3 February 2012Isaiah 55:1-13
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord." (v. 8)
Traditional scholarship divides the book of Isaiah into three
parts, with many shared themes but dating from three periods of
Israel's history. This chapter ends the second part, reflecting
from exile on the sufferings of Israel and the promise of
Many times Isaiah has brought us back to his vision of the moment of return. Now he turns his attention to 'the morning after': what will life be like in this renewed kingdom?
Centrally, it will depend on "an everlasting covenant" (v. 3), and the content of this is God's unshakeable love for David.
The Old Testament tells the story of David 'as is', warts and all. God loves him unshakeably despite all that goes wrong in his life: the violence, the deceit, the immorality (2 Samuel 11-12). Things have gone badly wrong for Israel too, and sexual immorality is a common image for their sin (Hosea 2); but God's promise is to love them despite all this. Hence the assurance of mercy and pardon for the wicked who repent (verse 7); this is, first of all, Israel's story of a relationship that survives despite everything because of the solid rock of God's love. God loves where humans would be quick to condemn.
Generally, the Old Testament refers to David as a great king (Jeremiah 30:9), but here, Isaiah focuses on two different aspects. He was a witness and a leader, to "the peoples" (v. 4) - not the people of Israel, but the other nations, the outsiders. Is this going to define Israel's role - is this what God's covenant love is for? Verse 5 suggests so, and the last writer whose work is included in Isaiah comes back to this theme over and over again (eg Isaiah 56:3-8). Even though Israel has had such a hard time with dominant foreigners, the call is to witness and lead. God includes where humans would be quick to exclude.
And beyond this, there is to be a renewal of creation itself. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their punishment was partly the hardship of labour to produce their food (Genesis 3:17-19). In God's generosity, the land will be fertile and beautiful once again (verses 12-13), and exploitative economic systems will therefore be obsolete - there will be no shortage, so no need to exchange hard-earned cash for daily food and drink (verses 1-2; similarly inJohn 4:10). God offers freely where humans would be quick to seek profit.
And at the root of all this is God's word, as effective as rain soaking the ground (Psalm 65:9-10). God's word was the tool of creation in the beginning; now God's people are reassured that they need not doubt its ongoing power.
Are there ways in which we can make sense today of God's challenge to the economic status quo? If so, what are they?
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?" (v. 2)