Phoenix Symbol

Where did the legend of the Phoenix come from? I really don’t know. But maybe the ancient people witnessed a truth that was difficult to describe without a symbol. Life often springs up in the midst of death. Fire consumes and life sprouts anew. It is what AA calls rock bottom. The ash heap of life. And sometimes, the only way life can happen is through this rock-bottom crashing; this burning down of all that is familiar and comfortable; this death and dying. The Phoenix burns up and from the ashes comes to life again. I don’t know where the legend came from (some think Egypt). I don’t know if the mythological creature was modeled after an actual bird (often myths have a basis in reality). But for me, it is a symbol; a metaphor of something deeper; something that reaches deep and tugs at the soul.

Isaiah 4:2-6 is an oracle of renewal. Many sources believe it to be a messianic oracle. Since Jesus is the fulfillment of all things; the only person who had lived this life as God originally intended, in some sense, everything is messianic. But, in another sense, there are prophecies that are more directly about the Christ and the age that he began (cleverly called the messianic age). I don’t believe Isaiah 4:2-6 is specifically about Jesus. And it just may miss the point to treat it as if it were about the Messiah. The view of this passage hinges on the interpretation of “the branch of Yahweh.” When Jeremiah speaks of the branch of David, he is speaking of a future messianic king. So, when people read branch here they think it must be about the same thing. Ah, but context determines interpretation. Not the other way round.

The word “branch” is literally “sprout, sprouting growth.” You could translate, “In that day, the sprouting growth of Yahweh will be beautiful.” And then the next clause, “the fruit of the earth will be exalted,” would be parallel. After the predicted judgment, the siege and invasion, there will be renewal. This makes better sense in the context. The purging of Israel and Judah was not merely about punishment. It was about renewal. The burning was necessary. Without it there could be no sprouting growth. And that sprouting, renewal, will be beautiful and abundantly glorious. The fruit after the devastation will be exalted; it will be the glory of the escaped of Israel. Not everyone in the northern kingdom will be wiped out. Some will escape and the renewal of Yahweh will be amazing.

In the same way, not everyone in Judah will be destroyed. There will be a remnant; a left over group in Zion; that is Jerusalem. Everyone who is written for life in Jerusalem. This probably refers to the book of life (see Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1). When someone died, their name was blotted out. The left over people will be recorded for life. This is after the master washed away of filth. The word filth is used for vomit and for excrement. So, filth then. Before they could be considered alive; before they could be considered holy (set apart, dedicated to Yahweh), the filth had to be washed; the bloodshed of Jerusalem had to be rinsed away from within. The wind of judgment and the wind of burning had to rage. The word “spirit” can mean wind. So either a spirit of judgment and burning or a wind of judgment and burning. Both make good sense. So, you choose.

Then Yahweh will create over the entirety of Zion and over her sacred assembly a cloud, smoke by day and the brightness of fire by night. This is probably reminiscent of the pillar of cloud and fire God used to guide and protect the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings in Exodus. This is also mentioned in Psalm 105:39. In Isaiah, Yahweh shapes the cloud and fire to be a canopy. Isaiah used  five different words for shelter: canopy, shelter (booth), shade from the heat, refuge and a place of shelter (translated “protection” in NASB). This is all about a shelter in the storm of life. So, after the judgment; the washing; the rinsing away of the filth and bloodshed, the remaining people will be alive and protected by God.

Will this be true in the Messianic Age? Absolutely. But it is true over and over again throughout history. The judgment is not merely about the wrath of God. It is about a God who desires for a washed clean people; a set apart, dedicated to him people. This oracle is about a God who makes all things new. That is what Jesus came to do. But God has been shaping renewal since the fall. So, let me ask you: Do you feel dead? Are the storms raging against you? God can raise life from the ashes. His beauty can shine through the filth. Corruption can be rinsed away from within. I believe in a God who is all about making things new; creating beauty in the midst of our mess. Be rinsed clean then. Shalom.