The Hebrew word “beloved” is repeated 3 times at the beginning of Isaiah’s vineyard ballad. The triple iteration pairs nicely with the trisagion in the prophet’s Temple vision in the next chapter – “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (6:3). Even as the holiness of Yahweh speaks to the core of his very divine nature so does his belovedness.
Before we look at the song of the vineyard we do well to look deeper into the sweet affection of the prophet for Yahweh. Looking deeper into a text does not necessarily mean getting intellectual. Sadly American Christianity is put off by taking a longer looks Scripture assuming that it is boring or not practical. What could be more practical than using the right kind of fuel for a given engine? The engine of our heart does not run well without the mind properly engaged alongside it just as the mind become dull to life when not properly engaged alongside the heart. In fact, we find in both the OT and the NT that the words for heart and mind are often interchangeable or overlap. There is no hard line dichotomy in Scripture between the heart and the mind.
Notice how this learned professor of ancient languages found affectional joy in and through (both are essential) his academic pursuit.
Lord, at Thy word opens yon door, inviting
Teacher and taught to feast this hour with Thee;
Opens a Book where God in human writing
Thinks His deep thoughts, and dead tongues live for me.
Too dread the task, too great the duty calling,
Too heavy far the weight is laid on me!
O if mine own thought should on Thy words falling
Mar the great message, and men hear not Thee!
Give me Thy voice to speak, Thine ear to listen,
Give me Thy mind to grasp Thy mystery;
So shall my heart throb, and my glad eyes glisten,
Rapt with the wonders Thou dost show to me.
— J. H. Moulton (1863–1917)
So, we will miss some very long burning fuel for our heart-mind if we brush past the introduction of the vineyard song. What is here not to be missed? As we noted in a previous lesson there can be found in many texts of Scripture not only the statements or explicit thoughts in its sequence of words. Many times there is a large key truth embedded in the text when seems to flow into it and out of it – like a power line comes into a neighborhood but continue onward beyond it. When we take note of this large key truth flowing into and out of the text that effort of looking deeper into it will illumine or brighten our understanding of the text. Not only that. It will brighten our joy in life.
What is this large key truth flowing in and out of Isaiah 5:1? First, let’s recall the participants in this song:
There is the singer or admirer, the lover in the good sense, which is Isaiah.
There is the “Beloved” who is Yahweh himself
There is the love song or ballad, a story lyric, that the prophet uses to both tell about the generosity of the Divine Giver, the gift and his relationship to the recipients
At the end of the song we learn that the recipients of the gift, the blessed vineyard, is the nation of Israel
We see these basic facts from a plain reading of the text. But there is more. Before we look at the vineyard ponder what the idea of being “beloved” says about both nature of the prophet’s existence and about the nature of Yahweh himself. Here is the when taking time to looking deeper will yield that long burning fuel for our heart-mind.
You see it is very important to ask about this belovedness as it relates to the nature of man and the nature of God because without this profound truth in hand we can make a mistake. We could make the mistake of going on to read the song itself through a legalistic lens or through a ethnocentric lens or through a behavior modification lens. Finding out the beauty of belovedness will both guard from mistakes and face our joy in the right direction. What we should long for is joy not in biblical facts or rules or sub-cultural boundaries, but joy in the exalted Christ.
A popular writer and preacher from an earlier generation, Frederick Buechner, gave us a naked gaze at his heart-mind when he admitted this:
“I wanted to learn about Christ – about the Old Testament, which had been his Bible, and the New Testament, which was the Bible about him; about the history of the church, which had been founded on the faith that through him God had not only revealed his innermost nature and his purpose for the world, but had released into the world a fierce power to draw people into that nature and adapt them to that purpose… No intellectual pursuit had ever aroused in me such intense curiosity, and much more than my intellect was involved, much more than my curiosity aroused. In the unfamiliar setting of a Presbyterian church, of all places, I had been moved to astonished tears which came from so deep inside me that to this day I have never fathomed them, I wanted to learn more about the source of those tears and the object of that astonishment.”
