Your Host Culture in 1977 {Book Club}

Today we will talk about Isaiah in Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow. Last week we talked about Sarah. Check out the comments to see pictures of some of us from 24 years ago :).

I am grateful we are reading this book together because it is helping me to see Sarah, and now Isaiah, in a different light. Like many of you, I am no stranger to Isaiah, but since the book of Isaiah is mostly prophecy, I do not have the strongest sense of him as a person. This is a bit embarrassing to admit as someone who values cultural context, but I also hadn’t ever gotten out a map and looked at it while thinking of the social, historical, and cultural context.

Until now!

I found another map and made another video to orient us all a bit in space and time. The video you see below (if on the web) or here (in email) is only four minutes.


In talking with Tanya about this section, she added this insight, “The Israelites were living in the past, the glory days of David. They still thought of themselves as a people close to God, not a people who had turned away from their true values. After a long period of peace, they have brought war to their doorsteps by making alliances with bullies.”

While this is not a clean analogy, think of the U.S. and Canada who have lived in relative peace (thank you God!) for ages. Canada (only because it is north, like Israel) makes a treaty with a domineering country in the Middle East. The U.S., feeling threatened makes a hasty treaty with North Korea and suddenly what had been a fairly stable and peaceful region finds itself thrown into self-imposed chaos, subordination, and violence.

Isaiah is speaking to this world. For forty years.

Forty years! Forty, from the time Isaiah was commissioned until he died. And all that time, he was a prophet, receiving messages from God and delivering them to a people that didn’t really want to hear what he had to say. Sound like your life?

I think I “deal with delay” when I have to wait longer than about five minutes.

To help us picture how long forty years is, think back to 1977. To make it even more concrete, think of your home country in 1977. Now think of your host country.

  • What did the government look like in 1977?
  • What was in fashion in 1977 (Mao suits and Dorothy Hamill hair anyone?!)?
  • What were medical conditions like?
  • Who had access to education in 1977?
  • How would you describe the relationship with your country (both home and host) and the neighboring ones?
  • How much did gas, bread, and fruit cost?
  • What were the major forms of transportation?

Since 1977, Isaiah has been waiting, dealing with delay. He has buried a wife, raised a son alone, remarried, had another son, spoke to this leader and that. He has seen Israel make a treaty and then Judah. He has watched the Syrians fall to the Assyrians and the Assyrians grow in power. He keeps giving cryptic prophecies from the Lord. Cryptic only because it wasn’t clear if they had been fulfilled, if they were partially fulfilled, or if their fulfillment would be in the future.

Hope and opportunities have ebbed and flowed. This way of thinking helps me view our ministry contexts from another angle. I’d love to hear a bit about your host country in 1977. Last year thinking about our own lives 24 years ago was interesting and fun! This week, let’s go back a few more years and think about our host cultures.

These are a few of the lines that stood out to me.

Day one

“It’s all about perspective. Sometimes I still feel smothered by the worries of what will happen to our country as we stumble from one mistake to another. I still worry about what will happen to us, to my children, to the next generation. But right then, that day in the temple, I knew the smallness of the kings of this world, because I had seen something of the immensity of God.”

Day two

From Isaiah sharing his word from the Lord with King Ahaz about the sign (a virgin will conceive). “The trouble with befriending a bully is that they will always bully you, too. Your great savior, the man whose parties you want to be seen at, Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria: he will destroy your kingdom. He will take a razor to our precious nation and shave it so closely there will be nothing left. Nothing of the riches you have stored up in your palace now, nothing of the prosperity and safety you currently enjoy. We’ll be forced to live on goats’ milk-curds and honey, the only food we can find in the wilderness.”

Day three

“You’ve got to understand: this is a nation that boasts of its welfare system as being the best around and prides itself on being a true God-fearing nation. Look at the edges and you find disabled people, refugees, single mothers and elderly widows, abandoned without financial support. Our political leaders boast of our rich faith heritage and God’s many blessings to us as a nation while ignoring the most vulnerable in society.”

Day four

“It’s so easy to go about our lives, making plans, relying on strategies, forgetting God has the power to reverse all expectations and work miracles. God does the unexpected and today, in our time, God would surprise us again.”

Day five

“I love God’s people, but they infuriate me. I shake my head at myself: it is ‘we’, not ‘they’. I number among the band of God’s frustrating followers. Their actions so easily could have been mine.”

