Mahershalalhashbaz, or Why We Need God to be Big
It seems that human beings are always on the lookout for odd and quirky names for their children. There are tame versions of that tendency. People name their children after seasons of the year. I have known a few "Summers" and a couple of "Autumns." I confess to not knowing any "Springs" or "Winters," but I am certain they exist. Many draw names from history. More than a few look to the Bible. I do not think, though, that I will be meeting anyone named Mahershalalhashbaz anytime in he near future. Not just for the fact that the name would never fit in ANY standardized test form or application slot (believe, being named "Marshall" often only leaves me enough spaces in those forms to be "Marsha" more often than not); the translation of that name is...wait for it...."Spoil Hastens, Plunder Hurries."
Not a particularly auspicious name for a child, is it? And yet, that is what Isaiah names the son he has with the prophetess. As a sign of Israel's imminent destruction at the hands of Assyria, and as a sign of the fall of Judah's preeminence as a regional power, it makes sense. But for that child? What a burden. So that God's will can be illustrated, a child is given a name that will not only color his walk in life...it will also serve as a sign and portent of the fall of nations before the wrath of God.
You can't even shorten it...given the choice, would a child prefer "spoil" or "plunder" as a nickname?
All that, on top of a cascade of prophecies that bode ill for the nation. It's like watching a cable news channel without relent during a news cycle wherein multiple social, climatic and personal crises are in the process of breaking out all over the globe. It's a 24/7 onslaught of woe.
At the same time, though, there is a thrill to it. God is definitely active right now in the life of the nations formed by the tribes of Israel. God is calling insects from Egypt and the northern horn of Africa, reminiscent of the plagues of old during Exodus. God is summoning hordes of enemies, and enlisting kings as effective mercenaries to afflict the fortifications of the peoples, to take them into exile. God is HUGE right now. There is a sense of assurance in that, and perhaps a small bit of reassurance that the sort of judgment being visited on "those people" is not touching us. At least, not yet.
As humans, we need God to be active. We need God to be big, not so much as to feel fear; but rather to know the thrill of something BIG happening nearby. Like thunder before an impending rain, there is a promise in the rumbling. The storm is not something we desire...but the portents do provide no small amount of excitement.
It's what we do with those portents, though, that define us as people of faith. Do we run around, clapping our hands and crying out? Do we make plans for catastrophe? Do we repent and amend our ways? What do we choose to do with those signs?
Isaiah hits us with both barrels this morning. All kinds of craziness is about to break out. After all, "spoil hastens, plunder hurries!" At the same time, though, that God is coming with judgment in one hand there is also consolation in the other. Another child is to be born, the sign that Ahaz is afraid to ask for..."Immanuel" is coming, "God with us."
Our relationship with God is one that we really do a fine job of complicating on a consistent basis. Would that we could find the moderation of life that Paul points the Thessalonians toward. In that case, perhaps we would not need for God to be so big, so often.
At least in that eventuality, there might be fewer Mahershalalhashbazes out there in the world. If we don't do it for ourselves, at least do it for them!