Day 213: Isaiah 51-53; The Suffering Servant

There is not much that I feel I can add to the Scripture reading for today.  Most of it covers in a very specific way, the “servant of God” that is to be sent that has been spoken about at different times since chapter 40.  Some people think that there are several plausible explanations for who or what this “servant” represents, all but one of which I feel is dismissed in this well-known passage that we attribute as a prophecy of Jesus‘ suffering and death.  Let’s read it again, and then we’ll briefly talk through the possible explanations for who/what this “suffering servant” is.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Some have said that this “servant of God” is actually representative as a “personified Israel.”  While this may sound a bit odd, there are many times in the Bible where Israel is identified as a person and as the servant of God.  Indeed God’s choosing of the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations is part of their work as God’s people.  It is plausible for them to be considered God’s servant.  Yet it doesn’t fit all the way.  Israel was not pierced for the transgressions of the whole world, nor did it go quietly to the slaughter.  Through them we have not found redemption in its fullest sense nor did the nation bear our iniquities.  These things lead me to believe that the “servant of God” is not Israel in a personified sense.

Others have claimed that the “servant of God” is not actually the whole nation of Israel, but the remnant of the nation that will return from captivity to rebuild the nation.  These are the people that have gone through the fire and have been refined for the work of God.  I can understand this argument a bit better than the whole of the nation of Israel.  A lot of work has been done on this small group of people that come back from exile.  As we talked about yesterday, they suffered greatly and went through a lot but came out on the other side a better people, refined by God for His work in the world.  Yet this process did not lead directly to the salvation of the whole world.  In fact the people of Israel still turn away from God even after their exile and return.  They need to be reminded again.  Even in their refined state they cannot and did not bear the sins of the world on their shoulders, nor did bring us salvation.  They certainly were oppressed and afflicted, but still they do not fit the bill for all that is said about this “suffering servant.”

The only other explanation then, and the only one that I think makes sense and actually fulfills all that is said about this servant of God is that it is referring to one man, namely Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Son of God.  It is only in His life, death, and resurrection that we find all of the sayings about the “servant of God,” both here and elsewhere in the Bible, completely fulfilled.  Jesus is the second Adam, the true Israel.  He lives the life that we could not and bore the death that we deserve.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and clearly takes on all of what is said here in Isaiah as well.  No one else fits the bill and no one else ever will.



Day 212: Isaiah 48-50; Refiner's Fire

Sometimes knowing the reasons why you are going through the trouble that you are is helpful as you are persevering through it.  I imagine that if you know the good that is going to come from it, how you will be stronger and better for it on the other side might actually make it seem a bit more bearable at the time.  There are other times, however, in which I’m sure it doesn’t matter at all what the reasons are for the pain, but you may feel like the end certainly don’t justify the means.  We’ve all been there… and I think this is the situation that the Lord speak into here, giving reasons for the exile that the Israelites are in.  They are not simply being punished, though the punishment and judgment against them they certainly earned by their wickedness, they are also being refined.  Another word for this is ‘purified,’ like the process that metal goes through in a furnace, removing all impurities so that the strongest, highest quality product will come out.  Refinement is the purpose for their affliction, and the result, as God proceeds to show them, will be the sending of His servant to the world.

As Christians, we call this process Sanctification, the process by which we are being continually transformed into the image of God that we see in Christ Jesus.  This doesn’t always happen through pain and wilderness experiences, but also through every day life experiences in which that Spirit is at work within us.  Sometimes we are convicted for something that we shouldn’t have, or perhaps should have done.  Maybe we should have said something, or shouldn’t have.  Perhaps something that you read, witnessed, or heard impacted you in a very particular way.  It could be that you are just trying to make your way in life through the mundane day in and day our routine, trying to be the best you can be.  Even in this can the Spirit work to change and transform you.

Whatever the case may be, like Israel, the final goal of this refining (sanctification) that we go through is the restoration that God speaks of about Israel.  They do not go through this just as a way of punishment, God has a purpose for this time.  Why?  Because God has chosen them to be His people like He has chosen us to also be His people.  The mere fact that God is working on us shows us that He is not done with us, He has not given up on us, and He has great things in store for us that He is preparing us for.  It is the same with Israel in our reading today, preparing them for the coming of the Lord’s servant.  God’s people are in this process of being transformed and restored.  Even in this, God knows that the people won’t be perfect, that they will again falter, which is why God’s plan is to work through them to bring about the incarnation of Jesus.

This is true with us as well.  We are not sanctified through our own merits.  Again and again we, like the people of Israel, will fall back into sin.  Yet, like the people of Israel, we have a savior that has done a great thing for us by defeating sin and death once and for all!  He has done the work for us and continues to do the work for us through the Holy Spirit.  We may fall into sin time and again, but we are also living as forgiven people, a testament to the grace and love of God.  May we continue to live in the grace and love of God each and every day, continually being shaped and formed into His likeness through the Spirit.  Amen!



