4 September 2007

Isaiah 57: 14-21

"For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite". (v.15)


The latter chapters of the book of Isaiah are addressed to a people in exile. Jerusalem had been destroyed and most of its population deported to Babylon. The prophet promises return from exile, but also addresses what will stand in the way. 

This passage refers back to an earlier phrase: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3). Here the barriers are not so much the physical barriers to a nation on their way home to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, but rather the barriers to a right relationship with God. Those barriers are pride, greed, and the arrogance of preferring their own ways to God's way. 

Whilst there is a theme of judgement in this passage, there is also a strong emphasis on the compassion of God, who offers peace and healing. The writer again expresses the holiness of God in terms of loftiness, and yet speaks of God coming down from those heights of holiness to live with those who are humble and sorry for their sins. 

"Your glory and might are beyond us to tell,
And yet in the heart of the humble you dwell." (Hymns & Psalms 699) 

But whilst the contrite will receive their reward from God, the prophet reminds the people in no uncertain terms that those who continue in their wicked ways will find no peace.

To Ponder

"No peace for the wicked." Reflect on the truth of that statement in the light of your experience of life.

The prophet speaks of God as "high and lofty". What ideas would you use to describe the holiness of God to people today, to whom air and space travel are commonplace?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.