Day 220: Jeremiah 6-8; Backward or Forward?

A section of today’s Scripture reading really struck me as I was reading it, the section about the people’s stubbornness while caused them to move backwards and not forwards located in Jeremiah 7.  It started me thinking about the Church in America as it is struggles to find its identity in the 21st century.  There have been many comments about the Church being asleep lately, how people are leaving the church in droves resulting in a major decline withing the western Church.  To accompany that, there have been a lot of articles written about how exactly we as the church should confront that.  Along with this comes what I would assume would be a myriad of  differing opinions about how churches should handle themselves and how they should act in the culture around them.  This is, as it has always been, largely an identity issue, one that is being readdressed as the western Church wakes up in a “post-Christendom,” culture in which its overall influence is shrinking, not growing.

While I would hate to draw an inappropriate parallel between the 20th-21st century church in America and the people of Israel during the time of the latter kings, I think that there are some striking similarities and we could definitely identify with.  We have talked before about how the church today, as it tries to pull itself out of the decline that it has been in, is increasingly turning to various outside sources and influences to help improve its image in America and around the world.  Many people have viewed the church as outdated, lagging behind culture, and irrelevant so in response the church is working on improving its influence by becoming more modern using technology, generation based worship, and even compromising some of its beliefs for the sake of a greater acceptance.  Some churches have “branded” themselves as this or that, trying to reach the people around them.  Many churches have turned to consulting groups to do the legwork of researching the population around them and give them advice on how to best advertise themselves to “reach” their neighbors.  Yet I wonder if this is the answer.

Jeremiah points out here that, despite the many prophets and servants that God had sent them since the time that they came out of Egypt, the people did not listen to the voice of God or obey His commands.  In fact, they did not know God, listen to God, or obey God.  They did not recognize Him nor did they even know God’s Word or recognize God’s voice.  This is evident in how the people treated prophets like Jeremiah, not listening to him and even persecuting him because of the unpopular message that he carried from God.  Yet unpopular or not, it was still a message from God, one that they needed to heed.  I wonder, in our present context if this is not happening once again.  Do we as a church recognize the message of God?  Are we listening for His voice each day?  Or are our days over-crowded and our minds too full for us to hear what God is saying?  Do we spend time in God’s Word, getting to know and recognize God’s voice, or do we simply do what we want, pandering to the current cultural movements that are taking place.

The one place that I have seen this most is within the corporate worship setting.  There are movements within the Church to create a more “inviting” atmosphere, replacing theological “jargon” with simplified versions of the Bible and the Gospel.  While I am not opposed to this, in fact I think we the Church need to know how to communicate to our neighbors, perhaps we are losing more than just technical terms.  Maybe I’m wrong here, but I wonder if now more than ever, we need to know well the Word of God and the Gospel of salvation.  I wonder if, instead of trying on various cultural trends in our church like we try on clothes at the mall, we should go back to our well worn, seasoned clothes of the Gospel, Salvation History, and the good news of Jesus Christ.  Maybe its time for us to stop attempting to be so much like culture that we are no different than it, working to make ourselves so relevant that we become irrelevant (moving backward, not forward), and focus on the Gospel message and the love of God and His grace for all who believe in His name.



Day 219: Jeremiah 4-5; The Coming Judgment

Like Isaiah, the beginning of Jeremiah’s message has a lot to do with the coming judgment that will take place on the people of Judah for their disobedience to the Lord.  Yesterday, we heard Jeremiah picking up the notion of the people of Judah prostituting themselves before other gods, carvings and images that were made by man and had no power.  Interestingly, this message comes to us right after the commissioning of Jeremiah, a commissioning that actually is representative of the greater nation of Israel as well.  They were meant to be what Jeremiah is, the voice of God among the nations.  They too were blessed, touched and saved by God for the work that He had for them, yet they would not and did not follow His commands, neither did they fulfill the purpose to which they were called.

Apart from the book of Isaiah, this theme of what will happen to the people of God if they didn’t follow God’s commands is covered in the early books of the Bible as well, in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  As God is laying out the laws for His people, the covenant which they are supposed to follow, He lays out a section of Blessings and Curses which spells out very clearly these things that Jeremiah, and Isaiah before him, prophesied about.  While it may seem like this is coming out of the blue for the people of Judah, they have been warned before and really, for the extent of their existence as a nation, they have worked under this understanding of the covenant.

Fol.148. Detail of God addressing Jeremiah

Fol.148. Detail of God addressing Jeremiah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This message, again like the message of Isaiah, seems so logical and calculating.  God is saying through His prophet that the people have not followed His commands.  They have not lived out the Shema, they have turned to other gods.  He reminds them that they have been warned time and again and that they have still not listened.  It all seems so emotionless, and kind of sets God up as this rather fist of iron ruler with no mercy or willingness to forgive.  Clearly the people have sinned and that seems to be all there is to it.  Herein lies the main thing that sets Jeremiah apart from the other prophets, emotion.

