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Daily Devotional • February 3

James Cornwell
Seeking Eternity
A Reading from Isaiah 56:1-8

1 Thus says the Lord:
    Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my deliverance be revealed.
2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
    the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
    and refrains from doing any evil.
3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
    ‘I am just a dry tree.’
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
    and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
    besides those already gathered.

Human beings since ancient times have tried to understand how best to live life in light of our mortality and how best to work toward ends that transcend our finitude. Historically, the two most common ways that human beings accomplished this have been through children and through the nation.

Through children, parents can ensure that their legacy lives on beyond their point of death. Fathers and mothers not only shape their children’s characters as they learn and grow, cultivating and inculcating values that they themselves received from their elders, but they can literally see fragments of themselves in the physical and psychological features of their children. In this way, even when they die, a part of them lives on.

Nations are another way to achieve transcendence over death. Nations build cultures of song and stories in which tales of great glories and achievements are handed down from generation to generation. These offer another way for an individual’s deeds to outlive them, and a way for a person to seek a kind of immortality even in the face of death.

Isaiah’s prophecy overturns these attempts at overcoming human finitude, offering a more certain future in the promises of the Lord. He explicitly blesses the eunuch who is childless and the foreigner who belongs to a doomed nation. Although they have no children or national songs to continue their legacy, they will be given something greater if they keep the Sabbath and hold fast to God’s covenant. 

Children and nations are good; they are useful schools in transcending our personal desires. But whenever the family or the nation has pretensions to eternity, they are aiming for roles that they ultimately cannot fulfill. Children rebel and nations fall. Isaiah’s good news to eunuchs and foreigners is good news for us all, for only through God’s promises in Christ can we attain eternal life.

James Cornwell lives and works in Wheaton, Illinois, with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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