THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Lesson 21: Chapters 55-57
Part III: The Book of Consolation

Lord of Love and Mercy,
The promises You extended to Your covenant people and to all nations through the prophet Isaiah in today's lesson are the same promises that are available to us today. They are the blessings that come to us through Your Servant-Son Jesus Christ. They are blessings that are a free gift of Your grace, and they cost us nothing because Jesus has paid the price of our redemption. Our part is to obey the command to "come" as Isaiah tells the covenant people in today's lesson, and to "come" as Jesus commanded us in His mission to announce the Kingdom of the New Covenant Church. The sacred banquet promised by Isaiah and instituted by Christ at the Last Supper is waiting for us "without cost" to nourish us on our journey to eternal salvation because Christ has paid the price with His precious Blood. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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This covenant that the Lord promises will not be short-lived and for one age only, as it was of the Jewish people, but it will remain in eternity, in that the true David will come and the things promised in the Gospel from the person of God will be fulfilled: "I have found my servant David, and in holy mercy I have anointed him."
Jerome (Commentary on Isaiah, 15.12)

The blessings the Servant will obtain for his people through his self-sacrificial death have been proclaimed in the fourth Song of the Servant (Is 52:13-53:12) and are explained in detail in Chapters 55-56. In addition to his substitutionary atonement for the sins of the people is the prediction that the Gentile nations will belong to God's Servant. It is an invitation that was first mentioned in the introduction to the fourth Song of the Servant (Is 52:15), and it is repeated in Isaiah's oracle in chapters 55 and 56 where the grace of the Lord's salvation is to be extended to all people (Is 55:5 and 56:1-9).

The promises Isaiah made in his oracle concerning Jerusalem's rebirth after the return from exile in Chapter 54 must have sounded too good to be true to the Jews of Isaiah's day:

He also gave a glorious description of what the rebuilt city would look like that sounds unearthly and glorious. It is a description that is very like the vision St. John will have of the new, heavenly Jerusalem after the return of Christ and the Final Judgment in the Book of Revelation (Rev 21:18-21), and perhaps it is the same vision.

Chapter 55: Yahweh's Invitation

The oracle in Chapter 55 is an invitation to grace and begins with Isaiah calling the people to place their absolute trust in God and to accept:

  1. An invitation to a banquet that will herald an eternal covenant (verses 1-3a).
  2. An invitation to a renewal of the Davidic covenant (verses 3b-5).
  3. An invitation to a renewed relationship with God for all people and the promise of a new exodus that is a sign of God's everlasting salvation (verses 6-9).

Isaiah 55:1-5 ~ The Promise of a Sacred Banquet and an Eternal Covenant
1 Oh [hoi], come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy and eat; come, buy wine and milk without money, free! 2 Why spend money on what cannot nourish and your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. 3 Pay attention, come to me; listen, and you will live. I shall make an everlasting covenant with you in fulfillment of the favors promised to David. 4 Look [hen], I have made him a witness to peoples, a leader and lawgiver to peoples. 5 Look [hen], you will summon a nation unknown to you, a nation unknown to you will hurry to you for the sake of Yahweh your God, because the Holy One of Israel has glorified you. [...] = literal Hebrew, "you" in verses 1-3 is plural; "you" in verse 5 is singular; IBHE, vol. III, page 1713.

Isaiah begins this passage with the Hebrew word "hoi", translated as "Oh", or "Alas", or "Woe." The word is meant to focus the reader's attention, and it can also express a tone of pity or a warning of judgment. In this case, the prophet is concerned for the souls of all men and women and their desperate condition if they do not embrace the blessings that the Servant has obtained for them. In verse 1 Isaiah calls the people to place their absolute trust in God and to accept His invitation to the new and eternal covenant Banquet of the Just that begins by receiving the spiritual water that quenches all thirst for righteousness. Christians have always interpreted this verse as a promise of the healing waters of Christian Baptism.

... come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy and eat; come, buy wine and milk without money, free! 2 Why spend money on what cannot nourish and your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy.
The water the prophet offers is not physical water. Water like milk and wine is a symbol of spiritual blessings and refreshment (Dt 8:3; Ps 42:2; 63:1; Prov 9:5-6; Jn 4:10ff; Rev 22:17). The nourishment and "rich food" Isaiah promises is not material "it is spiritual and eternal. Money is not required to partake of this banquet. The banquet is free "there is no cost to those who partake because the price has been paid by the sacrifice of God's Servant, Jesus the Davidic Messiah, who paid the price of mankind's redemption on the altar of the Cross. What those who partake must bring is only the virtue of the fear of God that is repentance and nothing else.(1) You will recall that the sacred meal is one of the images of the Old Testament prophets symbolizing perfect covenant union with Yahweh (see Lesson 1, handout 3 or the website chart Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets).

