“Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.” – Isaiah 51:7-8 ESV
Sometimes the scriptures are so comforting and uplifting. Sometimes, however, that comforting and uplifting is wrapped up in a warning that is unsettling. Several verses in Isaiah 50 and 51 are full of this blended warning and comforting. Having these given at the same time gives us a huge advantage in dealing with troubles when they come.
Isaiah 50:5-7 is Isaiah speaking and he says, “The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”
There’s as a seeming contradiction here around shame. First, Isaiah says not only was he beaten, but his beard was plucked, he was disgraced and spit on. The beating, disgracing and spitting would be bad enough, but the beard plucking out is also culturally significant as men in Judaism wore beards. In other words, he was shamed. Or, more specifically, others tried to shame him. Yet here is Isaiah’s response, “The Lord God helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced.” Others have done everything in their power to bring him down, but he chooses to not be dragged down. In fact, he says, “… I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” He is absolutely determined not to be ashamed.
I don’t know about you, but I think that if I were in his place, it would be very hard to choose not to be ashamed. Someone spitting on me and beating me would bring a whole pile of temptation to hide my face and give up. In order to stand with Isaiah in this same way, we need to redefine our definition of shame to line up with God’s definition.
Shame is a deep emotion that can affect both immediate actions and long-term ones. Brene Brown, author and researcher on shame and vulnerability, defines shame as the sense of being unworthy. Immediate shame can turn into long-term shame where, for the rest of our lives, we never truly accept that we’re worthy. It can be worthy of respect or love or gifts, or many other things. Whatever it is, our beliefs keep us from accepting what’s being given to us. We feel unworthy because of who we think we are.
The comfort in this passage is that God is reassuring us that we will always be worthy in His eyes, no matter what any person on this earth can do to us. God will never push us away. Chapter 51 verses 8 and 9 reassure us of this. It is to the people who know righteousness and who have God’s law in their heart. We are told that we don’t need to worry about other’s telling us we’re not good enough. Here’s why: God’s salvation, His willingness to extend grace and mercy and love to his children is for all people for all time. The wicked and their views and their definitions of who’s in the cool club, all that will fade away, but God never will.
Verse 8 in chapter 50 goes on to say, “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.” It’s like Isaiah is saying, “You aren’t the boss of me! Only God is!” Isaiah knows whose opinion matters and he isn’t swayed by others even when they beat and embarrass him.
Isaiah also knows that God is with him, “He who vindicates me is near.” Isaiah understands that God is a loving Father who helps His children, even though Isaiah was physically hurt and mentally abused. Nothing swayed his belief in God or his understanding of his worth in God’s eyes.
I pray that we can begin to understand God on this level as well. When we have built up our confidence in who we are in God’s view, strength and confidence will pour out of us and we will be able to step up, and, like Isaiah, proclaim God with all our hearts.