In these verses the second of two illustrations from the natural world is presented, the likeness of the Word of God to the rain that falls upon the earth. In the first illustration (v8–9) Yahweh declares that His thoughts transcend man’s thoughts as much as the heavens are higher than the earth: when the wicked forsake their thoughts, repent and return to Him, He will abundantly pardon.

55:10–11 “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater [cp 2 Cor 9:10]: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

“For as the rain … So shall my word be” The construction of verses 10 and 11 is similar to verse 9, both being of the “as … so” type: “For as the heavens are … so are my ways …” They are powerful similes that help us appreciate profound truths.

This second illustration draws upon another different relationship between the heaven and the earth. There is another gift which comes from heaven, rain and snow, which effect inevitably a transformation upon earth for the well-being of men. The end result is essentially life, for human needs are met in the provision of “seed to the sower, and bread to the eater”.

The Lord drew attention to the Father’s beneficence in sending rain indiscriminately upon all with the object of recipients recognising His love and goodness: if men follow this magnanimity, they reveal a divine likeness and qualify to be called His sons.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies … That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:44–45). Paul also alleges the God-given rain from heaven is a witness of His love for men: “… he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

The ultimate illustration of the Father’s goodwill toward man is seen in the gift which satisfies man’s greatest need, even His Son. With these words and context in mind Jesus declared in the synagogue in Capernaum, “… the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33). Other connections between Isaiah 55 and John 6 are set forth at the end of this article.

“So shall my word be … it shall not return unto me void” This is a graphic simile in which the spoken Word of God is personified and shown to be a powerful, effective agent which accomplishes His will. God’s will, purpose and pleasure having been expressed, there is inexorable action that does not cease until accomplishment.

There are other illustrations of this ‘phenomenon’ which are such a contrast with the words of mere mortal men! In Genesis 1 we have God’s fiats which are immediately fulfilled; actions follow the declaration of His will. So over the six days of creative activity we read, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light (v3) … And God said, Let there be a firmament … and it was so” (v6–7) etc. Commenting upon the mighty power backing the stated will of God, the psalmist says, “By the word of Yahweh were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth … For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (33:6–9).

The Word of God, unlike the word of men, is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12 rsv). But besides having this power, those ‘personal’ characteristics, the writer to the Hebrews continues and identifies who the Word of God has become: “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God …” (v13 rsv).

So the Word of God is not impersonal or abstract but has become real, tangible and visible in God’s superlative manifestation, His Son. For this reason the Apostle John could say, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What had formerly been concealed in promise, prophecy and type had materialised and was witnessed among men: “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16). This is why the victorious warrior, clothed in a vesture dipped in blood, the Son of God, bears the name “The Word of God” (Rev 19:13).

The swift execution of the will of God is performed by “his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word”. They are called upon to bless Yahweh, as his ministers “that do his pleasure” (Psa 103:20–21).

So the Word of God is the unfailing agent of the will of God, and the parallel between the life agency of rain and the effective Word is exact: both originate in heaven and both are effective and produce the result intended.

Looking at the pivotal place the Word of God has in this chapter of Isaiah we come to appreciate its power and importance; there is the call to repent and to take hold of God’s offer of complete satisfaction (v13); then the Leader himself, the greater than David, calls nations unknown to rally behind him; this invitation is then extended to the wicked – while time remains; and in verse 11 we are told in summary that the Word will accomplish what Yahweh “desires” (niv), “that which I please”, and not only so but it “shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

55:12–13 The purpose of the Word briefly stated – joy, peace and blessing

55:12 “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

“For ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace” This is a stunning picture; ‘going out’ is an exile/exodus metaphor; it speaks of the joy of slaves set free from sin by the Servant’s work! The one who leads, whom the redeemed follow, is the one whose call they heeded, “the leader and commander” of verses 4 and 5 (cp 52:12). The Lord Jesus still calls upon men to come to him, to follow him. They will not be disappointed, for the living Word will not fail to accomplish the Father’s pleasure (52:13).

Joy and peace are the blessings the redeemed shall experience; blessings the Lord promised believers even in the days of their flesh (John 14:27; 15:11); they are blessings that will epitomise the Kingdom, for the Apostle Paul declares that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, and peace, and joy” (Rom 14:17).

“Joy” describes the inner state of the redeemed, being the antithesis of sufferings endured for Christ’s sake. Isaiah’s compelling word picture of the saints coming to Zion summarises their feelings: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (35:10).

“Peace” describes the new relationship saints have with God, the fruit of the Servant’s work (53:5; 54:10; Rom 5:1).

“the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” The picture is surreal! All creation breaks forth into song “before you”, that is, before the redeemed, as if to augment the welcome, to magnify the occasion! In the Sabbath psalms (92–99), which focus on the righteous reign of Messiah, there are similar pictures of unrestrained, spontaneous songs of joy on the part of creation: even the inanimate works of God cannot but shout for the gladness of that day: “The floods have lifted up, O Yahweh, the floods have lifted up their voice …” (93:3); “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before Yahweh: for he cometh … he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (96:11–13; 98:1–9).

55:13 “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree [rsv, mlb ‘cypress’], and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to Yahweh for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Not only are the redeemed a transformed people, the consequence of the Servant’s work and calling, but the curse that afflicted the earth as the accompaniment of Adam’s sin (Gen 3:17–18) will be erased: the scourge of thorn and brier shall be no more: sin and its consequences for both man and earth shall no longer blight!

Trees, evergreen and eternal, shall take the place of nettles. The sentiments of this verse are closely allied with those of Isaiah 41:19–20: “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine and the box tree together: that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of Yahweh hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.”

“and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (mlb “and they shall be to the Lord for His renown…”; rsv “and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial…”) This transformed people living in a transformed earth, the result of the work of Yahweh in His Son, is His memorial. A name epitomises a person: this new order summarises what Yahweh is, what His purpose with creation is and by it His greatness will be established and magnified: the glory of Yahweh will cover the earth as the waters do the sea; He will be “all in all”, paradise will be restored.

Smart says, “Conquerors of the ancient world … set up memorials that would preserve their names and tell of their conquests … the transformed earth would be a memorial of God’s victory … forever a sign of the power of the living God … a transformed earth … a transformed humanity.”

This memorial to Yahweh is not only an expression of His mighty creatorial power, but more correctly the result of His name, what He is in Himself. John tells us “God is love” and that this love is most clearly to be seen in the giving of His only begotten Son to be the Saviour of the world (1 John 4:9; John 3:16); His “way” was made known to Moses in Exodus 34:6–8. It is hard to believe that One Who is so great, so powerful, can also be so merciful, so responsive to the repentant. Thus the redeemed people, the restored earth, will be the everlasting sign of Yahweh’s greatness, love and forgiveness: this is what they will be a sign of; this is what the Servant accomplished.