Day 211: Isaiah 45-47; The Rise of Cyrus and Fall of Babylon

Today’s reading covers the events that I mentioned a few days ago at the beginning of this section of Isaiah.  There is a great deal of political upheaval that is going to take place in the world as Babylon declines in power and falls to King Cyrus the Great of Persia.  Some of the time that has been overlooked here will be picked up in other prophets such as Daniel.  In the mean time, the writer of Isaiah now is speaking of the instrument the Lord will use to bring about the return of the exiles to Israel; the second exodus if you will.  Our whole passage of reading today covers these events in succession.

Whether or not the writer is writing these things while they happen or if he is prophesying, a great feat indeed seeing as he had the name right any everything, is besides the point really.  Prophecy of this sort is not necessarily about predicting the future.  In fact, prophecy in the Bible is really not about predicting the future day by day, event by event as much as it is speaking the Word of God to the people.  Many times this manifests itself as being something about the future but is often full of imagery and relatively strange metaphors that aren’t necessarily meant to be taken literally.  In fact, most of what we hear in Isaiah and the other prophets as well isn’t so much about laying out an event by event timeline as it is about crediting the Lord with what is to happen and calling the people to repentance.  The call of repentance is something that had been happening, especially in the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, laying out the future in rather broad brush strokes, showing how God is and will be at work is what is happening there and here as well.

The point that the writer is making here is the overall sovereignty of God.  The people of Israel are or will be caught up in this political revolution that is going on, a war between Persia and Babylon that will likely change everything.  God is telling the people that this is something that He is allowing to happen.  In fact, God is empowering Cyrus and the Persians to take over, using him as an instrument so that His people will be allowed to return to their homeland.

What I find interesting about this, is Cyrus’ role in the whole thing.  Scripture says time and again that Cyrus doesn’t acknowledge God at all, but God still uses him to do what he is meant to do.  Ultimately it is God at work using Cyrus, and it’ll be God that brings about Cyrus’ downfall as well.  But for now, despite Cyrus’ lack of acknowledgement, God is working His will.

This gets me thinking about some of the situations that we are encountering today.  I wonder if there are people in the world, in our nation, even in our communities that God is using to work His will in the world despite their lack of recognition.  Perhaps even in our government, with politicians and leaders, the Lord is working out His will somehow.  I don’t think that, given the situation, the people of Israel would have seen Cyrus’ invasion as the work of God without some direction from Isaiah or other prophets.  They were fortunate to have these prophets reminding them of the work that God was doing.  Are there things that are happening at the national, state, or local level that could be God at work?  I dare say there are… if we’re willing to look for them!



Day 210: Isaiah 43-44; Our Only Savior

One of the big themes in this second section of the book of Isaiah is that of restoration.  This can be seen today in many different ways.  The one I want to focus on in particular is that of the transformation of the wilderness that is written about in Isaiah 43.  This is actually something that has come up a couple times already in chapters 40-42, but takes on a very new and specific meaning today because of the context in which it is found.  Isaiah, or the writer at this point, writes the Words of the Lord as He is talking about Israel‘s salvation and relates it to what we could call Israel’s “first salvation,” their escape from the hand of Egypt by the power of God.

The Hebrew people hearing this would have picked up on this theme immediately.  This is such an integral part of the history of Israel, who could forget?  Isaiah is speaking of something like a second Exodus, a time when the people would leave Babylon and return to the land that God had given them.  They are reminded that it was God that made this happen before and it is God that will make it happen once again.  Yet there is something different this time.

Remember, after Israel’s escape from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, they had to go into the wilderness.  We’ve talked about the wilderness experience at many different times throughout our journey through the Scriptures, from Israel to David and many other characters as well.  Every time though, as we pick up on this wilderness motif, we see it as a time of trial when the people or the person is faced with a great struggle that strips their identity and causes them to be re-identified.  For Israel, they went from being a group of slaves to a nation, a people of God.  David went from being a shepherd boy on the run to a wise and cunning king, ready to rule a nation.  But again, I point out that this time, the wilderness is different.

Isaiah isn’t talking about a vast expanse of land that is hostile to live in and difficult to survive through, He paints a picture of a redeemed and restored wilderness, a place in which the provisions of God are extravagant and overflowing:

Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me,
    the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.

So where does this come from?  This is the work of the Lord and Isaiah ties it into the salvation of Israel and the servant of the Lord that is to come.  Even though the people of Israel do not and will not recognize the work of the Lord, He still does the work to “blot our their transgressions.”  The point is being made here that the people cannot and will not be able to do these things on their own.  Despite any wilderness experience that they have, they will still fall away.  Even when faced with the mighty works of the Lord, the people still turn away from God.

But God does not leave them in their sin, He will bring them out of it and this time, the wilderness not be harsh and trying, but the way will be clear and the water overflowing.  The providence of the Lord will be more than anyone could ever possibly imagine.  Isaiah is referring to Jesus here, the way in the wilderness, the living water that never runs dry.  The grace that is given us in Jesus Christ is more than we could possibly imagine, covering over all the sins of the world.  This is the blessing to the world that Israel was always meant to be, the path laid before all people leading to the grace and mercy of God found in Jesus Christ.  Israel may have failed, but God never did.  They may not have been what they were intended to be, but God’s work towards salvation and restoration never ceased.  The way has been made for us in the wilderness, and the living water flows abundantly through it: Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.



