For those who want a change from the Gospel.
Trinity 8 – Isaiah 55:1-5
Two days ago we moved house, following my retirement. For several weeks we have been ‘eating up’, attempting to empty our freezer and use up any odd ends of jars and packets of food in the pantry. If you’ve done this, you’ll know that there are some unusual meals to be had! But one of the first jobs on arrival in our new home was a ‘big shop’, to restock ourselves with all the essentials which we had gradually been reducing in order to make the move smoother.
This passage invites God’s people to a big shop with a difference. If you’re familiar with this passage from the old Authorised Version, you’ll remember that it started with the Hebrew cry ‘Ho!’ This probably echoed the cries of street vendors and water sellers in the marketplaces of Babylon, where the Israelites were in exile, but we might better translate it as ‘Hey!’ or ‘Listen up!’ This signals an important message which demands our full attention, and when we do listen up we can quickly see why: this big shop is all free! Sadly the huge Morrisons which is our new corner shop didn’t appear to have read Isaiah 55, but for these hungry and thirsty exiles the message was clear. No money required!
This chapter forms the climax to the central chapters of what we call the book of Isaiah, chapters 40 – 55, which are from an unknown prophet who was sent to the nation in exile to tell them that it was soon to be over, and they would soon be on their way home. The exile, symbolised by hunger and thirst (although those were probably physical realities too) is to be replaced by a feast, not just of Morrison’s Savers, but of ‘the richest of fare’. The speaker in this passage is calling out to hungry people ‘Listen up! Come and get food and drink from me! And don’t bother to bring your credit cards – it’s all on me!’
This lavish generosity of God is a great picture of his grace delivered to us by Jesus. But just as last week we thought about the importance of the word ‘if’ in God’s promises to Solomon, there are strings attached, even though it is all a free gift. Isaiah doesn’t make God’s generosity conditional as it was in 1 Kings last week, but he does talk about consequences. However the consequences aren’t portrayed as a burden, but a glorious privilege.
In v.2 the people are invited to rethink what is important, and we are invited in turn to consider what it is we labour for and spend on. Later on, once they have returned, the people are going to be told off by the prophet Haggai for engaging in home improvements while God’s house lies in ruins. So Isaiah here suggests that they rethink, and invest in eternity, not just a comfy life for now. After all, they or their parents had seen the Holy City destroyed at a stroke. That which God offers is eternal, indestructible, rich and ultimately satisfying.
A New Deal
The idea of ‘covenant’ is a vitally important one in the OT. Basically it is the deal between the people and God of a mutual relationship. Like a marriage covenant it binds two parties together, but also like a marriage it can be broken, and in fact the people are constantly breaking the relationship with God by their behaviour, their false worship, and the injustice and oppression which inevitably follow. But this time it’s going to be for ever. What he promised to David, Israel’s greatest king, is going to be made real, lasting and permanent. We now realise that this is going to happen through great David’s greater Son, and though we might play fast and loose with God, his desire for us, whether we like it or not, is going to be unwavering and unfaltering.
But coming out of these two gifts of God’s grace is a new responsibility. His people are going to be his witnesses to everyone else, those outside the Covenant with Israel. This echoes God’s original words to Abraham, right back in Genesis 12, that the purpose of God’s covenant people was to be blessed by God and to be a blessing to all the other nations around. In spite of the constant drag towards narrow nationalism and holy huddle mentality on the part of the Jews (and tragically on the part of many Christian churches today) the whole point is witness and outreach, and many prophets, including whoever wrote this portion of Isaiah, had to keep calling people back to this privilege and responsibility. And note the PS in v.5 – why is all this so important? Not for you; not for Israel, not even for the other nations, but ‘because of the Lord your God’. Nothing less is appropriate for our splendid God.