Woe to the sinful nation. Woe to those who enlarge their estates and build their portfolios. Woe to the drunks. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. Woe to the proud who are wise in their own eyes. Woe to Congressmen who pass unjust laws and to judges who defend them. Woe to those who try to hide their plans from God. Woe to rebellious children. Woe to those who trust in guns and bombs. Woe to those who spoil their neighbors. Woe to sons who fight their fathers. Woe to everyone who fights his Creator.
Isaiah pronounces more woes than any other prophet. Twenty times in Isaiah, he announces doom, destruction, punishment, sorrow, pain.
And then, the twenty-first woe turns inside out.
The very same Hebrew word opens Isaiah 55, but it’s not another woe. The Servant has borne Zion’s sins and sorrows, He has risen from the grave, and He has turned woe to “Ho!” Isaiah’s warnings have given way to an invitation. The Servant has transformed the wasteland into a marketplace.
Like Lady Wisdom, Zion spreads a table and calls everyone to enjoy her wine and bread, water and milk. It’s happened before. Once God gave water and bread to His people in the wilderness. Zion became a wilderness, and He again supplies food and drink. But this is new. After the Servant, Yahweh doesn’t just sustain His people in the wasteland. Rather, His fruitless people become the source of food and drink. Zion is the new Rock that flows with water. Zion is the storehouse of heavenly bread. Yahweh raises up a new David who is like a new Joseph, who gives bread to the nations.
Zion will have customers. Nations that Israel has never heard of, nations that have never heard of Israel, will come running. They’ll hear about the free water and bread, free milk and wine, hear that Yahweh has glorified Zion, and they’ll cross the sea to get their share of the miracle city, the city rising from the dead.
Zion’s market is open, and you don’t need silver. You don’t need to compare prices because there are no prices. Yet if you accept Zion’s hospitality, which is God’s hospitality, you have to abandon your own ways and give up your own plans. We like to think our thoughts correspond to God’s thoughts, our plans to God’s plans. Isaiah found early that this is not so. When he saw the Lord of Hosts, high and lifted up on His throne, he discovered he had unclean lips and lived among a people of unclean lips. He learned that God’s ways are as high above ours as heaven is high above the earth. “Seek and you will find,” the Lord says, but seeking God means giving up wicked ways of life and abandoning our own plans.
To buy at Zion’s market, you have to stop enlarging your estate. You have to stop being a drunk. You have to humble yourself. You have to stop trying to hide your plans from God. You have to stop fighting your parents. You have to stop fighting your Father who is in heaven. Don’t be deceived, Paul says. Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, the effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, the envious, drunks, revilers, swindlers will not inherit the kingdom. Isaiah’s warnings have given way to an invitation, his “woes” have turned to a “ho!” But only the repentant can receive the invitation.
Easter promises abundant pardon. By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father assures us that He has had compassion on us and will forgive all our sins. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.” But Easter demands that we turn from our own ways and our own thoughts. By raising Jesus, the Father appointed Him as judge of the living and dead. Once God overlooked sin, Paul tells the philosophers on Mars Hill, but now He declares that everyone everywhere should repent because He has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness through an appointed Man, and given proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. The message of Easter is, Come, Rejoice! The message of Easter is also, Repent! Don’t think for a moment you can have the joy of Easter without turning from your sins.
But there’s good news. God hasn’t hidden His thoughts and ways. God has spoken His heavenly thoughts and maps out His heavenly ways in the Word that comes from heaven, in the living Word eternally breathed from the mouth of the Father, t who became flesh for us. We can walk God’s higher, heavenly path and think His higher heavenly thoughts because in the last days He spoke in His Son, and by the Spirit we have received the mind of Christ.
Rain and snow make the earth fruitful. Rain gives the earth the power to give the gifts of seed and bread. Rain is a heavenly gift that gives earth the power to give. So too, God’s word descends to the earth, to Zion, to us, to reveal His thoughts and ways and to give us the power to give. Zion has been a wilderness, but the rain of the Word falls on the barren land and does what it promises. In place of a wilderness, pocked with thorns and briers, God plants a grove and a garden, and all creation – the mountains and the hills and the valleys, and all the clapping trees – joins to praise God at the revelation of the sons of God.
God has called us to repentance by raising His Son from the dead and by that heavenly Word, the Word that reveals God’s thoughts and ways, we sprout and flower and produce all the fruits of the Spirit. When the Word rains from heaven to turn us from our own thoughts and ways to God’s thoughts and ways, we become a market offering bread and water, wine and milk for the life of the world.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis.