Friday, June 21, 2013

the tears in the prophet's eyes

Therefore I said: "Look away from me; let me weep bitter tears; do not labor to comfort me concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people." 

Isaiah 22:4

The prophet Isaiah is moved to sorrow and tears when God gives him the oracle regarding the fall of Jerusalem. He is personally moved by the reality and the impact of the message that God has given him to proclaim. He weeps at the prospects of destruction, but he also weeps at the callous disregard of the citizens of the city when he gives this proclamation.

The message seems to have no affect on the people of Jerusalem. They go on their ways. The continue in their business and industry. They shrug off the reports of future destruction with parties and plans. It is as if Isaiah has said nothing to them at all. And that is probably the deepest part of the prophet's painful sadness. They will fall hard when they do finally fall. The nation will not be able to party much longer. The walls will come down and the city will burn.

There are seasons in ministry where this is the experience. Every true person who is yielded to be used of God among people will see it. It is expected that non believers will reject God. It is heart-breaking when His own people do so. But the Word of God must often be shared and boldly preached with tears in the prophet's eyes. In that pain and passion the truth can be known. And precious is that sort of sorrow.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

smashing idols

"And behold, here come riders, horsemen in pairs!" And he answered, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground." 

Isaiah 21:9

This prophecy looks to the distant future from Isaiah's point of view. When it was written, Judah was still unconquered and Babylon was a threatening power. But Isaiah was given a vision through time's telescope. The empire that would lead Judah captive and wipe out Jerusalem would itself fall under God's judgment, even though it had not risen to superpower status yet! The mighty Babylon would fall, and none of the gods of the Babylonians would ever save them from this fate decreed by God a lifetime before these events occurred.

There is again a sad note on the idol-making ability of the human heart. All the idols in which the Babylonians trusted would be ruined. Their gods would be shattered on the ground. The things we place above God and the affections we have held instead of God must all fall. They are doomed. Only God can be what the heart longs for and needs.

There is a warning here. God will take our idols down. They will break and shatter before His sovereignty. We cannot have any god before Him. Even those without God will see their object of trust come to nothing. Worship is a serious mater and not a thing to trifle with. And that is why idols are smashed.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

nothing to lean on

And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, 'Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?'

Isaiah 20:6

The reason that God gave Isaiah thse messages about the downfalls of Egypt and Cush at the hands of the Assyrians was to take away the trust that people had in those ancient political powers. The residents of the Middle East found it easy to "fall back" onto these superpowers in times of crisis. But Assyria would take out both of these traditional strong countries. There would be nowhere to run when Assyria invaded Israel.

This reality was meant to fix the eyes of every Israelite upon The Lord. When the props of Egypt and Cush were kicked away, they'd find nothing to lean on. There could be no political alliance in which to trust. No institution of man would stop what God had prophesied through His prophets. The trial would come and nothing could ease it in any way.

Of course it is very unnerving to have all of your traditional resources emptied. And God warned His people well in advance that this was His purpose. He would do it. And they could only know that He had decreed it. The judgment was meant to focus them upon Him.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

the path to world peace

In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance."

Isaiah 19:24-35

This is an amazing picture of what God will do to bring about peace in the Middle East. And it will come by judgment, salvation, and conversion. There is a judgment on Egypt that is the focus of all of Isaiah 19. Egypt is the historic enemy and oppressor of Israel, and it is still not in a harmonious relationship with modern Israel. It represents all that God saved His people from in their past: slavery, hatred, oppression and mistreatment.

But through the process of severe judgment by God upon the land, the agricultural production, the military might, and the Egyptian people themselves, God promises that they will repent and turn to Him. And in this prophecy Egypt as a whole worships the God of Israel. They repent and come to The Lord. And is so doing, they come to peace with Israel.

But that's not all. Assyria also turns to God through similar circumstances. In modern day terms, this is like Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey all embracing Israel as a precious ally. The picture in Isaiah 19 is of all the Middle East uniting in the worship of Yahweh exclusively. God brings peace to the Middle East. It is what God says will happen. It is His vision for the world.

God loves Egyptians and Syrians. He loves Iraqis and Iranians. He loves Jews. God loves the world. He blesses Egypt as His people. He considers Iran to be His work. He holds Israel as His inheritance. You cannot say that the prophets reject world mission. Isaiah makes it integral to God's work among humanity. And Israel plays a central role in reaching the world. God is the only way to world peace.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Refrain for the Nations

At that time tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts from a people tall and smooth, from a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide, to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts. 

Isaiah 18:7

No matter how great the name

of a nation's power

or how strong the personal fame

of any person's work

God is greater

and worthy of praise.

It makes no difference how good

they look

it does not help to have abundance of food

there found

God is greater

and worthy of praise.

A nation feared far and near

around the globe

still will fall down, bow and fear

The Lord

God is greater

and worthy of worship.

A large nation with stretching land

across a continent

cannot be stronger than God's hand 

and must fear Him

God is greater 

and worthy of worship.

