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. Isaiah 55 Israel is in exile.  They’re still far away from home.  They’re still questioning their own significance and purpose as individuals and a nation.  The longer the exile lasts, the more they forget who they are.

Isaiah 55 drops like a million water balloons on a desert.  As these words fall from the prophet to the ears of Israel, the hearers must have had mixed emotions.  They heard loudly the promise of deep satisfaction.  But how could such provision happen here?  In the midst of an emotional and religious land mine?  In a place where we’re reminded of our unwelcomed alien status?  In a place we don’t ultimately belong serving a seemingly irrelevant kingdom?

The first part of Isaiah 55 promises comfort, abundance, rest and a continuing Davidic covenant.

The last verses affirm the weight of God’s words.  God isn’t Danielle Steele, using words like toilet paper.  God’s words are loaded with his mission and vision for the fulfillment of his purposes on earth.  He speaks order into chaos and light into darkness.  His words are capsules of his own heart falling into our laps.

But my favorite part of these last verses isn’t the powerful, earth-shattering word as much as it is God’s willingness to speak these words.  This God who comforts, this God who gives wine and milk to people who don’t have money is communicating that he takes responsibility for these people.  It isn’t about their willingness to earn—it’s about his willingness to give.  It isn’t about their longing for mercy—it’s about God’s willingness to comfort.  And here, it’s not about our ability to listen—it’s about God’s willingness to speak.

I get antsy sometimes wondering if I’m hearing from God, especially when I am having an exile moment.  It happens in moments of big decisions, but even in the midst of daily life, I wonder what it even means to listen.  Do I go with the gut feeling?  Do I go with the majority peer pressure vote?

In the text, God says, “Incline your ear to me; listen so that you may live”.  We can ascertain that listening brings life.  But Isaiah 55 doesn’t give us a good foothold on what it means to listen.  Instead, the text shows us a God who is willing to speak—a gracious God who loves wastefully.

I remember being 6 and watching a stage production of “Annie” (which sparked a mild obsession with my own acting career for the next 15 years).  After the show, the lights went out as everyone pushed for the door.  I grabbed my mom’s leg, scared to lose her in the crowd.  Once outside, I heard my mom’s voice calling me.  I looked up and saw that the woman I was holding on to was not the source of the voice.  I ran to my mom, the one calling my name and grabbed on to the proper arms to which I belonged.

I’ve learned that God calls our name, drawing us back to the arms to which we belong.  God is far more concerned with us hearing from him than we are.  Sure, we can miss God.  Of course, we can refuse to listen.  But it’s also true that God takes responsibility for placing his words in our heart and our mind and he takes responsibility for these words accomplishing what he’s set for them to do.  Isaiah 55 offers rest in those times when we want so much to focus on our skills in discerning God’s voice.  In the exile of unbelief, distance or frustration, God reminds us that connectedness and true satisfaction come not from the sheep’s listening skills, but from the Shepherd’s readiness to speak.