28 January 2012

Isaiah 51:1-8

"Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teachng will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples." (v. 4)


Just as the section Isaiah 40-55 begins with a word of comfort (Isaiah 40:1), today's passage carries a word of consolation to a people in exile. After 40 years they are again to know God's gracious gift of salvation. God understands their situation and declares deliverance to them. Unlike some of the surrounding passages, however, these verses require of the hearers only that they listen and look. Those addressed are named as those who "pursue righteousness" (v. 1); that is, those who are already seeking the Lord. They are not told that they have sinned or been rebellious: they are not asked to make significant changes. Rather they are only to pay attention to God, and recognise what God is doing among them.

Three times they are invited to listen (verses 1, 4 and 7). The first call to listen asks them to look to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was a solitary human being when called but became a nation. God can begin with next to nothing and create a multitude. God can take a wasteland and make it a garden full of abundant life. 

The second call to listen points again to the wider purpose of God. God's deliverance will be quick and will extend teaching and light to all the nations (verse 4b). In other words, God is not simply restoring Israel but inviting God's own people to witness to God's love for all nations. They are to lift up their eyes (verse 6), for the new work of God is radical, changing heaven and earth. God is to do something new. It will be an everlasting salvation and never come to an end. 

The final call to listen is to reassure the faithful ones - those who know God's teaching in their heart. They should not be afraid of those who mock and reproach. Mockery will be temporary and dismay short lived. God's actions by contrast will have a lasting impact: an everlasting salvation for all generations. God's word is solid and sure and to be trusted even in times of harassment and maltreatment. 

The call to listen seems to be the key message of this passage. 

To Ponder

Why is listening important in the life of faith? What can make it so difficult for you?

Methodists have of late been asked to look to their roots as a "discipleship movement shaped for mission". This might be seen as looking to the founding figure, John Wesley, or to 'the rock from which you were hewn'. What are the values of looking to beginnings? Are there any disadvantages?

What has been your most trying time as a Christian? What kept you going?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Roger Walton

Roger Walton is a Methodist minister and chair of the West Yorkshire Methodist District. From 1999-2010 he was the director of the Wesley Study Centre, Durham and before that was responsible for adult learning and training in the Methodist Church.