Isaiah 55:8-9 is one of the more often quoted passages in the Bible. It reads:
… my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways …
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts (vss. 8-9).
This passage is frequently cited as an expression of God’s “wholly other” transcendence, sometimes even being invoked to protect incoherent theological positions from reasonable objections. However, is this what God’s “ways” and “thoughts” are referring to here?
If we read from verse one in this chapter, we see that verses 8-9 actually conclude a larger section where the Lord confronts the nationalistic myopia of his people by announcing that anyone from any nation who is thirsty or hungry can come and feast at his banquet table for free (vss. 1-2). He promised all who come to his feast that he will bring them into the “everlasting covenant” that he “promised to David” (vs. 3). For, the Lord says, David was raised up not just to be the earthly king of the Jews but also to be a “witness” and “ruler” of all nations (vs. 4). If Israel was God’s chosen nation, we see, it was only to be used to help all nations realize that they too are “chosen.”
The Lord reiterates this point further when he goes on to proclaim to his nationalistic-minded people that they will someday “summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you” because the Lord “has endowed you with splendor” (vs. 5). Only then can we see what is really going on when the Lord proclaims the nature of his “ways” and “thoughts.”
Yahweh is here confronting the myopic, nationalistic mindset of his people. His ways are “higher” than theirs precisely because, while Israel always had a tendency to think Yahweh somehow belonged uniquely to them, everything Yahweh was doing in and through them was in fact being done with a view of reuniting and blessing all humans by bringing them under his loving reign.
Image by Samuel Zeller.