8. Jerusalem's Iniquity Is Pardoned (Isaiah 49-55, except 53)


Audio (38:24)


James J. Tissot, "Flight of the Prisoners" (1896-1903), gouache on board, Jewish Museum, New York.

Now we sense another shift. Whereas in chapters 40-48 the emphasis seemed to be on deliverance from Babylon, in these chapters we see the focus shift from physical captivity of Judah to moral and spiritual captivity of Israel and the whole world -- and its salvation. Though chapter 53 is included in this section of Isaiah, we'll skip it in this lesson, but devote Lesson 9 to considering 52:13-53:12 in some detail.

Part 8A (Isaiah 49-52)

Israel Becomes an Agent in Yahweh's Universal Salvation (49:1-13)

Chapter 49 begins by Israel addressing distant nations, explaining how God had called "my servant Israel" -- before she was formed -- to reveal God's greatness (49:1-3). Israel laments that this hasn't occurred. "I have labored to no purpose," says Israel (49:4). But Yahweh disagrees.

"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (49:6)

Not only Israel herself will be restored, but she will be an agent of Yahweh's salvation to the nations throughout the earth. Israel, who had been despised and humbled, will be honored because Yahweh has chosen her (49:7). In his "day of salvation" Israel will bring his covenant to the nations and release the oppressed:

"... to say to the captives, 'Come out,'
and to those in darkness, 'Be free!'" (49:9)

This future day of salvation will be wonderful! Yahweh will gather the oppressed nations to him!

"10 He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.

11 I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.
12 See, they will come from afar --
some from the north,
some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan.
13 Shout for joy, O heavens;
rejoice, O earth;
burst into song, O mountains!
For the LORD comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones
." (49:9b-13)

Note Yahweh's compassion on the nations. Jesus certainly exhibited this compassion for struggling humanity.

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)

Do we have a similar compassion? So often we're xenophobic, fearful and distrustful of people of other races and nationalities. Nearly every country on earth has practiced harsh discrimination against minorities who aren't like them. But God's compassion extends to all the peoples, all the Gentiles -- even us. In the Law we're instructed:

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34)

"And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Q1. (Isaiah 49:1-13) Why do people tend to disregard or even discriminate against aliens in their country? How can you increase your love for people of other nationalities? God's people are called to be a "light to the nations." What might that entail for the church in your community? In your country?
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Universal Salvation (49:14-50:3)

God will gather his people in the future. But now Jerusalem feels forsaken. The Lord reassures her:

"15 Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me." (49:15-16)

Yahweh has not forgotten. He will restore Jerusalem's sons to her (49:17-18). He will bring back so many to Jerusalem that the city will seem too small to contain them all.

"Though you were ruined
and made desolate
and your land laid waste,
now you will be too small for your people,
and those who devoured you will be far away." (49:19)

Many who return to Jerusalem won't even be recognized. These are "children born during your bereavement," during Israel's rejection (49:20-21). These unrecognized children are the great crop of Gentiles who will be saved.

"See, I will beckon to the Gentiles,
I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms
and carry your daughters on their shoulders. " (49:22)

I am sure that Isaiah's prophecies informed St. Paul's expectation that all Israel would be saved, a hope that he expresses so eloquently in Romans 9-11. Paul grieves because his people, the Jews, seem to have rejected Christ.

"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers." (Romans 9:2-3)

"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved." (Romans 10:1)

Paul states rhetorically, "I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!" (Romans 11:1)

"Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!" (Romans 11:11-12)

"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written...." (Romans 11:25-26)

Isaiah writes in our passage about the time of the fulfillment that Paul looks forward to at the end of days.

"Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the LORD;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed....

Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior,
your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob." (49:23, 26)

This is that final day at Christ's return when,

"... every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)

Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Q2. (Isaiah 49:14-50:3) Paul teaches that "all Israel will be saved." According to Isaiah in our passage, what will happen to the scattered Jews in the Last Days. Does God seem to love Jews who haven't trusted in Messiah Jesus yet? How can you show your love for Jews?
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But Jerusalem's people need additional assurance that God will deliver them from Babylon. Isaiah writes concerning a future time when the Jews are utterly devastated, humiliated, and hopeless from their captivity. We might say they have "low self-esteem." And so God explains the reason for their exile, and then encourages them that they will ultimately be saved from it.

"Because of your sins you were sold;
because of your transgressions your mother was sent away. " (50:1b)

It wasn't as if Yahweh hadn't tried to woo Judah back to him through the prophets, but they hadn't listened, as in 65:1-3.

"When I came, why was there no one?
When I called, why was there no one to answer?" (50:2a)

And just because they are presently in captivity doesn't mean that Yahweh is too weak to save them. He has exiled them for a purpose, to chastise them (50:2-3).

The Messiah's Steadfastness (50:4-9)

Now the prophecy shifts its focus from captive Israel to another figure -- the Messiah! This is not servant Israel who is deaf and blind (42:18-19) and rebellious (50:5a), but the Servant Messiah.

"The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,[167]
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught." (50:4)

We know that each morning Jesus would rise early and get away to talk with the Father (Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42; 6:12).

"The Jews were amazed and asked, 'How did this man get such learning without having studied?'Jesus answered, 'My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.'" (John 7:15-16)

And with words from the Father, he would provide encouragement for those who are struggling. To declare Yahweh's message is costly, resulting in physical abuse. But the Servant does not waver.

"5b I have not drawn back.
6 I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame." (50:5b-7)

Though Jesus knows he will be arrested and crucified, he does not turn away from his mission.

"When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." (Luke 9:51, NRSV)

Now the prophet hints at the false charges and Jesus'steadfastness in the mock trial before Caiaphas. He knows that God will ultimately vindicate him by resurrection no matter what accusations are made.

"8 He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
Let him confront me!
9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.
Who is he that will condemn me?" (50:8-9a)

We read something similar in 1 Peter.

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23)

Q3. (Isaiah 50:4-9) Who does Isaiah seem to speak about in our passage? In what way is he open to the Lord? In what way does he suffer? When was the Messiah vindicated in history? How will he be vindicated at the end of the age? What character quality is necessary for believers when their vindication doesn't seem to happen soon enough?
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The Righteous and the Rebellious Respond to the Servant (50:10-11)

The subject now moves from the Messianic Servant to those who trust in the Lord in contrast to unbelievers.

"Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God." (50:10)

Sometimes when we obey Jesus, we can't see what's going on around us. All is dark. Nevertheless we trust him, and in the darkness he guides us.[168] "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The alternative to walking by faith is to try to create our own light and follow our own way. The torches unbelievers have lit devour them.

"But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment." (50:11)

Walk in the light of the Lord or try to find your way by your own dim candle. Yahweh has set before his people life or death -- their choice.

Q4. (Isaiah 50:10-11) How can you trust the Lord to guide you when you can't see where you're going? Have you ever experienced fear in this situation? How do you continue? What is the danger of creating your own "light" to substitute for the invisible God?
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The Joyous Return of the Exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem (51:1-52:12)

For those who choose to walk in God's light, the prophet now directs his words:

"1 Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
2 look to Abraham, your father,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was but one,
and I blessed him and made him many." (51:1-2)

Look back to Abraham, Israel's exemplar of faith. Go back to your roots -- following the Lord. Now the prophet promises God's blessing on those who choose the path of faith.

"The LORD will surely comfort Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing." (51:3)

Verse 4b is an interesting promise: "My justice will become a light to the nations." If you think about it, all of Western jurisprudence has used the Mosaic Law as the basis for much of common law. Yahweh's law has served as the basic understanding of righteousness for thousands of years.

Yahweh promises that "my salvation is on the way" (51:5b), and when it arrives, it will last forever (51:6f). Don't be influenced by the culture's opinion, he says (51:7), because what is fashionable now will fade, but God's standard of righteousness will last for ever (51:8). Yahweh will come in his mighty strength and bring his redeemed people home (51:9-10). Verse 11 is full of wonderful images of celebration.

