Isaiah 55:10-13 Lesson - God's Word Shall Not Return Void

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Bible Studies in the book of Isaiah

Isaiah 55:10-13 Lesson - God's Word Shall Not Return Void

by I Gordon

Well, we've been looking at Isaiah 55 recently and we've found something surprising... something a little odd. And that is that God is not like us. He doesn't think like we do. He doesn't act like we do. Simply put, His ways are not like our ways. Ok, so it isn't so odd.

The passage declared that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways above our ways. Now God wasn't stating this to emphasize how stupid our ways are. He wasn't saying 'look at you! You are such a nincompoop'. He could have... but He didn't. No - The whole context was about coming to God, listening to Him, seeking Him, learning from Him... so in its context God reminds us that His thoughts and ways are not ours so that we will seek Him and His ways out. Now in this study we shall look at the remaining four verses in the chapter and see effectiveness of God's word. What does it mean that God's word will not return void? Let's start with the old water cycle.

Can you remember the water cycle? Heard of the word cycle? 

Isaiah 55:10-11 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, (11) so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

At school you learnt about the marvelous water cycle that God has put in place. Well, they probably didn't emphasize the 'God' part, but He was the one who put this marvelous design in place none the less! Now just in case you were sleepy that day let's do a quick refresher on the entire cycle as Isaiah is using it as an illustration in this passage. Some quick points would be:

  • The rain falls down to the earth through precipitation; it waters and feeds the earth.
  • Then through the heat of the sun it evaporates and rises again.
  • As the air cools, condensation occurs and clouds are formed.
  • This continues until the clouds eventually drop their load through precipitation again and the cycle continues.

Because of this cycle it has been said that we drink the same water the dinosaurs drank. Not sure if that is a comforting thought for you but there you have it! Now look at the impact of this rain... our scripture tells us that the rain waters the earth, makes it bud and flourish, and brings forth seed and bread. Well, this isn't the gardening club and nor is it a blog on why your tomatoes are looking a tad sad so let's have a look at what this is illustrating.

Just as there is a water cycle, there is a cycle for the word of God. It comes forth from God, for a specific purpose and will NEVER fail to achieve what God desires. And it too will return to God having accomplished its purpose. This principle relates to God's prophetic word recorded in the Bible as well as specific words that He gives us today.  [1] 

Isaiah's point in using this illustration is that God's word is just as irresistible and effective as the rain is for the soil. So we need His word, the pure word, without substitutes. Have you tried substitutes for rain water on your vegetables? Since becoming an expert gardener  [2]  , now with two whole years of gardening experience under my belt, I can say that there is nothing like the rain. It is perfect for the soil. You can stand out there day and night with a hose and saturate the ground to your heart's content. It will help a little - especially if the plant is dehydrated. But you don't see a lot of growth or plant vitality just on hose water. Yet when it rains... poof! Growth and life!  [3]  The Christian church has substituted the Word of God for many other things to entertain these days. The individual Christian often seeks out many people, external support and ways before seeking God and His word. They may help a little... but they are not the pure rain.

Now it is quite possible, and often probable, that when God gives you a specific promise or word, the exact opposite of this occurs in the short term. Don't fear. God's word will not return void and He will overlook it to perform it. But God allows these things to occur to test us and develop out faith. Let's have a look at an example of this...

God's word: To our good friend Joseph

Genesis 37:5-8 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. (6) He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: (7) We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it." (8) His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Now Joseph was the second youngest of Jacob's 12 sons. My goodness, 11 brothers... Imagine how competitive that would be! Though being so young, God gave Joseph a prophetic dream stating that he would rule over his brothers. You can imagine how well this went down! So, to cut a long story short, instead of initially seeing the fulfilment of this dream, the opposite occurred. Joseph, at age 17, was sold into slavery down in Egypt by his brothers. One thing led to another and through no fault of his own, Joseph was put in prison for a number of years.  [4]  Now, what do you think was going through Joseph's head during those years? The word of God had come to him through a dream showing him that he would one day be in a position of power - so much so that even his mother and father and brothers would bow down to him... and yet, no sooner had that word come that his brothers sold him into slavery and he ended up in this cold smelly prison. Think that would be easy? When God gives a promise He often allows the opposite to initially come true. And there is a reason for that.

Psalms 105:17-19 He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. (18) They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons; (19)  Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him.  

Until the time when God's word (through the prophetic dream) came to pass, the word of the Lord tested Joseph! And the same happens to us. Will we believe? Will we maintain our faith though outward circumstances look different? Will we live by faith in what God says instead of living by sight?

Sometimes it can take time because we are not ready - We may not be in a place to receive what God has promised us yet. But more often than not, the delay required before God's promise is fulfilled is used by God to test and refine our faith. Our faith is something very precious to God and He wants us to learn patience and rest while we wait for that promise. But be assured that God's word will not return void or empty.

And then the word comes to pass...

Isa 55:12-13 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briars the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."

In context this verse finds its fulfilment in the Messianic Kingdom. And what a day that will be! But on a personal level we see the result in our lives when God's promise comes to fruition. And what is that result you ask? Well, joy, peace and songs of praise. This is how the word of God becomes a cycle as well. We saw earlier about the water cycle... that through precipitation, evaporation, and condensation there is an endless cycle going on in the life of water. But remember that the God's word is a cycle as well. It comes down from Heaven, finding fulfilment in the life of the one given the promise, and returns to God in the form of our praise and thanksgiving. The key though is to be able to praise and give thanks BEFORE the fulfilment of the promise! This is where faith truly comes in and pleases the heart of God!  [5] 

The promise above states that instead of the briar the myrtle will grow.  [6]  Briar is basically what it says in the first part of verse 13 - a thorn bush. Nothing useful there but just a reminder of the curse that is upon creation.  [7]  And yet God can change the thornbush into something beautiful. He does it in individual lives and he has promised to do it throughout His entire creation as well. One commentator said  'Is it a coincidence that when Jesus suffered to bear the curse of sin and remove it from us, he wore a crown of thorns? Was this not a graphic way of saying, he is carrying the curse for you, even the curse of the ground, so that one day you could sit under cypresses on soft green grass with no thorns any more?' 

Dr. F. B. Meyer has commented on this passage:

'There are briars besetting every path that call for earnest care. Many beside Paul have thorns in the flesh. But His grace is sufficient to change our biggest curse into our greatest blessing. Look for this! Ask God to transform the conditions of your life, which has cost you excruciating anguish, into sources of benediction.' 

I like that. Do you have conditions in your life that still cause you great pain and grief? Commit then unto God once again and trust that the Almighty is able to turn these very things into a source of blessing. And as we experience a taste of such change, oh what joy and praise it brings forth! Let's face it... Life isn't easy but we do get glimpses of this joy when the specific promises and words that He gives us come to pass. Well, multiple that by a million and you'll get somewhere close to the joy and praise when all of the promises and prophecies that the prophets, Jesus and the apostles spoke are fulfilled!

Creation Sings! - A brief look at the 'things to come'

One day it will all be changed. The ugly thorns that arise within your own heart and within nature will be no more. The thorns of affliction from without will be no more for all of God's creation will be set free into what He intended and purposed in His heart for those that love Him. Let's look at a couple of passages that speak of the liberty and praise that creation itself will be set free into.

Psalms 96:11-13 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; (12) Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy (13) Before the LORD, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness. 

Psalms 98:4-9 Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. (5) Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, With the lyre and the sound of melody. (6) With trumpets and the sound of the horn Shout joyfully before the King, the LORD. (7) Let the sea roar and all it contains, The world and those who dwell in it. (8) Let the rivers clap their hands, Let the mountains sing together for joy (9) Before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness And the peoples with equity. 

So, putting it all together we see that the heavens will rejoice, the earth will be glad, the trees of the forest will sing with joy, the seas will roar, the fields be jubilant, the rivers will clap their hands, the mountains will sing together for joy... And why is that? Because the Lord is coming! Jesus said that if the people didn't praise Him then even the stones would cry out! One day the entire world and all it contains will be set free into the glorious liberty in which it was first created. Bring it on!


God's word will not fail. Not in His prophecies of what is still to come and not in His promises to you. God says in His word that He has magnified His word above His name and watches over His word to perform it. We've also seen however that until His word comes to pass, that same word tests us. It tests our hearts. It tests whether we will be able to remain hopeful, with praise in our hearts, laying hold of that which He has promised before it comes to pass. In doing so the cycle of God's word is completed for the word which came from God to you is returned in thanksgiving from you to God.

