“God's Word Does Not Return Empty”Categories: Meditations
Isaiah 55 is one of the more uplifting chapters in what is a fairly gloomy book. Many Christians are familiar with God’s self-description in vs. 8-9 of the chapter, but vs. 10-11 are also worthy of our attention.
In them, God declares, “For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” (CSB)
At first glance, this promise seems strange to Christians. God wants all men to be saved, and He has sent forth the gospel so that they might be. However, we know from experience that not everyone who hears the truth obeys it. In fact, most do not. How can we reconcile these apparently paltry results with the absolute nature of God’s declaration?
The answer, I think, is that we need to take a more complex view of God’s purposes in the gospel. God wants us to be saved, yes, but even more fundamentally than that, He wants us to make a choice. He wants to see whether we will use our free will to seek Him or to reject Him.
The gospel is the means that He uses to compel humankind to make that choice. We can exist in a spiritual no-man’s-land until we hear the word, but once we do, our reaction reveals what kind of people we are. Either we have chosen to obey, and that will be obvious, or we have chosen to rebel, and that will be equally obvious.
Sometimes, in fact, God uses His word primarily to drive the wicked out into the open. This is especially obvious in the book of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 18:11-12 (and many other such places), God instructs Jeremiah to warn His people while simultaneously predicting that they will not listen. He does this to mark them as His enemies and to deprive them of any claim that He is being unjust in destroying them.
Certainly, we should present the word to sinners as persuasively as we can. However, when they harden their hearts against it, we should not feel like we have failed. We have done what God intended for us to do, just as His word has done what He intended it to do.
His purpose is worked out in the salvation of the humble, but it also is worked out in the destruction of the proud. As His word left the wicked people of Jeremiah’s day without excuse and ripe for judgment, it leaves the wicked people of our day without excuse and ripe for judgment. Everybody who hears His word will glorify Him. The only question is whether His glory will come from redeeming us or putting us to everlasting shame.