How then are we to adapt this ancient poem to our modern experiences? I wonder if we may in fact be like the ancient Israelites after all? Oh, not in our trust in YHWH to bring light in our darkness, not in our trust in God to bring us victory over our perceived enemies. We are rather more like those whom Isaiah describes in Isaiah 8:19, "consult(ing) the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter," looking for "the dead on behalf of the living for Torah and instruction," rather than for the living God. I do not mean by this claim that we are all devotees of necromancy or spiritualism. No, our modern ghosts and spirits are the vain trust in military power, in economic might, in social class that ensures comfort and ease in the midst of a world of pain and suffering. We are those who "turn our faces upward or who look to the earth" (Is. 8:21-22) to find empty truths, rather to open ourselves to the demands for justice and righteousness issued again and again by God.
It is to those people, we who strain to hear chirpings and mutterings rather than the hard truths of shalom for all, who are "walking in darkness" and who desperately need the light of God, whether they know they do or not. When Isaiah speaks of God's removal of our "yoke, the bar on our shoulders, and the rod of our oppressor," he cannot mean for us the defeat of our "enemies," communism or terrorism or the end of an oil-based economy. YHWH's light must shine on those of us who still search for external enemies, who divide the world into us and them, who claim for ourselves the title of God's chosen.
On us has God's light shined in the face of Jesus, and that light bids us to seek the enemies of poverty and injustice, not some contemporary Midian who would remove our golden status as the chosen people of God. America is finally not the light of the world, a "nation set on a hill." God is the light of the world, and for those of us who are Christians, that light comes most powerfully in the face of Jesus. In that face we see God, the God of all people, who wills shalom for all, not just for some chosen few.