“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 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. ‘For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.’”
Isaiah 55:10-13 ESV
The language in these verses from Isaiah 55 are figurative. Will the mountains and hills really break forth into singing? Will the trees of the field clap their hands? (What hands do trees have?)
The language isn’t meant to be taken literally, but the language still conveys a truth: the world was created in response to God and awaits the fulfillment of God’s purposes for which He created it.
Just as the rain and snow produce the intended results of watering the earth, sprouting the seeds that grow up and produce grain, allowing the sower of the seed to produce bread, God’s word goes out and accomplishes the purposes for which it was intended. This is true from the beginning to the end.
God spoke the world into being. He set the heavens and the earth (the universe) into motion by His word. (2 Peter 3:5) The world came into being in response to God speaking. And the ultimate ends God has purposed will sprout (and have sprouted) into the seed that produces the material from which the sower ultimately accomplishes His end purpose.
Is God the sower? Certainly, but I believe He is also speaking of us. He invites us into His purpose. The bread the sower (man) produces from the grain that is harvested from the ground that is watered by the rain and the snow that God set into motion when the universe was created by His word.
And when that purpose is accomplished the mountains and hills will break forth into singing and the trees of the field will clap their hands. In other words, the world will respond as it was intended, and it will be a joyous thing!
God initiates it all by His word, and the natural order of the universe He created is the response to His word that God intends. We are part of that intended order, made in His image, created for good works that God prepared for us to do a long time ago (Eph. 2:10), from the foundation of the earth (Eph. 1:4).
We tend to see the world through modern eyes colored by the Enlightenment, rationalism and reductionism that has redacted the supernatural work of God from creation and stripped our view of the natural world down to a set of physical laws that operate with no “ghost in the machine”.
And maybe, this view is technically right. God is not contained in the natural world, let alone a temple made by human hands. God doesn’t operate the levers and pull the strings or polish the clock He wound up.
God is transcendent. He is holy. He stands apart from the world He created. Yet, the world, from its very beginning, in its very essence, was spoken into being to accomplish His purpose and responds to His call.
The natural world is not operated by God as far as we know, but it is responsive to God. The initial response was the creation, and the ultimate response will be the birth of the new heavens and new earth. (Isaiah 65:17, 22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21;1)
In the meantime, the natural world is subjected to futility, but not in hopelessness. Rather, the futility to which God has subjected His creation is in hope (Romans 8:20).
Further, we are central to that hope, as the creation awaits “in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed”. (Romans 8:19) As God’s image bearers, our response and our involvement is central to the purposes of God, which involve us in the plan to bring creation out of “its bondage to decay into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)
Jesus won the victory over sin and death as it was foretold long ago by the prophets and purposed from the very beginning when God spoke the word into existence. In the chorus, so to speak, we take our place in this cosmic symphony led by the Great Conductor as we respond and step into the good works God ordained for us to do.
And, in that day, when God’s great purpose is accomplished, the hills and mountains will break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Maybe this reaction will even be literal as all of creation awakens from the slumber of death and decay to which it has been subjected and the new heavens and earth are born out of the old, when the perishable clothes itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:53). And we will be part of that plan and purpose God forged long ago, playing our collective parts as God’s agents in that beautiful masterpiece God designed out of the chaos of the formless void.