Hand of God leedsacukDecember 17 marks the beginning of the Octave before Christmas.

Each day has a specific Scripture reading to read and consider. These are laid out in the Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

‘The O Antiphons’ page of Hymns and Carols of Christmas tells us that these Bible verses have been used in this context since the fifth century, although they did not begin to become widespread until the reign of Charlemagne in the eighth century. By the 11th century, they were in common use in monasteries:

… two 11th century copies can be found in manuscripts in the British Museum and the Bodleian [Oxford]. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance.

In short, each day has a certain letter of the alphabet which corresponds to a selection of Bible verses. They spell out SARCORE, which, reversed in Latin is ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

My O Antiphon entry for December 17 last year — the ‘S’ (sapentia, or wisdom) — examined the first principal verse for December 17, Isaiah 11:2:

2And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
   the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and might,
   the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Today’s looks at a second verse for this day, Isaiah 28:29 (emphases mine):

This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
    he is wonderful in counsel
    and excellent in wisdom.

In Isaiah 28, the prophet describes how the people in Jerusalem and Ephraim turned away from God in favour of drunkenness and pride. He warns that God will pass judgement upon them. However, he adds that God will use wisdom in his punishment, awful though it was. Isaiah was prophesying the imminent Assyrian invasion of Judah (Isaiah 28:11-13):

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
13 And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
    and be broken, and snared, and taken.

By way of illustration, Isaiah compares divine correction to a farmer’s work in the fields. For each type of crop, the farmer uses a different type of instrument for harvesting. The Almighty will use the same discernment in His judgements. The chapter ends with the aforementioned verse 29, emphasising wisdom. The purpose of punishment is to bring us closer to God, not take us further away.

Many of us around the world today are as Isaiah 28 describes, trapped in debauchery, pride and scoffing. We are no different from them, or to those from John the Baptist’s time. This is why the season of Advent resonates: we are called to repent and prepare ourselves in anticipation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Whom God in His infinite wisdom has given to us.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary tells us of the positive aspect of divine correction:

Isaiah here returns to his fundamental gospel: that the Almighty is the All-methodical, too. Men forget this. In their times of activity they think God indifferent; they are too occupied with their own schemes for shaping life, to imagine that He has any. In days of suffering, again, when disaster bursts, they conceive of God only as force and vengeance. Yet, says Isaiah, “Jehovah of hosts is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in that sort of wisdom which causes things to succeed.” This last word of the chapter is very expressive. It literally means furtherance, help, salvation, and then the true wisdom or insight which ensures these: the wisdom which carries things through … God is not mere force or vengeance. His judgments are not chaos. But “He is wonderful in counsel,” and all His ways have “furtherance” or “salvation” for their end.

Matthew Henry’s commentary adds another interpretation; God’s perfect wisdom (that of the husbandman, or farmer) shapes the vine (Christ Jesus and the Church):

God’s church is his husbandry, 1 Corinthians 3:9. If Christ is the true vine, his Father is the husbandman (John 15:1), and he is continually by his word and ordinances cultivating it. Does the ploughman plough all day, and break the clods of his ground, that it may receive the seed, and does not God by his ministers break up the fallow ground? Does not the ploughman, when the ground is fitted for the seed, cast in the seed in its proper soil? He does so, and so the great God sows his word by the hand of his ministers (Matthew 13:19), who are to divide the word of truth and give every one his portion. Whatever the soil of the heart is, there is some seed or other in the word proper for it.

As for divine correction, Henry says:

Afflictions are God’s threshing-instruments, designed to loosen us from the world, to separate between us and our chaff, and to prepare us for use. And, as to these, God will make use of them as there is occasion but he will proportion them to our strength they shall be no heavier than there is need. If the rod and the staff will answer the end, he will not make use of his cart-wheel and his horsemen. And where these are necessary, as for the bruising of the bread-corn (which will not otherwise be got clean from the straw), yet he will not be ever threshing it, will not always chide, but his anger shall endure but for a moment nor will he crush under his feet the prisoners of the earth. And herein we must acknowledge him wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.

Some will find this a difficult message as Western society is against sanctions and punishments. Generally speaking, we find them distasteful. Yet, God will use proportioned means to bring us to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.