Healing Will Come (Isaiah 55:1-3a, 6-11)
Published in Mennonite Weekly Review (June 11, 2007)
Each of the prophetic books we’ve looked at so far sharply critiques the people of God for their injustice and idolatry. Each warns of horrendous consequences should the people not turn (repent).
The lingering relevance of these warnings may lay especially in the sense they give of a society that has allowed God’s concerns for human social life to be defied. These concerns–generosity, compassion, justice for all in the society–had been part of the foundation of the ancient Hebrew nation. They reflect God’s concerns for all societies. When any society allows itself to sink into inequality, greed, and injustice, the kind of destruction threatened for Israel and Judah may well be on its horizon.
However, we misread the concerns of these prophets if we understand them as “prophets of doom” or “prophets of judgment.” Much more, they are “prophets of healing.” Each of these three books moves from critique and warnings of catastrophe to visions of healing. It’s just that the healing comes only for those who are ready for it.
Not a possibility, but a promise
In Amos, the vision of healing in chapter nine seems so out of synch with the rest of the book’s message of judgment that many modern scholars assume that vision was added by later editing in order to lessen the negative focus of the rest of the book. However, if we reflect on the intentions of the prophets (and their close relationship with their God), we may see that the healing vision of Amos nine ties very closely with the critique.
Likewise, in the much larger book of Isaiah, we have sharp critique followed by promised healing.
A central concern for Isaiah (and Amos and Hosea) is to challenge the injustices of the people and plead for them to turn back. Part of the reason for turning back is out of fear for negative consequences. “Turn or burn” indeed. However, when read in the context of the Bible as a whole–and the Bible’s overall portrayal of God–we may see in these promises of healing more than the prophets giving one possible outcome out of several, contingent on the people repenting.
Instead, Amos 9, Hosea 14, and Isaiah 40–55 state these visions of healing as certainties. God is bringing healing. That is certain. The question is whether the readers will have hearts prepared for this healing. It’s going to happen no matter what. But will you be part of it?
Isaiah 55 makes a theological affirmation fully consistent with the affirmation of the Exodus and the later affirmation of the gospel of Jesus. God is a God who heals. God is beyond our control. We do not earn God’s blessing. We simply receive it if our hearts are open.
“Our God will abundantly pardon” (55:7). God’s thoughts are beyond our thoughts, “as the heavens are higher than the earth” (55:9)–that is, God cannot be reduced to a just-desserts kind of God who is restrained by “holiness” or retributive “justice” from forgiving sinners.
Like rain and snow from heaven
Isaiah uses a metaphor of God’s abundant generosity in nature to underscore the reality of this promise for healing. “The rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.” In this same way, God’s word of promise and healing “shall accomplish that which God purposes” (55:10-11).
The prophets’ challenge, then, is not so much “work harder to earn God’s favor.” It is instead “live with generosity now toward those in need, with justice toward the oppressed.” In this way you will be ready when God’s promised generous healing justice comes.