There is an extraordinary likeness between this week’s verses both in Deuteronomy and Isaiah. In the first, God teaches us to show love and mercy to those over whom we have power, principally by limiting our will in favor of serving their needs. Then, in some of the most moving verses anywhere in sacred text, in Isaiah, God actually models this lesson in a remarkable display of love and mercy for us.
In Deuteronomy, though the text may sometimes appear ancient to our modern eyes, we are taught the virtue of loving-kindness.
For example, when a soldier takes a beautiful woman captive in war, he may be tempted to ravish her. God teaches that the urge be resisted and that respect and propriety be shown.
When the ravenous hunger and power of the hunter drives him to take the mother bird in the nest along with her young, God says no, and insists upon respecting the feelings of the bird and avoiding cruelty.
When a day worker does tasks for us, God helps us resist the temptation to hold on to our money but rather pay the worker the wages he/she needs on the same day the work was delivered.
When we want to strictly enforce the terms of loans we make, God helps us understand to be caring in our actions, especially if they might unduly pinch the poor or the widow.
In Isaiah, the scene changes. It still involves the Teacher teaching. But, here, the Teacher is principally serving as the Consoler and the students are now those who are bereaved. God is addressing the remnant who, while having suffered the degradation and pain of exile for having strayed, now seek reconciliation and return.
God is present with them to hear and comfort. “Sing out, O barren one,” God exclaims. Forgiveness will be theirs. “Fear not, for you will not be shamed; do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced.” Upon their return, God receives them back with love. “With eternal kindness shall I show you mercy, says God, your Redeemer.”
God’s compassion for the weak and wayward who have returned is powerful. The Divine seeks that their song turn jubilant, that they foresee a more hopeful and expansive future than ever. “Broaden the place of your tent and let the curtains of your dwellings stretch out…for you will burst out to the right and to the left; your offspring shall inherit nations.”
Just as God asks us to limit our will to show love to others in need, God actually limits the Divine will to show love to us. “Just as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would never again pass over the earth…, My kindness shall not be removed from you and My covenant of peace shall not falter, said the One Who shows you mercy.”
The covenant between God and humankind was never, nor will it ever be, simple. But the God Who expects us to love and show mercy to others is the God Who loves and shows mercy to us.