23 June 2015

Isaiah 56:1-8

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” (vv. 7b-8)

Psalm: Psalm 33


Chapter 56 begins the third part of the book of Isaiah. Part 1 (chapters 1-39) deals with the time before the kingdom of Judah fell to the Assyrians; part 2 (chapters 40-55) addresses the people in exile in Babylon; and now part 3 is mainly concerned with the time when they had returned to Jerusalem.

God is speaking - to God's people established in Jerusalem and worshipping once again in the temple. The first message is about justice and doing what is right, because God is working out God's purposes. Then follows a more detailed exposition of how the people should behave.

The command to keep the Sabbath (verse 2) harks back to an earlier time when God had rescued the people from oppression, a time of wandering in the wilderness and learning to live in God's way (see Exodus 20:8-11). Once again, the people had been rescued and need to rediscover the right way to live.

There is a message of welcome to those who might be considered as outside the religious community - and a strong demand that they be accepted. In the face of the great importance of the continuation of a family name, those who were childless were often excluded. But here the message of welcome extends to them, to the eunuchs (verses 3, 4). If they are loyal to God's commands they will have a lasting memorial.

And foreigners too are an integral part of those whom God gathers in. God has gathered in all the outcasts of Israel and God gathers in those who join themselves to the Lord, who obey God's commandments, who come to God's house, and who bring their offerings.

Jesus quoted part of today's passage when he cleared the temple of the money changers and dealers in doves (see Mark 11:15-17): "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?"

To Ponder

  • Many notice boards outside churches state: "All are welcome". Do you think that is always the case, and how could it become really true?
  • Can you think of things which get in the way of churches being houses of prayer? What could you do about it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Stephen Burgess

Revd Stephen Burgess is chair of the York & Hull District of the Methodist Church. He initially trained as a chemist and after some years in industry and teaching served in two school chaplaincy appointments before becoming superintendent of the Cambridge Circuit and then moving to Yorkshire.