Too often, I think we take the emotion out of the message; Jeremiah doesn’t though.  While he is a human and likely reacting to the visions and messages that God is giving him about his home country, we also see in him some of the emotion that God exhibits in this message as well.  We always chalk God up to being a God of love, which is entirely true, but I don’t think we often give him credit for all of the other emotions that God has and clearly shows in the book of Jeremiah.  This judgment isn’t simply an emotionless decision.  Like a father disciplining a child, there is hurt on both sides, even if the father knows it is in the best interest of the child.  God knows that his children need to learn, and we have seen in Isaiah that this punishment is part of the process of refining the people of Judah, but it doesn’t make the pain any less great for God the Father either.  It is important for us to understand that, though God is indeed omniscient and knows all that is to come, the actions of punishment and judgment that He takes against His children are difficult even for God, even if He knows the punishment is necessary and the outcome will be good.  These are the actions of a loving God who wants what is best for His children, a love that can be seen in an entirely different light through the emotions of Jeremiah.



Day 218: Jeremiah 1-3; Intro to and Call of Jeremiah

Jeremiah is one of the more interesting and dynamic of the prophets, leading an emotionally tortured life but still holding to the message that the Lord gave him; a call to repentance and the coming judgment of Judah.  The book of Jeremiah takes place in the latter part of the 7th century and the early part of the 6th century, over the reign of the last 5 kings of Judah.  In relation to Isaiah, Jeremiah wrote and prophesied after his life, but probably takes place in between the writing of the first and second sections of Isaiah.  Towards the end of the book, and in to his second writing, the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah prophesies about the coming judgment and finally witnesses the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple of God.  He takes part in the exile of Judah, finishing his writings of lamentation as one of the exiles of Judah.

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Je...

“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The call of Jeremiah happens is similar fashion to that of Isaiah.   It is interesting that the call of these two prophets revolves largely around the touching of the mouth to represent the giving of speech to these two great voices.  Jeremiah’s calling also revolves around a promise and assurance from God that He knows and has known Jeremiah since before he was even formed, a testament to Jeremiah’s preordained purpose set out by God.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.

Stories of calling like this should cause us to think about our own callings as well.  While we often struggle with the concept of free will in relationship to the fact that God has a plan for the universe, we should not become bogged down in the details.  It is difficult for us to understand how these things all work together, but the fact remains that God has a plan for each of us, a plan that He has and will set in place.  For some it may be to be a CEO, others a factory worker.  Some of us may be Doctors and other pastors.  However, whatever God has called us to, He has done so that we may honor Him in our work.  We too have been touched, filled with the Holy Spirit that through our words and deeds we may bring glory and honor to God.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.



Day 217: Isaiah 65-66; As If It Has Already Been Accomplished

The last chapters of Isaiah continue along the theme of the last days and what the world and life will look like when all things are made right.  The writer, likely a student of Isaiah’s teachings a few generations removed and a returned exile from Babylon, is painting in broad brush strokes an image of “the day of the Lord.”  Yesterday we spoke about some of the different ideas about how that is going to take place.  My conclusion, if you remember, is that our focus should not so much be on the how and the when, but on the hope and assurance of the actual event happening.

This thought process is continued here in these last chapters of Isaiah, which do a great job of drawing the whole book and the themes contained therein together.  The writing here is written in a very particular format, one that the Hebrew people would have recognized.  Isaiah, or rather pseudo-Isaiah, is likely writing about a vision that he has or is receiving from the Lord, a message that is being given to him by God through the Holy Spirit.  For the Hebrew people, such messages and images were considered glimpses into the greater reality of the universe.  Time isn’t necessarily the linear thing that we know it as, not for God anyways, who stands outside of time and sees all things from beginning to end.

What this meant to the Hebrew people and what it means, or at least should mean for us in our present context is that these things are assured.  How assured?  So assured, that the writer is speaking about these future things as if they have already been accomplished.  Indeed these events, as they have been foreseen in a vision from God are so certain, that the Lord can say it as if He actually had done them already.

Talk like this is hard for us to understand.  How is it possible that these things have already been done if they haven’t come to pass yet?  For us, this calls into question things like free will and autonomy.  How can we truly be free if the future is already set.  I cannot say that I have those answers today.  I can say that the Hebrew people would not have been as concerned about this, that the paradox of the Divine interaction with the Created order had things that would simply not be understood and would have to be taken on faith.  I know that this is not something that we, especially in the Western culture, want to hear.  We don’t like to have questions, but prefer to have things explained away.  Yet this isn’t always how God works.  Not all the mysteries of God will be revealed until that day… a day which is so sure to happen it is as sure as the breath I took a moment ago.