Day 209: Isaiah 41-42; God is With You

After yesterday’s words of comforting assurance to the people of Israel still held captive in Babylon, the writer of this second section of Isaiah continues the theme of God’s work in them and for them, even while they are still in captivity.  One of the ways that this happens is by directly stating that fact in the first part of Isaiah 41.  God, speaking through the writer here, asks some obviously rhetorical questions with even more obvious answers and then speaks more words of calming reassurance to His people.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Sometimes I look at this and have to think how it is possible that the people that God had chosen could ever forget the fact that they were the people of God.  They had the temple, the land, the priests, and the worship rituals, not to mention the amazing stories that were part of their heritage, yet they still forgot who they were and whose they were as well.  All to often we are quick to judge the people of Israel for their sins and how quickly they turned away from God, but do not we also loose sight of our true identities in Christ when the going gets tough?  I’m sure we’ve all experienced it, the “dark night of the soul” when we feel as though we are totally alone.  Our tendency is also to turn from placing our strength in God and to put it in other things… video games… TV shows… Money… Things… Food?  The list goes on and on…

Yet into this darkness the Lord speaks even to us saying these same words.  “I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah goes on to speak of the futility of idols, those things we so often and too quickly put our trust in and he is spot on.  We turn so quickly to things that we think will help us, and yet it doesn’t take long for us to realize that they are truly no help at all.  We cannot put our hope in physical things for the offer nothing to us.

Another interesting thing to note in this Scripture today is the statement that God makes at the beginning of Chapter 42 about His chosen servant.  If it sound familiar to you, its because it is very similar to what God says when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan at the beginning of his ministry.  This is the first of the “servant songs” that appear in this section of Isaiah that go very far in painting a portrait of the person that will eventually be Jesus.  Not only do we know much about Him prior to His birth through prophecies such as this, we also see very clearly that type of Kingdom that He will usher in, the restoration that He will bring to the whole world.  There is much more to come on this as well.



Day 208: Isaiah 38-40; Comfort Comfort

Today we begin a new section of Isaiah.  Yesterday we talked through the historical interlude that led up to the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon that would come.  Those words, many believe, we actually the last words that Isaiah himself wrote in the Book of Isaiah.  We have actually skipped over many years of Babylonian rule, when the people of Israel are in exile, taken captive to the city of Babylon.  It is during this time that the second section of the book of Isaiah is written spanning chapters 40-55.  While there are many arguments that can be made around the actual authorship of this particular section of Isaiah, the fact remains that it has been included in the Cannon of Scripture and is therefore the Word of God.  It is also clear here that Isaiah, or the pseudo-Isaiah writer of this section has made a dramatic turn from the talk about judgment and punishment to deliverance and restoration of the people of God from the hands of the Babylonians.

The Babylonian Empire Photo Credit: www.keyway.ca

The Babylonian Empire
Photo Credit: www.keyway.ca

There are a lot of political and historical things that are going on at this time.  If indeed the second section of Isaiah was written during the Babylonian captivity it would be happening just as the world power was in decline and the rise of the Medes and then the Persians was taking place.  This would ultimately lead to the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, a decree first put in place by Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.  If this sounds familiar to you, it is because we talked about this in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as at the end of the book of 2 Chronicles.  Whether this is prophecy, history, or a mix I guess is up to the reader and the scholars, but the message that comes from this section of the book is clear: God has not forgotten His people and is still working to bring about their restoration.

There is considerable talk in Isaiah 40-55 about the coming “servant of the Lord” who will bring justice, righteousness, and peace to the world.  We also will find in here some familiar ideas about the exodus and the movement through the wilderness, a theme that would have been picked up by the Hebrew people almost immediately.  There are some differences though that we will cover in the coming days.

Finally, today we talk of the comfort that the writer speaks towards the people of Israel.  God’s people have been defeated, uprooted, and exiled from their lands.  In many ways, there is nothing left of who they are as their identity was so closely tied to the land that God had given them and the Temple in which they worshiped God.  Being dislocated from that, for them, was like removing the head from the body.  Into this grief and confusion though, God speaks words of comforting assurance.  Yes, she has been punished.  Yes, she is lost.  Yes, God allowed this to happen.  But God has not forgotten them and this exile is not permanent for once again God will act, continuing the work that He has been doing to restore all things on Earth and usher in His Kingdom.  The writer reminds the people that God is everlasting, that He is higher than any earthly thing, and He will not be shaken by any army, any government, and is greater than any physical distance.  Into their grief and confusion, the Lord gives a message to the writer, one that they have so longed to hear.  Israel, you are not forgotten, you are not lost, God is still at work with you and within you.  Wait on the Lord like a watchman waits for the morning, for you will indeed see His great works once again!

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.



Day 207: Isaiah 35-37; Historical Interlude

While today’s reading is over Isaiah 35-37, we are actually going to talk through Isaiah 36-39, a historical interlude within the prophetic book of Isaiah.  As I said yesterday, we’ve talked extensively about the judgments on the nations surrounding Israel, and today we see a part of that coming to pass.  While the full conquering of Judah and Jerusalem doesn’t actually come until later, with Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian military actually exiling the people of Judah, the Assyrian Crisis is certainly not something that the Israelites would shrug off.  It was foretold by Isaiah in chapter 8 and is recorded in 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 32.

