Thursday, March 8, 2012

Peace of Mind (Isaiah 26:3)

Complete: “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace ____________________________.” Whose mind is stayed on Thee (Isaiah 26:3)

Isaiah 26 includes a comforting song that calls for trust in God for deliverance. Brevard S. Childs (1923-2007) specifies:

Usually the unit is divided into two parts, Isaiah 26:1-6 and Isaiah 26:7-21...although different schemes of subdivision have also been suggested. In terms of genre, Isaiah 26:1-6 is classified as a psalm of trust or as a victory song, whereas the last section [Isaiah 26:7-21] is analyzed as a communal complaint. (Childs, Isaiah: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 188)
Unlike much of the material that precedes it, the song deals with Israel’s present situation though scholars debate exactly what crisis is being endured. Hans Wildberger (1910-1986) deciphers:
It has been explained...that the enemy city cannot be identified. There is also virtually nothing in the specific vocabulary that would help to set the piece in any particular epoch; generally it uses the relatively timeless vocabulary of cultic lyric. (Wildberger, Isaiah 13-27: A Continental Commentary, 545)
Proximity to the Babylonian invasion is the usual suspect though it cannot be stated with any certainty. What can be established is that times were not good when the song was penned. Even so, the lyric assures that one can find peace amidst chaos (Isaiah 26:3).
“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3 NASB)
The song promises “perfect peace” (ASV, CEV, ESV, KJV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, RSV) or being “completely whole” (MSG). The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates the promise literally “in peace—in peace”. Peace (shalowm, as used in the standard Jewish greeting) is listed twice in succession, “peace, peace”. Unlike English, where this redundancy would represent poor grammar, in Hebrew the repetition indicates accent, like underlining or bolding would in English.

Robert J. Morgan (b. 1952) explains:

The original Hebrew says that God will keep in shâlom, shâlom those whose minds are stayed on Him. The word shâlom means more than a cessation of conflict. It conveys the idea of wholeness, quietness of spirit, safety, blessing, happiness of heart. The double use of the word multiplies its intensity. (Morgan, 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart, 98)
This doublet is the rationale for the translation “perfect” or “complete” peace. In regards to the other prominent noun in the text, John N. Oswalt (b. 1940) writes:
“mind,” comes from the root idea “to form.” Thus as a noun it frequently refers to that which is formed (Isaiah 29:16; Psalm 103:14; Habakkuk 2:18), often thoughts, purposes, or intentions (cf. Genesis 6:5, 8:21; Deuteronomy 31:21; I Chronicles 28:9, 29:18). As reflected in the present translation, the Hebrew seems to place “the steadfast mind” in an emphatic position in an independent clause at the beginning of the sentence. (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 468)
Gary V. Smith (b. 1943) clarifies:
The song confidently states that certain people will have perfect peace. Two factors characterize these people...they have a “frame of mind, perspective, constitution” (yēser) that is “steadfast” (sāmak), which implies an undeviating commitment to a purpose, conviction, or person. The root meaning of the translation “steadfast” is “to support” but the Hebrew passive participle carries the idea of “leaning on, depending on, resting on” something...Thus the prophet confidently confesses that the people who have a “despondent perspective” (as opposed to a proud self-confident demeanor) will have complete peace because they trust in God. (Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, Vol. 15A, 442)
Where do you find comfort in times of peril? When times are bad, do you lean on God? If one is not in perfect peace does it imply that her mind is not fixed upon the divine? How often is your mind focused on God?

Isaiah does not promise that strife will not come, only that one can find peace amidst it. Terry Briley (b. 1956) summarizes:

The song stresses confidence in God as the one who strengthens his people and enables them to accomplish his purpose for them. This confidence does not deny the difficulties and frustrations along the way, but it does encourage the faithful to wait patiently for God. (Briley, Isaiah, Volume 1 (College Press NIV Commentary), 243)
As noted, there is no specific context for this song, making its message all the more timeless. It assures that faith in God is the way to peace. There is always hope for internal peace even amidst the most challenging of trials.

In fact, peace is listed among the “fruits of the Spirit”, Paul’s catalog of nine tangible attributes that characterize the Christian life (Galatians 5:22-23).

Does peace come from an external or internal source? Have you experienced the perfect peace of which Isaiah spoke? Are you experiencing it now?

“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” - Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

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