First Reading: Isaiah 54:4-14

Encouragement to Return

What (or) you helps make you happy? Which friend or activity cheers you up when you are “down in the dumps?”

4 “Don’t be afraid; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be confounded; for you shall not be disappointed: for you shall forget the shame of your youth; and the reproach of your widowhood you shall remember no more. 5 For your Maker is your husband; YHWH of Armies is his name: and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. 6 For YHWH has called you as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off,” says your God.

7 “For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you. 8 In overflowing wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting loving kindness will I have mercy on you,” says YHWH your Redeemer.

9 “For this is like the waters of Noah to me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my loving kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed,” says YHWH who has mercy on you.

11 “You afflicted, tossed with storms, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in beautiful colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires. 12 I will make your pinnacles of rubies, and your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. 13 All your children shall be taught of YHWH ; and great shall be the peace of your children. 14 In righteousness you shall be established: you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not be afraid; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.

World English Bible

These passages from Second Isaiah can be divided into three sections: an invitation to a royal (divine) feast, a general amnesty, and a statement on the power of God’s word. The last section justifies the first two. God can do what he wants, and he wants to forgive.

Some people seem to perpetually wallow in self-pity. Why? There are basically two reasons for this unhealthy despair: control and fear. In other words, some would rather beat up their mental “straw men” than seek relief and healing; “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

The author of Second Isaiah faced a populace of exiles with the same dilemma. They pitied themselves for their plight as captive aliens, foreigners in a foreign land. But were they really foreigners, or just second-class citizens? Babylon had its allurements. And the defeated had grown comfortable in their life as second generation “exiles.” So, image what the author had to say in order to motivate some of the faithful to “pull up roots” and return to Jerusalem:

“God, the husband, wants you back! Yes, I was angry, but no more! In fact, I have never really stopped loving you. My promises to you are as real as the day I made them to you.

So, come home. You will be safe with me. And your home will be as beautiful as the place you left. Even more beautiful!”

These passages are a love letter to God’s people. It promises much. And it challenges much. But it showed the will of God for the exiles.

(It is interesting to note not all of the exiles returned. Indeed, Babylon had a sizable Jewish population from the time of the exile until the early twentieth century. It was a center for Jewish scholarship, commerce, and culture, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The rise of Israel as a secular state and the “Arabization” of Iraq over the past fifty years has caused another exodus from Babylon. Today, the Jewish population in Babylon is only a sliver of its former size.)

Like the exiles, we might be tempted to wallow in our own private hell holes. These are places we have control; we might be afraid to leave these places, even if the “grass is greener on the other side.” But, it does not matter what we want. Ultimately, it matters what God wants.

What does God want? He wants us to return. To rise from our spiritual death. And to live with him!

Have you felt renewed this Easter? Are you now ready to go where God wants you to go?