Some beliefs are woven so deeply into our faith that we presume they've always been there. They seem to be on a par with God -- no beginning, no end.
Yet Scripture scholars remind us that many of these concepts do have a moment in history in which they came into existence; often, they even point to a specific person who brought them into existence. This is certainly the case with our belief in the power of God's word. The point in history is Israel's Babylonian Exile, six centuries before Jesus. The person is Deutero-Isaiah.
This anonymous prophet -- responsible for chapters 40 to 55 of Isaiah -- was given the almost impossible task of redirecting Israel's faith. Jeremiah, his predecessor, had realized that many Jews really didn't have faith in Yahweh. Though they claimed to believe in God, they actually trusted in buildings and religious institutions. Jeremiah longed for the day when both would be destroyed, and the Chosen People would be forced to go one-on-one with Yahweh. The Babylonians fulfilled the prophet's wish in 586, destroying Jerusalem and carting off many of its residents to Babylon.
Deutero-Isaiah eventually inherited Jeremiah's dream. He prophesied during the Exile when there were no buildings, no religious institutions. There was just Yahweh and Yahweh's people, a people who found it difficult to relate to a God who worked directly in their lives.
Their most pressing problem was getting back to the Promised Land. And it's that issue which Deutero-Isaiah first addresses, promising his people that their return was imminent (Is 55: 10-11). But when anyone asked the prophet on what he based his certitude, he quickly responded, "We have Yahweh's word on it!"
His whole ministry revolved around God's word. His people had no army to get themselves out of captivity. They had only the word of Yahweh.
It's no accident that the prophet's disciples who arranged his oracles in the order in which we find them, put these words in his last chapter. They reinforce Deutero-Isaiah"s entire message. "Just as from the heavens," Yahweh promises, "the rain and snow come down, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful....So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it."
Like Deutero-Isaiah, all religious reformers depend on the power of God's word. Jesus did. It's the basis for the parable in the Gospel this week (Mt 13: 1-23). Someone walked up to Him one day and pointed out the obvious: Almost no one was carrying out the words He was proclaiming. It's then that Jesus reminded the individual that most of the seed Israelite farmers broadcast in their fields was also wasted.
But the little which took root produced a crop a hundred times more than what was sown. (Don't worry about the rest of this reading. The early church eventually allegorized Jesus' original parable, giving symbolic meaning to each of its elements and used it to explain why some were giving up the faith. That wasn't the meaning the historical Jesus intended.)
Without faith in God's word, Jesus wouldn't have gone more than a few weeks into His public ministry.
Following in Jesus' footsteps, Paul reminded the community in Rome of their obligation to trust God's word (Rom 8: 18-23). But he uses a birthing image in place of a farming image.
"I consider the sufferings of the present," he writes, "to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us....All creation groans and is in agony even until now....We ourselves... groan inwardly while we await the redemption of our bodies."
Since the days of Deutero-Isaiah, the reason God;s followers patiently wait for the things God promises is because they have God's word that they'll happen. It;s the only security they need.