On November 4, 1979, Iranian students and revolutionaries stormed the American embassy in Tehran occupying it and holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Unless one has been through it, it is impossible to imagine what the hostages endured wondering if they would be killed, while they endured beatings and mistreatment from their captors. There had to be days when they hung on to the least little bit of information they received as a thin hope they might be freed. There were likely days when they had just about given up all hope of ever getting out of Tehran alive.
And then one day, the news came... they would indeed be free. As one cannot imagine the terror of those 444 days without going through it, so it is difficult to comprehend the conflicting mixture of emotions, including great joy and happiness, perhaps not really believing freedom is at hand until it is an actual reality.
Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah was written to the exiles in Babylon, resident aliens in a strange land having to pay for what they could get for free in their homeland because the land was theirs. Patricia Tull writes,
Those who lost their heritage to encroaching foreigners were forced to pay money even for natural resources freely found by those owning property. Not only fuel, but even water, had been commodified. This harsh reality faced by the generation of the conquered makes the offer of free water, milk, food, and wine all the more moving.The promise of return from exile and restoration to their homeland is in view for the people of Israel, and the prophet offers these words of hope, which must have seemed as a ray of light in a dark room.
The proclamation of the hope of return to enjoy the best of the land elicits a call to return to the ways of the Lord.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food (verse 2).
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (verses 6-7).The abundance of the land is from the same God who will abundantly pardon. All this comes from the God of Israel whose ways are not those of mortals. It is imperative, therefore, that the people must trust in God in obedience to the covenant.
Such a divine prescription is necessary for spiritual health.