I will not keep silent. I will not hush. I will not be shushed. I will speak up and not stop speaking, preach and not stop preaching, shout and not stop shouting. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. I will keep this up until the nations and all the kings see the city’s vindication shining out like the dawn and her glory like a flaming torch. Somebody refuses to quietly put up with the status quo. Who is speaking in this passage from Isaiah? Who is saying, “I will not keep silent” so emphatically? Is it the prophet reciting what God has spoken, reminding his audience of God’s determination to speak and act on behalf of the beloved city? Or is it the prophet standing before God and the people vowing to intercede for Jerusalem, night and day, until God does what God has promised to do: restore the city and the land?
The people of the city had heard God’s promises for Jerusalem when they were still in exile in Babylon, far from home:
“O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, I am about to lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels, the whole encircling wall of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and the prosperity of your children shall be great. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.”
They could see it in their dreams, the glowing, the gleaming, the glorious city of God. And as God had promised, they did come home. Around the year 539 Cyrus, king of Persia, proclaimed an end to the exile. He allowed the people of Judah to return home to their native land. He returned to them the sacred vessels and other treasures the Babylonian army had taken from the temple in Jerusalem before they destroyed both temple and city. And, wonder of wonders, Cyrus even encouraged them to rebuild the temple with funds from the royal treasury of Persia.They could see it in their dreams: the battlements of rubies, the gates of jewels, the wall of precious stones encircling the city of gold.
But the reality to which they returned was far from their dreams. Much of the land was a wasteland. Much of the city was in ruins. One prophet who observed the situation commented,
“Consider how you have fared; you have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.”
The dream had holes in it. They let themselves be convinced to rebuild the temple as an assurance in stone of God’s presence, but it was so obvious that its glory could not match the glory of former days, let alone the splendor they had imagined. The city seemed forsaken, the land desolate. God seemed absent, detached, and indifferent. Why, they wondered. Was God giving them the silent treatment? Hadn’t they suffered enough? How long was the shadow of God’s judgment?
Their hope and confidence had holes in it. The echo of God’s life-giving word was growing faint in their hearts, they could barely hear it anymore. The prophet remembered the beautiful words, but the people had a hard time reconciling their current reality with the promises that once had given them such comfort, such hope:
For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you … For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
The nations and their kings had witnessed Jerusalem’s humiliation and they called her names, “Forsaken, Desolate,” and those names stuck. The God-forsaken city, the abandoned land, from this time on and forevermore. The names stuck and the people lived under them as though they were their proper names; forsaken; desolate; hopeless.
But Isaiah refused to let the circumstances silence him. Stubbornly he held on to the promises of God and resolved not to keep silent until they would be fulfilled. He would stand before the people and before God, reminding them both of the word given, refusing to rest until all of life reflected the glory of God. He would not keep silent, and he still speaks to us. Isaiah speaks to us in all the circumstances where we experience our communities as forsaken and desolate. He speaks to us when the deadly impact of drugs on our families and communities weighs us down. He speaks to us when we can’t seem to find a way out of the exile where the curse of racism is holding us captive. He speaks to us when people in our communities can’t find a home they can afford and are driven from the camps where they seek shelter. He speaks to us when fear rather than compassion defines our response to refugees at our borders. Isaiah speaks so that we might know and remember that God’s city shall no more be termed Forsaken and God’s land shall no more be termed Desolate. The city’s name in Hebrew is Hephzibah, My Delight Is in Her, and the land is called Beulah, Married, both names declaring the intimate and deep connection between God and the city and the land.
Isaiah speaks so that we might know and remember that God delights in us who have entered the covenant of peace through Christ. Last Sunday we were reminded that in baptism God names us each as Christ was named, “You are my beloved child; I delight in you.” Today we are reminded that together we are called Hephzibah, the community of God’s delight.
Isaiah speaks and Christ speaks through him to help us remember our name, but also to call us to stand with them and not keep silent. Nothing is more devastating for human beings than to feel abandoned and forsaken by God. Wherever people feel cast off by God and hopeless, Isaiah is whispering, hoping that we will lend our voice to proclaim the promises of God. Whenever people feel cut off from the love of God, Christ is waiting for us to let our words and actions make God’s compassion tangible. The steadfast love of God draws us in to save us and it makes of us messengers of peace, ambassadors of reconciliation, servants of God’s reign on earth. In the embrace of God’s unconditional and everlasting love we become just as stubborn as Isaiah in our refusal to allow hopelessness have the last word in people’s lives.
Tomorrow our nation honors one who did not keep silent. Dr. King, in his book Where Do We Go from Here, published in 1967, described “the great new problem of [humankind].”
We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace. (…) All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors.
The great new problem has only become more urgent over the five decades since Dr. King compared the world to a house and noted that his “call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all [human beings].” We know he wasn’t talking about mushy Coca Cola commercial love, I’d love to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. We know he was talking about difficult, disciplined, vulnerable love patterned on the life of Christ, and he gave his life for it.
Dr. King envisioned, in continuity with Israel’s prophets and the apostolic witnesses of the New Testament, the beloved community. It is a global vision of life in which love patterned on the life of Christ heals and deepens all relationships. He believed that conflicts between individuals or groups could be resolved peacefully and that adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual commitment to non-violent cooperation. He believed in the power of love and trust. He didn’t call it Hephzibah, but he could have. In December 1956, just after the Supreme Court had declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional, Dr. King spoke in Montgomery at the First Annual Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change, and he said,
It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end in itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding good will that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of [human beings].”
The end is the creation of the beloved community. The end is the city called Hephzibah, My Delight Is in Her.
 Isaiah 54:11-14
 Haggai 1:5-6
 Isaiah 54:7-10
 A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. by James M. Washington (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 617.
 Ibid., 632.
 Ibid., 140.