Connections 03.24.2019: An Invitation

Isaiah 55:1-9

In the New Revised Standard Version, the title for this section of Scripture is “An Invitation to Abundant Life.” In some Christian traditions, the main focus is the afterlife. From the earliest days of children’s Sunday school, church attenders are taught that Jesus died for their sins and that the only way to be saved and escape the punishment of hell is to believe in Jesus, accept him as Savior, and confess him as Lord. I’ve heard salvation described as “fire insurance”—that is, it protects us from the fires of hell. Preachers in these traditions sometimes deliver so-called “hellfire and damnation” sermons and hold lengthy, guilt-ridden altar calls to get people to accept Jesus into their hearts. The idea is that, though life in this world can be rotten, heaven awaits us when we die.

There is nothing blatantly wrong with this theology; it is good to believe in Jesus and accept his gift of grace and deliverance, and it is also good to trust that God has a place for us after our earthly bodies die. But sometimes the heavenward focus of this theology detracts from the gift of life here and now.

When I served as a volunteer with a church youth group, the focal verse for the group wasn’t John 3:16 or John 14:2 or Romans 6:23. It was John 10:10—“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus certainly came to give us eternal life after death, but he also came that we may live our earthly lives to the fullest.

In our lesson text from Isaiah 55, it’s like God is standing in the middle of a busy marketplace, shouting the joyous news to all who will listen:

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. …Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. (vv. 1-3a)

I’ve italicized some words that highlight God’s generosity: everyone, no money, without money, without price, delight, live. God’s invitation to find delight in our lives is open to all people, and it requires no payment! The only thing we need to do to accept the invitation is come to God and listen. God wants us to live forever with God in the next life. But God also wants us to live fully now in the world God made for us. Let’s accept that invitation and look for ways to live abundantly in the world right now.

Discussion

  1. Why do you think some traditions of Christianity put more focus on eternal life than on earthly life? Do you think this is healthy or harmful? Why?
  2. What might be a good balance between focusing on a full life now and looking ahead to life in heaven with God?
  3. God’s invitation to live an abundant life on earth sounds beautiful, but is it practical?
  4. Do you think it is possible to live an abundant life in God even as we face all the difficulties of being human on this earth? If so, what would an abundant life look like during a crisis such as illness, job loss, or grief?
  5. Name some daily practices you can incorporate into your life that will help you live more abundantly. How can you come to God and listen?

Reference Shelf

Verses 1-5 present an invitation to all, but especially the impoverished and powerless, to the everlasting covenant. Concerning the likely setting for this text, Andrew Abernethy surmises three proposed options: (a) a formal invitation to a sacral feast (cf. Prov 9:1-6, 11); (b) wisdom tradition (cf. Sir 24:19-22); and (c) marketplace—of which he considers the third option most likely: “Isa 55:1-3a presents a street merchant calling on the audience to eat and drink while incorporating wisdom elements into this form” (Abernethy 2014, 120–23).

If considered as a feast, not unlike the eschatological feast, it is all the more important that YHWH promises to provide for all peoples (25:6-8; cf. Prov 9:5): “God’s purpose in the Servant. . . . is the redemption not only of Israel herself but of all [humankind]” (Knight 1984, 189). Moreover, in the ancient Near East, the king would provide meals to his subjects in a hierarchical arrangement (cf. Gen 43:33-34). Israel’s prophet subverts the situation so that it is not the imperial king but YHWH who will provide meals.

At the same time, the recipients of the meals are, first and foremost, those who cannot afford. It is admittedly a communal banquet as implied by the collective exhortation: “Come” (v. 1; cf. 1:18; 2:3, 5). Yet the accompanying modifiers qualify this invitation to “all” in order to emphasize the divine care for those who are thirsty and who have no money. Those with “thirst” frequently pair with those with “hunger,” together signifying the poor, the needy, and the exiled (cf. 5:13; 32:6; 41:17; 49:10; Ps 22:24, 26 [MT 22:25, 27]). Likewise, the expressions “without money” (cf. 46:6; 52:3) and “without cost” (cf. 45:13) reassert YHWH’s unmerited deliverance of the marginalized and the powerless, thereby implicitly marginalizing the powerful and the affluent under the empire: “The everlasting covenant was now to be expanded beyond the privileged elite to embrace the entire community of those obedient to God’s word” (Hanson 1995, 179).

Hyun Chul Paul Kim, Reading Isaiah, Reading the Old Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2016) 252.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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