"The ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (51:11)

This verse was set to music by Ruth Lake and is sung in many churches.[169]

The Judeans and residents of Jerusalem will be forcibly exiled to Babylon as prisoners of war between 604 to 587 BC. But Isaiah prophesies that their ransom will have been paid. They will be freed! Imagine what it was like when the first band of 50,000 returnees entered their land again (Ezra 2:64-66) in 538 BC in direct fulfillment of this prophecy!

Yahweh comforts them with these promises -- designed to be read by the exiled people more than 100 years after they were written. That have suffered much for their sins. Now he calls them to wakefulness.

"17 Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.
18 Of all the sons she bore there was none to guide her;
of all the sons she reared there was none to take her by the hand.
19 These double calamities have come upon you -- who can comfort you? --
ruin and destruction, famine and sword -- who can console you?" (51:17-19)

But that terrible time is over. He speaks comfort to the city -- and thus to its exiled inhabitants.

"1 Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength.
Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city.
The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again.
2 Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion." (52:1-2)

Now we see the figure of a messenger running to bring a message to the city. The watchman sees the messenger running up hills to the city on the heights, an echo from 40:9 --

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy." (52:7)

The approaching messenger shouts the message to the watchmen on the walls, who pick up the joyous call and relay it to those in the city. Then the ruined city is commanded to rejoice:

"Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem." (52:9)

The first line of verse 7 is quoted by Paul in Romans 10:15 with reference to evangelists bringing the gospel. You may have sung these words in the song "Our God Reigns."[170]

Q5. (Isaiah 52:7-9) Why is a messenger or carrier of good news so beautiful? What is the original historical context of these verses? How does Paul apply this verse in Romans 10:15?
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The prophecy concludes with an admonition from the Lord to begin the holy pilgrimage from Babylon to Jerusalem in purity.

"Depart, depart, go out from there!
Touch no unclean thing!
Come out from it and be pure,
you who carry the vessels of the LORD." (52:11)

They had left the city in shame because of their sin. But they are to learn holiness during their exile in Babylon. Paul quotes this passage in 2 Corinthians 6:17 as an admonition to moral purity.

In fulfillment of this remarkable verse, the returnees from Babylon carry with them some of the vessels from the former temple.

"King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.... In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar[171] brought all these along when the exiles came up from Babylon to Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:7, 11)

This prophecy closes with the assurance that this is not to be an escape from Babylon:

"You will not leave in haste or go in flight;
for the LORD will go before you,
the God of Israel will be your rear guard." (52:12)

It is to be an orderly procession back to Jerusalem -- preceded by and protected at the end of the column by the Lord himself.

The Suffering Servant (52:13-53:12)

Here's where the famous Suffering Servant passage belongs in the sequence.

"He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed." (53:5)

We'll skip this passage at this point, but consider it in detail in Lesson 9.

Part 8B (Isaiah 54-55)

Barren, Forsaken Israel Is Called back Home (54)

Previous chapters have traced the path of God's redemption of Israel through the sacrifice of the Suffering Servant and Israel's mission as Yahweh's Servant to be a light to the nations.

Now we turn to a series of prophecies that are both winsome to God's people and harsh to those who persist in their rebellion. Some of the most beautiful passages in the Bible are found here.

Isaiah begins this prophecy with a word of encouragement to God's people who have suffered great trauma, seeing their city destroyed, their children slain, and the survivors sent off into exile. Jerusalem feels like a barren women with no children, says Isaiah, rejected by her husband. But now he brings words of comfort and encouragement. The time of Jerusalem's disgrace is nearly over, her exile is nearly completed.

"Sing, O barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband." (54:1)

To be barren was considered a source of shame. Recall the struggle of some of the Bible's barren wives -- Sarah, Rachel, Hannah -- who later bore children. But now the days of barrenness are over. The small tent the barren wife has been occupying won't be large enough for her expanding family. The barren woman in this passage is Jerusalem -- that is, the former citizens of this holy city.

"2 Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities." (54:2-3)

Sometimes God speaks these verses to people -- and churches -- that have passed through times of struggle and are about to move into a season of growth and expansion. These are words of hope for people who have suffered much and can hardly dare to hope.

In Israel's culture, barrenness was considered shameful. But even more was being put away by your husband to live by yourself, alone. The exile is emblematic of God putting away his errant wife, Israel. But the time of rejection is nearly over.

"4 'Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
5 For your Maker is your husband --
the LORD Almighty is his name--
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The LORD will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit --
a wife who married young, only to be rejected,'says your God.
7 'For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,'
says the LORD your Redeemer." (54:4-8)

The Lord reaffirms his "unfailing love" and "covenant of peace" (54:10). Jerusalem's children will be "taught by the Lord" and enjoy a time of prosperity, far from foreign oppression (54:13-14).

In the New Testament, a number of passages carry on this analogy of husband and wife:

  • John 3:29 -- The bridegroom and the bride.

  • Ephesians 5:22-33 -- Wives submit to your husbands; husbands love your wives.

  • 2 Corinthians 11:2 -- Presented to Christ as a chaste virgin.

  • Revelation 19:7 -- the marriage supper of the Lamb.

  • Revelation 21:2 -- Jerusalem descending as a bride adorned for her husband.

  • Revelation 21:19 -- I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.

Q6. (Isaiah 54:1-8) In what sense was Jerusalem "barren" without God's favor? What does it imply when Isaiah says "your Maker is your husband"? What does the husband do in this analogy? In the New Testament "bride of Christ" analogy, who is the wife, who is the husband? What is expected of the wife?
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Now the imagery goes to God's promise to protect his people from those who would oppress them. In that day, a blacksmith would forge weapons, such as swords and spears, over the fire.

 "16 See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc;
17 no weapon forged[172] against you will prevail[173],
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you." (54:16-17a)

Yahweh promises that "no weapon that is forged against you shall prosper." Blacksmiths would produce swords, spears, and daggers, weapon after weapon prior to a battle. But God's protection around about his people will prevail.

To see the fulfillment of this prophecy following the exile, read in Ezra and Nehemiah the history of the returned exiles as they struggled to rebuild the temple and repair the walls of Jerusalem. Their enemies sought an injunction from the Persian overlords to force them to halt construction (Ezra 4-5), but these false accusations ultimately failed (Ezra 6) because God promised that "you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment" (Isaiah 54:17b). Something similar happened under Nehemiah. The Israelites'enemies -- Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem -- threatened them militarily, but failed (Nehemiah 4), because of God's promise, "No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper" (Isaiah 54:17a).

Can we claim for ourselves the promise that "no weapon forged against you will prevail"? Yes! We are not literal Israel (most of us), but we are spiritual Israel, God's people, and therefore recipients of his promises (Galatians 3:7-9, 29; 6:16; Romans 4:12; Philippians 3:3).

Q7. (Isaiah 54:16-17) What does the promise mean that no weapon formed against you shall succeed? Does it mean we won't have to conduct spiritual warfare through prayer and faith? What then does it mean?
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Invitation to Yahweh's Feast (55:1-5)

Chapter 55 is a wonderful invitation to the Lord's bounty. It is an evangelistic appeal to receive God's grace. Yahweh addresses people who are parched and hungry with an offer of refreshing and sustenance.

"1 Come,[174] all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
3
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live." (55:1-3a)

He is speaking about spiritual drink and spiritual food. God's people are worshipping false gods that do not satisfy the inner desires of the soul (nepesh).[175] In Isaiah's day these false gods were idols. Today they are money and sex and power. They are materialism. They are drugs and booze. They are overeating. They are selfishness. We gorge ourselves on these. We're hungry and eat, but we need something besides junk food to satisfy our deep hunger. We need to swallow Christ's drink and eat Jesus'food -- because it satisfies ... deeply.