This same “intense curiosity” is at the center of Isaiah’s heart-mind as his sings this short ballad of Yahweh’s spurned love. That is really what is happening here. Yes, there is law breaking and disobedience and selfishness and a pretext of judgment, but at its core reality we see and feel affectional joy in every direction. That is what is at the core of reality itself beyond this short song. All that exists, all people and all sense of what is real is at its core a celebration of affectional joy.
This is not a proper time and place to go into the existence of God and man and reality, but know this – the most convincing and solid argument for the reality of God and man is affectional joy. You have it. The person next to you has it. This whole city has it and the whole world has it. To some degree we are “beloved” and to even to a greater degree we all loved to be “beloved.” That is what makes humans, human and that is to an infinite degree what makes Yahweh, God.
Have you ever read a Charles Dickens novel? Dickens was a very gifted story teller. He worked hard at his craft, but it was not just to tell a good yarn. He saw England clashing with entry of the Industrial Revolution. Children were among the worst affected by it. Simply put what some would call injustice was in theological terms people who made by God to be loved were not beloved. Their treatment was inhuman. Isaiah was seeing many of the same problems without the mighty progress of the Industrial Revolution.
To be loved is at the core of what it means to be human, but not only that. To be loved is at the core of what it means to be real. Realty is real because of love or because of what I am calling affectional joy. In his book, ‘Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered,’ Bruce Perry notes how children in orphanages can die not only for lack of good medical care. He gives statistics for how lack of love can lead to a precipitous fall of early death. Neglect.
Now turning back to Scripture we can see this plainly if we are looking for it. Religion, both liberal and conservative varieties, has clouded our heart-minds to think that the reality of being righteous is what you do or do not do. Surely, this is not all wrong. But that is in fact and ironically a materialist approach to religion.
In Scripture we see the burning heart of Yahweh flaming across its pages, filling it with the gratuitous events of Redemption History and lighting the way back to our lost home. The Bible and our existence is a story of being in, out and in belovedness.
Regarding belovedness consider for a moment the Shema. We find that in Deut 6:4-5. It says, “Hear, O Israel: The Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” We know at first glance that this very important text is a command, but we can easily miss that it is more. It is an invitation to reality. It is an invitation to move away from our default setting – toward the Self – and go into what we were first made to be – to love the Beloved and to be loved by the Beloved. That is reality. The whole Redemption Story is Yahweh in Christ chasing after his “beloved” and our being drawn back to his belovedness.
Every molecule and substance is what it is not merely because of its constituent matter. Materialist views of the Universe want us to believe that it all that is going on. But, everything is what it is because its parts are attracted to each other. They are given to each other in a given way for a given desire. They coalesce into and with each other. There is no materialist explanation that rationally explains why and from what desire things come together to be what they are.
You see even the theory of Intelligent Design falls short because it only speaks of purpose, design or unified complexity. Thomas Jefferson believed in that but still he denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Creation reveals that reality is not just parts following a design. Atoms come together because of attraction which is the essence of reality, of being, of pure existence. Descartes famous said, Dubito Ergo Cogito Ergo Sum – “I doubt therefore I think therefore I am.” Since the Enlightenment we have locked ourselves in a windowless room of empiricism. In recent decades we have been opening ourselves again to the fact that humanity is not simple matter and mind, but humanity is coiled about with many layers of desire. So we would be better to affirm reality as – Amo Ergo Sum – “I love therefore I am.”
The Trinity is the perfection of this. Aside from all material things and before the material Universe this quality of being – attraction – has always been inherent in God’s very nature. The Christian view of God stands head and shoulders over all other concepts of God. Within the trinity of God, the Persons have perfectly this attraction which blooms as affectional joy, desire for one another. It is otherworldly belovedness which the trinity of Yahweh holds in its being as the core of reality. So when we see Isaiah sing a song to his Beloved he is simply echoing what has always been true of God himself in himself.
