During the First Gulf War, a young husband from our small-town church was called up to serve. While he was in Iraq his wife had a very public affair. Upon returning home he heard about the whole thing. He had a great love for his wife and a strong desire to keep his family together for the sake of their two small children. He forgave her.
One night, in a large Bible study group, she broke down and shared the whole story. She concluded by saying, “The question for me is this: How can I live with his forgiveness?”
Israel faced a similar dilemma. In chapter 56 Isaiah points out that Israel’s leaders are corrupt. In chapter 57 he condemns Israel’s worship. In chapter 58 he calls them to obedience. In chapter 59 Isaiah calls the people of Israel to confession and to prepare for judgment. God’s glory is the theme for Isaiah in chapter 60 as the prophet reminds his people of God’s power. He tells the people that God will gather all the nations together. In chapter 61 Isaiah shares his prophetic call to preach good news. He even makes reference to the law governing the release of slaves after a period of six years of service. In this way the reader is given a hint of what is to come.
Finally, in chapter 62, Isaiah lifts up this incredible image of love and restoration. God will not rest, Isaiah explains, until Zion and Jerusalem’s “vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch” (v. 1).
In verse 2 Isaiah explains that the people will receive a new name from the mouth of God. The name, given by the Lord, is a sign of vindication. Israel will become like a crown or diadem, beautiful in the hand of God. Then God’s renaming process swings into full force: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married” (v. 4).
Isaiah tells the people that God will delight in them “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Verse 5 also adds that the builder will marry the bride. The builder is God and the bride is Israel.
It might be helpful to note the corporate nature of both the sin and the redemption pictured by Isaiah. God’s people are at fault, but God’s love redeems the entire nation. Scripture fully takes into account that while sin often has a corporate origin, it always has a community effect. Because sin affects so many, the need of redemption is even greater. Therefore, the redeeming force must be tremendously powerful.
Last summer we were trying to kill the weeds in our yard. Unfortunately, no matter how we tried, we failed. The home next to us was empty. No one was caring for the yard there, and the weeds had taken over. No matter what we did, the weeds from next door soon found a way to spread into our yard.
In a similar way, Isaiah’s Israel is caught up in shared sin. Leaders influence citizens. The demands of the citizens influence leaders. The clergy end up in the middle of everything. When one group gets a little better, another group drags them back down into the pit of sin. Israel needs a complete sin control solution. God’s love will provide the answer.
This text from Isaiah offers a powerful symbol of redemption. It will remind some of the image of Christ as the bridegroom found in Revelation. It is also reminiscent of the story of the prophet Hosea and his wayward wife, Gomer, who is also redeemed to demonstrate God’s love.
The Gospel reading for this day is John 2:1-11, the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana. Among other meanings, the story gives us a glimpse at the joy of a wedding. Within that joy the glory of Christ is revealed.
God’s glory is revealed in Isaiah’s wedding scene as well, not by turning water into wine, but through a similar miraculous process. Jesus takes common water and turns it into precious wine. In like manner, God takes common sinners and turns them into a royal bride. By uniting with God in spiritual marriage, the nation is redeemed and made new again despite its sinful past. In the ancient world, a bride’s purity was of ultimate concern. The purity of the bride assured the purity of the marriage. In this scenario, however, Isaiah recognizes that the bride, Israel, is less than pure. The bride is made pure through the act of marriage. The bride is purified not because of any action on the bride’s part; the bride is redeemed and made pure due to the gracious and pure love of the bridegroom.
I grew up in a small Midwestern town. A young girl I went to school with had a difficult life. She went out with the wrong kind of boys and at much too early an age. When she was a junior in high school she had a baby out of wedlock. In those days there was a great stigma attached to such an event. The girl’s sad life became even more miserable. A boy from a fine local family asked the girl to visit his church youth group. He felt that was what Jesus would want him to do. She went. Eventually they became great friends and were married. Today she is a wonderful wife and mother. Many of the man’s friends consider him very lucky to have such a wife.
Love can redeem anyone from any situation. That is God’s powerful promise!