And what of that which is still to come? What He has planned is beyond our comprehension for His thoughts are so far above ours. Yet we look forward to that day when all of creation will sing His praise, knowing that however wonderful we imagine that time to be, it will be far greater for God, the creator of this entire universe, is not one who disappoints! So hold on in faith. Encourage yourself in the Lord.

Hebrews 10:35-39 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (36) You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (37) For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. (38) But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." (39) But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. 

[1] ↩  Let's look at a couple of scriptures that illustrate this for both the prophetic word and the personal word. First, the prophetic:

Isa 46:9-10 "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure' 

What God is saying in this important passage is that He has declared the end from the beginning and there is not one word that will not come to pass! It will all be fulfilled and His purpose WILL be established. The enemy may oppose, the world may rebel... it matters not. God is God and there is nothing that man or angelic being can do to prevent His prophetic word from being accomplished.

What about personal words that God gives us? Have a look at what God told Jeremiah after giving Jerry a promise that He would be with him and would enable him - God then says that "I am watching over My word to perform it." Jeremiah 1:12

The Psalmist tells us that God has magnified His word even above His name. He looks over it making sure that it is performed. As it was for Jeremiah so it is for us - Has God given you a specific word? Do you have some promise that He has spoken into your heart which you await the fulfilment of? Then God watches over that word to fulfil it as well.

Now if I were God you guys would be in a lot of trouble! I'd make promises I couldn't keep, promises I forgot to keep and promises I have no recollection about only a few days later! Not so God. He watches over it! Maybe all you have seen is what looks like the opposite of what God has promised...Then be assured! God's word will not return void - It will be fulfilled.

[2] ↩  Unfortunately this point is only true in my mind. Well, dreams. The reality is somewhat different, though not through lack of trying!

[3] ↩  There is a scientific reason why rain water is far better. A scientific website, when asked why rain water is so good for the garden compared to hose/tap water said, and I quote...'Because it is free' Thankfully it went on to give a bit more information! It said:

'But there is a science part to it too. Tap water contains a lot of Ca-ions and Mg-ions: good for human bones, but not too good for a plant if used in excess. However, plants like Nitrogen very much! And that's where the rain water comes in. Our atmosphere consists of about 21% Oxygen and 78% Nitrogen, but plants can't take it in through the atmosphere. They need nitrates. If lightning strikes through the atmosphere, it gives the oxygen and nitrogen molecules enough energy to form nitrates, which are NO3-ions. These ions react with the water and form a weak solution of nitric acid. The plants then take it up, via the water.' 

So rain water comes with something - nitrates or nitric acid. It's why you can't substitute it. God's word comes with something as well. It is why it can't be substituted - God's words come with His life. Our ways and efforts come with worry. But God's promises and word come with spiritual strength. It is why His word CANNOT be substituted!

[4] ↩  We don't know the exact number of years Joseph was in prison. We know he was 17 when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Chapter 41.1 tells us he was in there for another 2 years after the baker and cupbearer were released. Ch 41:46 tells us he was 30 when he was released from prison and exalted by Pharaoh. So he was in prison for greater than 2 years and less than 13. Either way, plenty of time to start doubting what God is doing and whether His word through the prophetic dream could EVER come about!

[5] ↩  Years before my brother was saved, when he looked far from becoming a Christian, my Mother had a God-given experience where she heard God the Father calling him. It was so powerful that she knew that he was really God's son, not hers. She expected him to become a Christian straight away due to how real the whole experience was. It took another 6 years before he was actually born again and it is fair to say there were quite a few incidents in the mean time (and I'm being kind) that would, in the natural, cast a lot of doubt on the promise and experience Mum had previously got. But, as we have seen, God's word does not return to Him void!

[6] ↩  You'll remember the briar I'm sure. You probably remember it from your youth. So let me test you on it. Who said the following -  "Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," "Only please, please don't throw me into the briar patch  ."

(The answer in the wee print - Brer Rabbit)

[7] ↩  After the fall, Genesis 3:17-18 says, "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field." So the earth brings forth thorns and thistles and the heart of man, because of the fall, brings forth that which is just as useful. But thank God that it doesn't always have to be this way!