Tag Archives: Isaiah 48

“No Peace for the Wicked”

“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”
Isaiah 48:22 (NIV)

I am intrigued by words and common phrases. Where do familiar phrases come from? How do they change over time?

When I read the final verse of today’s chapter I suddenly had memories of my Grandma Golly and Grandpa Speck. I could hear them with my memory’s ears muttering the words, “No rest for the wicked!” They would say it when they were busy and had too much to do. Notice that they changed the word “peace” with “rest.” As they referenced it, I always took it as a reference to the theological concept of original sin. In the Garden of Eden God punishes Adam’s sin by condemning humanity to toiling for our food:

To Adam [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.

This got my curiosity going and prompted a little research safari online. I found it interesting that some of the more popular online sites for the origin of phrases interpreted the phrase “No peace for the wicked” as a Biblical reference to the hell-fire and brimstone awaiting sinners. Wow, I’ve gone from original sin to eternal hell-fire and brimstone.

So what exactly was Isaiah getting at?

First of all, the Hebrew word interpreted “peace” in this verse (and paraphrased “rest” by my grandparents and others) is the Hebrew word shalom – which is commonly translated into the English word “peace” has a broad definition of peace that also includes tranquility, wholeness, and welfare. It is an overall positive sense of well-being. It makes sense, therefore, that our Hebrew friends use the word like “Aloha” is used by our island friends. It is used for both “hello” and “good-bye.” It is a wish of well-being both in your coming and going.

Earlier in today’s chapter God through the prophet Isaiah speaks to the Hebrew people taken in exile to Babylon. He promises their return and homecoming from captivity, then says,

If only you had paid attention to my commands,
    your peace would have been like a river,
    your well-being like the waves of the sea.

No shalom for the wicked,” is no reference to eternal hell-fire and brimstone. It’s not a direct reference to original sin. It is a loving parent speaking to wayward children being welcomed back into a loving embrace. It’s dad reiterating the moral of the story. It’s mother’s reminder after scolding: “Listen carefully, my dear child. When you don’t pay attention and are disobedient, then the natural consequences lead away from wholeness, tranquility, well-being and peace.”

And, that’s a good lesson. That’s a lesson this grown-up child needs to be reminded of on a regular basis.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 48

Sleep better. "There is no peace," says God, "for the wicked." Isaiah 48:22 (MSG)

The pizza joint was packed after a high school basketball gang and I was there with a bunch of my friends. I was the youngest of the group of teen boys. It was loud. It was smokey (you could smoke anywhere in public in those days), and it was extremely busy with teenagers and families celebrating the basketball team's victory.

I don't remember there being any discussion. In the midst of the din, the eldest of my group of friends looked around and said "Let's go." We got up and followed him out of the restaurant without paying the check. I still remember the look on his face and his laughter as the group reveled in pulling one over on the restaurant. We all laughed as we sprinted towards my friend's house, but underneath the laughter my conscience had already kicked in.

I remember hating that night. Guilt and shame have a way of magnifying paranoia, anxiety and fear to ridiculously huge proportions. I spent the night at my friends house in utter fear of police raiding the house and hauling me off to jail. I can still remember the panic in my head each time I heard a police siren in the distance.

There is no peace for the wicked.

It was about four years later that I stopped by the pizza joint after school and asked to speak with the manager. I still remember his confused expression as I explained what I'd done and handed him money from my paycheck to cover the old debt, and then some. The look on his face told me he thought I was crazy. I'm sure people walk out on checks regularly, especially teenagers, and it's all part of the daily routine of the restaurant business. Looking back now, 30 years later, I laugh at the silliness of it myself. But it taught me a good lesson.

Do the right thing. You sleep better.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and drakeguan