God promises not to abandon Israel again

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer. To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD , who has compassion on you. (Isa 54:7-10)

God comes to Israel as a husband (“for thy maker is your husband”, v 5) comes back to the wife he has abandoned (“for the Lord has called you as a forsaken wife” v 6) to explain why he has abandoned her and promised never to treat her so badly again.

God declares his everlasting love, despite the brief abandonment. He reminds her of another time he abandoned her but promised never to threaten her with drowning, and reminds her that he kept that promise, so he can be trusted to keep this promise. His love is as sure and solid as the mountains that surround them. He promises to give her expensive, beautiful gifts (v 11-12), to give her children and teach them (‘great shall be the peace of your children’ v 13) and to keep her safe  (‘no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper’ v 17).

Honestly, I am having trouble writing this commentary. What can I say about a passage in which God shows signs of being an abusive husband? It’s an uncomfortable place for me to be. I prefer images of God in which God is purging us of our badness through a refiner’s fire, or images in which God goes through the fire with us (as with Daniel in the fiery furnace). This image of an temporary abandonment which God promises never to repeat worries me–and, let’s be frank, Israel did feel the abandonment of God again after these words were prophesied. I am glad its not a dominant image for God’s relationship with us.

So, I will just sit with these verses and leave them unexplained for now. Perhaps  readers would like to weigh in, and I will become wiser for it.

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About Will Fitzgerald

I work on recommendation systems and lexical resources for Wordnik.

2 thoughts on “God promises not to abandon Israel again

  1. Carole says:

    Will, it is true that verses where God turns away from the chosen people are uncomfortable to read. Anytime God needs to apply discipline to a situation, it is hard to bear. There are several things in this passage to keep in mind. First, this passage is written during a time when the kingdom of Israel (or perhaps it was Judah by now) had gone astray themselves. If God was an abusive or abandoning husband, it was in response to an unfaithful wife. Second, in the culture this was written in unfaithful women were more than just abandoned. The law says they could be killed! So by just abandoning them and then coming back to them was showing mercy and compassion for the times. Third, remember that this is writings of someone who is seeing ‘as through a window darkly’ the reasons and motivations for God seemingly to abandon the chosen people. Just as God does not become involved in politics now, so God did not meddle in the political ebbs and flows then. If you substituted Germany in the early 1900’s or again in the 1940’s, Vietnam in the 1960’s or any other country or nation that has suffered for Israel, it would be within the same realms of metaphor. Fourth, consider it from the wife’s side. She knows what she is guilty of. She knows she had gone astray again and again. And she fears that this last time was the end of her husband’s patience. She knows what he expects of her, but she ignores it anyway. So imagine her surprise and delight when she hears that he forgives her and is coming back to her. And moreover, he promises never to leave again and will be tolerant of her weaknesses. In that sense, this is a passage of rejoicing. Fifth, and finally, this passage is directed at a nation and not an individual. The individual costs of the years of suffering is not counted, but the course of the nation’s history is.
    There are commentaries that explain the individual references and meanings, both in the context of the times it was written (that is what the jewels mention in other verses are) and in light of New Testament understandings of Jesus as Messiah.
    I hope my thoughts have given you some new ideas for looking at this passage. And I invite others to add to this or respond to what I wrote. Shalom, Carole

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  2. […] partner at the time said he was uncomfortable with the image presented in this passage of Isaiah. [December 21, 2009] God abandoning the Lord’s people? Becoming angry and hiding the Divine Face? And my writing […]

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