The LORD's Everlasting Love for Israel
54 1 "Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby. Fill the air with song, you who've never experienced childbirth! You're ending up with far more children than all those childbearing women." God says so! 2 "Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big! Use plenty of rope, drive the tent pegs deep. 3 You're going to need lots of elbow room for your growing family. You're going to take over whole nations; you're going to resettle abandoned cities. 4 Don't be afraid - you're not going to be embarrassed. Don't hold back - you're not going to come up short. You'll forget all about the humiliations of your youth, and the indignities of being a widow will fade from memory. 5 For your Maker is your bridegroom, his name, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! Your Redeemer is The Holy of Israel, known as God of the whole earth.
6 You were like an abandoned wife, devastated with grief, and God welcomed you back, Like a woman married young and then left," says your God. 7 Your Redeemer God says: "I left you, but only for a moment. Now, with enormous compassion, I'm bringing you back. 8 In an outburst of anger I turned my back on you - but only for a moment. It's with lasting love that I'm tenderly caring for you. 9 "This exile is just like the days of Noah for me: I promised then that the waters of Noah would never again flood the earth. I'm promising now no more anger, no more dressing you down. 10 For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces, My love won't walk away from you, my covenant commitment of peace won't fall apart." The God who has compassion on you says so.
11 "Afflicted city, storm-battered, unpitied: I'm about to rebuild you with stones of turquoise, Lay your foundations with sapphires, 12 construct your towers with rubies, Your gates with jewels, and all your walls with precious stones. 13 All your children will have God for their teacher - what a mentor for your children! 14 You'll be built solid, grounded in righteousness, far from any trouble - nothing to fear! far from terror - it won't even come close! 15 If anyone attacks you, don't for a moment suppose that I sent them, And if any should attack, nothing will come of it. 16 I create the blacksmith who fires up his forge and makes a weapon designed to kill. I also create the destroyer - 17 But no weapon that can hurt you has ever been forged. Any accuser who takes you to court will be dismissed as a liar. This is what God's servants can expect. I'll see to it that everything works out for the best." God's Decree.
A Free Offer of Mercy to All
55 1 "Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway - buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money - everything's free! 2 Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest. 3 Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. I'm making a lasting covenant commitment with you, the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love. 4 I set him up as a witness to the nations, made him a prince and leader of the nations, 5 And now I'm doing it to you: You'll summon nations you've never heard of, and nations who've never heard of you will come running to you Because of me, your God, because The Holy of Israel has honored you."
6 Seek God while he's here to be found, pray to him while he's close at hand. 7 Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking. Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness. 8 "I don't think the way you think. The way you work isn't the way I work." God's Decree. 9 "For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think. 10 Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don't go back until they've watered the earth, Doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, 11 So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They'll do the work I sent them to do, they'll complete the assignment I gave them. 12 "So you'll go out in joy, you'll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause. 13 No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thornbushes, but stately pines - Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God."
The Rewards of Keeping God's Covenant
56 1 God's Message: "Guard my common good: Do what's right and do it in the right way, For salvation is just around the corner, my setting-things-right is about to go into action. 2 How blessed are you who enter into these things, you men and women who embrace them, Who keep Sabbath and don't defile it, who watch your step and don't do anything evil!
3 Make sure no outsider who now follows God ever has occasion to say, 'God put me in second-class. I don't really belong.' And make sure no physically mutilated person is ever made to think, 'I'm damaged goods. I don't really belong.'" 4 For God says: "To the mutilated who keep my Sabbaths and choose what delights me and keep a firm grip on my covenant, 5 I'll provide them an honored place in my family and within my city, even more honored than that of sons and daughters. I'll confer permanent honors on them that will never be revoked. 6 "And as for the outsiders who now follow me, working for me, loving my name, and wanting to be my servants - All who keep Sabbath and don't defile it, holding fast to my covenant - 7 I'll bring them to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. They'll be welcome to worship the same as the 'insiders,' to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices to my altar. Oh yes, my house of worship will be known as a house of prayer for all people." 8 The Decree of the Master, God himself, who gathers in the exiles of Israel: "I will gather others also, gather them in with those already gathered."
