Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the wrath is past.
For the Lord comes out from his place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
and will no longer cover its slain.
“Judah’s Song of Victory” and COVID-19
It seems these verses in Isaiah have gained the attention of the online masses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hits to unity.org have increased by a whopping 60,000 percent for this particular scripture interpretation!
While the Isaiah writers were certainly not thinking of a 21st-century audience, the words of these particular verses are ripe for reflection.
First and foremost, Chapter 26 of Isaiah is about hope, victory, and the fulfillment of divine promise, as implied in the title, “Judah’s Song of Victory.” Verses 20 and 21 are the last two verses in what is a celebration song of a future time when a prophecy is fulfilled.
Let’s be clear: It is not written for or about the 21st-century COVID-19 experience.
I’m thinking of my friends who suffered great loss during the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2015, dear ones whose bodies have succumbed to cancer, family members who have experienced sudden financial and career loss, and now this overwhelming pandemic experience. It can certainly feel as though God has it out for us.
In fact, it can be an ironic source of comfort to blame a punishing God rather than to accept that terrible things happen. Think about it: If God is punishing us for something, then we have some control in appeasing God’s wrath. Alternately, we have no control and just have to suffer. The story works either way to meet an emotional need to know something—anything at all!
The alternative is that we have to do the deep work of acceptance, that we don’t always know why things happen, and the hard truth: If there is a “reason” for which some hardship has been endured, we are the ones who determine it.
Let’s Get Back to Scripture
The real gift of metaphysical reflection of scripture is that it allows us to lift meaning out of the story for our own lives. It can be helpful to know the context of the writer, history, or to study more deeply the original language.
In this case, it may or may not matter to you to know that Isaiah Chapters 24-27 were likely written by a different author than the rest of the book, which already likely has at least two authors.
Maybe it means something to you to know that Chapters 24-27, according to some scholars, were likely written during the Hellenistic period, circa 5 BCE.
Maybe you just want to know if you are being punished, if there is some ancient prophecy that has come to fulfillment in the year 2020. Let’s dive deeper.
What Is the “Punishment”?
Verse 20 seems pleasant enough, an invitation to safely take shelter while some external wrath passes by. Verse 21 tells us that while the listener shelters in place, the Lord will come out and punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.
Again, the context of these verses is a song of victory with a message of hope and fulfillment of divine promise. Pulled out of context, one could make the argument that some folks receive God’s warning to take shelter, while others suffer God’s wrath and are punished for their sin.
Metaphysical interpretation invites us to keep context in place, leaving the time, place, and political context of the author on the page as we lift meaning out for our own lives.
Reading Isaiah 26:20
Enter your chambers by divine invitation, shutting the outer world out for a while. We might do this through prayer, meditation, journaling, listening to music, or quiet contemplation and reflection. Any activity that gives us a break from the outer world and focuses on the inner landscape, which is the dwelling place of God.
We are invited in this verse, when troubles (wrath) and challenges come our way, into communion with the one holy presence in the universe.
Please note, it may even be that the “outer world” includes your own thoughts that are separate from the divine truth within you. The outer world, from which you are to take shelter, is anything that separates you from the inner dwelling place.
Reading Isaiah 26:21
Oh, this is the result, the fulfillment of what has been hoped for, if we look more closely!
Verse 21 tells us that when we commune in the sacred dwelling place within, God mind and God thoughts are unleashed and will visit that which has caused us to believe we are in any way separate from the Divine.
The Hebrew word that is translated to “punish” is more often translated to “visit” or “oversee” with concern. While we commune with the Divine, God will visit, oversee, and tend to our challenging thoughts and experiences. All will be revealed to God, and nothing will remain hidden.
We must not lose the blessing in these two verses: the promise of divine fulfillment that we are one with the Creator. As we enter our inner chambers, the dwelling place of the Divine within, the result is that we bring God thoughts and presence to any circumstance.
May you receive this message with hope, victory over challenging experiences, and the experience of divine fulfillment within you during this pandemic and all the days of your life!
Rev. Jacquie Fernández, M.Div.
Rev. Jacquie Fernández is a Unity minister and serves as the director of multimedia services at Unity World Headquarters. A Bible geek who loves the art of metaphysics, Fernández is a regular contributor to Unity Magazine.