Isaiah 56-57 – The Voice

The triumph of God over Israel’s enemies is certain. Filled with joy and expectation, God’s covenant people leave behind a strange country and begin the long, dangerous journey back to the promised land. But instead of fear and trepidation at the potential perils ahead, they are overwhelmed with a sense of peace and joy. Instead of holding dangers around every turn, the land and creation itself join in the celebration to welcome the exiles home. There is no need to worry about long, hard climbs or treacherous descents, for the mountains and the hills cheer them on. There’s no need to fret about shade from the sun’s blazing heat, for majestic trees grow up to cast their long, cooling shadows across the desert’s arid land. The prophet’s vision of the journey home is nearly complete.

56 Eternal One: Take care that you do what is right and fair,
        because before you know it, I will come to save you;
    Soon you will see how I rescue.
    God’s favor rests on those who attend to justice,
        who devote themselves to doing what is right,
    Who keep the Sabbath and don’t disregard or belittle it,
        who keep from doing what is wrong: destructive, deceitful, or violent.

No stranger who has put trust in the Eternal should ever say,
    “I don’t count. I’m not part of Eternal’s chosen people.”
And no eunuch should ever say,
    “I am all dried up, worthless and empty.”
For this is what the Eternal has to say:

Eternal One: The eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
        make good choices, and follow the terms of My covenant
        will blossom with My blessing.
    I will give them, within My house, an enduring memorial
        and a name better than if they had sons and daughters—
    A name that will never be forgotten and will continue to inspire
        and encourage forever.
    And of those strangers who are not among the chosen people Israel
        yet have bound themselves to the Eternal,
    Attend to God, and love all that the Eternal is and does;
        if they serve Him, keep the Sabbath, make good choices, and cling to the terms of the covenant,
    I will bring them into My holy mountain where no foreigner is allowed
        and give them a joyful welcome within My house of prayer.
    Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will find acceptance on My altar
        because My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

These words must have come as a surprise to the Hebrews. They were the called-out ones and had been commanded to keep themselves separate from their pagan neighbors. Now they hear these words of inclusion. They are told it doesn’t matter who they are or where they’ve come from or what “imperfections” they might have. Any who have bound themselves to Israel’s God—even if they’re not Israel, even if they are not “whole”—belong to Him and will enjoy all the wonders that He has in store for them. One day it will be clear that they are a sign of God’s goodness and mercy, that God’s justice is on display through their lives. They are to live as the light of God to the neighboring countries.

And the One who brings all Israel together, the Lord, the Eternal, declares:

Eternal One: I am not done yet. I will still gather more to this community.

Bring in the ravenous, vicious beasts from forests and fields;
    bring them in to pillage Jerusalem to rip and eat!
Those who should be guarding and directing the people
    are blind and ignorant at best.
They are no better than hounds who can’t be bothered to bark at trouble;
    they lie around, lost in their dreams, loving their sleep.
But these dogs sure love to eat.
    They can’t get enough, greedily devouring Judah.
They are shepherds with no understanding,
    guides with no sense of direction.
So they’ve all scattered, each out for himself,
    trying to figure out how best to gain advantage.
“Come on!” they say, “I’ll get the wine; we’ll get our fill of booze.
    Day after day, it just keeps getting better!”

57 Eternal One: The person who does what is right dies, and no one cares.
        Good people are carted off, and no one understands why.
    For those who are in the right are taken away
        and spared a face-to-face encounter with evil.
    Nevertheless, those who go through life with integrity and righteousness
        will rest in peace and die in their own beds.

    But you, you two-faced witch’s spawn, come here.
        You are adultery’s children, prostitution’s offspring.
    Who is it that you mock?
        Whom do you tease and taunt with your vulgar gestures?
    You are born of deceit and lies, and nursed on violence and wrong.
    You get all excited by other deities and are stimulated by their rituals,
        prancing around lush trees and sacrificing innocent children
    In valleys and beneath cliffs, dark and sinister.
    You’ve made your choice.
        You’ve thrown in your lot with idols and smooth stones in dark ravines,
    Wining and dining strange gods with offerings of drink and grain.
        And you expect Me to tolerate this?

    You’ve made your bed in the “sacred places,”
        given offerings, and made prayers on high and lofty mountains.
    You declare your obedience to Me, but all hidden away—as if I couldn’t see;
        behind the very door and doorpost, you set up your shrine.
    You turned your back on Me and snuck off to be intimate with other deities;
        you made promises to them and bound yourself to them all tight and close.
    You offered oils and musky ointments to Molech, your lover-god,
        and sent your servants to exotic places far away,
    Sent them down even into the grave
        to increase your pleasure with a variety of deities.
    And even when the journey wore you out, your lust drove you on.
        You did not give up, thinking it hopeless,
    But you found strength and renewed your resolve.
    Who are you afraid of?
        I don’t know why you lied to Me about it;
    You never seemed to care what I thought.
        Maybe I’ve been patient and quiet too long—
    Is that why you’ve lost all respect for Me?
    I will tell the story of your righteousness and good deeds,
        but they can’t help you now.
    Not even this hodge-podge of idols you call gods can help you.
        They’ll not come to your aid if you cry for help.
    They’re nothing. A gentle breeze could blow them away;
        a breath could topple them,
    But whoever stays true to Me, whoever looks to Me for help and support
        will inherit the land and possess My holy mountain.

For those who cling to the true God, it is said,
    “Clear the way that they travel; widen the roads and make them smooth!
Take away any difficulty so that they may go easily!”

For the highest God above,
    who is and always will be, the only One who is holy has this to say:

Eternal One: I live in the high and holy place,
        yet I am with the low, the weak, and the humble.
    I renew their vitality and revive their strength.
    For I will not struggle against them forever,
        and I won’t always be angry.
    For the human spirit would grow faint—
        the breath of life I created would soon grow weak.
    Yes, they infuriated Me with how they profited from their greed and violence,
        so I struck them down and turned My back on them,
    And still they persisted in their wrongdoing.
    I have seen how they act, but I will still bind them up and make them well again.
        I will show them the way, comfort and console them.
    I will create in them a desire to praise.
        “Peace, peace, to those far away.
    All will be well, wherever you are.”
        And I will heal them.
    By contrast, the wicked are all riled up
        like a storm-tossed sea that cannot be calmed.
    Its crashing waves wash up muck and dirt on the shore.
    But there will be no peace for the wicked.

So says my God.

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