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Proper 10A 1st Reading

Isaiah 55:10-13

James Matthew Price

The prophetic tradition of Isaiah lays a pathway of truth through rich fields of concise yet eloquent language. It is like walking into the fecundity of a botanical garden. Take time to get our hands dirty as well as admire the beauty found here. In the selected passage of Isaiah 55:10-13, the second major patch of Isaiah’s community garden concludes with a beautiful refresher on the scale of God’s present faithfulness around us by pointing out the scope of God’s promised fruitfulness through us.

This week’s snippet from Isaiah 55:10-13 is a teaser for a word about God’s abundance. The lectionary readings for Proper 10A read like a tweet from Bob Goff, gushing with positivity:

–“You make the dawn and sunset shout for joy.” – Psalm 65:8b (NASB)

–“For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace. . . “ – Isaiah 55:12 (NASB)

–“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1 (NASB)

–“And [other seeds] fell on good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold . . .” – Matthew 13:8 (NASB)

All of this biblical flourishing could easily be mistaken by proper cynics, impoverished preachers, and neo-Calvinists as too much prosperity and not enough gospel: seeking out God’s word just to get to the good stuff. It is here we need the context of Isaiah 55:10-13 for all of its positive vibes to make prophetic sense.

Hebrew prophets are not typically associated with light-hearted, upbeat messages. The lectionary during the past few weeks, however, have caught Moses (Exodus 19:2-8a), Jeremiah (20:7-13, 28:5-9), and Zechariah (9:9-12) collectively in a great mood, and not to give away any spoilers but the words of the prophets in the following weeks are no less enthusiastic about God’s good intentions (Isaiah 44:6-8; 1 Kings 3:5-12, Isaiah 55:1-5, 1 Kings 19:9-18, Isaiah 56:1,6-8; Isaiah 51:1-16, Jeremiah 15:15-21; Ezekiel 33:7-11). The common thread woven through these passages is that in spite of past judgment and current circumstances, God wants only well-being for creation, and works this goodness through the experiences of His people. This truth is captured well by the metaphor of “rain and snow upon the land” that begins our passage in Isaiah 55:10.

In order to understand this metaphor, however, we need to take a look not only at the rest of chapter 55 but also back to the preceding chapters 53 and 54. The opening question of chapter 53 (“Who has believed our message?”) is driven home by the violent dismantling of the Messenger in the verses that follow. The answer is no one, neither the outsider nor the insider; all have rejected what is heard. Also, the divine title of “The Righteous One” in 53:11 (Exodus 9:27, Proverbs 21:12, Isaiah 24:16, Acts 7:52, Acts 22:14) is brought together with the image of Servant (Isaiah 42:1, 19; 49:5-6, 50:4-9, Isaiah 52:13-53:12; see also the Servant Songs of Isaiah; cf. John 13:1-17 and Philippians 2:4-8). The Servant (Isaiah 53:10) and the Word (Isaiah 55:11) are brought together as one and the same, and both will accomplish God’s intention in the world (Hanson, 1995, 182). Not surprisingly, the Righteous One, the Servant, a