Isaiah 55:6-13– My Word Shall Not Return to Me Empty

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Secretum Meum Mihi Press

Isaiah 55:6-13: My Word Shall Not Return to Me Empty

by Kristen West McGuire

Isaiah 55:6-13 (Douay Rheims Bible, 1899)

Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found: call upon him, while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God: for he is bountiful to forgive. For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts. And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall sing praise before you, and all the trees of the country shall clap their hands. Instead of the shrub, shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the nettle, shall come up the myrtle tree: and the Lord shall be named for an everlasting sign, that shall not be taken away.

Context: The book of Isaiah is divided by scholars into three sections. This section is supposed to have been composed by “deutero-Isaiah”, a prophet writing in Isaiah’s stead after the Babylonian exile. You are probably more familiar with the first chapters of Deutero-Isaiah, memorialized by Handel’s Messiah: “Comfort ye…comfort ye, my people…Behold your God.”

Deutero-Isaiah was relentlessly encouraging. He’s writing to a dispirited people, devastated by the destruction of Jerusalem, and exiled by the Babylonians. The temple, the center of their religious beliefs, is gone. The need to repent is past; God’s mercy awaits!

Translation: This biblical passage originally appeared in Hebrew. It was translated into Greek for Jews in the diaspora, called the Septuagint. In the fourth century, St. Jerome translated the Septuagint into the Latin Vulgate – which was then translated into the Douay Rheims edition in English.

Vocabulary:

“Seek ye the LORD”: This phrase was commonly used to call the faithful to the temple. With the temple destroyed, it was understood as an exhortation to find Him outside the temple.

my word: Deutero-Isaiah speaks in verse 11 of “my word” not like a message, but an event. Later Christian commentators would find here a prophecy of the Messiah, but for Israel, it acknowledges the nearness of God’s saving hand.

void: Many other translations render this word as “empty,” as it has the connotation of annihilation or purposelessness. God has a purpose for each of us.

Meditation: My husband and children shudder when Christmas approaches, because all through Advent, I belt out impoverished attempts at the alto parts for Handel’s Messiah. “The voice that crieth in the wilderness” isn’t so much preparing the way of the Lord as caterwauling.

But I remind them that “my word shall not return to me void,” says the Lord. It ranks on my list of top ten Bible verses. Nothing God creates lacks a purpose. We are each uniquely formed according to his purpose.

Omnipotence means his purpose is already taking into account our weaknesses and failings. Each moment, He is creating new possibilities for us to participate in His saving plan for His glory. Even bad cantatas sung in bathrooms can be redeemed. Saith your God.

Discussion Questions:

1. God’s ways are not always obvious to us. Talk about a time when God’s purpose was revealed in a place and time that surprised you. Did this incident affect your faith?

2. There are often monotonous and depressing tasks and chores involved in both the workplace and the home. Does God have a purpose for this? Or is a cigar sometimes just a cigar?

3. “Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts,” reminds Isaiah. Oh, those pesky thoughts. A multitude of sins begin in the unfettered thoughts that pepper my cognition. Is there a healthy way to tap into the thoughts of God? If you were to let God be your thought police, what thoughts would he censor? Why?

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