Like the Rain

Our Old Testament Lesson this week comes from Isaiah 55 which happens to be one of the most fascinating chapters in the bible.  Not because it is part of the grand-narrative (what we are studying on Wednesday). But because of what it reveals about God and the metaphors it uses.

The first metaphor is one of commerce, but it is unlike any commerce we are familiar with. I sometimes joke that God operates in the Star Trek economy.  If you are a Trekkie you know what I am talking about.  The replicators, magical devices that turn energy into any matter that you want, have eliminated cash, physical exchange and in general any physical lack.  God declares in Isaiah 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”  The Kingdom in its fullness runs like the Star Trek economy.

But it then moves from such physical goods as wine and milk to a deeper question. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isa. 55:2)”  Now there is always the reply “ain’t no rest for the wicked…I’ve got bills to pay and I’ve got mouths to feed.” But even the man struggling with the necessities in the fallen world doesn’t do these things simply because they are bread. He does these out of love, duty, pity and number of much deeper things.  What God is offering in the Kingdom is the solid reason.  “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live (Isa. 55:2-3)” The real bread is the bread of life.  With this bread your soul – your self – lives.  And this bread comes first through the ear.

And what is this bread?  Like the cynical Samaritan woman at the well when Jesus starts to talk of the living water, “Sir, give me this water, so that I don’t have to return to this stinking well (John 4:15),” we might not have caught the change in the metaphor. This body is fed with water and bread.  The soul has it’s water and bread, but that is something much different.  The soul’s bread are the promises of God. “I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isa. 55:3).”  And Isaiah traces that promise as not just to the people of Israel, but that covenant with David is a covenant with all the peoples (Isaiah 55:4-5).  “A nation that did not know you shall run to you.”

Yet this promise, this day of Grace, is not something that lasts forever.  “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near (Isa. 55:6 ESV).” Today, as you read this, is a day of grace.  “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isa. 55:7).”  Why is it this way?  We wouldn’t pardon enemies that had rebelled against us, why does God? And if we were to do it, we’d be indiscriminate, universal.  If God works in the Start Trek economy, why is there a time limit?  “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Isa. 55:8).”  Not a completely satisfying answer, but consistent and true.  “What is the pot to speak back to the potter? (Romans 9:20). Who is this who darkens my council without understanding (Job 38:2).  The secret things of God remain his forever (Deuteronomy 29:29).” But this he has revealed to us.  Today is the day of His Grace.

How does this bread come to our souls?  Here the prophet switches metaphors from commerce to weather. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10-11).”  The word of God is like the rain shower.

Living in New York, it rained quite a bit.  It was a wet climate.  The next shower was never more than a day or two away. We took it for granted. Living in the desert, it’s been a month, maybe two. We don’t know when.  We don’t know how.  We don’t control it.  We only know it when it happens. The entire place longs for that monsoon that drenches everything.  And it is that rain that brings forth the ending promise. “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off (Isa. 55:12-13).”

Peace and joy and fruitfulness depend upon that rain. And you know it when you hear it.  Seek the Lord while he may be found.  Today is the day of grace.

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