Question: How is the command "come" in 55:1 (twice) and in verse 3 similar to Jesus' command in Matthew 11:28-30? How is the water imagery similar to Jesus' statements concerning His promise of salvation in John 4:10 and J7:37-39?
Answer: It is an invitation to salvation like Jesus gives in the Gospel passages:

In John 7:38 Jesus is probably quoting from Isaiah 44:3. In both the passages from the Gospel of John, Jesus is using the same imagery of water as Isaiah does in 55:1. It represents the fulfillment of a spiritual need and not a physical need "just as a person needs water to survive so does he also need to have his soul refreshed by the Spirit of God (CCC 694).

The promise of the free water of eternal salvation is also promised in the Book of Revelation in 21:6 and repeated 22:17 with the same invitation to "come":

Isaiah is announcing that redemption has been accomplished, and it is not limited to the Jews/Israelites! In the introduction and in the conclusion to the fourth Servant's Song it is predicted that the Gentiles will belong to God's Servant:

Question: The invitation to the covenant people to attend this future banquet is reminiscent of what other sacred meal associated with a covenant earlier in Israel's history? See Ex 24:5, 11.
Answer: It is reminiscent of the sacred banquet that signified the ratification of the covenant between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai when Moses, Aaron and the elder sons (representing the priestly ministers) and the elders (representing the people) ate a sacred meal in the presence of God.

The freely offered meal also recalls the renewal of the Sinai Covenant on Mount Zion when David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and fed the people (2 Sam 6:12-15, 17-19). The promise of this glorious future banquet is fulfilled on the night of the Last Supper as Jesus makes the same invitation to His disciples to take, to eat, and to drink; and it continues to be fulfilled in the offering of the sacred meal in the Eucharist that is a free gift of God's grace to nourish God's covenant people on their journey to eternal salvation (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20; CCC 694, 2121).

3 Pay attention, come to me; listen, and you will live. I shall make an everlasting covenant with you in fulfillment of the favors promised to David.
Question: How many times has the call to "come" been made? What is the significance of the command to "listen"?
Answer: Verse 3 has the third call to "come." The command to "listen" has been given throughout the Book of Isaiah and this time it is linked to the blessing of the covenant with David, listening and responding to the call to repentance, and restoration to God for all which will lead to "life" with those who embrace the covenant as opposed to the "death" of the wicked.

The reference to an "everlasting covenant" in the context of the promises made to David (verse 3; also 2 Sam 7:11-16; 23:5; Sir 45:25; 47:11) is read by Christians as a reference to the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant in David's descendant Jesus the Messiah (Lk 1:31-33). It is the "new David" who brings a New Covenant sealed in the self-sacrificial blood of the Servant, Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of David. It is a pledge of salvation for all humanity for all time through a New Covenant and a new law of love of God and neighbor (CCC 762). But the promise of the divine banquet also looks forward from the Last Supper and the words spoken by Jesus when He institutes the Eucharist with the words, "Take and eat...drink" (Mt 26:26-28) that recall Isaiah's invitation to eat and drink in verse 1. The words "everlasting covenant" also point to the Banquet of the Just at the end of time and Christ's return in the wedding supper of the Lamb and His Bride in the Book of Revelation (Rev 19:6b-9).

The symbolic images of the covenant banquet in Isaiah 55:1-3:

  1. The imagery recalls the ratification of the Sinai Covenant in a sacred meal in the Book of Exodus (Ex 24:5-11).
  2. The imagery recalls the covenant renewal ceremony and the feeding of the people by King David when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12-15, 17-19).
  3. The imagery looks forward to the sacred meal of Jesus Christ in the inauguration of a New and eternal Covenant in Jerusalem at the Last Supper (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20).
  4. The imagery looks forward to the eternal banquet of the just at the end of time in the heavenly Jerusalem at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and His Bride in the Book of Revelation (Rev 19:6b-9; 21:6; 22:17).

