Thursday, June 30, 2016

Isaiah: Putting It All Together For The Layman

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Isaiah: A Ride In The Chariot
Author: Theodor B. Rath; Publisher: AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN., 2015

Theodor (Ted) Rath is a veteran of the Korean War, a teacher, and a pastor, with a Doctor of Ministry Degree from the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Il. This volume clearly evidences his love for the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament (O.T.), especially as they relate to our current and future times.
I had read through the O.T. Book named Isaiah in the past and realized it covered a lot of ancient history, to say the least. As a believer, and familiar with the New Testament (N.T.), I could see references that could well apply to the end times. But whether they did or not I left for scholars to decide. More of us, however, know about the book of Isaiah through the sermons preached by our pastors over the years. It was hard putting it all together, though. And this is where Rath’s book came into play for me.
The author does a good job of giving us a description of what each section, chapter, and group of verses in the book of Isaiah communicated to the readers. He explains very carefully how the book is structured. He believes the main author was Isaiah but that other followers of his wrote under his name as much as over a century later than earlier parts of the book. He carefully points out the possibility that certain portions have double meanings with respect to the period of time for which the prophesies are made.  That is, some of what the book predicts could be understood to have already taken place after the prophesy and before the time of Christ, while it is simultaneously possible that the prediction also, or only, covers the future end days that many Christians await and which are related to the return of Jesus Christ, as He promised. Rath leaves it up to the reader to decide.
Clearly explaining, and more so interpreting, Isaiah, is a difficult challenge to take on. And at times it becomes a challenge for the layperson reader to stick with the thoughts the scholar is trying to get across. But there are some gems to be found in the work’s pages.
For example, early in the work he writes, “The primary purpose of this study is to show that prosperity can either be a blessing or a curse.” Agreed. The problem is that for me at least, the author didn’t point out that conclusion blatantly enough out in the volume. It is only realized when one reviews one’s notes where one highlighted that statement, that its truth becomes obvious to the reader.
But there are other gems that are easier to find. Here are two examples: First, he relates the children of Lot (the Ammon) as the original inhabitants of the modern Jordan.  Second, he writes, “Believing in the custom of the first-born child being designated as the rightful person to be chosen for certain family leadership roles, many Moslems (sic) feel their people should take precedence over Christianity.” This reader had never quite thought of this global situation we have today with our Muslim co-habitants of the earth in those terms before.
He takes us very quickly through the history of Mesopotamia (part of modern-day Iraq), the “cradle of civilization” to its modern times in a very clear fashion. Then he throws us back to about 5,000 BC when the Sumerians became prominent in the region and established the earliest written language.
Rath also gives us quick summaries of the role of all the other prophets, but maintains his emphasis on Isaiah by indicating that time and time again Isaiah shares with us the concept that God has great patience with His people, willing to save them.  In fact, the name Isaiah means “salvation of the Lord” or “Jehovah saves”.
He explains very logically how and why it was that the Israelites, “unaccustomed to the ways of agriculture, turned to the gods of the land. In doing so, they did not mean to turn away from Yahwah, the God of the Exodus and the Sinai Covenant. They would look to Yahweh in times of military crisis and then turn to Baal for success in agriculture.” The very thing (syncretism or blending of two faiths) that God did not want for His people.
Based on his study of Isaiah and related texts, Rath goes on to give us a very serious list of five things that need “to be done to reverse the conditions that so adversely affect so many people in this country and elsewhere.” They alone are worth the purchase of his book.
On the downside, I find that Rath often shares two sides of an argument with us (e.g. he may say some Bible “versions say x and y, but these versions say so-and-so”) and then leaves us hanging.  You never quite know which version he prefers or why one position is more probable than the other. Or he says the prophecy of some particular verses may refer to something that has already happened or it may refer to something still to come – and again never tells us what he thinks. This all simply points to the whole perplexity of Isaiah’s book in the O.T.  He even says at one point, “Verses. . . are difficult to understand.” I appreciate his honesty, but with it, came some level of frustration for me.
He is very clear in relating the role of today’s Christian as being very similar to that of the prophet Isaiah, namely, “To proclaim salvation is the chief work of the Christian church and all of is denominations and congregations.”
Another very valuable section in his book is one entitled, the “Nine Images of God”. It can easily make a great sermon series, as can other parts in Rath’s book.
This book adds a very necessary perspective to a serious study of Isaiah and I recommend it for all who wish to make sense of one of the most challenging Biblical books. But it’s not a quick read, especially if you follow the author’s recommendation to read it with your Bible open at the verses he is writing about.

By Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, May 13, 2016. www.accordconsulting.com

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