Chapter 65 would have been an incredibly positive place to end this prophetic book. There we saw what appears to be God’s plan to return his people to the beautiful world of peace and harmony, just as he originally created. But our world is full of sin, and final words were necessary to emphasize our need for a relationship with God.
I’m not a Biblical scholar or historian, but I do know the first audience hearing these words in post-exilic times were experiencing hardship, division, and indifference toward God. To get their attention here, God sends this message through the prophet. “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word. But those who choose their own ways—delighting in their detestable sins—will not have their offerings accepted.” That’s a pretty clear message.
I remember I was in 5th grade when I learned the word “utopia.” It was social studies, and we were examining ancient civilizations. I remember being mesmerized by the word, wondering what “utopia” would mean for me. Wikipedia defines it as “an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens.” When I read today’s passage, “utopia” was the word that came to me.
God promises to create a new heaven and new earth. From the sounds of it, it will be glorious – so wonderful that people won’t miss the old! As Isaiah’s first audience was finally free from captivity, these words must have held such hope for the future. They were returning to their home, Jerusalem. In reality, they would find it in shambles. Quite the fixer-upper! Would these words have encouraged or led to disappointment?
Our opening line makes me think about God from a marketing perspective. “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’” In our marketing classes, we tell our students to be looking for those people who are looking for them. That’s the whole idea of attraction marketing. You want to be attractive and provide the goods or services to those who need them and want them. The image of God I have here is that he is waving his hands trying to get our attention.
How frustrating it must be for God to have given us the keys to the kingdom (in Jesus) only for us to leave them sitting on the table. It’s not just us. These prophetic words were originally directed to the Israelites, a people who was lost. That is, they were separated from God. What do we know of them? They rebelled. They were selfish. They followed other gods. Hmmm. That could be our society.
I have been known to say something very similar to the opening line of our reading today. “Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!” I am especially passionate about this when the world around me looks chaotic or dreary. Jesus is definitely the answer for me! Now, of course, Isaiah’s first audience had yet to meet Jesus or know that he promised to return. When they make reference to God coming down long ago, it was the remembrance of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.
Since we don’t know when God plans to send Jesus back to earth, we can wait with joyful anticipation. Maybe it will be today! When it does happen, it will be a spectacle beyond our comprehension. When I look around, I see a world that is broken and hurting, definitely in need of a Savior.
Have you ever felt abandoned by God? I’m sure when we face dark days, some of these laments could be on our lips as well. It seems when we get caught up in our own negativity, it’s difficult to see any light breaking through. The year 2020 has been particularly hard on many of us. Looking back, I feel like my faith journey was at an all time high. For me, it was easier to cling to God rather than to run from him or think he had left me behind.
It’s good for us to remember that Jesus suffered for us as well. Is that what Isaiah meant here? “In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.” When we can focus on Jesus’ victory, it makes our struggle and suffering seem slight. Doesn’t it?