Sennacherib‘s invasion started in the Northern Kingdom, resulting in the complete and total decimation of the kingdom and the permanent deportation of its people.  While eventually the people of Judah would be able to return after their exile, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel would never be heard from again.  In some ways this is an example of the finality of the judgment that we talked about yesterday.  Sennacherib doesn’t stop there though and continues into the nation of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, and conquers all of the cities except Jerusalem.  This too was foretold by Isaiah and what we see is the very example that Isaiah has been talking about, the example of what happens when a people turns to the Lord.

Isaiah prays to the Lord and the Lord hears his prayer.  This is recorded in chapter 37 and shows both the greatness of the Lord and His strength.  It also shows the true character of God who is once again quick to forgive and slow to condemn.  Judah repents and the Lord relents from the coming disaster.

For more on this, please reference 2 Chronicles 30-32: Hezekiah’s Reign and 2 Kings 18-20: Hezekiah, King of Judah.  This look more in depth at the reign of Hezekiah and the invasion of Sennacherib.

Even in this story though, one of God’s victory over the strongest army in the world, we see an example of King Hezekiah still placing his focus on the wrong thing.  After Assyria has been defeated and the Lord has cured him from disease, he still is looking in the wrong places for influence.  Babylon sends envoys and, while there is no word from Isaiah about not seeing them, Hezekiah seems to be over eager to impress these messengers from a new up-and-coming world power.  We read that he “gladly shows them everything in his storehouses,” something that Isaiah later points out was probably not a good idea.  At the end of this interlude, Isaiah pulls it all together prophesying about the coming invasion of Babylon and bringing us back to the judgment coming on Jerusalem.  The stage is set and the characters are set in motion for the coming judgment and, as we have heard so often these past few days, the coming hope in the days that follow.

 



Day 206: Isaiah 32-34; Final Judgments

Today’s reading overflows with images of death and disaster while also intermingled with the message of righteousness and grace.  These are very different images and conjure up very different reactions.  In many ways, it is difficult to see how today’s reading flows together.  We’ve been talking about judgment for several days now, Isaiah‘s prolonged writing about the the coming judgment of the nations and also the continuing work of the Lord seems to get a little drawn out, yet there is a purpose for what He is doing here (or else it most likely wouldn’t be in the Bible).  I won’t claim to know what the purpose is completely, however I would like to try to weave these two very different images together today.

In many ways, much of what has been said in recent days is also applicable here so I find it hard to come up with any sort of new revelation about today’s Scripture verses what we have already read.  This is, for all intents and purposes, the same message that Isaiah has been giving to the people for the last 20 or so chapters.  Yet here we seem to come to a significantly more bloody portion of prophecy that we have recently encountered.  I’m sure Isaiah has his reasons, those being things that the Lord has told him which he is now repeating to the people of Israel and the surrounding nations.

I can’t help but notice, when I read this, the stark contrast between the imagery of grace and righteousness and that of those still under judgment.  The beginning of chapter 32 and most of chapter 33 have some imagery of the disaster that is coming, but primarily maintain the motif of God’s mercy, justice, and grace.  Even though the people are crying out in the face of disaster, God will still raise them up and exalt those who have turned to Him.  We see a vision of the one who will reign in righteousness, yet another Messianic prophecy, and all the good that comes with Him in spite of the judgment that is taking place.

The contrast then, is those who have not turned to God.  We are given the message of hope, but we are also given a vision of judgment that has a level of finality to it as well.  This judgment seems to be a bit different than what we have encountered thus far.  There is a significantly larger amount of bloodshed here, more speech about death and an air of finality that seems to be hovering over all of it.  I think that Isaiah is trying to point out the contrast between the judgment and the grace.  While those that find their strength in God (perhaps those that didn’t return to Egypt as we talked about yesterday) still experience difficulty in these troubling times, they will be lifted up and exalted after their perseverance.  However, those that do not turn to God (represented here by Edom) will indeed be cast out and destroyed in a final judgment.

Tomorrow, as we read Chapter 35 of Isaiah, keep this in mind, because I think that this message gets amplified.  Isaiah is talking about the time in which Babylon is going to be the instrument of judgment against the nations and especially against Jerusalem.  The point has been made, judgment will come.  However, as we read this tomorrow, and as we have heard before, judgment also comes to the instrument of the judge, and the people of God will not be forgotten and will be returned to their homeland and will be restored before God.  Not only will they be brought back, but it will be with joy and songs that they return.



Day 205: Isaiah 29-31; Judgement on Jerusalem

Isaiah, after talking about the judgments that will be coming upon the other nations, zeros in on Jerusalem now, talking very specifically about the coming judgment that will take place in the city of God.  The siege that will take place is the siege of Sennacherib, something that will actually take place in Isaiah’s lifetime and is recorded later in this book.  As I read this though, I think what is important is not the siege itself, or the timing of the coming judgment, but the reasoning behind it.  I would dare say that apart from the interwoven message of hope and continuing faithfulness of God even in the midst of judgment, the reasoning behind the judgment is the most important thing about these texts.  Like punishing a child, how can one learn what to work on and do better if they don’t know what it is that they are doing wrong.  More than this though, I think that Isaiah has a word for Christians today here as well.

