I’m currently reading through the book of Isaiah with a friend, and it has been so fun. We’ve been doing one chapter a day, a more than two month undertaking, but I’m proud to say we’ve been going strong. We’ve had a few hiccups here and there, but we have grace for each other, and we’ve stayed on track. Each day we share what we got out of our reading that day through a video chat app, and yesterday, as I was sharing my thoughts on Isaiah 41, I had a realization.
You know those moments when you figure something out while you’re saying it? That’s what happened to me. And when I sat down this morning, I felt the tug to share what God showed me.
Can I first say that reading one chapter of Isaiah a day has not been the easiest every day. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah might be characterized by a more cynical mind as “doom and gloom.” I may have even been guilty of this characterization at a few points if I’m being honest. These chapters by and large focus on the Lord’s judgment. It is important and inspiring in a fear the Lord kind of way, and I feel like I learned so much from it. Grace abounds in the midst of God’s judgment, always. It’s marvelous, and these chapters of Isaiah teach a lot about the character of God. But it’s also kind of hard to read chapter after chapter of “they messed up and they’re going to pay for it.” I understand how this shows God’s heart for justice, his absolute abhorrence of our sin, and the demand for blood that our sin evokes. I understand why it matters. But it’s still hard to read it for almost 40 days in a row.
So, as you can suppose, as we got into the high 30s, we began to get excited. We knew that the book of Isaiah shifted at chapter 40. We knew these chapters spoke more of grace and promise than the first 39. We knew the dawn was coming. We longed for the hope of promise-chapters to be fulfilled, and we were so ready.
Then, my friend was told by someone about the beautiful number symbolism of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah has 66 chapters and the Bible has 66 books in it. When you serve a God who is in the details, you know this isn’t a coincidence. Looking closer, guess how many books are in the Old Testament? I bet you can guess if you see where this is going. Yep – 39.
39 chapters of judgment and brokenness in Isaiah, 39 chapters of waiting for the dawn, waiting on the promise. 39 books in the Old Testament, 39 books of the world groaning for restoration, a way out of the hopeless cycle of sacrifice, sin, and judgment. And then in “chapter 40,” it dawns, with the birth of a baby. Jesus ushers in the era of promise, the gospel that the New Testament proclaims. 27 chapters of promises of God’s goodness. 27 books explaining how Jesus has changed everything.
God is wild.
If I had read Isaiah on my own I know I would’ve been tempted to speed through the first part of Isaiah. As I’m sure we all do, I love reading the promises. They’re sweet and lovely and like a hug from my Father. And they’re wonderful, but with the weight of the waiting, the expectancy that was bred from the groaning, they are that much sweeter. We kept talking about how much of a relief chapter 40 was. Weirdly, I even ran out of pages in my old journal and started a new one on the day we read chapter 40. What?! New beginnings. New promise. New Testament. New Covenant. New things. The new is so much better when you’ve been waiting for it.
I’m so glad we took those 39 days. It was merely a glimpse, a tiny microcosm understanding into the weight of waiting that the people of God were under before Jesus came. And, as we read, it’s not even like we didn’t know the end story! As we read, we saw Jesus in every chapter of the first 39. We saw him as real, alive, and perspective wildly altered. This is the great privilege we have in this time of having the Bible complete and at our fingertips. We don’t have to only hope; we have seen the grave empty, the promise fulfilled. We know the dawn is not only coming, but it has come. We know that it changed everything.
And as we reveled in this, God showed me a picture of what this promise fulfilled means for how we encounter him. This is how it was always intended to be, but sin fractures this picture. Jesus reforges it anew. Here’s what he showed me, what he’s whispering to us all:
Isaiah 41:8-13 says,
“But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
You descendants of Abraham my friend,
I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
Those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear; I will help you.”
What struck me so strongly initially was the line in verse 13 that says, I am the God who takes hold of your right hand.
Wait, I thought, you mean like, God reaches out and holds my hand? It was the beautiful picture of a desperate moment and a hand clasped for comfort, security, strength, and a knowing that I’m here. You’re not alone.
As I beamed in this idea of God holding my hand, like a close friend, parent, or spouse might, I remembered that previous verses had said something about God’s right hand too. Tracing back, in verse 10, I read that God upholds us with his righteous right hand. First, I noted that my hand was not described as righteous. Not only is God righteous, his righteous hand reaches out and grasps my unrighteous one. He is not disgusted by my past. Because of Jesus, I can hold his righteous hand and he can hold my once unrighteous one – made clean by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice.
But then I stopped, bummed, because I realized it didn’t make sense. How could he hold my right hand with his right hand? That would be weird. But then I realized, perhaps my perspective was wrong. I had been thinking of this held hand as though we were walking on a beach or on a trail. If we were both facing forward, it would most definitely be weird to be holding each others’ right hands. But my perspective was all wrong. He didn’t want me to be holding his hand by his side, facing the world, one hand held and one hand free – free to trip, stumble, get snagged on something or pulled away by someone else. No, not at all. He wanted both of my hands. He wanted me facing him. If my right hand is held, and he holds me with his right, I do not stand next to him, I stand before him, facing him.
My mind ran wildly now. Further I realized, because of Jesus, I can come close. I’m no longer held at arm’s length by my sin. I can draw close to my King without fear of reprisal for my boldness, because my sin is covered and I am presented as his bride.
A bride, who can come close, one hand held, his other hand upholding…sustaining…supporting, and it hit me: it’s almost like…a dance.
It’s a dance. Facing each other, held close, one hand held lightly, the other hand supportive on the waist. The Bethel song “We Dance” came to mind, and it all clicked. It’s a dance.
The King wants to dance with his bride, and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, he can.
Verses 8-9… I have chosen you, I took you from the ends of the earth, from the farthest corners I called you, I have chosen you, not rejected you.
Me, he picks me from the corner of the room, the one in the back, overlooked by the others; he picks me to dance with. I am chosen, no longer rejected.
We come close, without my sin-barrier to get in the way anymore. He holds my right hand to lead me, just as when I dance in real life. He supports my waist as we move. I rest my left hand on his shoulder confidently, not needing to use it otherwise, because I am being led and supported by my King. He guides my steps, even as I move backward around the floor. I do not even feel the need to turn my head to look where I’m going if I trust my partner, because he is watching where we’re going. Instead of looking around worried, I am free to fix my eyes on my King. I know he is the best dancer, so I can let him lead me around the floor. A surprise dip is scary at first, but ultimately elating and fun when I know my King is more than capable of holding my weight and lifting me back up. I do not fear someone else cutting in on me, because I am chosen, held, and the King is wild for me.
“No listen, daughter, don’t miss a word: forget your country, put your home behind you. Be here – the king is wild for you. Since he’s your lord, adore him.” (Psalm 45:11 MSG)
Lean in close, so you don’t miss a word of his dance-whispers.
Forget those old dance partners, the old rejections, your old way of walking – be here.
I am not walking along, taking on the world with God by my side, half of me held on to like a tether and the other half free to bump, trip, or be pulled away. No, I am held close, safe and secure, I am led confidently and competently, and my gaze is fixed on the one in front of me.
He’s wild for you, so adore him!
It’s a dance.