Think of this belovedness now as not just a sweet emotion, but as the foundation for a person’s worth, as the irreducible substance of personhood. How splendidly it would revolutionize how we do church, live in our homes and interact with the culture if we could see the far reaching and powerful truth that the reality we were made for and the reality we had in Eden is belovedness in all things. That is why the Gospel is good news. The Gospel tells of real events that God has completed in Christ to bring us back into belovedness.
So you see, the Shema is not just a command that set an ancient Semitic religion in motion. The Shema speaks to the very core of reality. It speaks to the very core nature of ‘godness,’ to the interiority of God’s Being, to intimacy. It speaks to what it means to be human. Affectional joy or belovedness is what binds God to himself in his triune being. Affectional joy or belovedness is what binds us to each other, what binds us to home, to chocolate, to coffee, tea or punch, to what binds us to our culture, what makes us thirst for a transcendent home for our souls. “Saw ye him who my soul loveth.”
This is what Augustine was longing for when he wrote, ““You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” Such talk goes way beyond, a great Mind, a great Designer or a great Power as the Creator of the Universe. The Shema, the doctrine of the Trinity, Augustine’s Confessions and Isaiah’s ballad about Yahweh’s spurned love speak boldly to the belovedness of what it means to be, to be human, to be real, to be what Scottish minister Henry Scougal called ‘The Life of God in the Soul of Man.’
I listened to a talk by Dr. Ashley Null based on his book, ‘Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love.’ In both Null reminds us of Thomas Cranmer’s root theology: “what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.”
Want – that is the Isaianic affectional joy which is both at the core of the prophet’s song and what we see go missing from the latter end of the vineyard. With this precious truth in hand we can now easily see how men like Abraham Maslow, though coming from a secular perspective, hit the nail on the head with regard to the core of reality. His “hierarchy of needs” is nothing if not an explication of this very core fact of reality of which we have been speaking – belovedness. The problem for humanity comes when we turn that belovednes on ourselves. That is the essence of sin – Self Idolatry by Nature. So much of religion, even Christianity, has focused on suppressing desire, joy or pleasure. As C. S. Lewis told us – we need more of this, not less.
As we go forward in our study of Isaiah we look into this belovedness in various ways as its golden hoard is scattered across his prophetic record. It is a good thing for us to be filling our heart-minds with this sort of thing. It will prepare us for an important task which we still have before us in the older years. We have the important task of leaving a legacy. What is your legacy? I do not mean this in the worldly sense of leaving a legacy of wealth or a successful career or the impact of a positive societal change.
These can be wonderful, but I mean legacy as in the precious sense of younger generations gaining from us what they can have from no other source. I am referring to the legacy of belovedness in the motion of daily life, of watching our love for the Beloved and joy in His love for us regardless of our earnestness or successes, but more so in our frailty, seeing his belovedness be our true motivation when the world around us is drawing from a thousand other motivations, all of them earth bound. When one generation passes that kind of love on to the next, it will not be forgotten. It will stand for them as an emblem of Christ enduring for the ages.
An old preacher, one of my heroes, said something that I wish he had not said. He said and did many good things as a legacy of living in the Beloved. For that I am grateful. Once he said something like this – the best thing I can offer my people is my holiness. Oh, no. Rule keeping is good but only to a point. “Obedience is [not] the very best way to show that I believe.” Righteousness is required, but “my holiness” is a mirage for I have none. I have no true holiness of my own. All I have is a restored love for the Beloved. The world is already far gone. We have pasted the end of all things.
The hope of the world is not to set things aright. We have for too long and in too many horrific ways blighted our second chances. When you are bankrupt you cannot recover. You can only beg. That is why our only hope is this belovedness coming to us in Christ, the Beloved One. The mark of true faith is not how faithful I am, but how I have become accustomed to the trembling truth that I am loved by Christ who knows everything about me, everything…and he loves me still.
Our next installment on this journey will be to go deeper into the text to see how belovedness leads into another core truth – grace.
“I pray, God, that I may know thee, that i may love thee,
so that I may rejoice in thee. And if I cannot do this to
the full in this life, at least let me go forward
from day to day until that
joy comes to fullness.”
– St. Anselm