Reader: “Even if the forest should be destroyed and the city torn down,”
Response: “the Lord will greatly bless his people.”
Scripture: Isaiah 32:9-20
Listen, you women who lie around in ease.
Listen to me, you who are so smug.
In a short time—just a little more than a year—
you careless ones will suddenly begin to care.
For your fruit crops will fail,
and the harvest will never take place.
Tremble, you women of ease;
throw off your complacency.
Strip off your pretty clothes,
and put on burlap to show your grief.
Beat your breasts in sorrow for your bountiful farms
and your fruitful grapevines.
For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers.
Your joyful homes and happy towns will be gone.
The palace and the city will be deserted,
and busy towns will be empty.
Wild donkeys will frolic and flocks will graze
in the empty forts and watchtowers
until at last the Spirit is poured out
on us from heaven.
Then the wilderness will become a fertile field,
and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops.
Justice will rule in the wilderness
and righteousness in the fertile field.
And this righteousness will bring peace.
Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in safety, quietly at home.
They will be at rest.
Even if the forest should be destroyed
and the city torn down,
the Lord will greatly bless his people.
Wherever they plant seed, bountiful crops will spring up.
Their cattle and donkeys will graze freely.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
In this passage we have the deceptive nature of reality. All of us naturally live in a way expecting tomorrow to be generally like today and the next day the same. Once in a while there is a day of greater significance like a day for a wedding, graduation, surgery, or the beginning of a new job. But most days are pretty ordinary. When things are going well, it’s easy to relax and assume peace and tranquility will prevail.
Our world was in a kind of relative calm like that until the last year or so. Now things are a little off center. The truth is, we live in uncertainty all the time. So how do we function? We can worry, we can become apathetic, or we can put ourselves in control. The people of Isaiah’s day were a combination of the last two; they were complacent and they put their trust in the Egyptians to protect them. It would seem in our day, our cultures adopt all three. There are those people who worry and are fearful of the world situation. Other people are more inclined to live in their own bubble and distance themselves from the problem. And then there are those that put their trust in humankind’s ability to solve the problems. (So far history has demonstrated very limited success with the latter!)
The prophet Isaiah wrote his words giving the people a warning that within a year things would change drastically. Israel had rejected God yet again and was trusting in the power and might of Egypt to protect her from Assyria. Israel was smug. She thought all her bases were covered as it were. She didn’t need God. Isaiah urged Israel to repent in sackcloth and to turn from her complacency. His forecast for God’s people was one of doom. One conjunction changed the direction for Israel and offered a word of hope.
“Until” is a very powerful chronological conjunction. It is a measure of time marking a stopping or starting point. It marks a change in course. It would mark the intervention of God. At last the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon the nation and restoration would happen. The Messiah would bring healing, peace, and safety forever. There would be true blessing for God’s people, even in the midst of turmoil.
Our world today exhibits many of the same characteristics of Israel in Isaiah’s day. Our need for repentance is no less true. It is important to remember that God is one in charge of the “until.” All of time is in his hands. He is still sovereign in the midst of the world’s turmoil. I have no idea what is transpiring in the world today, but I encourage us to heed the words of Isaiah. Let us not be like “the careless ones who will suddenly begin to care.” Let us care now, today, and seek the blessing of the Spirit. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Music: “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” John Rutter
Conducted by John Rutter
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, February 17, 2008
The Mark Thallander Foundation Choir Festival
O Lord, Thy hands have formed us, and Thou hast sent us into this world, that we may walk in the way that leads to heaven and Thyself, and may find a lasting rest in Thee who art the Source and Center of our souls. Look in pity on us poor pilgrims in the narrow way; let us not go astray, but reach at last our true home where our Father dwells. Guide and govern us from day to day, and bestow on us food and strength for body and soul, that we may journey on in peace. Forgive us for having hitherto so often wavered or looked back and let us henceforward march straight on in the way of Thy laws, and may our last step be a safe and peaceful passage to the arms of Thy love, and the blessed fellowship of the saints in light. Hear us, O Lord, and glorify Thy name in us that we may glorify Thee for ever and ever. Amen.
―Gerhard Tersteegen 1697-1769, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.100