At the center of the passage that we read here today is, in many ways, worship.  The first and foremost reason that this judgment is coming is because of who the Israelites were worshiping.  While it is true that the Temple was up and the priests were worshiping God, for the most part anyway, it is obviously clear that the hearts of God’s people were not turned towards God.  Isaiah, and many of the other prophets say repeatedly that the people of Israel have turned from the Lord and have gone off after other gods.  Isaiah makes the point in the middle of chapter 29 when the Lord says, “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men...”  God’s people are really just giving God lip service, they are doing the things that they always have done because they’ve always done it.  It’s likely that no one really understands why and it is also possible that the worship of God has become like the religious rituals that take place for other gods as well.  It’s just something that they do because they’ve always done it.  God, in a resounding statement, says ABSOLUTELY NOT!  “therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.

I think that there is a word for us here today, to the Church of the 21st century… to the Church of the West who seem to find ourselves in a similar situation.  Worship of God has become just another thing to do.  We walk through liturgies and rituals without knowing the first thing about them, doing them because its what our parents did or what our denomination says we have to do.  Some might say that this is good, so that, as Isaiah writes, God “will do wonderful things with this people,” which sounds so good.  However, looking at those wonderful things, they resulted in judgment, exile, dislocation… a corrective punishment of sorts.  Israel was forced to find her identity away from all that she found familiar… perhaps we are seeing this even now?  Society is becoming increasingly secular; the church is waking up to find it’s influence in the world has evaporated and is not grappling with how to be the people of God away from the familiar confines of a “Christian” nation.

The warning of God comes through clear here as well, Do not go down to Egypt.  This seems like a ridiculous thing to say at this point but it has been the habit of the people of Israel to run back to Egypt, or try to anyway, whenever there is a problem.  Isaiah’s message from God has more to do here than simply running back to their slave master’s when they were told not to, it has to do with who and what they are placing their trust in.  More than worship, God is impressing on the people the need for them to trust in Him for their deliverance.  There is no hope for them to be found in Egypt, in the strength of military or even culture, their hope lies completely with God.

Again I wonder if there is not a word for the Church here as well.  Amid the awakening of the somewhat dormant church we find ourselves looking towards the strength of other things in culture.  Media, Professionalism, lights, music, technology, etc. all lure the church is as a way of making her relevant again.  We see these things as being one of the main influences on people today and think that if we can somehow use it, we would once again be powerful.  Yet what happens to the Israelites if they indeed run to Egypt, they are once again under Egyptian influence… under the influence of the slave driver.  Do not we also become a slave to the things that we use?  Does our music, our technology, our flashy presentations or even our well crafted oration become our identity rather than God?  We are then subjected to the rule of cultural norms rather than freed by the message of the Gospel…

God’s message is clear in this as well: “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.  For the Lord is a God of justice;  blessed are all those who wait for him.”  This is true, Isaiah writes, even for those who are foolish enough to trust in things other than God.

Praise God for His faithfulness… even when we stray!



Day 204: Isaiah 26-28; In That Day…

The phrase “In That Day” is repeated several times today which indicates a certain emphasis in the reading for us.  We have just finished several days of Oracles, prophecies of judgment against the nations, and we know that there will be a time of judgment that will come upon Israel and all its surrounding neighbors.  Indeed the sins of the people both near and far would be called into account and the nations would be uprooted and brought low by the face of God.  Isaiah is talking about a rather tumultuous time that was to come for the world, or at least this part of it.  Time after time, empire after empire would conquer and subject the nations to their rule, sometimes taking the people away from their lands and sometimes allowing them to return.  Yet, as I have said time and again, even these rather grim prophecies are not without hope.

This hope is the subject of today’s reading, the hope that will come “in that day.”  The word ‘day’ that is used here does not necessarily mean a literal day necessarily, but can also be used by saying things like “in that time” or even “in that year.”  It is mostly a reference to a time period that will take place at a certain time, presumably after the time of judgment that is to come.  Isaiah references this time by saying again and again,  “in that day.”  He uses some very full descriptions and imagery to talk about what is to come ‘in that day,’ beautiful imagery of the work that the Lord will do and continue to do after the time of judgment has passed.

Today’s reading clearly has a high level of Messianic underpinning to it as well.  You can’t read far without hearing the echoes and whispers of the coming Savior, the One that the Lord will send to make all things right again.  After the Lord “punishes the Leviathan,” Isaiah writes, “In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit.”  He goes on to say later,

therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line;

These words are used in other places to also describe the coming of the Messiah.  All through this God is working towards the day that He would send His Son as the Savior of the World, the precious Cornerstone of the foundation that the Lord has been working and building in Israel since day one.  What we see and hear in this description is not a new thing, God is not changing His plans, but instead is continuing the work that He has been doing since the beginning of time to bring about reconciliation and redemption for all of humanity, something that could only be accomplished by God Himself, the act of which we know as the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.



