Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm! (Isaiah 7:9c)
This quotation from the seventh chapter of Isaiah sounds rather ominous. It comes within the context of instructions given to Isaiah to go out and meet King Ahaz who was trembling for fear of the armies that were arrayed before him ready to attack.
Anyone familiar with the prophet Isaiah knows that much of his early life was taken up with the reign of King Ahaz and his infamous wife Jezebel. (I suspect that even people who are not familiar with the Scriptures would be able to identify these two as less than admirable people from the Hebrew Scriptures.) Perhaps the most recognizable of all the prophecies of Isaiah was delivered to Ahaz: Then he said: Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:13-14) What many may not be aware of is the fact that this prophecy was given in the context of Ahaz’s fear of his enemies. God had commanded that Israel NOT form any alliances with their neighbors because they worshiped idols. However, because of his fear of being conquered by his enemies, Ahaz disobeyed this command. It was in this context that the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:13-14 was delivered.
I would imagine that all of us have had to face our own fears. Various events in our lives can be frightening experiences. Faced with serious surgery, diagnoses of cancer or other devastating or terminal illnesses, are some of the most frightening. However, there are also the fears that come because of new circumstances such as a new job, a new school term, a daunting assignment. When faced with these fears, we can sometimes become paralyzed, afraid to take a step in any direction lest we make a serious mistake.
At times like these, the brief verse that ends today’s first reading might prove a valuable mantra. People of faith are people of firm purpose. Finding examples of such faith is not all that difficult. Our history, both communal and personal, is usually filled with examples of people who faced frightening situations and overcame these difficulties. Oftentimes I find myself repeating a verse from Psalm 22 that bears this out: In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. (Psalm 22:5-6)