The triumph of God over Israel’s enemies is certain. Filled with joy and expectation, God’s covenant people leave behind a strange country and begin the long, dangerous journey back to the promised land. But instead of fear and trepidation at the potential perils ahead, they are overwhelmed with a sense of peace and joy. Instead of holding dangers around every turn, the land and creation itself join in the celebration to welcome the exiles home. There is no need to worry about long, hard climbs or treacherous descents, for the mountains and the hills cheer them on. There’s no need to fret about shade from the sun’s blazing heat, for majestic trees grow up to cast their long, cooling shadows across the desert’s arid land. The prophet’s vision of the journey home is nearly complete.
56 Eternal One: Take care that you do what is right and fair,
because before you know it, I will come to save you;
Soon you will see how I rescue.
2 God’s favor rests on those who attend to justice,
who devote themselves to doing what is right,
Who keep the Sabbath and don’t disregard or belittle it,
who keep from doing what is wrong: destructive, deceitful, or violent.
3 No stranger who has put trust in the Eternal should ever say,
“I don’t count. I’m not part of Eternal’s chosen people.”
And no eunuch should ever say,
“I am all dried up, worthless and empty.”
4 For this is what the Eternal has to say:
Eternal One: The eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
make good choices, and follow the terms of My covenant
will blossom with My blessing.
5 I will give them, within My house, an enduring memorial
and a name better than if they had sons and daughters—
A name that will never be forgotten and will continue to inspire
and encourage forever.
6 And of those strangers who are not among the chosen people Israel
yet have bound themselves to the Eternal,
Attend to God, and love all that the Eternal is and does;
if they serve Him, keep the Sabbath, make good choices, and cling to the terms of the covenant,
7 I will bring them into My holy mountain where no foreigner is allowed
and give them a joyful welcome within My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will find acceptance on My altar
because My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.[a]
These words must have come as a surprise to the Hebrews. They were the called-out ones and had been commanded to keep themselves separate from their pagan neighbors. Now they hear these words of inclusion. They are told it doesn’t matter who they are or where they’ve come from or what “imperfections” they might have. Any who have bound themselves to Israel’s God—even if they’re not Israel, even if they are not “whole”—belong to Him and will enjoy all the wonders that He has in store for them. One day it will be clear that they are a sign of God’s goodness and mercy, that God’s justice is on display through their lives. They are to live as the light of God to the neighboring countries.
8 And the One who brings all Israel together, the Lord, the Eternal, declares:
Eternal One: I am not done yet. I will still gather more to this community.
9 Bring in the ravenous, vicious beasts from forests and fields;
bring them in to pillage Jerusalem to rip and eat!
10 Those who should be guarding and directing the people
are blind and ignorant at best.
They are no better than hounds who can’t be bothered to bark at trouble;
they lie around, lost in their dreams, loving their sleep.
11 But these dogs sure love to eat.
They can’t get enough, greedily devouring Judah.
They are shepherds with no understanding,
guides with no sense of direction.
So they’ve all scattered, each out for himself,
trying to figure out how best to gain advantage.
12 “Come on!” they say, “I’ll get the wine; we’ll get our fill of booze.
Day after day, it just keeps getting better!”[b]