Day 203: Isaiah 22-25; Oracles Against The Nations (Part 3)

Again today we encounter Oracles against different cities and one directed straight at Jerusalem.  Along with Tyre and Sidon, these Oracles and the others that we have read for the past two days have taken aim at the hearts of these civilizations.  The messages would have shaken them to the core because God knew exactly what to go after, that which made them strong and gave them identity.  It is clear that the Lord will humble all of the nations before Him, that their wickedness will be brought to account, and justice will be served in its due time.

As we spoke about before, this is the easiest message to see in these writings, and in many ways it is the easiest message to communicate because it makes the most sense.  In fact, this is in many ways the stereotypical message communicated by “crazy Christians,” the ones with the bullhorn on the street corner telling everyone that they are evil and need to repent to be saved from hell.  This is the message that we all hear as part of Jonathan Edwards famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  This is, in many ways, the message that Christianity is known for: ‘repent now because God’s judgment is coming.’  It seems like, as culture continues to spiral downward, that is the message the continues to be heard from the church as Christian communities bury their heads in the sand to try and escape it.

But isn’t this just a little bit arrogant?  Christians assume that we have it all together and clearly other people don’t.  The logical next step, apparently, is that for those that don’t know they don’t have it all together, we need to show them the error of their ways and then scare them into faith.  What has become clear in recent years, with the increase of the decline of the Church is that these tactics are obviously not working.  Admittedly, at this point in my writing today, I realize that I have categorized the whole church within the scope of this small minority, but I defend my criticism with the understanding that those that speak the loudest are heard the most… a sad reality for those who choose to say nothing, which I believe is true of a great deal more of the Church in the U.S. than we care to admit.

The message we get from the book of Isaiah seems, at first glance, to be similar.  Judgment is indeed coming, says Isaiah, and it is going to bring you to your knees.  Through these readings, there also is rather implicit and also explicit call to repentance from Isaiah.  Yet the judgment’s reality and scope are not effected by the repentance that takes place.  Unlike the book of Jonah, God’s judgment on the world is certain.  Sin will be judged.  The nations will be humbled.  Yet, the grand overall picture of this is not just one of destruction, but of restoration.  God is not in the business of creating for the sake of destruction.  In fact, God is solidly in the business of sustaining and upholding the created order in all things, working His will to fulfill His purpose in it… in us!

If we as a church choose to cry “judgment!” we need to make sure that we are crying the whole story.  Judgment in Isaiah has a great deal to do with humbling the proud and punishing sin, yes… but it also has a great deal to do with restoration, with God swallowing up death forever.  Chapter 25 and Chapter 2 of Isaiah are very similar, talking about the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  This is the ultimate outcome of God’s work in the world, the final final reality that will exist in the world, a place where creation is made new once again, where sin has no presence, and where God will dwell with His people forever.



Day 202: Isaiah 17-21; Oracles Against The Nations (Part 2)

Did you hear it in today’s reading?  Another set of oracles against certain nations that were Israel’s enemies, yes.  That is easy to hear.  God has once again proclaimed judgment on these sinful nations surrounding His people.  Egypt, Cush, and Damascus are among the latest in our reading to hear the proclamation of judgment against them.  The message is obviously full of images of destruction, punishment for following the idols.  This is very easy to hear in today’s writing.  But did you hear the other message here?

In the messages against Egypt, the people of Israel hearing this would have probably been bringing up images of the ten plagues that the Lord did against Egypt while they were still in slavery.  Destruction, disease, and ultimately the bringing low of the people of Egypt, in the same way that the Israelites were brought low in their time of captivity.  In many ways, the situation will be reversed, Egypt will be the slaves of another nation, a great irony seen by the people of Israel.  But did you hear the other message contained therein?

Certainly we can’t read today without recognizing the word Babylon, probably one of the more recognizable words in the Old Testament.  We here Babylon and our ears perk up a bit.  This was a city, yes, and one that had a great deal of power and influence over the land in the time of the Babylonian empire, but it is also a symbol.  Babylon, though empowered by God to act as a tool of judgment against the nations, was also a very corrupt and morally bankrupt city and culture.  They worshiped many Gods; rarely if ever actually worshiping the God that raised them up in the first place.  Because of this, Babylon became a symbol of much more than just a city, it became the symbol of corruption and evil, especially to the people of Israel who were conquered by them.  This is the beginning of the other message that Isaiah speaks here.

As we have talked about already in these past few days, the judgments and oracles against Israel, Judah, and the nations of the world are not simply prophecies of destruction and desolation.  These are what we hear on the level, they are the easiest to pick up.  But there is much more than that here and we can see it if we take the time to look and listen deeper.  God is always working towards restoration, which is the deeper message that we see here.  While we hear of judgment, we also see pictures of unity.  Israel, Egypt, and Assyria will all be one, walking and worshiping the Lord together.  Bitter enemies, the slave and the master, and the world military power will all be blessed in the end, all living together in unity and worshiping the Lord together.  This is the restoration that we can look forward to and the image that John gives us in Revelation, with every nation, tribe, and tongue gathered before the throne worshiping and praising God forever.