Generals conquor and nations rage

exerting force

no matter their roles on history's stage

they are small

God is greater

and worthy of worship.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

idolatry's net effect

In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.

Isaiah 17:7-8

The effect of God's judgment was a spiritual renewal for the Syrians. In the case of this oracle against Damascus, it showed God's love for a gentile people. After the destruction of Damascus in 732 BC, God decreed that they would look to the God of Israel. And after the Assyrian destruction of their city, they had no gods of their own left to look towards any longer.

The net effect of idolatry is destruction. When our hearts worship anything other than God, we will be destroyed from within. Stuff breaks. The things we make will unmake us if we ascribe to them worship that only belongs to God. Our idols cannot save us from this. It is the lesson of Damascus all over again.

We don't carry Asherim in our pockets. Most of us don't have shrines to the Baals in our homes. We don't carve out figures that we then worship. We don't head to temples to offer sacrifice to a statued idol. That kind of overt idolatry is not the danger that most of us in the Western World will face. Our idols are much more subtle, more personal, and more consuming of our souls.

Our society serves us the myth of fame and fortune. We enslave our incomes and our souls to the pursuit of the materialistic American Dream. We worship self destiny and human celebrity. We throw ourselves into unbridled, even thoughtless, abandon with technology, materialism, and the worship of the natural world. Gurus of self-help psychology give us self-fulfilling prayers to our own egos. We are easily the same idolaters as those Syrians in this oracle who carved Asherim. And we should remember their end. They lost their idols only with the complete destruction of their way of life. And only then did they turn to see God.

Only the hope of renewal can save us from our idols. And the sooner we look to our Maker, the better it will go for us. It starts with Christians turning from idols to serve the living God. And when we do, our hearts find what we have always wanted in Him.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

the world from David's tent

then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.

Isaiah 16:5

Interesting truth about the rule of the Messiah comes forth in what seems an unlikely passage. In the middle of a section about the judgment befalling gentile Moab, a messianic reality is proclaimed. The only hope for Moab will be submission to the rule of the Messiah. The One Who will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David will be the One Whose steadfast love will judge and seek justice and righteousness for all the nations.

The rule of the Messiah bears out all the promises God made... especially those of the Abrahamic covenant. He will bless all the nations just as God foretold to the childless old nomad so many millennia ago under a starry desert night sky. The prophet Isaiah fully expects that the only hope for the remnant of the Moabites will be the rule of the Messiah. Clearly the entire world will be a different place when He reigns.

So you cannot really make the charge that the Old Testament view of God is of a regional deity worshiped by the Jews alone. The affect of God's redemptive plan is global. And the stern oracles of the prophets echo back this glorious hope in a clear vision of a world ruled in peace and justice from David's throne.

From the moment of the first sin in the garden of Eden, God has both judged sin and sought the restoration of the world of humanity. Our history is a redemptive history. And that will be visibly demonstrated globally when king Jesus shall reign from David's throne.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

on public mourning

in the streets they wear sackcloth; on the housetops and in the squares everyone wails and melts in tears. 

Isaiah 15:3

What is being described here is public mourning. Moab is in desolation... a judgment that God has ordained. And the result of the searing loss is public mourning. The historic foe of Israel is brought low.

The practice of public mourning seems strange to me as an American. My culture keeps grief quietly. We don't display it with any flair. Even a funeral for a loved one is often a private affair. There are exceptions, like national tragedies, but even then the mourning is more somber and subdued. Flags are lowered to half mast. Trumpets play taps. It is hushed and the idea of sackcloth, ashes, and wailing does not enter our minds. We dress in our finest, look our best, parade the dress uniformed soldiers, and quietly reflect. Overt public mourning is not really a Western experience. It is quite foreign to us.

So when the Bible uses language like this, we struggle to relate. But the emotion expressed as Moab falls is real. A people acknowledge the desolation and destruction. Emotion attends public mourning for them. Moab was warned by God's prophet that it was coming. And even mourning can have the purpose of turning the heart to consider God.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Remember: God's Justice always has two sides.

For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? 

Isaiah 14:27

The finality of God's decrees must be lived with and accepted. No one out muscles God. It is an impossibility. What God purposes will happen, both in His judgment and in His goodness to us. We tend to shudder at judgment's prospects. But we can also take heart that His good graces are also as irrevocably final.

When Isaiah wrote this he was referencing the coming judgments on Assyria and Babylon. Those empires would fall. It would be justice for their brutality. But that same judgment would bring joy and deliverance for the remnant of Israel. So in His decree is both pain and pleasure, judgment and joy, gravity and goodness.

When people don't like the stern judgments in the prophets, they forget that the "B-side" of judgment is deliverance. God's justice always brings good things to the world. The ultimate expression is found in the cross, where my sin was judged in the death of my Lord Jesus Christ so that my life might be found in His resurrection.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

God's Authority to Judge

I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. 

Isaiah 13:11

Humanity only answers for sin to one person. God is our Judge. That is made clear in this passage. The scope of this pronouncement of judgment seems much broader than just the ruthlessness of Babylon. God is taking the step of proclaiming punishment for the entire world. So there is a lot more going on here.

