Saved by Grace through Faith in Isaiah 55:6-13


[I was assigned to write an exegetical paper on any of the passage from the Old Testament in the Winter Semester in 2008. Here, I’ve presented my term paper on Isaiah passage which I liked]

Saved by Grace through Faith in Isaiah 55:6 – 13

Isaiah 55:6-13 (English Standard Version)

6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 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. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “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, 11 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. 12″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. 13 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.”

Observation:

As we look through the previous chapters, Isaiah – the great prophet of his time in the Southern kingdom, Judah – proclaims the amazing promises of God followed by the announcement of the oracles of judgment on them. Isaiah himself bears name as the author of the book. Because of its account of length, values, and coverage of the subject matter, the book has been assigned as the first rank among other major and minor prophetic books. The recorded apostasy of Israelites and God’s judgment oracle upon them can be found halfway down the book of Isaiah. However, the chapters subsequent to 39 have hope, grace, and mercy. Chapters 40 onward are the clear picture of coming out of darkness to light[1].

Isaiah served as prophet for Judah and witnessed how people made the law of the Holy One of Israel defunct in his own land which eventually led them to severe judgment that was just about to fall heavily upon them and their offspring. Isaiah invites his audiences to come back to the Lord for his abundant forgiveness by forsaking their old way of life and to conform their path into God’s righteousness. The universal along with effectual call of God has been bestowing the saving grace to those who yield their plan and purpose to God and strive for his divine plan. Then, their iniquities will not be counted, and there will be glorious change in the nature – Shalom[2]. And there will be everlasting joy. The main point of this passage is that no man must try to shape God as someone wanted him to be, instead of conforming our will and thoughts into his divine purpose and plan.

Historical Context:

Isaiah began his prophetic office in 740 B.C. the year King Uzziah died (1:1 NASB).  After he reined Judah for fifty-two years and extended kingdom as in the time of David, the energetic, pious, and wise king Uzziah died.  When he stepped to rule the kingdom at the age of sixteen, Judah was still powerful and prosperous but the crucial time of spiritual and political waves was just moving upside down against Israel, since the Davidic kingdom Uzziah was failing to keep the laws of God in his late reign. The extended regions of Israel measure up to Gath and Ashdod of Philistines and also the Ammonites from the east paid tribute to Uzziah (2 Ch. 26:8 ESV). He fortified Jerusalem and cultivated the land in order to be self-sufficient[3]. But God stroke him for his nuanced unlawful act in the holy temple.

Such was a time; God had Isaiah delivered his divine message to his chosen people that the successors of Uzziah – Jotham, Ahaz, and except Hezekiah devastatingly led Israelites into idolatry and had political alliances with pagan kings rather than trusting God. Although Jotham was a successor of his father, Uzziah, there was a vacuum of spiritual leader in the kingdom. His early reign was good as he also followed God, but large number of his people did not follow his example. Meanwhile, it was tempestuous period for Judah, because the Assyrian kingdom was emerging as a new powerful empire under Tiglath-Pileser III (745 – 727 B.C). Twenty years after his ascending to the throne, he set out to conquest the neighboring nations[4]. Eventually, the Assyrian kingdom became a threat to Syria and the Northern Kingdom, Israel, also referred as Ephraim (Gen. 41:52 ASV).  So, Syria and Israel had coalition against Assyria to stop it from expedition of conquest.

In the course, they wanted Judah to join their coalition and support them. Nevertheless, the then king of Judah, Ahaz sought help from Tiglath-Pileser III. In the prophetic career of Isaiah, he confronted Ahaz with “Immanuel prophecy” and warned him not to join any coalition but trust God. “He advised strict neutrality and a patient waiting for divine deliverance.”[5] The sign was given that the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, called Immanuel (7:14 NIV).  It is to be noted that during his reign, Ahaz introduced abhorrent pagan religious practices such as Baal worship and abominable custom of child sacrifice. Sexual immorality and idolatry were booming throughout the nation under the influence of Asher, the mother god of fertility.

Finally, Pekah, king of Israel and Rezin, king of Syria marched southward of Judah and turned against Ahaz hoping to overthrow the Davidic dynasty and put a puppet king who would act upon their instruction and join the coalition against Assyria. It ended up with battle with Assyrian king and Ahaz in 733 B.C. This conflict is known as the Sryo-Ephraimite War[6]. Henceforth, Judah became more vulnerable before her enemies. In 721 B.C. the vast marching of Assyrian armies trampled the morally and spiritually declining Israel. Later, Assyrian king Sennacherib was susceptible threat to Judah during the reign of Hezekiah in 701 B.C. Finally, Jerusalem was invaded as the divine judgment from God in786 B.C.[7] So the legacy of these kings is quite sobering, despite some reformation was done by Hezekiah.