Day 201: Isaiah 14-16; Oracles Against The Nations (Part 1)

If we look back at the first graph in the introduction to Isaiah, we come to the section in the book called “God vs. The Nations.”  This is a section in which God is speaking through Isaiah the judgments that will be carried out on all of the other nations around and including Israel.  Today we cover Assyria, Philistia, and Moab, three of the nations surrounding Israel that they had the most contact and conflict with.  Philistia especially, located to the southwest of Israel, continually brought war and strife to the nation of God; the struggle against them was never brought to an end.  One might be bold enough to say that the war is still going on today between Israel and the Palestinians, who live in the same area as the Philistines did in the time of Biblical Israel… though this would be a bold and rather not provable statement I think.

In any case, the next three days we will be reading through these Oracles that contain within them and majority of judgmental messages spoken against these nations.  That being said though, even in here we can find glimpses of hope and restoration that give the dark future a glimmer of light.

One might be tempted to think that it isn’t fair of God to judge the nations that He hasn’t revealed Himself to directly.  They clearly didn’t know the law and didn’t know what was considered sin and what would have been good behavior for them.  In many ways, these people could have been considered innocent by plea of ignorance to the law.  Yet that is not so in God’s eyes.  In fact, to God they stand as guilty as the sinful Israelites did, and were to face the same judgment as them too.

One might also be tempted to say that these other nations were just victims of unfortunate circumstances.  God raised up nations to judge His sinful, disobedient people and they happened to be collateral damage.  Isaiah seems to be saying that this is not so; their destruction and judgment was  also intentional.  This alone indicates to us that they too are under the same Law and judgment of God, even if they didn’t know it, which actually makes sense when you give it some thought.

If God chose Abraham and built Him into a great nation so that through His children all the people of the world would be blessed, then it is clear that God’s plans for the world do indeed go far beyond the boarders of His people.  That too would mean that God has been working for them as much as He has for the people of Israel themselves, and that they fall under the same blessing / curse formula that was laid out in the Covenant at Sinai.  Ultimately one of Israel’s main purposes was to be a light to these nations.  They were to be the ones that would reveal God and God’s will to the nations around them.  This was the way in which God’s love, holiness, and justice was to be communicated.  Clearly, Israel failed at this, but that doesn’t mean that the nations were any less responsible.  God did communicate Himself to them in many ways and we saw the nations of the world coming to Israel in several different circumstances, seeking the will of God through the prophets.

In the end, however, none could live up to the way of life God called them to.  No one was able to live the righteous life that God had commanded and all fell into sin.  Yet even here, found within the words of Judgment against these three nations can be found a word of hope for them as well.  God is not done with any of these nations, or any of the nations of the world.  Indeed God is still at work.  These judgments will come to pass for them for sin needs to be punished, but forgiveness also comes.  Isaiah writes in chapter 16 verse 5:

…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.

This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah, right in the middle of the judgment that will be coming on the nation of Moab.  Though judgment comes, so too will love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness… the true way of God.  Many times in Scripture, God is portrayed as a gardener amongst the nations.  He tends to his garden, carefully guiding and watering the plants that they may grow.  Sometimes though, a plant needs to be pruned back, for it has grown to big and reached too far.  Sometimes plants need to be pruned all the way down to the stump.  Always though, pruning happens for the good of the plant.  The loving gardener holds no malice for the plant he is pruning, but instead understands that doing this will ultimately lead to a stronger, healthier plant that will bear even more fruit than it already has.

This is the picture that is set before us for the nations as well.  God’s wrath against sin is clear, His judgment on it is righteous, and His purpose ultimately is to bring restoration to the people and all of creation that He has made and sustains.



Day 200: Isaiah 10-13; Judgment of the Judgers

Again we come to the book of Isaiah reading familiar verses within the greater context of verses probably less familiar.  Isaiah 11, especially the first section, is a text likely familiar to a church goer as it too is one of the more famous prophecies of the coming of the Messiah to the people of Israel.  It too, however, is found within the greater context of Isaiah’s message of Israel and Judah about the coming judgment that will befall them, one that they cannot and will not escape.  Yet amid the questions that were likely raised, which I mentioned yesterday, once again God is showing His grace and His commitment to His covenant people.  Though it seems a funny way of doing it, God’s ways are clearly higher than any human understanding and, like a the loving Father that He is, God understands better than any human father the need to teach His people rather than allowing them to continue in their sinful ways.

Interestingly though, the instrument of judgment, in this case Assyria, is no less sinful than the people that they are judging.  This is a clear message from Isaiah as well.  Keep in mind that Isaiah is saying all of this before it has actually happened yet.  While I’m sure there were rumors of the growing Assyrian power, this is actually being written at a time when Israel and Assyria are join in force against Judah.  Isaiah is prophesying about the future, when sinful Israel will be wiped off the map after which Assyria will come as far as the gates of Jerusalem before being turned away.  This is recorded in 2 Kings 18-19 and 2 Chronicles 32 and takes place during the reign of King Hezekiah.

