A condemnation of idolatry and promise to the righteous. Very much a response to Isaiah’s times, when idol worshipping kings were leading Israel astray and the conquering powers of Assyria and Babylon were at the gate.
Israel’s idol worship involved sexual practises at certain holy trees and riverbeds, which leads God to speak through Isaiah with a metaphor of a husband cheated on in a particularly shameless way. The worship of Moloch, which involved child sacrifices is mentioned too.
There are righteous people still among them, but they are unheard and ignored. They will find peace. But God paints a picture of the unrighteous people after first thrill of cheating on him, growing weary and unsatisfied in their idolatry, and even then not returning to him.
He says his patience will not last forever. They can try relying on their idols when it runs out: “the wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away”.
He gives them an offer of repentence and healing from backsliding, for those who are near and those who are far off… as St Paul described Jesus’ message. There is always a way back to God. How do you come back from child sacrifice? Ask.
It ends with one of my mum’s favourite sayings, which I never knew was a biblical quote “there is no rest for the wicked”. She used it to signify the end of a tea break. We’d finish our tea, and then when it was time to get going again she would say “oh well, no rest for the wicked” and stand up.
Its a sweet memory, and its good to remember we are all wicked. But it is richer for being associated with my favourite poetic image from the chapter: the restless sea.
Apparently the ancient Israelites associated the sea with darkness and constant unrest, which is like the churning soul of people who search for peace and fulfilment their whole long lives but never consider finding it in God.
Its a powerful loving unblinking poetic plea to some people who are far away from God.