Because of their wicked covetousness I was angry; I struck them, I hid and was angry; but they kept turning back to their own ways. 18 I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort, creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips. 19 Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them. 20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud. 21 There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked. (Isaiah 57:17–21)
Understanding the Word
In many ways, the entire human problem is summed up in the word “covetousness.” It is not accidental that it is the last of the Ten Commandments. Some say that it is the last of the neighbor commandments, and there is certainly some truth to that claim, since the commandment speaks about coveting what belongs to your neighbor. However, I wonder if this last command does not capture all that the previous nine are about. For in the end it is our covetousness (or in another word, our greed) that dethrones God, and our covetousness that makes us lust after our neighbor’s possessions, his spouse, and even his life. Wanting never has enough. What we long for, although we do not know it, is God. If we have him, then whatever he permits us to have is enough. If we do not have him, then the whole world is not enough.
It is covetousness that explains idolatry. We want gods that we can manipulate in order to gratify our desires. It is covetousness that explains war. We want what someone else has, and we multiply weapons so that we will be able to take what they have. It is covetousness that explains our great difficulty in trusting others, including God. If we trust them, maybe they won’t give us what we want. In the end, unless we surrender our covetousness to God, it will become the means of our justifying the breaking of every one of the other commands.
On the other hand, if we have dared to trust God through Christ, we have learned that he is infinitely trustworthy. Knowing that while we were still sinners, he did all that was necessary to restore us to himself, we can dare to believe that he will supply everything we really need. Our wants are completely relative to our place in him. There is an old hymn called, “Little Is Much When God Is in It.”
That is the thrust of this passage. Notice that although we, as humans, keep turning back to our covetous ways (v. 17), nevertheless Yahweh has provided healing for us (v. 18). That demonstrates his trustworthiness. When we dare to make the first step of faith, he provides encouragement (comfort) to go on in faith. And when we see the way in which he provides, the “mourning” over the past results of our failure to trust is turned to shouts of joy (“the fruit of the lips,” v. 18).
But what is the greatest fruit of this growing walk of fellowship and faith? It is shalom (v. 19). I hesitate to use the word “peace” because, while it is not incorrect, it is rather anemic beside all that the Hebrew term connotes. Shalom means wholeness—wholeness in relationships, wholeness within oneself, wholeness with creation. We can have shalom with God, shalom with others, and shalom with ourselves. God can take all the fragments of our lives and put them together. That is true peace.
But again, as is so typical of the book of Isaiah, the author will not leave us basking in the wonder of what God can do for us without warning us that these results have to be appropriated, that this shalom is not for those who get along just fine without God (vv. 20–21). (To be wicked is to conduct your life as if there is no God. Thus, very nice people can be thoroughly wicked.) He will not allow us to bask in some warm, fuzzy glow that does not face reality. If we choose to live without God, shalom is an impossibility.
Questions for Reflection
1. What is the key to being healed of covetousness?
2. What prevents the wicked from finding shalom?
3. What are some of the evidences of shalom in a person’s life?
The Bible study The Book of Isaiah: Part III (Chapters 56-66) is now available from our store. If you enjoyed this entry, you’ll appreciate the profound lessons that can be learned from Dr. John Oswalt’s exposition of this important text. This third part concludes his teaching through what’s often called the “Fifth Gospel,” which expounds the heart of God’s plan of salvation for the entire world. In the book of Isaiah we see a promise from God to make all things new and give his people new hearts. Get multiple copy discounts in order to start group studies, and preview the video element below. View this study in our store here.