Holy Chutzpah – Isaiah

Holy Chutzpah – Isaiah

Holy Chutzpah – Isaiah.

WANTED: An imaginative scribe who can write exquisite poetry. A faithful believer with chutzpah who can switch from one extreme to another at the Lord’s command… from a sublime vision of God’s glory to a ridiculous demonstration of shameful nakedness; from stubbornly confronting the people over their sinfulness to comforting people with hopefulness; from being an outspoken messenger one minute to a shameless living object lesson the next. Desperately needed is a bold young person with spine who can respond to Yahweh with “Send me.” 

Chutzpah (hoots-pah) is a Yiddish word that long ago entered English usage. It is from the Hebrew word, “hutspah,” which means insolent or audacious. Chutzpah is a neutral word that can be either positive or negative. Chutzpah can be righteous or unrighteous, holy or unholy. It is an idea difficult to define, so there are a lot of synonyms for it, especially in the biblical sense: spiritual audacity; brazen gall; tenacious stubbornness; headstrong persistence; outrageous guts; shameless nerve; feisty assertiveness; brazen impudence; unyielding boldness; courageous spine; expectant defiance. The Holy Scriptures, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, are overflowing with examples of holy chutzpah. One wonders not only if it’s a job requirement for saints and prophets, but also a faith requirement for all believers. In fact, God seems to love chutzpah in us when it is based on our ultimate trust in Him and His character, our unselfish motives, our yearning for justice and mercy. Chutzpah in front of others becomes holy when it is done in obedience to the Lord and is an outworking of our faith in Him. As Rabbi Schulweiss once said, “Spiritual audacity toward God finds a place of honor in Jewish religious thought.” The rabbis of old have always insisted that chutzpah is a valid expression of faith. Just a quick glimpse at the Gospels reveals that Jesus and His followers fully embraced the ancient Jewish ethic of holy chutzpah. When Jesus saw chutzpah in action, He usually said things like, “Great is your faith!” Maybe Christian scholar Dr. Brad Young said it best. “True faith requires bold perseverance. Sometimes it is expressed by brazen impudence. Faith can be defined as chutzpah. Persevere with unyielding tenacity.” (Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian).

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” (Flannery O’Connor).

Isaiah began his ministry as a young man who witnessed a spectacular scene in the Temple. He saw the LORD Yahweh sitting high on His throne, with mighty angels attending Him. The angels were flying as they shouted “Holy, holy, holy, Yahweh-Sabaoth, LORD of the Angel Armies! The whole earth is filled with His glory!” The voices of the angels shook the Temple to its foundations, and the smoke from the LORD’s presence completely filled the building. This dramatic scene of God’s perfection and power left Isaiah shaken to his core. All he could do was acknowledge that he was impure in His presence, and not worthy of this vision. Isaiah thought he was doomed because he saw the Lord in all His glory. Yahweh then announced that He wanted a messenger to approach the people, and He wondered who would go for Him to bring His message. Isaiah immediately responded with his historical line, “Here am I! Send me!” And this was just the beginning for Isaiah.

Hineni (Hebrew word, literal meaning, “Behold, I am!” but is generally translated in Bible as “Here I am.”) In Scripture it is a response of someone to someone else asking for attention. It could be a response to God, to an angel, a response of a child to a parent, or a servant to a master. Sometimes it is even a loving response of a parent to a child. The Biblical Here I am means you have my full attention; I am at your service; I am completely available to you; whatever you want, I am all in; I am in total readiness to hear and obey you; I have no hesitation in responding to you. Most of the time in Scripture the person saying Here I am doesn’t yet know what the caller wants from him. So hineni can essentially be a statement of faith. When someone in authority initiates Here I am, such as God, it is a declaration of presence and readiness to speak or act. Generally, hineni is often stated in a pivotal moment of that person’s life. Here I am can just be a casual response to a caller, but it often is an important moment in the life of the person responding.

There is no doubt his unforgettable calling from the LORD fueled his life and ministry from beginning to end. His role as prophet lasted anywhere from 40 years to 60 years, depending on the scholar. His ministry spanned the reigns of five kings of Judah. Isaiah remained in and around Jerusalem during that whole time. Much like so many of the other prophets, the people refused to take his words to heart. They wouldn’t listen to Isaiah’s messages from God. He would announce God’s judgment only to be ignored.

But Isaiah was adaptable. He would both confront the people and comfort the people. Sometimes he was harsh and condemning, and sometimes he was soothing and hopeful. His encouraging words were based on God’s promise of a future Messiah who would redeem and heal them, and save them from permanent judgment. So Isaiah spoke of God’s justice one minute and God’s mercy the next. He spoke more about the coming Messiah than any other prophet in the Hebrew Bible. His poetry painted a picture of both woe and hope, and is probably the finest in all of Scripture. So Isaiah has been called the Bible’s greatest prophet, since he is quoted over 50 times in the New Testament.

Through his ministry, Isaiah was called more often to be a literary and vocal mouthpiece than an audacious object lesson. But the one main exception was a doozy (chapter 20). Isaiah was instructed to be a visual aid to God’s judgment of Egypt. The Lord asked Isaiah to “remove the sackcloth from your loins.” In other words, Isaiah was told to walk around naked and barefoot, to demonstrate how Assyria was going to take Egypt captive. This was also an allusion to what might happen to Israel and Judah if they agree to unwise foreign alliances. One hopes that God would allow Isaiah to at least wear his underwear loincloth. To walk “naked” could mean wearing nothing but one’s underwear. One would hope so. Otherwise, God would be illogically asking Isaiah to be obscene, which somehow doesn’t fit with the Lord’s character. But even walking around in nothing but one’s underwear is bad enough. It is humiliating and shameful. Imagine all the mothers putting their hands over the eyes of their children as Isaiah walked by. Not to be too graphic, but in announcing His instructions to Isaiah, this street theater rated “R”, the Lord wanted the people to know that the Egyptian captives would have “their buttocks bared.” Please, please, not Isaiah’s. Amazingly, Isaiah did just what God asked, for three years! Isaiah must have been ridiculed, jeered, avoided, and publically scorned during that difficult time in his ministry. Certainly, Isaiah became a laughingstock, and he earned the title of holy fool of God. It’s a wonder how Isaiah recovered from this episode, but apparently he did just fine once he got his clothes back on.

For all his trouble, Isaiah died a martyr’s death at the hands of the very wicked king Manasseh. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the last thing Isaiah thought about was the very first thing he saw years ago… The LORD sitting high on His throne, the heavenly angels singing about the His glory, and how he was overwhelmed with the holiness of God. Holy, Holy, Holy.