Invitation – Isaiah 55:1-2, 6-12

In 539 B. C.E., under the leadership of King Cyrus, Persia became the dominant power in the world by defeating the Babylonian empire. After coming to power, Cyrus issued a decree that ended the exile of the Israelites, permitting them to return to their homeland and reestablish the city of Jerusalem.

 Though given this opportunity to return to their homeland, many of the Israelites were hesitant to sever the business and social relationships they had developed while in exile.  It was this reluctance to respond to the gracious gift of Yahweh that provides the backdrop for today’s Scripture lesson.[i]

 A prophetic oracle

Isaiah 55 promises a glorious future for the nation of Israel.  But the fulfillment of this promise was grounded on the condition that the people would wholeheartedly trust in Yahweh to provide all their needs, just as he and made possible their freedom and bondage.

 To encourage this type of trust, this prophetic oracle promises that God will provide physical nourishment for the people just as he had their ancestors during the exodus from Egypt (v 1).  The prophet is saying that if Yahweh had met the needs of their ancestors, he could also be trusted to satisfy their needs during their long and difficult trek back to Israel.[ii]

Of course, the prophet is speaking about much more than simply a loaf of bread or a glass of water.  These basic necessities of life were amply available during the exile.  For the prophet, the promise of restoration by Yahweh meant a spiritual meal much more satisfying than anything they could eat in captivity.

 This prompts the prophet to ask why the people continued to labor for what could not satisfy (v 2).  Why should they remain in Babylon eating bread that could satisfy daily hunger pains, when the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise would mean spiritual bread that could satisfy hunger for a lifetime? So, then, the prophetic oracle calls for a response from the Israelites.  The prophet not only announces the hope of restoration but also calls the people to repentance and faithful obedience.[iii] The real power behind the prophetic oracle is based upon the assurance that the world of Yahweh is fully reliable.  That reliable word is the promise that the nation of Israel would be restored and the city of Jerusalem built.

 The invitation is similar to the Christian call to discipleship in which the message of grace is proclaimed.  The Christian message says that by God’s loving (gracious) work in Christ, a new reality is in place.  Under the grace of this new age, the life of Jesus becomes our life (Galatians 2:20); the Holy Spirit becomes our guide (John 16:13-15), and Reign of God becomes our reality and promise (Mark 1:14-15).  With this invitation, comes the choice of either responding by faith to this new reality, or declining the invitation to Christian discipleship. 

 The response of faith

 To see the fulfillment of these divine promises, (to experience the new reality of God’s salvation) the people would need to act upon them by faith.  In Isaiah, the images of the rain and snow (v 10) which bring new life to the land imply that the promises of Yahweh can be relied upon as a source of nourishment and life.

 The prophetic oracle announced Yahweh’s redemptive work in the world as an ongoing story in which listeners are invited to enter as participants.  For the people of faith, reality depends more on what Yahweh says than how things in the world might appear.  The invitation is to live as if Yahweh’s promises have already been completely fulfilled because we know that the word of Yahweh is able to accomplish whatever He wills (v 11). 

 Perhaps this should add a whole new dimension of biblical authority.   Too often we try to interpret the Bible in terms of the world.  What we ought to be doing is interpreting the world in terms of the Bible!

 Developing such an approach to the authority of the Bible does not mean attempting to discover some propositional goody behind every text, nor is it an exercise in determining whether the text is historically and scientifically true in terms of the world.  Indeed, a preoccupation with such exercises only serves to detract from the real authority of the Scripture.  The prophet’s invitation was that the people of Israel should see the world of Yahweh as a vision-creating, faith-developing, history-making story they are invited to enter as participants.

 When  Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God, he was inviting people to catch a glimpse of what life would be like when God was completely in charge.  When that vision was caught, this invitation followed:  Repent of all self-centeredness and rebellion and enter God’s kingdom, living as if it were already a full reality in the present.

[i] Page Kelley, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 5, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971, page 347.

[ii] George A. F. Knight, International Theological Commentary, Isaiah 40-55, Grand Rapids:  The Handsel Press and Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984, pages 189-190

[iii] Bruce Birch, Singing the Lord’s Song, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981, page 37

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