Until recently, I had missed the contextual power of Isaiah 55:10-11. Commentator Alec Motyer helped me see the wonder of these verses in a new way. They promise:
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 (ESV).
I had thought of them as primarily a comfort for those who are speaking the gospel; and they are. Often, Christians use this text to encourage a brother who with great trepidation spoke to a non-Christian or in some difficult circumstance. His words may not have been eloquent, but God’s word was spoken, and we take comfort in knowing that they have power. That is not a wrong application, but the context presses us to an higher purpose and even better use for these great promises.
These words of comfort were given to those who were straying and should have been running to God instead. The whole chapter compels sinners to come to the Lord. Isaiah 55:6-7 rises to the crescendo:
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 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.
Verses eight and nine go on to declare the superiority of God’s ways and thoughts as motivation to seek him.
Then, Isaiah 55:10-11 assures the straying soul that if he would truly seek the Lord, God’s word will not return empty in his life, but it will accomplish God’s purposes and cause his soul to flourish. These lines are an assurance to seeking souls more than to sputtering spokespersons.
Two fresh applications flow from this understanding:
- We should seek God in his word ourselves knowing that our souls will certainly flourish if we do.
- We should draw close enough to wayward souls and unbelievers to speak these words of hope to them personally. With love, we plead that they would seek the Lord and then graciously and vividly assure them that God’s word will cause their own souls to bear rich fruit, if only they would seek God in his word. If you are a Christian but have never used these verses in your personal witness, do it. What a privilege that the Lord has given Isaiah 55:10-11 to us to give to others who still need to seek him!
(The essence of this article was originally posted in January, 2014.)
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