We begin this week learning one of the most profound messages of consolation in sacred text. In essence, however great our promise and however disappointing our waywardness, God always seeks our return and creates a path back for it.
Moses teaches powerfully of God’s oneness, our duties to the Divine, and the bounteous blessings that come when we live in God’s ways. The importance of this covenant is significant for those it binds, but it extends even beyond our boundaries to touch the whole world. “For this is your wisdom and your understanding that the nations shall hear.” And, thus, its violation is especially egregious in God’s eyes. “When…you corrupt…yourselves…and…do evil…you will provoke your God.”
As we turn to Isaiah, we see instantly that the people did just that, betraying God, and doing so severely, even after many warnings and encouragements to stay true.
So, what’s Isaiah’s message in this text? I suggest it’s threefold.
First, God’s mercy is expansive. God asks the prophet to comfort the people in exile and then asks him to comfort them again, as if to show a special lovingkindness. The path back is to be straight. God’s promise of covenant will “stand forever” as the glory of God “will be revealed” to “all flesh.” God is our Redeemer, our Shepherd, and, though we are too often prone to dishonor this truth through idolatry, the One to Whom nothing can be likened.
Second, God’s mercy does not come cheap. There’s a heavy price that is paid by those who abandon God, and do so in front of the nations to whom they were instead to bring the Divine light. Those in ancient times lost the Temple, were devastated and sent into exile, and suffered degradation in Babylonia.
Finally, however, God does not seek our destruction, but rather our return. The good news comes from high into the mountain: “Behold your God:” Our triumph, our reward, our recompense – all are God’s ultimately. And that truth, the linking of our beneficent fate to the Eternal, is indeed doubly comforting.