Q8. (Isaiah 55:1-3) Why do people "spend" their lives doing things that they know won't satisfy them deep down? Where does hedonism or a love of pleasure lead? What are the gracious elements of Yahweh's invitation in this passage? What is the cost of accepting the invitation? Will this invitation be perceived as "good news" to those who hear it? How can you issue this invitation in today's vernacular?
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Yahweh has offered his people spiritual wholeness themselves. Now he explains that they are a covenant people, a people in special relationship to God, a people who are deeply and forever loved by God.

The prophet writes of the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:4-17), where God promises never to forget David, even in spite of sin.

"I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David." (55:3b)

But his eyes look forward to the Son of David, the coming Messiah, who will deliver not only the Jewish people, but the entire world -- all who seek him.

"4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor." (55:4-5)

In days to come, God's people will be involved in Christ's worldwide mission that derives from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). The nations will be drawn to our Messiah because they see his glory in us.

An Invitation to Repent of Our Sins (55:6-8)

But at present God's people are far from this place. They have drifted. They have rebelled. They have worshipped other gods with their lives. And so the prophet calls them to repentance and renewal.

"6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon." (55:6-7)

"Seek" (dārash) means "to seek with care" with the purpose of knowing.[176] This isn't passive but active. Jeremiah writes to people of the same era -- exiles right before God delivers them:

"'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,'declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity.'" (Jeremiah 29:13-14a)

"Seek" is used in parallel to "call upon" (qārāʾ).[177] People call upon the God in whom they trust.

Observe that our famous invitation passage (55:6-8) makes several assumptions.

  1. Timing. We cannot come to God at any time. There are times when he is near and we must seize the day and turn to him when we can. We can't assume that we can put this off. "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).
  2. Seeking. We must actively seek to know God. The invitation has been given. We must respond to it actively or it will pass us by.
  3. Believing. We must seek God in faith.
  4. Repenting. We must repent not just of our actions, but also of our inner thoughts that are rebellious against God.

We must acknowledge that we do not know the real or full truth on our own. Our perspective is earthbound and corrupted by our own selfishness and arrogance. We must seek his truth to the degree that he reveals it, and then embrace it as our own.

"'8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,'declares the LORD.
9 'As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (55:8-9)

So often we insist that if we can't understand something, then it can't be so. How arrogant! The past century has been one of rapid scientific progress because people realized they didn't know things and sought knowledge -- rather than spoke with dogmatism and clung to their own interpretations without willingness to reconsider. As we can learn a humility before God in our prayers and our walk, we are able to understand Him better and to know him more accurately.

Q9. (Isaiah 55:6-9) What does seeking the Lord entail? If God's ways and thoughts are different than our own human way of thinking, what are the implications of this for success in our lives? Why is repentance necessary to this process? Why is humility necessary? What happens to us if our seeking is shallow? What happens if we put off seeking the Lord when we hear his invitation? Is it ever too late to seek the Lord? Can any real success be found by other means than seeking the Lord?
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Truth is not what we know in our finite brains. The true reality is what God purposes. It will surely come to pass.

"10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,[178]
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (55:10-11)

As surely as the rain and snow accomplish their purpose of watering and growth, so God's word will bring to pass his will, and not fail of its purpose.

This prophecy concludes with a promise of joy and peace, full of beautiful, evocative imagery.[179]

"12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD's renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed." (55:12-13)

Praise the Lord!

Prayer

Lord, so often we are foolish enough to think we can get by on our own wisdom, without seeking or obeying your ways. What a mess we make of our lives! Please forgive us. Soften our hard hearts. Restore genuine faith to our cynical minds. Help us to be fully satisfied with You as our portion. In Jesus'name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

There are a number of key passages in this portion of Isaiah. Here are some of them.

