Bookends of the Bible

Books of the Bible – like most books – have clear and intentional beginnings and endings. In some cases, the writers link them, using matching words or corresponding ideas in the opening and closing passages. The technique is called bookending: it is deliberate, and it helps form the book’s message. Sometimes, the corresponding ideas take the form of a contrast (like darkness and light).

For example, Isaiah.

Front bookend: Isaiah chapter 1 gives a grim picture of Jerusalem’s apostasy, using images any hospital worker will know all too well: “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil” (1:6 ESV).

Raw wounds. (“Putrifying sores” in KJV). Not very nice.

But sixty five chapters later, the concluding bookend: a picture of Jerusalem restored. Instead of a people with oozing lesions, we see a city sending preachers to the people-groups of the world. God declares: “I will send survivors to the nations… [nations] that have not heard [of] my fame or seen my glory. And they [the survivors] shall declare my glory among the nations” (66:19 ESV).

From people with raw wounds to a mighty army on mission: the contrast could not be more dramatic. And that is God’s promise.

I just said this army would be mighty. That is true, but it will be might in the midst of weakness. Whom does God say he will send? “Survivors.” Survivors from sin-sickness (chapter 1). Survivors from exile (chapter 40). And today: Survivors from damaged childhoods. From marriage bust-ups and church splits and porn addictions and seasons in the younger son’s “distant country” (Luke 15:13). Survivors from calamity – like St Paul’s famous shipwreck in Acts 27.

Survivors: Not people who are sheltered, safe and able-bodied, who effortlessly take life in stride. They’re people with baggage: “conflicts on the outside, [and] fears within” (2 Cor 7:5 NIV). And God – just because he is God – sends them anyway. And they go. And they declare his glory.

So, back to the bookends. If your raw wounds feel all-too recent, or if you’re still traumatized by a shipwreck (maybe you feel you caused it yourself?), then hold on to the God of Isaiah. Remember what he says in chapter 66. Remember his promise to the nations.

And remember whom he says he will send.

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