4 Look [hen], I have made him a witness to peoples, a leader and lawgiver to peoples. 5 Look [hen], you [singular] will summon a nation unknown to you [singular], a nation unknown to you [singular] will hurry to you for the sake of Yahweh your God, because the Holy One of Israel has glorified you [singular].
The commands in verses 1-3 are in the plural while the commands in verse 5 are in the singular. This suggests that verse 5 refers to the new David.
Question: Who is the "him" who is "a witness to peoples", and the "you" who God has "glorified" that Isaiah refers to in these verses?
Answer: While verse 4 is partially fulfilled in the Jews who will witness to the Gentiles concerning their one, unique God when they are in exile, and while they will share their sacred texts and Mosaic Law, they will not fulfill verse 5. The "him" refers back to David in verse 3, and the "you" is probably the promised Davidic Messiah, the divinely anointed Servant who will be glorified by God at the completion of His earthly mission.

These two verses are only fulfilled in the Davidic covenant through David and his descendant Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus' resurrection from death is a witness to all nations; He will lead all people to salvation through His New Covenant law of love of God and neighbor. Jesus is the witness and the "you" who is glorified by God in His Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension when He takes His place in the heavenly Temple as King of kings, and High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary.

Isaiah 55:6-11 ~ Seek Yahweh and Repent
6 Seek out Yahweh while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near. Let the wicked abandon his way and the evil one his thoughts. 7 Let him turn back to Yahweh who will take pity on him, 8 to our God, for he is rich in forgiveness; for my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares Yahweh. 9 For the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts. 10 For, as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return before having watered the earth, fertilizing it and making it germinate 11 to provide seed for the sower and food to eat, so it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.

The verses of Isaiah 55:5-14 are read in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil in the celebration of Christ's victory over sin. These verses are read to invite the faithful present to arise and partake of the Eucharist, the sacred banquet of the eternal covenant sealed by Jesus' death and resurrection (CCC 1391).

In 55:6-11 Isaiah tells the people:

  1. They must seek God and claim His promises while there is still time (verse 6).
  2. They must yield themselves to God in repentance (verse 7).
  3. The people who repent can count on God's forgiveness (verses 8-11).

The Jews are called to repentance and conversion in the command, "Let him turn back to Yahweh..." (verse 7), and there is the promise of God's response of compassion and forgiveness to the repentant sinner if he seeks God while there is still time (prior to death). The Hebrew word translated "turn" means "repent" or "return." Repentance meant turning back to God and returning to the covenant. The encouragement to seek God without waiting is much like what Isaiah wrote in 49:8 and St. Paul quoted to the Corinthians: For he says: "In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you." Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). Isaiah knew there were people listening to him who had their timetable for repenting and turning back to God, but Isaiah warns them that they cannot delay because the time has to be now! The same warning applies to us.

In verses 8-11 Isaiah voices God's own words to the people. God's thoughts and actions were not the thoughts and actions of His people: 8b for my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares Yahweh. God challenges the people to consider the infinite difference between the superiority of His ways and theirs.
Question: Why must the people not only change their ways but their thoughts to conform to God's righteousness?
Answer: They must change externally and internally because if the heart did not change the conversion would not last.

In verses 10-11 God's word is compared to rain and snow. The rain and the snow fellow upon the earth and watered its surface, producing many favorable results for their benefit. Likewise, God's divine word, which he sent through His prophets like Isaiah, also would accomplish favorable results for their benefit. The one benefit is material and the other spiritual.

Isaiah 55:12-13 ~ Conclusion
12 Yes, you will go out with joy and be led away in safety. Mountains and hills will break into joyful cries before you and all the trees of the countryside clap their hands. 13 Cypress will grow instead of thorns, myrtle instead of nettles. And this will be fame [a name] for Yahweh, an eternal monument [ ot = sign] never to be effaced. [...] = ILBHE, vol. III, page 1714.

Isaiah concludes his portrayal of Yahweh's day of salvation with vivid imagery. Peace and joy will accompany God's people as they go out with God leading them. Isaiah uses figurative language to describe a spiritual renewal in which even nature rejoices in the redemption God has promised (55:12-13).

13 Cypress will grow instead of thorns, myrtle instead of nettles. And this will be fame [a name] for Yahweh, an eternal monument [ ot = sign] never to be effaced.
God's mighty works on behalf of His restored people will be so evident that it will be a "sign" or witness to God's glory that will never be wiped out or done away with. An ot/"sign" for God is always something that can either be experienced, like the "sign" of worship on the Sabbath (Ex 31:12-13), or seen like the covenant sign of the rainbow in the covenant with Noah and the earth (Gen 9:12-15).

