In centuries past, a “cage of shame” was used for public punishments in many European towns and villages. The offender—who was deemed guilty of anything from adultery to public drunkenness to gossip—was placed inside a large metal cage and put on display in the town square, often during market days or festivals. He or she would often be spit upon or even pelted with rocks and rotten vegetables by the crowds.
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?ISAIAH 64:12
Divine silence can make us feel as if God is punishing or shaming us like this. In today’s reading, the relationship between God and His people seems broken. At first, the relationship was close and trusting (v. 8). He was the Father, and the Israelites were His children. He was the Potter, they were the clay (cf. Isa. 29:16; 45:9). When they sinned against Him, Isaiah prayed for forgiveness (v. 9). His anger was just, but surely He would forgive, look on them again with favor, and restore the relationship.
Now the Promised Land has become a wasteland (v. 10). Solomon’s great temple has been burned to the ground. The people have been conquered and sent into exile. Will there be no end to God’s judgments? These events and feelings culminate in God’s silence as the most severe of all the punishments (v. 12). In light of all that had happened, would He really continue to hold out or withhold Himself? That is the real misery, the worst affliction, the most painful humiliation of all!
Isaiah’s faith and hope is revealed by the fact that all this is embedded in a prayer. He still cried out to the Lord. He did not believe that the relationship is over or that God will remain silent forever. God’s covenant with Israel is based not on Israel’s merit but on God’s faithful love (Isa. 65:1–3).
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In Scripture and elsewhere, language and silence are often relational metaphors: to speak indicates a strong relationship, presence, and blessing, while to be silent indicates an impaired relationship, absence, and judgment. To explore more, visit the Today in the Word website, todayintheword.com, and check out the October 2012 study.