Literary Context:

The literary style of chapters 40 – 66 is remarkably different from the chapters of 1 – 39. The theme and theological idea are also are consistent which reveals the complete aspects of God’s justification, salvation, and glorification. The passage of Isaiah 55:6 – 13 shifts from future glory to the universal and effectual call to all humankind. Here, the Lord offers salvation to gentiles and gives out covenant blessings. The passage stands by itself for the explanation of the effect of the cause that we can expound in each verse.

The harsh tone of rejection, judgment, and affliction from chapters 1 to 39 suddenly changes into the lofty tone of hope, grace, comfort, and restoration in chapters 40 to 66. In the scope of these vast differences of word choice, repetition of word for emphasis, metaphoric language, and uses of wide range of vocabulary raises questions over the uniformity of the book and its authorship. The graphic presentation of events, anthropomorphism, and zoomorphism has contributed in the textual richness.

With much more speculations held by modern biblical scholarship, they propose for plural authorship. Many critics argue that the later part of Isaiah 40 – 66, usually called “Deutero-Isaiah was not the original work of prophet Isaiah. Since the prophecy largely comprehends the “period immediately following the Judeans’ release from captivity and return home to reestablish themselves in Judah.” It could have been written by Isaiah’s disciple or other anonymous prophet of the exile. Some have taken extreme view that the third author composed Isaiah 56 – 66, the third or “Trito-Isaiah.”[8]

We may, therefore, assume that these arguments are not baseless. Indeed, different subject matter, writing style, and vocabularies raised assumption for multiple authorships. The time span of the book and the mention of the king Cyrus by name are the major issues that evoked conflict. As Isaiah started his prophetic career around 740 B.C. but the later part of the book records the foretold events that took place after two centuries that Cyrus, king of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. It is believed that stating particular name or person is “contrary to the nature of prophecy, as illustrated everywhere else in the prophetic literature of the Bible, to announce the names of individuals in advance.” [9]

In response, Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush quote G. Von Rad: “In fact, Deutero-Isaiah puts in bold relief the question of who is the controller of world-history, and the answer he gives almost takes one’s breath away – the Lord of history is he who can allow the future to be told in advance.”[10] Therefore, Cyrus oracle is not compelling to point out that there is any “Deutero-Isaiah” who existed in history. In brief, we can affirm that the Cyrus oracle is the predictive prophecy, as God’s knowledge and wisdom are far greater than human understanding.

[6] Seek the Lord – Isaiah tells his people to call upon the Lord. Claus Westermann, the Old Testament commentator states that ‘seek Yahweh’ is basically turning towards God. Here, God summons and it is followed by continuous initiation extended in promise, “he may be found.”[11] Young also adds that seeking is simply the coming to Him. He further states that to seek is to call him, and both signify our humble repentance and obedience without any further delay. Moreover, it is not merely turning to God but embracing his saving grace for salvation wholeheartedly,[12] because God does not hold his anger for ever or chide us always (Ps. 103:9).

[7] The continuance of repentance here is to return from sin and come to God leaving the mode of his past life. The urgency of genuine repentance is still sought.  Genuine repentance does not only demand to leave the way you live, but also demands to leave the evil and perverse thought. Isaiah calls his people to change inwardly and outwardly – heart and actions.[13] Wicked is the man who is against God, and his way is the evil course he follows.[14] Next, God will pardon freely and multiply his abundant grace (Rom. 5:20). The Hebrew word for “turn” literally means “repent.” It is not simply turning to, or returning to God but returning to their ancestors God and to their covenant with God.[15] That kind of repentance counts a lot in the sight of God so he forgives us.

[8 – 9] Here, the speech is in direct form that God spoke through Isaiah. We can see divine and human nature comparison by using my and your. The mention of heavens and earth also imply that “the nature of God in every way infinitely transcends that of man. Both the thoughts and the acts of God surpass man’s understanding.”[16] Now, the word thought does not mean “reflection.”[17] God’s ways and thoughts are so high that human beings cannot grasp them in their fullness. For man, the ways and thoughts of God are beyond his understanding.[18] The execution of plan or design is what God was talking about. Next, Isaiah uses chiasm to deliver the message. The verse proceeds with ways and thoughts, and vice versa. The verse indicates that God possesses thoughts which are his plan or purpose or design for us. It drops a hint for us how imprudent we are that we often try to make God’s plans and purposes adapt to us.

[10] Here, rain and snow is the subject. They are the causative factor for watering, making to bear, and making to flourish. They accomplish their intended purpose. Young also comments that “instead of returning to heaven without having accomplished their intended purposes, they fulfill the purpose for which God sends them.”[19] Thus, we can see how God uses nature for his purpose.

[11] God is creative and his Word brings positive result (Gen 1 – 2). His utterance of the Word achieves its purpose (Ps. 33:6; 148:5 ESV). The Word of God does not return to him without completing his purpose. Instead, it succeeds in achieving its purpose that God has desired of. “Every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God has a prosperous course.”[20] The divine Word originates in God’s mind. He speaks either through his prophets or reveals them his thoughts, so that they could be delivered to people. The revelation could be in the form of speech or written letter. Either revelation, however, executes the purpose of God in individual’s life hence is sent forth for a purpose (Heb. 4:12 NIV). In Young’s words, “the reason why it unfailingly accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent forth is that it is divine.”[21]

[12] Isaiah concludes his prophecy with strong contrast and comparison between the exodus from Babylon and that from Egypt. The former exodus was made in hurry. All were unquiet, grumblers, and rebellious. Enemies came after to kill them. The later one will be peaceful, and there will be joy. You shall go out and you shall be leaders are the pre-notion of the later exodus and how it will look like. Exodus from Egypt signifies the deliverance from the bondage of captivity whereas the exodus from Babylon seems like a processional march (Ps. 45:14 NKJV). So, the departure from Babylon will be glorious exodus which God has intended for deliverance of his people from there. “All nature shall rejoice at your deliverance, especially the noblest and the grandest parts of nature – “the mountains and the hills.”[22]

[13] Isaiah describes the redemption of nature – the glorious change in nature herself.[23] He has stressed the eternity through verbalizing that sign will not be destroyed. Beyer also comments that God’s work will be evident that it will testify his own name.[24]

Theological Context:

In light of the basic interpretation of the passage, we see Yahweh as the Savior and Redeemer fits with the author’s theological purpose in the harmony of threefold division – consummation, repentance, and restoration. Isaiah 55 invites everyone to come to genuine repentance and embraces Gentiles. To repent is to return to God and live by his decree. Through seeking God, we receive salvation from him.

The passage also discloses the nature of God. He is God of mercy and abundant grace. In spite of our rebellion, he called us to come back from sin. Freely he offered us salvation which by grace through faith we receive in him. He also has us realize how far we are from his holiness as the distance between the heaven and the earth. However, the implication of seeking God and finding him near cannot be literally understood, as God is always near us.

Human beings are by nature sinful, so they are directed to seek God (Ps. 145:18 RSV).

If we would go to God, then he would save us and bind us with his eternal covenant (55:3 NIV).  So, God might be found and he will forgive those who come to him. Regarding his judgment, the ultimate purpose is to cleanse or purify us by goading our ways and thoughts (Ps. 94:12; Prov. 3:11; Rev. 3:19 ASV). Nevertheless, Cornelius Platinga Jr. writes that God clothes us with his mercy in the fallen world where our sin has chilled us.[25]

The contrast comparison of divine and human attribute also reveals the truth how fallible human beings we are. The negation of our thoughts and ways tells us that we are completely deprived of good. We have no more righteousness in us, but our life is full of bitterness. Furthermore, the verse echoes the fact that we have just opposite characteristic of God. Nothing good can come out of us besides mutinous thought, mutinous speech, and mutinous acts. That could be a possible reason that God called his righteous prophet Ezekiel ‘Son of Man’ so that he would understand his weakness and not boast (Ez. 2:1 NIV). Apostle Paul laments in his epistle to Rome due to his frequent subjection to sinful inclination, “How wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (7:24 ESV). The punch line is that human mind is too limited that God transcends all human knowledge.

As far as the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s kingdom, he now gives unique invitation to the nations who did not know him (55:3 NIV). Because salvation belongs to God alone, he will bless his people in according to his purpose (Ps. 3:8). The summation of whole new idea for inclusion of Gentiles among Jews is the free blessings of savior to us through the gracious offer of forgiveness and his peace. This fact is pointed out in the coming Messiah who will gather the multitude of people from all nations, people, tribes, and languages in his house for the glory of the Father (Rev. 14:6). We now do not only enjoy the fellowship with God and his people in the present but also have assurance of the glorious fellowship or have glimpse of the new glorified church.

