Isaiah is a prophetic book, and these passages revel in describing what is to come for God’s people, a time when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the water covers the sea.
Among so many wonderful images, I love Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
I think often of the part of this passage about the wolf and the lamb, this picture of a peaceful kingdom where two creatures, normally hunter and hunted, live together in harmony. In my experience, even animals of the same family can struggle to live together peacefully, so wolves and lambs? That’s a peace unlike any that we know in this life. Surely, if God’s future promises that these creatures can live together, people too will come along behind them?
I often overlook the second part of that verse, though, the part that says a child shall lead the way in this peaceful kingdom. Another beautiful, yet strange image. On one hand, the children I spend time with regularly are peaceful for a fairly small number of their waking hours. They’re alternately a delight and a challenge, but they are rarely what I would call “peaceful.”
On the other hand, if there is one thing I have learned from teaching Sunday school to preschoolers, it’s that even in the here and now as we anticipate this peaceful vision, children will lead us if we’re willing to follow. Their clear-sightedness and care often trumps my learned wisdom, offering glimpses of this peaceful future God promises.
If the children lead us, perhaps we can be like friendly wolves and lambs.
Continuing in this prophetic vein, Isaiah 25 anticipates God’s righteous judgment as well as joy and salvation. Isaiah paints a picture of a glorious feast — aged wine, rich food, the makings of a huge celebration — and all of this feast enjoyed in a world unshrouded. Death will be swallowed up, once and for all.
The pain and loss that cover the earth like a stifling blanket will be torn away. There will be joy. There will be abundance.
Yet here and now, verse 8 has come to my mind again and again over the summer: “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
There have been many reasons to shed tears this summer, at home and abroad. My cheeks have often been wet and salty, and many of us have mourned together. Violence that might previously have been easy to overlook, because of our distance from the tragedy, now flashes before our eyes weekly, daily even.
It is tempting to think the world is getting worse. To think we will weep forever. Where is this feast, this peaceful community where lions and lambs and children play? If schools, hospitals, our own neighborhood streets are not safe havens from sorrow, then where? The future looks bleak, not bright.
Yet Isaiah reminds us the brokenness we now see is not new, and while we continue to feel shrouded by death, while our tears continue to flow, God is righteous. God does not abandon God’s people. God will speak and take away disgrace and sadness.
So we wait and work, praying for wisdom and understanding. God’s hand rests on this mountain, on these cities and streets where we live. And one day, let us hope we can join those who say, “Lo, this is our God.” We have waited, and God is here.
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.