The 'shall' of God

Isaiah 54:1-10(11-17): O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted…In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you….This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, says the Lord.

I always wondered about the distinction, in English, between the verbs will and shall. A source on legal usage of the words says, “To correctly use shall, confine it to the meaning of ‘has a duty to’ and use it to impose a duty on a capable actor.”

That distinction seems to push back against use of shall in Isaiah, as in, “In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear.” If those statements were to impose a duty on God’s people, they would feel overwhelming and impossible to achieve using human means.

But all of those shalls are prefaced with a word of encouragement to the human heart: “O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted…” Those tender words lead into the description of the future for God’s people who currently suffer and despair. Those tender words tell me that the following circumstances are not ones demanded of the people by God, but promised to us through the power and sovereignty of our loving God. We needn’t feel pressured by what Isaiah says of our future.

God here is the ‘capable actor.’ God is the one who shall.

Psalm 72; Galatians 4:21-31; Mark 8:11-26

Copyright 2023 by Carol Mead.  For noncommercial use and sharing only. For more information on this ministry, and on a free subscription to these meditations, please contact the author by email (thenewmead@yahoo.com).


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