Question: How do these blessings recall the fall of Adam? See Gen 3:17-19.
Answer: The curse of Adam after the fall will be revoked "the cures of nature in the thorns and weeds/nettles will be replaced with blessings "not the temporal blessing of the Old Covenants, but the eternal blessings of a New Covenant.

Isaiah's prophecies are not intended to depict the return of the Jews from exile. They look ahead to a day when God will bring about the promise of His everlasting Kingdom (Dan 2:44). In that day His work will be so evident and so miraculous, and the blessings wrought through His work so amazing that even creation will rejoice with God's people.

Chapter 56: Promises to Gentiles and the Unworthiness of the Covenant People's Leaders

Isaiah 56:1-8 ~ Advice on Behavior and Promises to Foreigners
1 Thus says Yahweh: Make fair judgment your concern, act with justice, for soon my salvation will come and my saving justice be manifest. 2 Blessed is anyone who does this, anyone who clings to it, observing the Sabbath, not profaning it, and abstaining from every evil deed. 3 No foreigner adhering to Yahweh should say, "Yahweh will utterly exclude me from his people." No eunuch should say, "Look, I am a dried-up tree." 4 For Yahweh says this: To the eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths and choose to do my good pleasure and cling to my covenant, 5 I shall give them in my house and within my walls a monument [an everlasting name] and a name better than sons and daughters; I shall give them an everlasting name that will never be effaced. 6 As for foreigners who adhere to Yahweh to serve him, to love Yahweh's name and become his servants, all who observe the Sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant: 7 these I shall lead to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Lord Yahweh who gathers the exiles of Israel declares: There are other I shall gather besides those already gathered. [...] = IBHE, vol. III, page 1715.

Question: In the first verse of this oracle what does Isaiah say is God's challenge to the people that will be echoed by St. John the Baptist and Jesus to prepare for the arrival of God's salvation? See Mt 3:2 and 17.
Answer: The covenant people are challenged to demonstrate justice and righteousness in the daily lives in preparation for God's coming salvation.

2 Blessed is anyone who does this, anyone who clings to it, observing the Sabbath, not profaning it, and abstaining from every evil deed.
In verse 2 God gives a blessing to those who cling to righteousness and observe the Sabbath obligation.
Question: When was the command to keep the Sabbath first given to the covenant people? What event in salvation history is associated with the Sabbath obligation? See Ex 20:8-11.
Answer: To keep the Sabbath was first commanded in the theophany on Mt. Sinai when God gave the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11.

The seventh day of Creation was set aside in Genesis 2:2-3, but the command for the observance of the Sabbath wasn't given until the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai and is repeated nine times (Ex 20:8-11; 23:12; 31:12-17; 34:21; 35:1-3; Lev 19:3; 23:3; Num 15:32-36; Dt 5:12-15). The Sabbath is one of the "signs" of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 31:12-13). Isaiah will repeat the blessing for Sabbath observance again in 56:4, 6; 58:13-14. The Sabbath observance is mentioned because it so clearly typified an act that demonstrated commitment to the covenant in which one refrained from evil and lived in justice. One could not enter into communion with Yahweh unless one was free from sin; we would define the condition as one being in a state of grace.
Question: Is this same obedient observance of the New Covenant Sabbath of the Lord's Day (Sunday worship) a requirement for the faithful of the universal Church of Christ Jesus? See CCC 2042
Answer: Yes. It is the first of the Church's Five Precepts: "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor" (CCC 2042).

In verses 3-7 Isaiah singles out two groups: foreigners and eunuchs. According to the Mosaic Law, foreigners who had not submitted to the covenant requirement of circumcision and eunuchs who had been physically emasculated were not eligible to attend worship in God's holy Sanctuary (Ex 12:48; Dt 23:1/2). All resident foreigners living in Israel were subject to the Law of the Sinai Covenant (Lev 17:15; 24:16-22) and were bound to observe the Sabbath restrictions (Ex 20:10; Dt 5:14). Foreigners who had not converted and eunuchs were allowed to visit the Temple and bring offerings to Yahweh, but they were not permitted to enter the Sanctuary (Num 15:15-16; Acts 21:28-29). Foreigners were also permitted to celebrate the Passover provided they accepted circumcision (Ex 12:48; Num 9:14).