And it is in that day that we see the miraculous things that will happen.  Unity… Peace… Restoration… Joy… All the world made right as is should be once again.  We wait in eager expectation for that day, the glorious Day of the Lord.  Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!



Day 216: Isaiah 61-64: The Coming Day of the Lord

There is a lot to be said about the end times.  Especially now as we see things and around the world get progressively worse (depending on your point of view), and culture take a moral nosedive, the talk of the time that Christ returns and when God makes all things right is greater than it ever has been before.  We’ve seen cults come and go, denominations split over eschatological views, the books upon book being written about what things will be like, when these things will happen, and how it will all play out when they do.  Often times we find people quoting Isaiah, Daniel, and Revelation as source material for their views on specific events and timelines for how the return of Christ will be ushered in.  Some people have even gone so far as to predict dates and times, all of which have failed of course, that Christ will come back.  Laughably, to date, we have survived well over 100 end of the world scenarios as well as, what could be considered countless dates in which Christ was to supposedly return.

Yet this topic is one that is rather heavy in the Bible.  It is spoken of quite frequently throughout the Old Testament, in the prophets especially, and is addressed at length in the New Testament (specifically in Revelation) and by Jesus Himself while He was still on earth.  There are few topics that are more controversial and have been more divisive in the Christian Church than that of eschatology.  However, in that same vein, there are few topics that are truly less important from a salvation aspect than that of Eschatology.  As a member of the Reformed Church, growing up in the Reformed tradition, and studying the Bible at a Reformed Seminary, I know what my denomination believes, and I also know the arguments for different denominations and thought processes for the 4 main eschatological views of the Church.  However, it is not my intent to promote one over the others here today.  In fact, I truly believe that the divisiveness that this topic has had in the Church has really come from us making central a belief or viewpoint that is truly peripheral to the Christian faith.  Isaiah, Daniel, Revelation, and the myriad of other places in the Bible that this is addressed would seem to substantiate this opinion as well.  Instead of talking about what is going to happen and how, these Scriptural texts paint an image for us of what life will be like when it happens.  Today’s reading is just one of those passages.

Our text today starts our with Scripture that Jesus Himself reads at the beginning of His ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…

Jesus says, in Luke 4, after reading this text that it is indeed fulfilled by His reading it and the people hearing it.  Knowing this, we have to believe that this text in Isaiah is directly linked to the Incarnation of Jesus.  With this in mind, we have to also understand all of these texts, which seems to contain the same themes, are inexplicably linked to Jesus Christ as they are all about the day of the Lord.  Sure, these passages talk about many different topics about the day of the Lord, namely Salvation, vengeance, mercy, and freedom, but these are all subtopics of the same event, the coming of the Lord.

Some may ask though, if this passage was fulfilled when Jesus came, why has not all of this happened yet?  Clearly the world is still quite messed up, things are obviously not as the should be.  They would be right in saying this.  Salvation has come; Jesus came and lived the life that we could not and died the death that we deserve.  He opened for us the path to God once again so that we could be in relationship with Him.  Jesus’ actions in healing the sick and driving out demons was but a foretaste of the judgment and wrath against sin that is to come.  However, the same healing, love, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus showed people is a foretaste of what is to come in when He comes again.  Sin was defeated; sin is defeated.  What we are experiencing now can only be described as the death throws of one whose doom is assured.  Restoration is coming and all will be made right on that great and glorious day when we will see Jesus face to face and the dwelling of God will be here on Earth (oops, that is a bit of Reformed Theology – reference Revelation 21).  We do not truly know when this will happen, or the specific series of events.  Will there be a rapture?  Will there be a literal 1,000 year reign?  We’ll explore these topics around Christmas time.  What is important is that we know and have hope in the fact that Jesus has promised that He will come back.  His return is assured.  The restoration of the world is assured.  As the Church, we should be working to usher in this Kingdom here on Earth, and leave the details of how and when to God alone.



Day 215: Isaiah 58-60; Authentic Actions

Today’s reading starts out with a subject that is near and dear to my heart.  As a worship leader, I spend a rather large time thinking about Christian worship and the actions behind it.  Moreover, I don’t just think about what we do, but why we are doing it and how we are doing it.  Are the things that we do on a Sunday morning (and I speak of Sunday morning because our corporate worship is a reflection of our worship in day to day living) actually bringing us into an encounter with God.  Are the songs that we sing, the actions that we take, the posture that we assume all things that are bringing us closer to God?  Or are the simply the things that we all feel like we are doing?  Are we just taking these actions because we’ve always taken these actions… is tradition actually the god we are worshiping?  Are we more concerned about whether we like the song… the beat… the instruments?

