The bible is full of the imagery of redemption and restoration. As Isaiah nears the end of his prophetic message we see his visual descriptions of redemption in 60:16-22. Redemption to so many of us is always thought of as inward and personal, but Isaiah connects redemption and restoration to societal peace that comes from the recognition of the glory of God.
As the prophet goes on into chapter 61, one is reminded of the day in the synagogue Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah and declared to those listening that the scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing. Redemption, restoration, and social justice are indeed connected. In Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom of God the message of God’s justice was a message that would bring about the restoration of the entire social order. God’s glory, peace, and even God’s vengeance all relate to the freedom of those on the margins of society; the least, the lost, and the last.
Clearly Isaiah foreshadowed the person and message of Jesus in his vision of hope on the other side of exile. What is interesting is that beyond this Isaiah seems to also foreshadow the new covenant and even the ways the promises to Israel would be extended out into the world unhindered. Isaiah writes:
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
I think it takes something of a prophetic imagination to break beyond our often two dimensional understanding of the gospel as a message only for the private souls of people. Isaiah has no problem connecting this all together, pointing to the people to come who would be known as oaks of righteousness who would rebuild Jewish society after the exile would tear it down. As Christians we are the descendants of those builders, we are those the Lord has blessed with a new covenant. But this new covenant is not personal and private, it is alive out there in the streets.
Isaiah identified this covenant as one proclaiming a message of hope to the poor, the needy, those society had given up on. Karl Barth once said, “Prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind.” I think the new covenant has another side of the coin, social justice. One might say, according to Isaiah’s prophetic insight about the nature of the kingdom of God to come, that “the gospel without the hope of justice for the poor would be empty, and that social justice without the gospel be blind.” In Quaker circles, it seems this gospel/social justice relationship has become either or, but that is a false dichotomy early Friends would never have imagined as anything other than “both/and.”
We modern Friends should embrace a holistic view of God’s plan of salvation for the world, were just as the justice and righteousness of God are two halves of the same coin, so too is the relationship between redemption and restoration; so too is the relationship between Jesus’ radically social message proclaiming hope to the broken, and those who would desire to be clothed in the righteousness of the Lord. Indeed, oaks of righteousness cannot grow in their strength without having roots that go down deep into the earthiness of this life; roots that drink from the living water Jesus has provided there. As Isaiah reminds us it is only in the soil that the sprout of the seed of God’s garden will spring up with God’s praise before all nations.