The prophet Isaiah is receiving visions from God that open to him the long corridor of future time.
The message is mixed.
The first 39 chapters of the book contain a lot of really bad news. The current bogeyman on the world stage, Assyria, is going to be replaced by another equally bad one, Babylon. And Babylon is going to be the hammer that brings judgment to Judah for its persistence in the very sins that have already brought God’s judgment on Israel through Assyria—
- mindless ritualism in worship
- social injustice
And there’s no doubt that this judgment will come.
But starting with chapter 40, the tone and message change dramatically. Words of comfort. Promises of restoration and blessing. A Messiah. A Servant of Yahweh.
Near the end of the book there’s a passage that seems to get odder the longer you think about it.
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet,
Until her righteousness goes forth like brightness,
And her salvation like a torch that is burning.
2 The nations will see your righteousness,
And all kings your glory;
And you will be called by a new name
Which the mouth of the Lord will designate.
3 You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem in the hand of your God (Is 62.1-3).
There’s the promise of blessing, which will surely come to undeserving Jerusalem. But the part that really catches my eye is the first verse. This blessing, this restoration is so critically important to God that he will not stop talking about it. He will not rest until he brings it to pass.
That sets us up for an even more remarkable statement a bit farther down the passage:
6 On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen;
All day and all night they will never keep silent.
You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves;
7 And give Him no rest until He establishes
And makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
God orders his people to hold him to his promise—to badger him, to nag him, to hector him—to “give him no rest” until the promise is fulfilled. And the exclamation point on all this is that he himself has appointed those “watchmen” with the specific task of hectoring him.
God’s really, really serious about keeping his promises.
You’re probably thinking about the implications of this principle for our prayer life, and you’re right to do so; Jesus himself endorses that application.
In Luke 18 Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge who doesn’t care about the people or the cases they bring before him. But there’s this woman who just won’t quit bothering him about her case. Eventually he rules justly, not because he cares for justice, but because he’s sick and tired of the woman’s hectoring. As he puts it, “by continually coming she will wear me out” (Lk 18.5)—literally, “give me a black eye.” No mas, he says.
Unfortunately, some Christians have assumed from this parable that God is like the unjust judge—that he needs to be convinced to help us, that we have to beat him down and wear him out to extract his begrudging grace. But as my colleague Layton Talbert has wisely and reverently noted, this kind of thinking misses the whole point of the passage.
Jesus is not saying that the Father is like the unjust judge; to the contrary, his point is that the Father is not like the judge. This is an a fortiori argument, one from the weaker to the stronger: if even an unjust judge will do the right thing when asked—enough, and with enough force—how much more will your heavenly Father do the right thing when we ask him? If a judge will do this for someone he doesn’t even know or care about, how much more will our Father, who cares for us as his own children, do for us when we ask? (Lk 18.6-7).
God is the kind of person who listens to his children and responds to them generously. He even appoints people to nag him until he keeps his promises (Is 62.6-7), even though he’s completely focused on their good and doesn’t need to be reminded (Is 62.1).
Go ahead and ask.