The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city. deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks,
These words of Isaiah are concluding a section in which he promises, in God’s name, that things are going to change! He directly addresses complacency, warning that the very things we can delight in are the most liable to changing – but the rhythm of these chapters has a pattern of renewal, not destruction. We all need renewal at stages in our life of faith, particularly when we have become too attached to the ‘pleasant fields and fruitful vines’ or have begun to trust in ‘citadel and watchtower’ instead of in the person of God. Things can change in an instant!
till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes like a fertile field and the fertile field seems like a forest.
Jesus’ ministry was the long pouring out of the Spirit of God. Although he promised his disciples that the Helper would come ‘after’ him, he himself, ‘filled with God’s spirit’, had brought God near and their awakening faith – which is the gift only of God’s spirit – proved that they had begun to receive. This also has the sense that times of renewal and over-turning will necessarily end in a pouring-out of God’s spirit upon us.
The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field.
Reading this today I saw the person of the Lord’s justice, Jesus, heading out into the desert to dwell there before his ministry and I heard a voice like is written so many times in the Gospel saying, ‘As it is written…’ I’m sure that as he went, consciously choosing to and unconsciously fulfilling all the prophecies made about him, Jesus would have had these words of Isaiah in his head. The desert is easy to recognise – where is the fertile field? Well, Jesus loved to talk in the metaphors of a farmer. He called himself a sower in a field. Was he choosing to align his behaviour with an ancient prophecy? That seems like inspired marketing to me.
The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
Every cycle of disruption and calming does have permanent effects in our character, in the same way that every storm that bends the branches of a tree leaves that tree stronger in places, barer in others. I’m increasingly aware of ‘renewal’ cycles, which I think happen constantly at different scales in our lives. At this time of year I love to attend the Renewal conference in South London, where I personally challenge myself to accept disruption of my habits of sung worship – and danced worship – to receive a lasting confidence and quietness. I can attribute significant changes in my character and my way of life to going to Renewal like this in the last few years and I can’t wait to be there on January 30th.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is levelled completely, how blessed will you be, sowing your seed by every stream and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.
God does not want us to bind ourselves up in the ‘security’ of wealth, you see. We are less able to sow, less able to care for our responsibilities – whether animals, the natural world, communities or individuals. He will disrupt us. We can accept that and grow to depend on him more or be left like those barren ruins. I don’t think this a threat from the prophet – he is simply explaining a truth about the process of change. His inspiration, his insight, as a gift from God, should prompt us to obedience and a keenness to live in reality, but with an insider’s knowledge of what is to come. Roll on the new year!