had abandoned the just and right way of treating others. Their spiritual lives were ruined by their lusting after profit and gain at the expense, even of the poor and the totally powerless (widows and orphans).
He was saying that their religious practices had become nauseating to God for the people used it to comfort their consciences rather than drive them to transforming their lives and their society.
What would Isaiah’s message be to us and to our leaders today?
Its hard not to become defensive when you hear someone else ask the question, but is this not part of our spiritual exercise as people of faith, to be aware of the world in which we live and measure our lives according to the principles of our faith?
When we see the immense differences in our society between the different strata of people, from the well connected and the super wealthy and compare their lifestyles and maybe, just maybe, our own, to the very vulnerable, what do we see?
What does our attitude toward desperate people say about our faith?
There is evidence of a drip, drip sound warning us of our melting iceberg. What will it take for our leaders to change the corruption and heartlessness that allows for the injustices that reduce people to lower castes that serve the higher ones?
The cynical part of me says that we never really change our ways unless absolute disaster hits us in the face. That was the situation in Isaiah’s Judah.
When there is a justice system that benefits the powerful we need to demand change.
When our lifestyles literally contribute to the melting of the ice packs in Iceland and the tundra in Alaska, we need to change our lifestyles.
When profit trumps the medical care of a human being, we fail as a society in the eyes of God.
When a Constitution is used to maintain a gun culture that is killing more people than it can ever claim to protect.
When the welfare of other nations and societies mean less than our own?
For how long will we simply ignore our present-day prophets’ warnings of the drip, drip of our iceberg?
Yet prophets always offer an alternative choice. Isaiah was no exception.
In verses 16 and onwards, we hear his words:
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
We all know God’s way. To come clean and amend our ways brings new life and new opportunity.
May we find the courage to acknowledge the pleas of our times and to change our ways to reflect the love of God. In the words of today’s Psalm, be our constant prayer:
“Let your steadfast love, O God, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.