In many ways, this is a question that has been asked of the people of Israel, God’s chosen, for many hundreds of years, and is one that is focused in on when it comes to the prophets.  If you remember back to the narrative history, there were a lot of things that pulls the people away from the Lord.  No matter what it was though, it all wound up being idolatry because it pulled them away from worshiping the Lord.  Interestingly enough though, we don’t hear of these things creeping in by way of the Temple.  No, usually corporate worship is the last thing to be affected by the actions of Satan as he tries to lead us astray.  It starts of with little things at home.  Busy schedules lead to a desire for ‘me time,’ not that me time is bad but it does often tread the line of selfishness.  Selfishness has a tendency to snowball into a lifestyle of ‘me-centered activity’ which then ends up showing up in how we worship, wanting songs that fit our style of music and sermons that are about what we want to hear.  Christians today “church shop” until they find the church that is “just right for them.”  Culture doesn’t help this at all because we live in a very individualistic society where we can have anything we want at any time…  Sound familiar?

Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

While there are a myriad of other things we could look into as far as idols go, the fact is that how we worship corporately is a reflection of how (and what) we worship individually.  God addresses this head on here (and in many other places in the Bible as well) pointing out that what the Israelites were doing was so self focused that it meant nothing to Him.  Even their worship had become about them.  The writer is addressing fasting in chapter 58, but fasting is an element of worship, a way of humbling oneself before God.  Yet it is clear that the people of Israel missed the mark, as we too are missing the mark.  God goes on to say,

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The Church today is falling victim to a selfish and individualistic culture.  The ‘Worship Wars’ that took place and are still taking place are just an example of this.  Churches divided because of selfish desires.  Congregations that are worshiping separate just to keep people happy that they can have “their own music.”  The right had of the body is trying to eat while the left had is covering the mouth.  The left foot is trying to walk while the right leg drags behind.  We need to get beyond ourselves and seek after God once again… is your church’s worship centered on God?  Or is it about keeping people happy?  Is your worship centered on God?  Or are you only concerned with keeping yourself happy?



Day 214: Isaiah 54-57; Third Isaiah and the Lord's Covenant

Starting at chapter 56, we enter into the third part of the book of Isaiah.  Before we move on to that though, let’s recap what we have heard and seen.  The first section of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 were largely prophetic oracles against the nations intermixed with messages of hope for all people in the coming “day of the Lord” and the Savior that God would send after these judgments happened.  The second section of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, is considered to be written much later, after these judgments have taken place and the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been taken captive.  In this section we find a considerable amount of comforting messages from God to His people regarding the situation that they are in.  These messages are also messages of hope, lessons of the past and how they got here, and prophecies of the coming Messiah, the “servant of God” who would bring with Him a reign of righteousness, justice, and peace.

As we move into the third section of Isaiah, chapters 56-66, the tone of Isaiah somewhat changes again.  It is thought that this section is actually an anthology of 12 different passages that were written at different times, for different reasons, likely by students of the prophet Isaiah a few generations removed.  These were writings to the captives as they returned from exile to Judah, specifically to Jerusalem, and found themselves in yet another foreign situation.  Likely these students couple have been priests or religious leaders that were contemporaries of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The messages of the second and third section of Isaiah flow well into each other though as the focus shifts from the covenant of God in its current context, to what He will do in sending ‘His Servant,’ who we know as Jesus, and then into the future and a look at how God will indeed complete this restoration.  Along with this we are once more given a glimpse into the worldview of the people of Israel, how they view God and how they Divine and the Terrestrial are so intimately linked together.  In some ways too, the people of Israel, specifically the Kingdom of Judah who are the only people left of the once great nation of Israel, are going through a time in which their worldview is being dramatically changed and transformed as they are discovering that the center of the universe is not actually a physical place, like the Temple or the Tabernacle, but rest in God who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

All of this, the whole message though, as we can see today, rests once again on what some would consider to be one of the central themes of the Bible: God’s covenant relationship with His people.  We have seen this covenant develop from the simplicity of God’s promise to Adam, to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  Here, now as the people of Israel are returning from their exile, the judgment that they endured, God is reiterating once again that He is their God and they are His people and, despite the all that has happened, their relationship is not changed.  Like a father who has to punish his children, even when they don’t fully understand, God’s loving words after the fact are quite clear, “I still love you more than you can possibly understand.  Our relationship has not changed.  The Covenant I made with you is everlasting, nothing you do will ever change it.”  This message is not only for the people of Israel though, but for us as well.  Acts 2 says “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  Through Jesus Christ we too are members of God’s people, heirs to this and all of God’s promises and we too find ourselves caught up in this everlasting covenant relationship with God.



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.