Friday, March 18, 2011

Zion – God-blessed Sanctuary for the Refugee

“Give counsel,

grant justice;

make your shade like night

at the height of noon;

hide the outcasts,

do not betray the fugitive;

let the outcasts of Moab

settle amongst you;

be a refuge to them

from the destroyer.”

~Isaiah 16:3-4 (NRSV).

Words of comfort, out of the judgment of God. These are difficult words to exegete indeed; that is, even scholars find deciphering these verses impossible with complete surety.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t dwell inside this tortuous word to glean good meaning.

For what we read is tremendous empathy, and that’s only appropriate. Despite the history of the Moabite, the forlorn and contrite spirit—bereft of home—compels us to comfort them.

Zion – Image of Salvation for the Destitute

The destitute traveller is often quite close to home—so far as coming before God’s Presence is concerned. When we’re desperate, then we reach for God in our midst.

Zion may be a place, a people, a concept, even a manner of shalom so far as life is concerned. And in this context, it appears that Zion is both “refuge and rallying point” (Kidner) for the orphaned Moabites. This might appear strange, but grace toward the ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’ is a common concept in the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy).

It is the grandest feature of the Lord Almighty, and mirrored by righteous royalty through the ages, that the poor, maimed, spiritually bankrupt are cared for, because their means cannot manage it. That is resplendent Zion if ever there was such a thing, and indeed it’s a representation enshrined in the eternal. As God is, so is Zion. The Lion of Judah is Protector.

The Faint Hopes of the Genuine Refugee Must Be Heard

There are different kinds of refugees. The one in sight here is the one in real need; the one looking for solace and prepared to accept whatever mercy is coming, in thankfulness. (The refugee not in sight here is the barbaric one.)

Again, the heart is shut up against the priory of submitting fear, and only grace can release it.

The actual interpretation of the first five verses of Isaiah 16—despite its interpretative difficulties—is Moab seeks the relief of “shade” from the blinding sun of oppression; it begs Zion to refuse requests for its extradition (Moyter). Zion is a far more hospitable place than where they’ve come from, home or not.

We see this in our day too. Australia has its refugee crises. These are highly emotive issues. But what is Zion if not a sympathetic ear for the cries of the deposed and desperate? Zion lives on... it has to.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.


Derek Kidner, “Isaiah” in New Bible Commentary (Inter-Varsity Press, 1953, 1954, 1970, 1994), p. 644.

J. Alec Moyter, The Prophesy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), pp. 151-52.

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