I was not prepared for what I was about to learn on reading Walter Brueggemann’s commentary of Isaiah.1 In his note on Isaiah 2:6b-8, he wrote, “The prophetic tradition, long before Karl Marx, understood that distorting religion and distorting economics provide mutual reinforcement and together seriously impinge upon the character and identity of the community.”2
Isaiah reported that the economy of the nation of Judah under Uzziah and Jotham prospered, but with that prosperity came a worldview, a Zeitgeist, that excluded God: “Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their chariots.…they bow down to the work of their hands.” Judah became, what Brueggemann called, “an accommodationist money economy in pursuit of affluence … like all the nations.”3 They were trapped in an endless cycle of insecurity—needing money to buy weapons to guard a growing treasury. And God was replaced by “the works of their own hands.” Their self-reliance was exposed and humiliated, which—the prophet lamented unforgivably—forebode their own destruction. “So people will be brought low and everyone humbled—do not forgive them.,” Isaiah excoriated them [Isaiah 2:9]. Some scholars think it harsh of the prophet to claim no forgiveness for Judah but they were beyond repentance having gone through cycles of prophetic warnings, Only repentance could “save” them but this was not on the agenda for a self-dependent society!
Then Brueggemann wrote, “the triad of money-weapons-idols forms a convergence that is at the core of Karl Marx’s critique of an alienated society.” Wanting to learn more about this alienation, I went to the writings of Ludwig von Mises of the Austrian School of Economics who lectured on Marxism for the Freeman Magazine, delivered at the San Francisco Public Library in 1952. “Don’t think it is possible for a man to practice all his life a certain ideology,” he concluded, “without believing in it.”4 And Judah had replaced the teachings of the Mosaic Law, God’s, so-called, “Old” Covenant with something culturally and spiritually alien to the Lord’s explicit instructions for their life.
“This threefold ‘fullness,’” Brueggemann lamented, “has decisively shifted the identity of the community, which now neither depends upon Yahweh … nor obeys Yahweh. No wonder Yahweh has rejected [it].”5 Judah had been brainwashed into an ideology that replaced Torah.
But Isaiah would take comfort in the prophetic knowledge that someday the truth would win out and God “…will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths” [Isaiah 2:3]. But that was a distant hope, that we now know is written into the “New” Covenant in the Savior’s blood at Calvary.
This, however, does not mean we are not vulnerable to the same Zeitgeist Judah fell victim to. Brueggemann warns, “This analysis, which pertains to an ancient society, is a workable model for our continuing social analysis of our own time and place, an analysis that is at the heart of prophetic faith.”6
2 Ibid. Page 28
3 Ibid. Page 29
4 Ludwig von Mises. Marxism Unmasked (LvMI) ( Foundation for Economic Education, New York: 2006), Page 37.
5 Walter Brueggemann. Isaiah 1-39 (Westminster John Knox Press. London: 1998), Page 29