In the ancient world it was the common practice to perform surgery on boys and young men who served in the king's harem to make them incapable of producing offspring. Some of these victims were boys taken captive in wars, but others agreed to submit to the practice in order to have a life that offered comfort and advancement. Often such men, living in close proximity to the royal family, rose to become high ranking officials in the kingdoms they served. Two such men mentioned in the Bible are the eunuch who oversaw the education of Daniel and the other Jewish boys taken captive by the Babylonians (Dan 1:3-18), and, in the New Testament, the Ethiopian eunuch who was a servant of the queen of Ethiopia and was baptized by the deacon Philip (Acts 8:27-39).

3 No foreigner adhering to Yahweh should say, "Yahweh will utterly exclude me from his people." No eunuch should say, "Look, I am a dried-up tree." 4 For Yahweh says this: To the eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths and choose to do my good pleasure and cling to my covenant, 5 I shall give them in my house and within my walls a monument [an everlasting name] and a name better than sons and daughters; I shall give them an everlasting name that will never be effaced. 6 As for foreigners who adhere to Yahweh to serve him, to love Yahweh's name and become his servants, all who observe the Sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant:7 these I shall lead to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples (emphasis added).
Question: Who are the "these" in verse 7 and what is the promise concerning these two groups who seek God in the "coming day of Yahweh's salvation"?
Answer: "These" refers to the foreign Gentiles and the eunuchs who were previously excluded in the earlier covenant. The promise is that the time was coming when these two groups would no longer be excluded from full membership in God's covenant family.

Question: What is the significance of the underlined part of this passage quoted by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels? See Mt 21:13; Mk 11:17; and Lk 19:46.
Answer: The Isaiah passage was quoted by Jesus as He cleansed the Jerusalem Temple in the last week of His ministry prior to His arrest and crucifixion. He is repeating the promise God made through Isaiah and is stating "now" is the time of God's "day of salvation" for all peoples: Jews and Gentiles, the physically and spiritually whole and the physically and spiritually deformed.

The future "sign" will be the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the "holy mountain" He will lead them to will be the New Covenant Kingdom of Jesus Christ where they will become sons and daughters of God in the family of the universal Church.

8 Lord Yahweh who gathers the exiles of Israel declares: There are other I shall gather besides those already gathered. This verse confirms the previous promise. The "others" are the Gentile proselytes and the eunuchs in addition to the restored Jews and Israelites that were scattered into Gentile lands.

Isaiah 56:9-12 ~ The Unworthiness of Israel's Leaders
9 Come and gorge, all you wild beasts, all you beasts of the forest! 10 Its watchmen are all blind, they know nothing. Dumb watchdogs all, unable to bark, they dream, lie down, and love to sleep. 11 Greedy dogs, never satisfied, such are the shepherds, who understand nothing; they all go their own way, each to the last man after his own interest. 12 "Come, let me fetch wine; we will get drunk on strong drink, tomorrow will be just as wonderful as today and even more so!"

The focus of 56:9-57:13 is the covenant people's sins. While the earlier verses announced the blessings in store for two previously excluded groups, verse 9 serves as a disturbing introduction to Isaiah's oracle denouncing the spiritual blindness of two groups that had previously been responsible for the covenant people: Israel's religious leaders, the "shepherds," and the "watchmen" who are the prophets. In the Book of Ezekiel the prophet refers to the religious leaders as "shepherds" who "feed" on God's sheep that are the covenant people (Ezekiel chapter 34), and both Jeremiah and Ezekiel refer to the prophets as "watchmen" (Jer 6:17; Ez 3:17; 33:1-9). Notice that "all" is used five times in verses 9-11, and "all" the "shepherds" and "watchmen" fail to warn the people. The "wild beasts" coming to feed on Israel are probably the enemies of the covenant people who will be God's instrument of judgment.

Question: How does Isaiah characterize the two groups of the "shepherds" and the "watchmen" in verses 10-11?
Answer: Both groups are compared to dogs "usually a derogatory term in Scripture since they were considered "unclean" animals.

12 "Come, let me fetch wine; we will get drunk on strong drink, tomorrow will be just as wonderful as today and even more so!"
Verse 12 is what the failed shepherds and failed prophets say to each other.
Question: In the symbolic images of the prophets, what does getting drunk on wine represent? See the partial chart below or complete chart in handout 3 from lesson 1.