9 A call to the savage beasts: Come on the run. Come, devour, beast barbarians! 10 For Israel's watchmen are blind, the whole lot of them. They have no idea what's going on. They're dogs without sense enough to bark, lazy dogs, dreaming in the sun - 11 But hungry dogs, they do know how to eat, voracious dogs, with never enough. And these are Israel's shepherds! They know nothing, understand nothing. They all look after themselves, grabbing whatever's not nailed down. 12 "Come," they say, "let's have a party. Let's go out and get drunk!" And tomorrow, more of the same: "Let's live it up!"
Condemnation of Israel's Idolatry
57 1 Meanwhile, right-living people die and no one gives them a thought. God-fearing people are carted off and no one even notices. The right-living people are out of their misery, they're finally at rest. 2 They lived well and with dignity and now they're finally at peace.
3 "But you, children of a witch, come here! Sons of a slut, daughters of a whore. 4 What business do you have taunting, sneering, and sticking out your tongue? Do you have any idea what wretches you've turned out to be? A race of rebels, a generation of liars. 5 You satisfy your lust any place you find some shade and fornicate at whim. You kill your children at any convenient spot - any cave or crevasse will do. 6 You take stones from the creek and set up your sex-and-religion shrines. You've chosen your fate. Your worship will be your doom. 7 You've climbed a high mountain to practice your foul sex-and-death religion. 8 Behind closed doors you assemble your precious gods and goddesses. Deserting me, you've gone all out, stripped down and made your bed your place of worship. You've climbed into bed with the 'sacred' whores and loved every minute of it, adoring every curve of their naked bodies. 9 You anoint your king-god with ointments and lavish perfumes on yourselves. You send scouts to search out the latest in religion, send them all the way to hell and back. 10 You wear yourselves out trying the new and the different, and never see what a waste it all is. You've always found strength for the latest fad, never got tired of trying new religions. 11 "Who talked you into the pursuit of this nonsense, leaving me high and dry, forgetting you ever knew me? Because I don't yell and make a scene do you think I don't exist? 12 I'll go over, detail by detail, all your 'righteous' attempts at religion, and expose the absurdity of it all.
13 Go ahead, cry for help to your collection of no-gods: A good wind will blow them away. They're smoke, nothing but smoke. "But anyone who runs to me for help will inherit the land, will end up owning my holy mountain!" 14 Someone says: "Build, build! Make a road! Clear the way, remove the rocks from the road my people will travel." 15 A Message from the high and towering God, who lives in Eternity, whose name is Holy: "I live in the high and holy places, but also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed, And what I do is put new spirit in them, get them up and on their feet again. 16 For I'm not going to haul people into court endlessly, I'm not going to be angry forever. Otherwise, people would lose heart. These souls I created would tire out and give up.
17 I was angry, good and angry, because of Israel's sins. I struck him hard and turned away in anger, while he kept at his stubborn, willful ways. 18 When I looked again and saw what he was doing, I decided to heal him, lead him, and comfort him, creating a new language of praise for the mourners. 19 Peace to the far-off, peace to the near-at-hand," says God - "and yes, I will heal them. 20 But the wicked are storm-battered seas that can't quiet down. The waves stir up garbage and mud. 21 There's no peace," God says, "for the wicked.
The Right Observance of Fasts
58 1 "Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back - a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what's wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! 2 They're busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people - law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?' and love having me on their side.
3 But they also complain, 'Why do we fast and you don't look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?' "Well, here's why: "The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. 4 You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won't get your prayers off the ground. 5 Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like? 6 "This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. 7 What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.
8 Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. 9 Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.' A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places "If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, 10 If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. 11 I will always show you where to go. I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places - firm muscles, strong bones. You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. 12 You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.
The Observance of the Sabbath
13 "If you watch your step on the Sabbath and don't use my holy day for personal advantage, If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, God's holy day as a celebration, If you honor it by refusing 'business as usual,' making money, running here and there - 14 Then you'll be free to enjoy God! Oh, I'll make you ride high and soar above it all. I'll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob." Yes! God says so!