Application:

Above all, these facts lead us to only one conclusion that without doubt, the gospel message is more clearly preached in Isaiah 55 is a universal truth. The entire book talks about the salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. The Suffering Servant Songs (52 – 53) have given us the crystal clear picture of Messiah whom we believe in. We see his forthcoming earthly ministry foreshadowing in the selected passage 55: 6 – 13. What other evidence could be in the Bible that does not point at the gospel message? The passage has inclusively the very nature of gospel call to repent and get saved by believing in God.

Next, it tells us how much we need the saving grace of our Savior. Who are we to compare ourselves with God? Yet, he did it to show us that we never dare to counterbalance his plan and purpose. We are nothing in comparison to his glory and power but “a worm scorned and despised by people” (Ps. 22:6). The effect of the gospel message is clearly stated that his Word has supreme authority to act in his desire. For that reason, it does not go vain. This is the essence and power of the gospel message what God wanted us to understand in the verses 10 – 11. In the basis of these points, we come to conclude that the Word of God is so powerful and has stupendous impact on lives of its receivers that they witness the glory of God.

Having said that, we should not overlook the call of his purpose and plan in our life by saying that the Word of God has power and can transform us into his likeness. The grace and forgiveness of God is not an eligible way to manipulate God for our sake. We tend to act upon our carnal thought, as Paul agonizes in his fleshly flaw that always does the thing that he does not want to do and urges not to conform to the pattern of the world but be transformed in mind (thought) (Rom. 7:15; 12:1-2 NIV). As a result, many times we confine God in our limited understanding and want him to be what we think best for us rather than being what he wanted us to be in him.

His calling or invitation demands of obedience and submission. Throughout the salvation history, God asked his people to obey his law, the Word and be formed as a new creature to get done his purpose in our life (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). Therefore, we do not make God a small puppet god that fits in our thoughts. Instead, knowing that God has perfect plan for each of us and all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose; we surrender our plan and life to him who loves us (Rom. 8:28 NIV). The Psalmist in 16:9 also stresses that unless God determines the plan (thought) of man, he never succeeds. Therefore, we must conform our way and thought to his plan and purpose laying aside our own yearnings and resources at his disposal and only trusting him to guide and sustain us. “We do this out of gratitude that our sins have been forgiven”[26]

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Works Cited

Alexander, Joseph A. Commentary on Isaiah. Ed. John Eadie. Vol. 2. Michigan: Kregel Publication, 1992.

Herbert, A. S. The Cambridge Bible Commentary: The Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Vol. 2. London: Cambridge UP, 1975.

Lasor, William S., David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 2nd ed. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Company, 1982.

Platinga Jr., Cornelius. Engaging God’s World. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Company, 2002.

Spence, H. D., and Joseph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. II. Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co.Publishers.

Westermann, Claus. Isaiah 40-66. Ed. Peter Ackroyd, James Barr, Bernhard W. Anderson, and John Bright. Philadelphia: The Westminster P, 1969.

Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah. Vol. III. Ser. 17. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Company, 1972.


[1] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 7.

 

[2] Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, all under the arch of God’s love. See Platinga Jr. Engaging God’s World, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 15.

[3] Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 27.

[4] Spence and Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (New York, J.J. Little and Ives Co.) vol. I, VI.

[5] Charles R. Erdman, The Book of Isaiah, an Exposition, (London: Fleming H. Revell Co, 1954), 8.

[6] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament: Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), 2 Ed., 279-80.

[7] H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), Vol. I, vii – ix.

[8] Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academy, 2007), 154.

[9] Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush, The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament: Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), 2 Ed., 282.

[10] Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush, The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament: Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), 2 Ed., 282.

[11] Westermann, Isaiah 40 – 66 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969), 287.

[12] Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 380.

[13] Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academy, 2007), 219.

[14] Joseph A. Alexander, Commentary on Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Pub., 1992), 329.

[15] Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academy, 2007), 219.

[16] Spence and Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), 330.

[17] Westermann, Isaiah 40 – 66, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), 288.

[18] Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 383.

[19] Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 383.

[20] Spence and Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), 330.

[21] Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 384.

[22] Spence and Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), 331.

[23] Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 385.

[24] Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academy, 2007), 220.

[25] Platinga Jr. Engaging God’s World, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 71.

[26] NIV Life Application Study Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 1902.

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