God takes responsibility for being the only Judge of mankind. He does not do so in any other way than in absolute holiness. But the fact is, sin is dealt with by holy judgment. Nobody gets a free pass on this. And the worst societal sins (in the context typified by the brutal conquests and pride of Babylon) will receive a thorough judgment in the work of God in the world. Sin will be met with justice.

When we see a "problem" with God's right to judge, the problem we see is ours and not God's. It is part of the sinful perversity of human pride to think our sins do not really merit judgment from a holy God. But we are sinning with that line of thinking. We want to make ourselves higher than God. We must accept God's absolute moral authority to judge sin-filled humanity.

Christians look back on passages like this through the redemptive history that culminated in Jesus' salvation for us at Calvary. There all sin was atoned for so that judgment was borne for all who believe. And the gospel overcomes the eternal results of God's judgment. It provided a way out for those who will come to Jesus and learn to follow Him. A holy God provided redemption AND judges sin all in Jesus. We cannot forget that. The gospel is our perspective on judgment. It is Good News for a world under condemnation.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Salvation is not a thing.

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." 

Isaiah 12:2

The wrong view of salvation is to see it as a thing that I have. It is not a life characteristic. It is not a quality or an ideal. It is the essence of all that I experience in God. God is many things to me. He is my Creator. He is my Sustainer. He is Sovereign over all that occurs in my life. He is my Judge. He is my Father. But above all, God is my salvation.

I could not even come to God unless He made the first move. I was spiritually dead. I was an amoeba in God's Petri dish with no feeling or awareness of Him. But He transformed me. I was a walking zombie, dead in my sins. God became my life and saved me. He is my salvation. I could never save myself.

That awareness brings true praise out of my heart this morning. I often default to legalistic thinking. I see salvation as yet another thing to manage in my day. But it is not that. GOD IS MY SALVATION! I don't need to fear. I will trust in Him. I will sing to The Lord. I will rejoice in You, O my God and my salvation, for You and only You are my life and my salvation!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

a shoot from the stump

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 

Isaiah 11:1-2

Using the image of renewal of life, Isaiah describes what the Messiah will do for His people. He will shoot out like an upstart new branch from the stump of a felled tree. And He will grow to a maturity that restores the fruitfulness of the once broken nation. He will do this because God's Spirit will empower all that He does like has never happened before.

There are then six descriptions of how the Holy Spirit will pour Himself into the ministry of the Messiah. These six words are joined in couplets of three phrases in verse two. The Spirit is wisdom.  And The Lord will deliver His people by His own wisdom and not their own. That sets the root of Jesse as superior to any ruler ever in Israeli history. The Spirit is understanding. There is a remarkable grasp of people and situations in the Messiah's rule, pointing to the Spirit's role of helping Him identify fully with His people.

The Spirit is counsel. This outflow from the wisdom God gives allows justice and truth to rule. The advice given by The Branch will be clear, true, and the very best words on the subject. The Spirit is might. There is the attendant power of God in His rule. Again, this is something clearly not of human ability.

The Spirit is knowledge. God knows all things. And that will be known through the Messiah. Most importantly, He will by His very person embody the knowledge of God. The Spirit of the fear of the LORD. Ultimately the Messiah instills worship in the people. There is a restoration of the true respect of the worship of God through His rule.

Jesus is seen in all these descriptors. He came to do all these things and He will return again to rule a kingdom where wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the LORD will fill the earth.

Monday, June 3, 2013

significance of a remnant

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.

Isaiah 10:20-21

Even before Assyria would destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel and threaten the Southern Kingdom of Judah, God decreed an end to Assyrian hemogeny in the region. He would leave a remnant. There would be a restoration of His people. And indeed, this did happen.

The Northern capital of Samaria did retain a very small population of ethnic Israelites. The Assyrian invasion led to some intermarrying among the Samaritan population so that what survived as a remnant by New Testament times was more cultural than racial. The Samaritans worshiped God. They did so much more differently than the surviving Judeans. They had their own temple and their own copies of the Law. And most racially "pure" Jews despised them, even though this was how God kept His remnant in the land.

Of course, the citizens of Jerusalem had their own brutal captivity in Babylon, but they managed to keep a strong ethnic identity. And when they returned after 70 years in Babylon, they were never again the idolatrous people that they one were. They had other problems, but paganism was not one of them. They had learned not to lean on the nations around them, but to trust in God.

And then, in Jesus, both groups were joined as one in a unique way. Jesus went out of His way to spend time in Samaria when His contemporary religious leaders avoided doing so. He made a point to tell a story in which a Samaritan embodied the essence of the Law and the true love for God and His neighbor. After His ascension, He saw to it that one of the early advances of the church under the apostles in the Book of Acts was the evangelization of Samaria. He commanded them to preach the gospel there. The Messiah brought all the remnant back into one group and once again God is a Mighty God to His people.

One encouraging truth from these restoration passages is to see the promises of God fulfilled. It strengthens my faith as I see it promised in scripture, played out in history, and delivered in the person of Jesus.