Read Isaiah 57:14-21
Waiting. That seems to be all we’re doing these days! Waiting for the MCO to lift. Waiting for a vaccine to be developed. Waiting for our lives to be “normal” again. Waiting.
At this point in the history of the people of God, they are waiting. It is a momentous period. Assyria has conquered the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and Judah is now under pressure to form alliances with ungodly neighbours. And Isaiah appears to remind them to trust God instead, and look to no other for deliverance. But Judah lacked that faith, despite the efforts of one of their kings, Hezekiah. They ignored and rejected God. In the words of Isaiah 57:17, in our passage today: “they kept on in their wilful ways”. Or as the ESV starkly puts it, the people went on “backsliding” in their own hearts. So they became a nation in captivity in Babylon.
But Isaiah looks into the future, and says: there is hope, for one day a remnant will return. God will stay his hand of judgement. To use the words of verse 16, God is adamant: “I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint because of me – the very people I have created.” The beginning of the final section of the book of Isaiah, which starts in chapter 56:1, makes that clear – “my salvation is close at hand, and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” And certainly in 56:8, we begin to see God gathering his people again, though it is far from complete.
So for Isaiah’s hearers, especially during and just after the exile, they wait. They wait to hear how God would fulfil his promises, where a glorious kingdom is ushered in, and their enemies are finally and decisively defeated. Just as today, we wait. We are waiting for God to gather his people again – as God’s gospel continues to bring many more into his kingdom. We are waiting for a time when the enemies of sin, death and Satan are finally and decisively defeated, and coronaviruses will be no more.
But this is not a moment for passivity. The waiting time is the testing time. For the question that lies at the heart of Isaiah remains: in this time of waiting, will we keep turning to God in repentance and faith, or will we turn away from him, especially amidst much pressure and tension? That is the question for Isaiah’s hearers, whether centuries ago or today. As we wait, God sifts.
For in this time of waiting, we find a distinction made between two different groups of people. There are those who completely ignore God. 57:3-13 catalogues a long list of terrible behaviour, including adultery, child sacrifice, idolatry and alliances with the ungodly. And God exposes what lies at the heart of such behaviour – verse 11: “you have not been true to me…you do not fear me.”
But there are those who faithfully seek God. And in today’s passage, it is to such people Isaiah now speaks a word of hope. To faithfully seek him is not so much about having faith that moves mountains or becoming a meditative monk out in the desert. It is about being “contrite and lowly in spirit” (v.15). And the good news is that these are the ones God himself seeks out. He seeks those who are humble, those whom life has crushed, those who know they are totally dependent on the Lord’s mercies. And his purpose is nothing less than to “revive” (v.15) and to “restore” (v.18)
How will he do it? By no longer playing the role of Prosecutor (v.16) but the role of Healer (v.18). He will find a way to acquit them, and to do that, he will do nothing less that a work of re-creation, turning them from self-centred behaviour (v.17) to people who praise God (v.19a). As he brings healing, there will be peace to those far and near; in other words, this is a global work! In Ephesians 2:17, Paul quotes this verse as he shows how the work of Christ has included not just Jews but Gentiles as well. But there is the flipside as well. For those who stubbornly refuse God, there will be no peace (v.20-21).
Notice that the contrast here is not between the good and the bad, but the wicked and the contrite. Peace is not God’s reward for good people. Peace is God’s gift to those who depend on his grace. It is his endowment on those who wait on him by faith. It is given to those who trust in the suffering Servant of Isaiah, Jesus Christ.
So today, as we wait – let’s wait as those lowly in spirit and contrite in heart. As we navigate the situation we find ourselves in, let’s ask God to revive and to restore. Let’s not allow this period of waiting to descend to a period of passivity and apathy. Allow the One who is high and lifted up to come and bring healing and peace to you.
- Reflect on where you currently are in your relationship with God. Pray for a humble spirit and contrite heart, and pray for personal, continual revival and zeal for him.
- Pray that God will act against the wicked during this time – those who abuse their spouses and children, those who swindle the gullible, those who persecute Christians while the world is distracted. Pray for God to protect the defenceless, and bring their oppressors to repentance.