Isaiah 58, particularly around verses 7-12, is my “life passage,” as some Christians define it. I have always been enamored of castles—the fantasy and romance that surrounds them, at least; possibly not so much the reality of life in one!—and I think they make a nearly-perfect analogue to the human soul—many rooms, some dungeons and hidden passages, walls that are sometimes too high and sometimes broken down, courtyard gardens, and best of all, a flag on the farthest height. If you ever went to a Christian youth camp, Vacation Bible School, or even Sabbath School or Sunday School, you probably are well aware that “Love is the flag flying high in the castle of the heart to show the King is in residence there” (from a popular song).
In this passage, Isaiah promises that ancient ruins can be rebuilt and inhabited again, and gives guidance on how this may be done.
- First, in v. 12, comes the general promise: “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins.” What are the ancient ruins? They no doubt vary from soul to soul, but the broad outlines are universal—the principles by which God built this planet and its people centered on love, compassion, inclusivity (see v. 7), and community, all of which are in disastrous disarray today.
- The next line in this verse gives the first thing to be done—“raise up the age-old foundations.” There is only ONE foundation that will hold a life, as is taught throughout the Bible and clearly explained in 1 Cor. 3:11: Jesus, that is to say, the Way, Truth, and Life of LOVE, is the only foundation possible. It can’t be broken, but you can certainly break up on it (Matt. 21:44), and if one has done this, this foundation of love and faith is the first thing to be rebuilt.
- With a strong and solid foundation, it is now possible to repair breaches in the wall. We could think of these walls in several ways: as the boundaries of a given community or family, or as the personal boundaries we must have to maintain health. We tend to have either high walls of adamant with razor wire on top, keeping out everyone (and not incidentally imprisoning ourselves), or broken down boundaries that let every Tom, Doris, and Harry, and their dogs, run through, trampling us. We need walls like those described in Isaiah 5, which protect but also allow communication, and have a watchtower held by the Holy Spirit.
- Finally, we may restore the “streets (or paths) in which to dwell.” In rebuilding Jerusalem, they got things a little backward and started working on their personal homes before finishing the wall and God’s temple (the watchtower). Once we have a foundation on Christ and his love, and solid walls that protect and define without constricting, we can build up the paths within to be livable and beautiful…and we will take a lifetime and perhaps longer in doing this. It’s good to know that God moves in with us while we are still a construction—not to mention destruction—mess!
On a side note, Isaiah also, perhaps surprisingly, links the rehabilitation process to the Sabbath. I think the very best exposition of the reasons why may be found in Sigve Tonstad’s book The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day.