Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Word Returning Void

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
--Isaiah 55:11, ESV
We may also be familiar with the old translation “my word...shall not return unto me void” (KJV).

The language of voidness or emptiness in relation to Yahweh's word recalls the state of creation prior to divine fiat in which everything was tohu wabohu (without form and void/empty). With such a backdrop, Isaiah's saying would evoke the present natural order as evidence of a future order that could no more be transgressed than the sun, moon, and stars withholding their light. The connection might be stretched thin linguistically, but is not out of place in terms of narrative, for not only does verse 10 reference the order of creation, but it is within one of the ancient near eastern creation accounts that we find a direct parallel to this saying.
As for thee, thy command shall not fall empty, whatsoever goeth forth from thy mouth shall be established.
--Babylonian Creation Account, Enuma Elish, 1:138; 2:44; 3:48, 106

That which my mouth uttereth shall never fail or be brought to nought.
--Babylonian Creation Account, Enuma Elish, 2:140; 3:64, 122
In these parallels to Isaiah 55:11, Marduk (representative of creative order) is being given the power and authority by the gods to confront Tiamat and her demonic hordes (representative of the formless and empty primeval waters). Marduk (creative order) defeats Tiamat (formless emptiness), resulting in the formation and habitation of all things.

Creation is a witness of the power of God's word to not fall empty, but succeed in the thing for which it was sent. So, therefore, will Yahweh's intended order prophesied in Isaiah 55 also be done.

(copyright-free translations of Enuma Elish by the British Museum)


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