The past few days, I’ve been soaking in Isaiah 55. This is probably one of the more familiar passages in Isaiah (at least to me) but I’ve started noticing connections that have really spurred my thinking through verses 6-13.
The first section is a call of pure grace:
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7 ESV)
This isn’t what it’s occasionally made to sound like – the thunderous call of an angry fist-shaking God to cringing sinners. Just look at what we are called in these verse: “wicked” and “unrighteous”, and look at how these awful people are addressed. Here the Lord doesn’t say “I hate the wicked, and can’t wait to crush the unrighteous”. He says “LET” those people forsake their ways and thoughts, “LET” them return to Me. I find tremendous hope in that. The realization that I am an evil man would be devastating if God had not poured out His grace and put in place a way for me to approach him safely.
He calls us to return to him for a reason: “THAT” he may have compassion, “FOR” he will abundantly pardon. Again, I remember that He’s speaking to wicked, unrighteous people, and saying how much he desires to be compassionate, and to completely unload his pardon on them. The balance and safety in this is stunning. God doesn’t wink at sin – he calls it what it is. Yet, his heart of compassion compels him to make a way for the undeserving to stand before him with confidence. His pardon is not partial or even just adequate – it is abundant. Glorious!
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)
The next section, I’ve often thought of completely out of its context as a simple declaration of the transcendence of God’s way of thinking. I completely missed the “FOR” that connects it to the previous verses. God’s call for wicked people to turn to him and receive compassion and forgiveness is based on the fact that He doesn’t think like us! We may think that someone who has wronged us has gone too far for restoration, or that they have to earn their way back into our good graces. We think perhaps that a Holy God could want nothing to do with the wicked, so why bother the futile exercise of turning from sin? We think that we would only want to associate with people who have value, appreciate us for who we are, or can bring us some kind of advantage. God doesn’t think this way. His thinking is way beyond anything we can imagine on a human level, and for good reason…
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 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 shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)
Here’s another familiar passage, I’ve most often heard disconnected from its context, and another “FOR” that I had previously discounted. God’s call to turn to him from sin is based first, on the fact that he doesn’t think the way we do and second, on the fact that he speaks with sovereign power. Unlike human beings, when God speaks reality is formed. His word always accomplishes the exact purpose for which is was spoken. This is very good news for the wicked and unrighteous. We are like parched ground, or barren earth, which is helpless to produce anything useful without water. However, when that water hits, life springs into action! When God speaks to barren, dry people, his word has the active power to create life where only death ruled previously.
“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:12-13 ESV)
God thinks differently from us, which leads him to speak differently (with unstoppable power), because he has different purposes. The word of the Lord calls the dead to life, and makes the barren fruitful “FOR” the joy that comes from this new state of existence, and for the sake of God’s own glory. All of this will “make a name for the Lord”. His desire to show compassion and forgiveness to the wicked and unrighteous is based on his passion to be praised as the only compassionate, wise, sovereign, joy-giving Ruler of all. Glorious!