The Way Back
Isaiah 55: 10-13 (NRSV)
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The trauma of the Babylonian Exile entrapped God’s people Israel. They had experienced Jerusalem destroyed; families separated; houses demolished; the land decimated. Consequently, they struggled to trust God as their lives were fractured, and their hearts despondent. It is to God’s exiled people that the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s life-giving word of hope and return in today’s reading.
Earlier in the chapter, Isaiah had challenged Israel to forsake their wicked and unrighteous ways (verses 6-7a), encouraging them to return to the LORD for pardon (vs 55:7b). Then Isaiah puts things in perspective by stressing that God’s thoughts and ways differ from theirs (vs 8-9).
Isaiah portrays the word of the LORD as substantive and life-giving. Like rain and snow, which waters the earth, causing seeds to grow, and bread made feeding the body and supporting life. He then compares this to the word of the LORD that feeds the soul. Stressing that God’s word will achieve its purpose; and it will not return empty. The metaphor also points to God’s provision of food, which is the difference between life and death, an apt description of the ability of God’s word to have a transformative effect on the lives of the exiles.
Next Isaiah conjures up a world where the mountains and hills break out in song, and the trees of the field clap their hands in unison as God’s people are led out of exile. He then tells of thorns and biers (symbols of judgement) transformed into grand cypress and myrtle trees symbolising of the new life of the exiles as they are brought out of Babylon and back to the promised land. This image also captures that which will take place at Christ’s return when the Kingdom is consummated, and all God’s people are led out of exile into the new creation. Equally, this passage reminds us that with God there is always a way back.
LORD, remind us once again that there is always a way back when we fail you for your grace is far greater than our sin. Amen.