Fellow Passengers: Today’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 5:9-30) transports me to a dramatic silver screen showing of a psychological thriller that involves a day of reckoning for a people who have lost their way. The first five chapters of Isaiah’s prophetic screenplay spell out why God has had it with a community that claims to be covenant people: even though they persist in practices of worship, their lives and their lifestyles betray other allegiances. In just a few generations these tribes of liberated slaves have transformed themselves into an arrogant leisure class worthy of lifestyles of the rich and famous, complete with binge drinking, brawling, bribery, and bling bling. They have plundered the poor and built up treasure chests and armories at the expense of the widows and fatherless. No wonder God has had it.
And then, in one of those obscure verses that only a crazy prophet could get away with, we have one of scripture’s most curious characterizations: God whistles. And the Divine is not just whistling Dixie; God is sending out a shrill signal to the distant nations, waking agents of judgment to come and wreak havoc on a covenant community that has broken trust. It really is a bizarre image of God, whistling for stormtroopers stationed at the ends of the earth, awakening sleeper cells positioned all around the globe. It all reminds me of Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate, except her signal was the Queen of Diamonds, not a whistle, for startling the assassin Raymond into action. Kim and I saw that movie one night at the Vogue, a dollar theatre in our seminary neighborhood in Louisville, and we walked home completely freaked out and paranoid that anyone around us could be a clandestine agent awaiting the signal to attack.
I’m not all that crazy about psychological thrillers, so there’s a part of me that would love to take Isaiah’s verse 26 out of context, memorize it, and simply smile at the image of a whistling God. But alas, this really is not a happy picture. This is not one of Snow White’s dwarves whistling while he works. In the full context of our passage today, Isaiah puts us in a theatre where we see why God has planted a subconscious signal in some sleeping giants, a signal that will awaken them into action. And we can wonder if those cells are still out there, awaiting God’s whistle. Any time we neglect the work of justice and abandon our covenant by concentrating our wealth instead of concentrating our energy and attention on serving others, this passage should rightfully freak us out and cause us to look over our shoulders. I can picture God puckering up to sound out the shrill wake-up alarm, and before the whistle has finished piercing the air, here the shock troops come, speedily, not one growing tired, roaring like young lions, ready for prey. I think the prophet intended this screenplay as a wake-up call for people of faith in every generation to stay on mission. It is especially relevant for followers who find themselves stationed in a culture of leisure. Such an atmosphere poses the grave temptation of wanting both the benefits of faith and the bling bling of a brawling world. If we don’t want God to whistle the sleeper cells of this world into action, we’d best back away from the call of the wild and start pleading the cases of the widows, encouraging the oppressed, defending the cause of the fatherless, and seeking justice for the poor. I don’t know about you, but I’d just as soon let the the Manchurian candidates continue sleeping.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Waking and Sleeping.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith