RIGHTEOUSNESS Isaiah 54–58
“Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon” (Isa. 55:7).God has determined good for all who love Him. How important to commit ourselves to righteous living, that we might share in all the blessings that lie ahead.
God will restore Zion (54:1–17). He invited all to share in that coming celebration (55:1–13). These blessings are for the righteous (56:1–8) rather than the wicked (v. 9–57:13); for the contrite (vv. 14–21), whose faith is a matter of doing justice rather than keeping ritual fasts (58:1–14).
Understanding the Text
“I will have compassion on you” Isa. 54:1–17. The work of Messiah (Isa. 53) is finished. Now the Lord, as “your Redeemer,” announces that “with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.” The strongest image here is that of God as Zion’s (Jerusalem’s) husband. The bride has been unfaithful, and “for a brief moment” abandoned by her angry husband. Yet God’s marriage covenant is an unbreakable commitment. “My unfailing love for you will not be shaken,” He says, and goes on to describe the glory to be experienced when the Lord and His people are fully reconciled (vv. 11–17). The husband-wife image here reminds us of Hosea, who obeyed God’s command and wed a woman who was, or became, a prostitute. Hosea kept on loving his wife, as God kept on loving His unfaithful people (cf. Hosea 1; 3). Sometimes we assume that adultery is “grounds for divorce.” What Isaiah and Hosea suggest is that adultery is grounds for forgiveness. The marriage commitment is forever. Only if one partner simply refuses to confess sin and be reconciled is divorce an option. Anyone who has lived with an unfaithful spouse can understand the pain God experiences when we are unfaithful to Him. And understand how much it costs Him to keep on loving anyway. “You who have no money” Isa. 55:1–7. It is impossible for us to “buy” salvation. And so, with the price of salvation already paid by God’s Suffering Servant (Isa. 53 again!), God invites us to “buy” what we need “without money and without cost.” But the passage says even more. God has laid out a great feast—for the wicked! His invitation is not to the spiritually bankrupt: it is to those who owe an unpayable debt. God’s timeless invitation still stands. How important it is to remember this truth not just for ourselves, but whenever we meet a person whom we might write off as beyond redemption. It is the evil to whom this invitation is addressed: Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon (Isa. 55:6–7). “My salvation is close at hand” Isa. 56:1–2. The belief that God is about to intervene in this world is a powerful motivation for doing what is right. The New Testament says, “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2–3). Meditating on Jesus’ return, and praying for that day to arrive soon, spurs us on to live godly and righteous lives. “The eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths” Isa. 56:3–8. The Law in Deuteronomy 23:1–8 banned eunuchs and certain foreigners from taking part in Israel’s worship. Isaiah consoled each group, promising to give them “within My temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters.” Everyone that has felt excluded by others, who knows the uncertainty and self-doubt exclusion produces, can appreciate the impact of these words of comfort. Even “outsiders” will have a special and secure place when God’s kingdom appears in its fullness. “They find rest” Isa. 57:1–2. These two verses give us an important perspective on life and death. In general the Bible views death as an enemy, and sees long life as a blessing and gift from God. Yet death holds no terror for the believer. In fact, there are times when life itself is a greater burden. Here Isaiah observed that the premature death of a righteous man may well be a loving gift given by the Lord. What a powerful pair of verses to recall or to share when someone we know dies young. What assurance, here in the Old Testament, that upon dying those who walk uprightly “enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” “Him who is contrite and lowly in spirit” Isa. 57:14–21. Two other passages help us understand what a contrite and lowly spirit is. The same Hebrew terms are found in Psalm 34:18 and Proverbs 29:23. These read: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, and A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor. What God commends is a humble attitude, which even in adversity recognizes that the Lord is high and holy, and thus accepts life’s trials while maintaining steadfast trust in God. God is especially close to all who maintain this attitude, for God is very real to such persons. “You have not seen it?” Isa. 58:1–12 The Old Testament gives four common reasons for fasting. To express grief (as 1 Sam. 31:13), to indicate honest repentance (1 Kings 21:27), to emphasize the solemn character of certain religious festivals (Lev. 16:29, 31), and in association with appeals to God in prayer (2 Sam. 12:16–22). Isaiah 58 seems to combine the third and fourth reasons. These people fasted in hopes of getting something from God—and were quite upset when God didn’t appear to notice! (v. 3) The passage makes it clear that these people wanted to relate to God on their terms—while God insists that human beings relate to Him on His terms. “Religion” was a price the people of Judah were willing to pay to gain God’s favor. But they kept their religion and their daily life carefully isolated from one another. In God’s sight, however, relationship with the Lord can never be separated from morality! The person who is in a position to have prayers answered is the individual who practices God’s kind of “fasting.” God will answer prayer “if you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed” (vv. 9–10). We have to be careful not to let our own faith in the Lord deteriorate into mere religion, and so mistake rituals we follow for a real and vital relationship with Christ. One of the surest ways to test the quality of our walk with the Lord is to examine the way we respond to others with needs. Are we committed “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (vv. 6–7)
It’s Not Fair!(Isa. 55)
Having raised five boys and girls, I’ve come to appreciate the power of the word “fair.” You see, “It’s not fair” is one of those magic phrases that children use to manipulate Mom and Dad. It’s not fair that he gets to stay up later than I do. It’s not fair that I have to get the dishes out of the dishwasher. It’s not fair that my teacher let her clean the board instead of me. It’s not fair that she has five throw pillows on her bed, and I only have four. After a while, the complaint that “it’s not fair,” apparently intended to produce as much parental guilt as possible, is something moms and dads dread to hear! Yet Isaiah 55 as a passage cries out, “It’s not fair.” And here these words are intended to delight. Just imagine someone comes up to you, and begins to talk as Isaiah does in this passage. “You’re thirsty and hungry? Well, for goodness sake, come on over here! What? You can’t pay for what you need? That’s all right. Here you can buy without money and without cost. “Yes, I know it’s not fair. You think you should pay for what you get. But you’re hungry. So forget fairness. Come join the celebration.” And, “Hold up there! I want to talk to you. You know, you’ve made a real mess of your life. You’ve made a determined start toward hell. Your ways are wicked and your thoughts are evil. “No, wait a minute. Don’t run off. This paper I’m holding isn’t your execution order. It’s a pardon. Yep, that’s right. A full pardon. “Oh, I know it’s not fair. You deserve the most terrible punishment God can devise. But what God wants to give you is joy and peace and singing. He wants to give you a broad and beautiful land where even the trees of the field will clap their hands, and no thornbushes will grow. “Why? Well, I can’t really say. All I know is God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts and His ways aren’t our ways. We think that everything’s got to be fair. God has this idea that fair won’t work when it comes to our relationship with Him. And so instead of being fair, God has decided to be gracious and loving. “Why? Beat’s me. “But I can tell you one thing. Three of the most wonderful words in any language are: ” ‘It’s not fair.’ ”
Don’t use fairness as a measure of the way you deal with others. Use grace.