Better times follow bitter days – Wednesday, 4th week of Lent – Isaiah 49:8-15/ John 5:17-30
To be exiled is simply to be kicked out; that’s reality 101 for you. There are several sugar-coated ways of saying the same thing but when played out, it means you are unwanted, whatever the socio-political reason may be. Then, there are those that go into exile, either to make a point as a voice of conscience or because one’s life is threatened.
God sent HIS people, his covenant people into exile. He had promised a relationship that would last forever but while ratifying this covenant he clearly made his demands clear in return for his love and protection. They were to be his people who kept his laws diligently and in return he would be their God. This they failed to do.
We tend to take those we love for granted. We most certainly take God for granted, clinging on to the fantasy that God’s anger will never kick in. When it did, God sent his people into exile for seventy long years. In stead of waking up to God’s anger, the people of Israel were lost in their self-pity and misery. Even now, they would not take responsibility for their sinful past and chose rather to blame God for the situation they found themselves in.
The text of today, which is written in poetic form, must be seen in the totality of all twenty six verses that form this chapter. This text was almost certainly composed during the period of the Babylonian exile (586-539 BCE). This explains the words of the text when the people of Israel are described as a “desolate heritages,” as people in “prison or living in darkness”.
Living in Babylon, the people were surrounded by the symbols of their captors’ might. They are presented as “barren” (49:21; see 54:1), that is, unable to bring about their own future. Their lives were lived in hardship, leaving them dispirited; they had to live in a land surrounded by signs of their own defeat and helplessness. While we know that Israel never really had a change of heart, God on the other hand was nothing short of a bleeding heart.
In response to the alienation and vulnerability of exile, Isaiah offers them words of comfort in chapter 49. Now distance is overcome by intimacy, and helplessness is met by the comforting presence of God. To a people who have suffered a lengthy exile in Babylon, Yahweh is preparing for their return to their homeland.
To reassure his people, Yahweh draws upon the image of a mother’s love. Yahweh has not forgotten them, he has not abandoned them and will not refuse to act with compassion. Though bizarre accounts of unspeakable cruelty surface from time to time, everyone knows that a woman will never forget her nursing child. Even if such a bizarre incident may occur, Yahweh promises that he will not forget his people. In our darkest moments, let us not forget the unchanging intensity of God’s love for us.