"He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water." (Isaiah 49:10)
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me." (49:15-16)

"See, I will beckon to the Gentiles,
I will lift up my banner to the peoples." (49:22a)

"When I came, why was there no one?
When I called, why was there no one to answer?" (50:2a)

"I have not drawn back.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame." (50:5b-7)

" It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.
Who is he that will condemn me?" (50:9a)

"Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth." (51:1b-2a)

"The ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (51:11)

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy." (52:7)

"Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities." (54:2-3)

"For your Maker is your husband --
the LORD Almighty is his name--
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth." (54:5)
"No weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you." (54:17a)

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live." (55:1-3a)

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon." (55:6-8)

"' For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,'declares the LORD.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (55:8-9)

"So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (55: 11)

"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD's renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed." (55:12-13)

End Notes

[167] "Instructed tongue" (NIV), "the tongue of a teacher / mg. Hebrew: "the tongue of those who are taught" (NRSV), "the tongue of the learned" (KJV), "a disciple's tongue" (NJB) uses the adjective limmud, "taught" (TWOT #1116a). Oswalt (Isaiah 2:323-324) notes that the word occurs also in 8:16 and 54:13, where "'the learned'are disciples, persons who by intimate association with a master have learned what he knows." Thus "the tongue of the learned" suggests "one who speaks out of intimate association with the Lord."

[168] Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline (HarperOne, 1998), pp. 102-104) sees 50:10 as describing what St. John of the Cross termed the "dark night of the soul," when we walk by faith, without much emotional support.

[169] "Therefore the redeemed of the Lord," by Ruth Lake, © 1972 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music).

[170] "Our God Reigns (How Lovely on the Mountains)," by Leonard E. Smith, Jr. (© 1974, 1978 New Jerusalem Music).

[171] Sheshbazzar was the first governor over Judah appointed by the Persians, probably the same as Shenazzar (1 Chronicles 3:18), a son of Jehoiachin, one of Judah's last kings. He was succeeded by his nephew, the better-known Zerubbabel (Ezra 5:2; Haggai 1:1).

[172] "Forged" (NIV), "fashioned" (NRSV), "formed" (KJV) is yāṣar, "fashion, form, frame." The word is used in parallel to bāraʾ ("create") and ʿaśâ ("make") in a number of passages. Often used of God's creating, of a potter, occasionally of making idols. Here it refers to a blacksmith fashioning a weapon on the hearth (Thomas E McComiskey, yāṣar, TWOT #898).

[173] "Prevail" (NIV), "prosper" (NRSV, KJV) is ṣālaḥ, "prosper, succeed, be profitable" (TWOT #1917).

[174] "Come" (NIV), "ho" (NRSV, KJV) is hôy, "An interjection, usually of lamentation. It occurs fifty times in the prophets and once elsewhere. Here, however, it is a positive invitation (TWOT #485).

[175] Nephesh is a complex word that doesn't really correspond at all to the Greek idea of "soul." It often means "being, person, appetite." The original meaning was probably "to breathe." It sometimes seems to carry some idea of hunger, desire, or craving as it does here (Bruce K. Waltke, TWOT #1395a).

[176] Leonard J. Coppes, dārash, TWOT #455.

[177] The root qrʾ denotes primarily the enunciation of a specific vocable or message, calling one to a specific task -- here to bring salvation -- or earnest prayer to God (Leonard J. Coppes, qārāʾ, TWOT #2063).

[178] "Empty" (NIV, NRSV), "void" (KJV) is the adverb rê qām, "vainly, emptily," also used in the sense of "not fulfilled, unsuccessful." The verb rîq is used a few times literally of emptying vessels, sacks, etc. More often it is used in the extended meaning of drawing a sword -- perhaps emptying the scabbard (William White, rîq, TWOT #2161c).

[179] One of the key features of high Hebrew poetry is the rich imagery. Notice the line: "all the trees of the field will clap their hands." Does this mean that trees have hands? No. But the inspired prophet evokes the enthusiasm of praise with these words. There is a time to take the Scripture literally, and a time to take it figuratively. This is clearly the latter!


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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