What stood out to you as you read and thought about Isaiah dealing with delay . . . for forty years? Share in the comments about your host or home culture in 1977 to help root us in how long (and short) ago forty years is. Looking forward to chatting!

See you in the comments,


P.S. Next week we will read about “John the Baptist: Dealing with doubt. Waiting for your life’s purpose.”

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  1. Sarah Hilkemann December 18, 2017

    I jumped in late to reading this book, but am feeling really challenged and blessed by the stories of Sarah and Isaiah so far! I’ve been thinking a lot lately how the messiness of the middle of waiting can cause hope to just run far away. It’s easy to read a chapter or two in the Bible and think how the story is wrapped up neatly with a bow, the faithfulness of God evident in the end of the story. This book has really helped me think about how hard it must have been to keep going, to keep hoping for years and years and persevering to believe the promises of God. SO applicable to my heart and life right now!!

    I wasn’t alive in 1977, but I do know it was a pretty tumultuous time in my host culture, Cambodia. They were in the thick of horrible genocide with the Khmer Rouge and still had years to go. There are times I am discouraged and want to complain about the situation now, yet there has been so much rebuilding that has happened in the last 40 years!

  2. Kristi December 21, 2017

    I am really enjoying this book! I also jumped in late, and am just catching up. Amy, just like you mentioned, I admit I’ve never thought or studied much about Isaiah’s life, and I love the way that Tanya takes the bits of information from the Biblical text and helps us to picture these people in their daily experience. For Isaiah, I am impressed by his long ministry of preaching an unpopular message. What perseverance! We are in South Sudan, and 40 years ago there was relative peace for a few years between two long civil wars between Northern and Southern Sudan-perhaps the idea was just germinating of them becoming their own country.

    I was also really struck by the quote that you highlighted from day 3: “… [we] boast of our rich faith heritage and God’s many blessings to us as a nation while ignoring the most vulnerable in society.” Some say that about the U.S….and I wondered if Tanya was thinking of the current day parallel when she wrote it. I’ve been reminded recently about the ugly side of our heritage and genesis as a country (the massacres and cheating of Native Americans, the condoning of slavery, etc.) Our sinful nature makes it so easy to be self-righteous and complacent when life seems to be going our way. Do we need to be shaken up to get a more honest and eternal perspective, like Isaiah was with his vision of God?

    Also – in the introduction, she refers to an analogy (that came from you, Amy?) of hope being like a ball balanced on the top of a pyramid. The ball could run down either side – the hope could be fulfilled, or it could not. Maintaining hope is holding both possibilities at once. That analogy resonated with me and some of the disappointment and ‘yet unfulfilled hopes’ that I want to give up on. So, thank you for that word picture and the encouragement to persevere in hope.

  3. Kaylee December 31, 2017

    I’m catching up and still haven’t finished reading Isaiah’s part of the book but continue to dwell on Isaiah’s knowledge as a prophet. So often we romanticize the idea of knowing, “if I had only known” but I wonder how much more of a struggle Isaiah dealt with by having some insight into the future the nation faced. I’m thankful for not having the burden of knowing or prophesying something so great, so challenging.

    Hebrews 11:13 comes to mind, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Isaiah saw hope through his prophecy before he died but did not see the complete fulfillment of his prophecies. It’s amazing to look back on Isaiah 9 knowing that Isaiah did not see the child born in his lifetime but that we now celebrate Jesus’ birth each year having seen that prophecy fulfilled. So incredible.

    Bolivia in 1977 had an improvement in its economy but it was all unsustainable as the government was in the hands of one of many military dictators with pressure from the outside for democracy.

  4. Nicole January 3, 2018

    So good! I just finished Isaiah and am definitely going to be reading the prophets differently from here on out. I love digging into lives, not just what they had to say. I’ve never thought about his longing for the very thing he was prophesying about before.
    It definitely hit home thinking about the issues in the very poor country where we live and the many issues that seem overwhelming and never ending. We want to cry out “how long” lord when we think of the breakthrough that is needed!
    40 yrs ago our host country was only 6 yrs old as a nation (though thousands of years old as a culture) and struggling to shape themselves. When I think how far they’ve come in 40 yrs my hope is revived but I also remember that true peace won’t come until He does. Come Lord Jesus!

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