Connections 09.25.2016: The Power of Promise

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Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

In these verses, Isaiah switches back and forth between his voice and that of the Lord. First Isaiah proclaims the promises, comfort, goodness, and restoration of God (Isa 61:1-4); then God speaks of justice and covenant and the renown of God’s people (vv. 8-9); and Isaiah finishes by rejoicing in the Lord (vv. 10-11).

As followers of God, we are sometimes given the delicate responsibility of speaking for God. But we must also listen to God to be sure we are proclaiming truth instead of opinion or speculation. Isaiah was certainly a prophet who listened to the Lord. The writings that bear his name—whether they include his words or the words of those who wrote in his behalf—tell of hope, rebuilding, justice, and mercy. The book of Isaiah is full of God’s promises.

Promises are powerful. Over the years, I’ve learned not to use the words “I promise” unless I’m certain I can follow through. To be honest, it was relatively easy to say “I promise” on my wedding day. We were young and fresh and excited. We were naïve but also full of hope in our future. The promises we made fifteen years ago have not always been easy to live out in our married life together, but we are both aware that those promises stand—and that the breaking of them causes devastation. Restoration can come out of such loss, but it is hard won. My husband and I know that too.

We didn’t make our wedding-day promises lightly. We made them in a spirit of innocence and determination, with little understanding of the ways they could and would be tested. God doesn’t make promises lightly either. But neither does God make them in a spirit of innocence. We can be confident that our Lord is well aware of every single test to come. God knows the gravity of God’s promises. To me, this makes it even more meaningful that God promises us anything at all.

God owes us nothing. But God has given us everything.

My prayer is that I will wake each day and stand on the foundation of God’s promises. They are sure. They are true. They are tested and they hold fast. May I, like Isaiah, “greatly rejoice in the LORD,” so that “my whole being shall exult in my God” (v. 10).

Discussion

1. What are some promises you have made? What promises have others made to you?
2. Why do we make promises? How can they help and/or harm our relationships?
3. What does it take to keep a promise in the midst of unexpected events or circumstances? When might it be okay to break a promise?
4. What are some of God’s promises that mean the most to you?
5. How can you stand more firmly on the promises of God and share them with others?

Reference Shelf

The Spirit of the LORD God again assumes an important role in the chapters (as in 42:1 and 59:21). Verses 1-3 are like the “servant song” of 50:4-11. Jesus quotes it in Luke 4:16-20; the words pick up the theme of joy from chap. 40.

A solitary person speaks in Jerusalem of the LORD’s calling. His task is to bring good news to the oppressed (v. 1). The consistent understanding of the prophetic calling relates to the poor and the oppressed. The announcement is of liberty and of release.

The message is all contained in the announcement of the year of the LORD’s favor (v. 2). This sounds like the Year of Jubilee in Lev. 25. It refers to a time when the land holdings will be reassigned and renewed for all the villagers. Provide (v. 3) can be translated “assign” and refer exactly to that.

Judeans, whether returnees or survivors in Jerusalem, fit the description of the oppressed, the captives, the mourners. The time first envisioned in chap. 40 has arrived when all things shall be turned around, with blessing in place of sorrow.

The great reversal in their fortunes is described in v. 3, when they are called oaks of righteousness (what a contrast to the stump in 6:13!). Planted by the LORD to display his glory. The practical effect is to change the ruined city into a thriving, beautiful city.

Israel’s specific calling will be service as priests of the LORD. Other peoples can perform the other tasks that are needed. Israel is the servant to worship the LORD. The other roles as rulers can be assigned to the Persian authorities. Supporting roles can well be filled by others. But ministry in the LORD’s house must be handled primarily by Israel.

John D. W. Watts, “Isaiah,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 609.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.

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