The thread that draws together this week’s readings can be found in Isaiah 66:14. The third line of that verse reads, “and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants.” Each passage this week reminds us that God becomes visible in our world through the lives of his followers. God’s blessing upon his servants testifies to the reality of God in this life.
In 2 Kings 5 Naaman clearly saw the healing hand of the LORD through Elisha when God used the prophet to cure his leprosy. In Psalm 30 the psalmists testified to the transforming hand of the LORD over his life when God “brought up [his] soul from Sheol” and changed his “mourning into dancing.” In Galatians 6 Paul affirmed that those who “sow to the spirit” and do “not grow weary in doing what is right” will surely experience rich blessings from the faithful hand of the LORD. Finally, in Luke 10 the disciples witnessed the remarkably powerful hand of LORD in their ministry when Jesus sent them out to witness on his behalf.
Seeing the hand of the LORD at work in our world is not always easy. Some days we wonder, “Where is God? Why isn’t God showing up?” Troublesome and chaotic events so fill our lives that the goodness of God gets obscured. Mass shootings, trade wars, and political rhetoric distract us from focusing upon eternal things. A doctor’s diagnosis, a co-worker’s complaining, a neighbor’s insensitivity, and even a stranger’s road rage can obscure our vision. Many days just our busy, sometimes hectic, routines of daily life can occupy our minds to the point that God seems distant and forgotten.
The world of Isaiah (whether the first, second, third, fourth or whatever emanation of that prophet, it does not matter) was undoubtedly filled with multiple distractions as well. The audience to whom chapter 66 was addressed had “chosen their own ways” and taken delight “in their abominations” (v 3). They did not respond to God or listen when heaven spoken (v 4). If the original Isaiah from the latter part of the eighth century BC penned the words of chapter 66, we recall that a growing Assyrian threat created a major distraction from focus upon the LORD. If, however, a second or third Isaiah of the sixth century BC delivered these words, the Babylonian hegemony caused the same sort of diversion for Abraham’s descendants.
So, through the prophet, the LORD urged people to imagine the day of Jerusalem’s restoration. If they could not easily see God in their present circumstances, perhaps they could envision his hand in future days. The LORD had promised such a day throughout the book and through other prophets as well (see Jer 33 or Zech 14, for example). In the opening chapter of Isaiah, God declared that one day Jerusalem “shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city” (1:26). In the next chapter, the prophet predicted that Jerusalem would become the center of the world to which all nations would come. He projected that “out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (2:3). So continues the prophecies regarding Jerusalem’s renewal until chapter 65 when the LORD promises to “create Jerusalem as a joy” (v 3). As John would also see centuries later, the ancient prophet envisioned “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2).
According to Isaiah 66, Jerusalem will one day be like a nurturing mother to the world. She will provide nourishment and comfort to all peoples of the earth. Through that city God promises to comfort his people “as a mother comforts her child” (v 13). This is no simple pat on the head. Divine comfort (nacham) comes because of God’s presence awakening an awareness of his profound love for us. In other words, people are comforted when they begin to sense something of the measure of God’s remarkable love for them. Just as a mother’s love comforts her child, so also God’s love infuses strength into his followers. Such love feels like “prosperity” (literally, “peace” shalom) and “the wealth of nations” (literally, “glory (kebod) of nations”) has flooded over them (v 12). A sense of wholeness and fullness that only God’s love can provide sweeps over those that receive God’s comfort. As a result then, they quite naturally “rejoice,” “flourish like the grass” and become a testimony to the world “that the hand of the LORD is with his servants” (v 14).
Today we might ask, why should the restoration of Jerusalem someday in the future matter to us? To answer this question we need to remember the significance of Jerusalem throughout Scripture. It stood as a primary symbol of God among his people. It housed God’s house, the palace from which the King of the Universe ruled and blessed his subjects. Jerusalem functioned as the seminal sacred space where God entered into the human sphere in a very tangible way. Thus, the revival of Jerusalem signaled the renewal of God’s rule in the lives of God’s people.
So, our hope today for the restoration of Jerusalem expresses our hope of God’s full rule and blessing over our lives. We can join an ancient prophet in desiring the comfort, peace and glory that only God’s amazing love can generate in our lives. Then we can be a powerful testimony of the goodness of God to our neighbors, friends and family. All those we encounter will know that “there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” because of the blessing of God in our lives (2 Kings 5:15).