This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible: A prophet with swagger

I like to listen to music when I work. My favorite Spotify playlist is called “Not Scared.” It’s a collection of songs by confident women artists, compiled by the magazine Rookie and designed to remind the listener that no one can mess with her.

Meghan Florian

What’s that got to do with our Bible passages, you ask? Reading Isaiah 40:21-31 this week, I heard echoes of the swagger I love so much in this playlist. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” Isaiah asks. The implication: You should know about this God. God sits above the earth, and you are mere grasshoppers.

In “I’m the Best,” Nicki Minaj sings, “Got the eye of the tiger, the lion of Judah/Now it’s me and my time, it’s just me in my prime/Everything I tried to teach ’em they gone see it in time,” and I imagine Isaiah sharing this sentiment: Someday you will listen and really hear. Someday you will understand that the Lord is everlasting God.

Minaj continues, “I’m fighting for the girls that never thought they could win/’Cause before they could begin you told them it was the end/But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in.”

On one hand, it’s a fun, energizing song, a song that pumps me up when I need a confidence boost before a presentation or an interview. On the other, I apply these lyrics as a commentary on the challenges of waiting for God. The Lord does not grow weary, Isaiah says. And what is more, the Lord gives strength to the powerless, like the “girls that never thought they could win.”

We don’t live a cursed existence. We walk with God’s strength, with God’s swagger.

Isaiah 61 begins in a similar vein and moves us from God’s strength and swagger to the good news of God’s justice. “The Lord has anointed me,” Isaiah proclaims. “He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.”

I appreciate the way this passage names human pain with such clarity: broken hearts, captivity, prison. Yet Isaiah speaks with confidence not only of hurt, not only of fear, not only of vengeance, but of God’s favor.

The year of the Lord’s favor is coming, and all will be comforted. Captivity, robbery and wrongdoing — these will be things of the past. Ruined buildings will be rebuilt, devastations repaired, because God loves justice.

Isaiah bids us rejoice at God’s arrival, adorned with robes of righteousness like a bride or groom. Or maybe like we’re on our way to a concert, ready to party all night with Nicki Minaj, dressed in the finest clothes we’ve ever owned, carefully chosen for a fabulous celebration.

“Got two shows tonight, that’s Brooklyn and Dallas/Then a private party at the Buckingham palace,” Minaj continues. Did you reject me in the past? she seems to ask. Did you doubt me and what I would do? Well, now I’m here, and everything is about to change. This is my time. God’s favor and God’s justice have arrived for all to see.

Meghan Florian, of Durham, N.C., works in the Center for Theological Writing at Duke Divinity School. She is a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.

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