The promise abides

Thursday

Isaiah 66

Rubble litters the street in the main souk or ...

Rubble litters the street in the main souk or market area of Maraat al-Numan, Syria. (Photo credit: FreedomHouse)

10Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,

We do not know for sure when this message was spoken.  Was it when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian armies?  When hunger raged through the city so that children became the victims of cannibalism?  When the walls had lain on the ground for 50 years, and the city become the haunt of jackals?  When the first exiles rebuilt the altar among the ruins only to face the hostile threats from their neighbors to the north?  Most likely it was in the years after the temple had been rebuilt – a pale imitation of its former glory – and a brief flutter of hope fell to the years of hardship and cynicism, when people offered lame animals unsuitable for farm or fields, when worship was thought a burden and people “sniff at it contemptuously” (Malachi 1:13) and said God approved of those who did wrong.

Somewhere in these years when the promises of old lay in the dust the prophet rises to speak his inspired poetry of God’s unbreakable promise:

I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;

The prophet is not against using scandalous language to shock his hearers into attention

rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her–
11that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.

God’s promise remains.  The city’s desolation was its own doing.  The city had gone the way of the nations.  Departing from God’s law and commands it had become a city of idolatry and economic injustice.  The poor sank deeper into poverty while the rich “add house to house and join field to field” (Isaiah 5.8). The Sabbath command that even slaves should rest was ignored.  Temples and shrines were created to other deities promising fertility and abundance.  The city crumbled under the weight of its departure from God’s way.  Though the prophets fed at the king’s table declared “We have a great country” and “God is on our side,” God’s face was against them and the nation fell.

So the dream is over.  And the brief enthusiasm occasioned by the returning exiles had faded in the dreary life of poverty and trial.

But God is not done.  Thought they inhabit Good Friday the promise abides.

God’s purpose was to use Israel to bring blessing to all the nations.  God could not do that when Israel had become a petty tyranny of the rich and powerful like every other nation.  But God’s purpose remains.  And amidst the dust of the ruins the prophet sings his song of joy at a Jerusalem that will become all God promised it would be.  He sings a song of a future as if it were already accomplished.

It is not because the people had finally come to their senses.  It was because God’s purpose to save abides.  Though it is in Jerusalem that tyranny betrays the anointed of God, it is also there, just outside the walls, that the tomb is found empty.  And behind locked doors the risen Christ appears to breathe his breath on his followers and send them out to sing the song of salvation to all the earth.

We are not the eternally optimistic orphan Annie singing “Tomorrow, Tomorrow”; we are the children of heaven who live by the promise made sure that life and not death shall reign forever.

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