THE SYMBOLIC IMAGES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS
Image Group Part I
Covenant relationship
Part II
Rebellion
Part III
Redemptive Judgment
Part IV
Restoration
Fulfilled in God's Servant, Jesus Christ
Drinking Wine Joy of drinking good wine Becoming drunk Loss of wine;
drinking the "cup of God's wrath"
Rejoicing in the best "new wine" at the Master's table
examples in Scripture Isaiah 25:6-8; 62:8-9; 65:13;
Jeremiah 31:12; 40:12
Isaiah 5:11-12; 28:1;
Jeremiah 8:13; 48:26; 51:7;
Joel 1:5
Psalm 75:9;
Isaiah 51:17-23; 63:2-3;
Jeremiah 13:12-14; 25:15-31; 48:26; 49:12; 51:6-7;
Ezekiel 23:31-34;
Joel 4:13;
Obadiah 16;
Habakkuk 2:16;
Zechariah 12:2
Promise:
Zechariah 9:15-16;
Joel 4:18;
Amos 9:13

Filled:
Luke 22:19-20;
1 Corinthians 11:23-32;
Revelation 19:7-9

Answer: Getting drunk on the wine of the covenant that was intended as a blessing is symbolic of rebellion against Yahweh and abandoning God and the covenant.

Chapter 57: Peril of the Righteous and Condemnation of Israelites Prior to the Exile

Isaiah 57:1-2 ~ The Plight of the Upright
1 The upright person perishes and no one cares. The faithful is taken off and no one takes it to heart. Yes, because of the evil times the upright is taken off; 2 he will enter peace, and those who follow the right way will find rest on their beds.

Since the righteous have been abandoned by false prophets and failed religious leaders, they will have no one to guide them in the coming tragedy of the conquest of Jerusalem and the exile. But there is still hope because the suffering of the righteous will count toward their eternal peace and the rest they will find sleeping with a clear conscience.

Isaiah 57:3-13 ~ The Perversion of Idolatry
3 But you, you children of a witch, come here, adulterous race prostituting yourselves! 4 At whom are you jeering, at whom are you making faces and sticking out your tongue? Are you not the spawn of rebellion, a lying race? 5 Lusting among the terebinths, and under every spreading tree, sacrificing children in the ravines, below the clefts in the rocks. 6 The smooth stones of the ravines will be your portion; yes, these will be your lot. To these you have poured libations, have brought your cereal offering. Can all this appease me? 7 On a mountain high and lofty you have put your bed. Thither, too, you have climbed to offer sacrifice. 8 Behind door and doorpost you have set your reminder. Yes, far from me, you exposed yourself, climbed on to your bed, and made the most of it. You struck a profitable bargain with those whose bed you love, whoring with them often, with your eyes on the sacred symbol. 9 You went to Molech with oil, you were prodigal with your perfumes; you sent your envoys far afield, down to Sheol itself. 10 Though tired by so much travelling, you never said, "It is no use." Finding your strength revived, you never gave up. 11 Who was it you dreaded, and feared, that you should betray me, no longer remember me and not spare a thought for me? Was I not silent for a long time? 12 So you cannot have been afraid of me. Now I shall expose this uprightness of yours, and little good it did you. 13 When you cry for help, let those thronging round you save you! The wind will carry them all away, one puff will take them off. But whoever trusts in me will inherit the country [earth], he will own my holy mountain. [...] = IBHE, vol. III, page 1716-17.

In this passage Isaiah denounces the Jews/Israelites who have become idolaters.
Question: How does he describe them in verses 3-4?
Answer:

  1. They are children of sorcery.
  2. They are an immoral, adulterous race of prostitutes.
  3. They are rebels and liars who continue in the sins of past generations.

Question: How does the prophet describe the sins of the unfaithful people who engage in idolatry because they lust for power apart from God and what is the result of their obsession for idolatry? See verses 5-10.
Answer:

  1. They sacrificed their own children to false gods.
  2. They built pagan worship sites all over the land.
  3. They brought their idols and pagan symbols into their homes.
  4. They engaged in immoral pagan fertility rites.
  5. They engaged in seeking the advice of mediums to consult the dead.
  6. They had been so obsessed with their idolatry that they would not repent.