Looking at today’s text more carefully, I think that we see something else that would bring comfort to the people of God apart from the promise of a Messiah.  If I had to guess, I think it is an answer to another question that was posed yesterday about God’s commitment to the people He has chosen.  I mentioned that, if God was using other nations against His own people, wouldn’t they have wondered if perhaps He had abandoned them?  That question is answered, in a way, by the way God acts towards them as well.  Assyria, and even Babylon later, are under the same judgment, punished by God for their sin and arrogance.  One of my favorite lines of these chapters is:

Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
    or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
    or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!

Its a rhetorical statement really because the answer is obvious.  Yet it is clear that these nations and their leaders have come to that point of declaring themselves better than the God who empowered them in the first place.  This makes me wonder about a lot of things in a more contemporary context.  Do we as a nation fit this category?  So many people call America a “Christian Nation” that has been blessed by God with extraordinary prosperity, power, and prominence in the world.  Yet lately, it seems like there has been a lot of talk about how we have gotten here on our own, a wholesale turning away from giving God the credit for bringing us to this point in history.  I wonder what Isaiah might think about that?  I bet he would have something to say…

As a worship leader, this is something that is also on my mind when it comes to leading in a Church.  The praise team I work with has grown a great deal in the last two years!  We have become more cohesive as a group and together have become stronger musicians.  I would say that we have become pretty good at what we do, despite having a great deal of the “normal issues” that a church faces (sound quality, stylistic differences, etc).  I think Scripture like this applies to us as well, and to Christian leaders everywhere really.  We can look at how God has blessed us, how we are growing and how good things are happening within our churches, but do we give God the credit?  There are a great many mega-churches out there right now that have grown by leaps and bounds over a very short amount of time for one reason or another.  Many that I know center around the preaching of one particular pastor or program, but do we thank God for this and give Him all the credit?  Or do we foolishly think that it is our own work and ability to speak, plan, or target certain groups that has made us grow?  Brothers and Sisters in Christ we need to remember that we are the axe, not the wielder, we are the tool not the carpenter.  Let us remember that it is to God that all glory and honor goes.

PSALM 115

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
    for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
    he does all that he pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
    so do all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.

The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us;
    he will bless the house of Israel;
    he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the Lord,
    both the small and the great.

May the Lord give you increase,
    you and your children!
May you be blessed by the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,
    but the earth he has given to the children of man.
The dead do not praise the Lord,
    nor do any who go down into silence.
But we will bless the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!



Day 199: Isaiah 7-9; The Sign of Immanuel

Portions of today’s reading are probably quite familiar to you if you have been around church during the time of Advent.  There are a great many references to the coming of Jesus, though Isaiah doesn’t name him directly, in these three verses.  Apart from reading over them to read through the Bible, I can’t say that I’ve ever closely looked at the Scripture surrounding these few prophecies of the coming Messiah.  To be honest, I don’t think that many of us have because of the nature of the timing with which we read them.  Advent is wholly focused on the coming of Christ.  We spend a great deal of time “preparing our hearts” for His arrival, to celebrate the incarnation of God into this world as a human baby.  There is so much that goes along with this, much of which I am sure we will talk about when we enter into the New Testament in a couple months.

For now, however, I think it is important to see these verses within the context that they are found here in Isaiah.  As he is writing, and as the Lord is speaking this word to him, Isaiah is prophesying both judgment and hope.  As I was reading this, I first thought that this was all gloom and doom for Israel, but really what Isaiah is talking about are the things that are to happen prior to the coming of the Lord’s anointed One.  So what we are reading here is kind of a back and forth talking about the judgment of the wicked and the hope God is also speaking to here in the coming Messiah and the kingdom of God.

When I read this Scripture and think about the message that Isaiah is speaking to these people, one that would likely be carried all over the people of Israel, I start to see the message of hope being emphasized, even though it seems as though the message of judgment is what stands out.  Isaiah is speaking of how God is going to use another nation to wipe out the Northern Kingdom of Israel, a message that, for the Hebrew people, probably shook their worldview to its foundation.  The God of Heaven had chosen this people to be His people since the time of Abraham their forefather.  All through that time, even in their rebellion and sinfulness, God had always been their for them, to fight for them and protect them as His people.  Yet now, it seems, the nature of God (perhaps ‘nature’ isn’t an appropriate word as God is unchanging) has changed in relationship to them.  They would probably be wondering about the covenant, whether God was dissolving it or not, and what the final straw was that got them to this point.

Yet I think the point that Isaiah is trying to get across to the people, that point being the message that God has for the people, what actually quite the opposite of God “giving up” on them.  Indeed God is saying quite the opposite to them, especially to the people of Judah.  He is saying that, though there is punishment coming, judgment for their sinful ways, that He is by no means giving up on them.  In fact, God already knows how and when He is going to bring about their restoration, both as a nation, and spiritually as His people.  This is a message of Judgement, for the Northern Kingdom especially, but as we will find out, the restoration that is brought about through Jesus Christ is not just for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but for all nations, just as was originally promised to Abraham… a man chosen and blessed to be a blessing to all the nations of the world.  This is important to keep in front of us throughout the reading of the prophets, even amid the gloom and doom of judgment messages, the focus of God is always towards calling people to repentence now, of course, and towards hope and future restoration that would be and will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.