The veil has long existed as a physical reminder of mystery. The truly veiled bride becomes a mystery (again) as she walks down the aisle toward an anxious and waiting groom. Modern weddings have pretty much eschewed the bridal veil. The bride may have a nominal veil, but it serves no purpose but to fulfill a clothing tradition, as it does not mask the bride as she walks down the aisle. Even when we think we know what is behind the veil, there is this mystery of “what if” behind the veil that still attracts us.
The veil mentioned in Isaiah is a mystery in and of itself. Some translations leave it as a “shroud” or “veil”. Others name it a “burial shroud” due to its Hebrew root being “tight wrapping”. However, a “tight wrapping” can also be interpreted as “swaddling clothes” (i.e., for an infant).
The veil stuck in the middle of a feast and the destruction of death definitely puts some additional ambiguity in there (Hey, it’s a mystery!). Christian commentators will often invoke the “death of death” in this. They may be right.
However, at least some of the Jewish commentators put this in the middle of something completely different. Depending on how certain words are translated, this passage isn’t a positive message to non-Jews. According to Rashi, the whole feast is actually a trap, where the feast appears to be fine food and wine, but is actually the leftovers and the dregs (the debris left in the bottom after wine is aged), and that the nations (granted, that attack the Jews) will be destroyed.
Talk about a complete 180° turn! To Rashi’s understanding, the wrapping (the “veil”) is more of the vision that there is no escape from punishment. It is actually mind-blowing to read completely different understandings of Hebrew from people who were often trained to think the same way about Hebrew.
This apparent contradiction is one joy I have in the Scriptures, and why I’ve loved writing these devotionals. How can there be two completely different understandings of both the Hebrew and the interpretation?
First, of course, are the presuppositions. From a Jewish perspective, Isaiah is all about the immediate punishment of the Jews for their sins, and the subsequent punishment of those that afflicted and assaulted the Jews for their sins (on top of attacking the People of God). So, we should not diminish or dismiss their understanding. In fact, it can actually deepen our understanding.
One of the biggest lessons to learn from the Scriptures is the surface lessons and the deeper ones. Much of Isaiah does indeed lend itself to both (as do much of the prophetic works). The nations that attacked the Jews? Yep, they received their punishment, and they could not escape. The temptation of the land trapped them (the Romans has somewhat of the same problem generations later).
On the other hand, the coming of Jesus did not overturn the traditional understanding of the Scriptures. Jesus’ coming transform the understanding. A Jew who does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lord, and Savior will not have their understanding of these words transformed.
Just as we who have come to know Jesus have been transformed, so too have the Scriptures. Not literally, for Jesus is the Word, but in understanding. When the Word in the flesh came, the Scriptures gained new light, and humanity was gifted a transformed understanding of who God really is.
- What are some “veils of mystery” that you can think of? What impact do they have in your life?
- How do both understandings of these verses in Isaiah inform you about God?
- Why is transformation such an important concept when it comes to the Old Testament and our reading and understanding of the Scriptures?
Lord, you have and are the words of eternal life. Transform our hearts to hunger for your Word, that we can bear your Word into the world, and be a light to one another. Amen.
※ A Post Script ※
As I’ve communicated before, God has released (directed?) me to something new and unknown (a mystery). This is the last daily devotional. I thank you for journeying with me through the Scriptures. As I delve into what God has in store, expect to still hear from me, just in a different way than devotions have been done. I pray that God will continue to bless your walk with Jesus and that you find those Christian companions who will continue to deepen your faith and understanding. -Pastor Ian