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by Steven Rodriguez
On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.’ –– The Prophet Isaiah
Isaiah lived in turbulent political times. He found himself and his country squeezed between two superpowers, Assyria and Egypt. East and West were at it again, waging a proxy war as the tiny kingdoms in between were tossed about like pawns. The political question of the day was, “Whose side are you on? Are you with the Egyptians or the Assyrians?” It was not a question of preferred ice cream flavor. It was a question of life and death.
Whenever we humans are confronted by war or conflict, we switch into survival mode and immediately gang together with the people most like us. We can be friendly with anyone in the boat when the water is calm, but when the water gets rough, we start huddling with the people like us and tossing the others overboard.
Caught between the push and pull of Egypt and Assyria, Isaiah could have easily regressed into an Israel-only posture. In the face of rising international conflict, Isaiah could have taken refuge in his tribal gods. Why not pray that Yahweh would make Israel great again? Why not pray for Yahweh to keep Israel’s borders safe? But, stunningly, Isaiah does the exact opposite. While the world hurtles toward more war, more division, more tribalism, Isaiah preaches a God who is sovereign over every nation. Isaiah is the high mountain peak of the Old Testament, the point from which we see that Yahweh was never just the god of a small plot of Middle Eastern land. Yahweh is the Lord of all of creation. Not only that, but Isaiah is given a vision from God of a time when Egypt and Assyria will worship the same Lord, just like Israel. Isaiah sees what will finally and ultimately unite us: perfect worship of the Triune God. Can you imagine it? This is where we are headed: formerly warring empires, with different languages and skin colors, worshiping God together.
But here’s the catch: in Isaiah’s vision of the end, Assyria and Egypt are still there. They are not absorbed into Israel. Somehow, they retain their cultural and political identity. The end is not one big world nation under God. This is one of the many beautiful mysteries of the Old Testament. In the eschaton, the kings of the world will bring their treasures to the temple in Jerusalem, but they are still their treasures. The gospel does not erase our culture; it saves it. The gospel does not destroy our national identity; it sanctifies it.
On this Independence Day Eve, I think about all the people who will come to church dressed in red, white and blue, or wearing a patriotic pin, or sporting a sloganeering t-shirt. Maybe it’s our own little version of the kings of the earth bringing their treasures. And there we will be, treading that well-worn path between Assyria and Egypt, while the nations rage, stopping by in Jerusalem for an hour on a Sunday morning, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Steven Rodriguez is a minister of the Reformed Church in America, serving as the pastor of Lakeview Community Church (RCA) in Greece, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @smarcorodriguez.