11 Who was it you dreaded, and feared, that you should betray me, no longer remember me and not spare a thought for me? Was I not silent for a long time? 12 So you cannot have been afraid of me.
Through His prophet God asks the people why they didn't fear betraying Him. He condemned the worship of idols and promised them judgment for the sin of idolatry (i.e., Ex 20:4-6; Lev 19:4; Dt 4:15-20; 6:4; 27:15), but since He was patient with them and gave them time to repent, they didn't believe His promise of divine retribution any more than they believed His promises of blessings for faithfulness.

12b Now I shall expose this uprightness of yours, and little good it did you. 13 When you cry for help, let those thronging round you save you! The wind will carry them all away, one puff will take them off. But whoever trusts in me will inherit the country [earth], he will own my holy mountain.
But when the time for repentance is past and it is the time for divine judgment, they will cry out to their idols to save them, but to no avail because deliverance will not come. The idols will be destroyed and blown away like the wind in the time of judgment.

Question: What hope does God offer to those who put their faith and trust in Yahweh in the time of judgment and divine retribution in verse 13b?
Answer: In the temporal sense, the one who keeps his/her faith in the midst of tribulation will inherit the earth of the Promise Land to which they will return and will worship Yahweh again on His holy mountain in Jerusalem in the rebuilt Temple.

Isaiah 57:14-21 ~ Salvation for the Weak and Judgment for the Wicked
14 Then it will be aid: Level up, level up, clear the way, remove the obstacle from my people's way, 15 for thus says the High and Exalted One who lives eternally and whose name is holy, "I lie in the holy heights but I am with the contrite and humble, to revive the spirit of the humble, to revive the heart of the contrite. 16 For I do not want to be forever accusing nor always to be angry, or the spirit would fail under my onslaught, the souls that I myself have made. 17 Angered by his wicked cupidity, I hid and struck him in anger, but he rebelliously went the way of his choice. 18 I saw how he behaved, but I shall heal him, I shall lead him, fill him with consolation, his and those who mourn for him, 19 bringing praise to their lips. Peace, peace to far and near, Yahweh says; and I shall heal him." The wicked, however, are like the restless sea that cannot be still, whose waters throw up mud and dirt. "No peace", says Yahweh, "for the wicked."

For the righteous that did not fall into sin but remained faithful to Yahweh's covenant, God will bring healing and restoration, but He will bring judgment to the wicked. This will be accomplished in four phases:

  1. God will build a "highway" to bring His people home (57:14).
  2. He will be with the humble and contrite even as He brings judgment to the unrepentant, rebellious sinners who acted out of their own free (57:15-17).
  3. In spite of their past sin, God will proclaim the restoration as He heals, guides and comforts His people (57:18-19).
  4. He will warn those who persist in wickedness that they can have no peace apart from Him (57:20-21).

Yahweh says: "18 I saw how he behaved, but I shall heal him, I shall lead him, fill him with consolation, him and those who mourn for him, 19 bringing praise to their lips. Peace, peace to far and near, Yahweh says; and I shall heal him."
God saw the sins of Israel/Judah, but He will forgive and console "returning His people to Him in the liturgy of worship. And, God will extend His peace to those who seek Him that are far and near "to the Jew who is "near" and to the Gentile who is "far" God will bring spiritual healing.

The wicked, however, are like the restless sea that cannot be still, whose waters throw up mud and dirt. "No peace", says Yahweh, "for the wicked."
St. Jude may have been thinking of this verse when he wrote concerning the wicked: They are like the clouds blown about by the winds and bringing no rain, or like autumn trees, barren and uprooted and so twice dead; like wild sea waves with their own shame for foam; or like the wandering stars for whom the gloom of darkness is stored up forever ... They are mischief-makers, grumblers governed only by their own desires, with mouths full of boastful talk, ready to flatter others for gain (Jude verses 13 and 16).

St. Paul wrote about the peace of God that Jesus brings to mankind: He came to bring the good news of peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. Through him, then, we both in the one Spirit have free access to the Father (Eph 2:17-18). The wicked lack knowledge of God because they do not possess the Spirit; they know nothing except what they have learnt through their unaided natural powers, and if they persist in their rebellion they will never experience the eternal peace that God offers as a free gift of grace "they will only reap their own destruction.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Imagine that you are an ordinary believer in Isaiah's day.
How would you have responded to Isaiah's message?
How do you see that Isaiah's promised blessings are available to you today?
What do you need to do to claim those blessings?

Endnote:
1. To charge for spiritual gifts is the sin of simony; see CCC 2121-22

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references:

Is 55:1 (CCC 694, 2121); 55:3 (CCC 762)