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:

The Babylonian Empire
Photo Credit:

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.


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.

Day 198: Isaiah 4-6; The Introduction to and Call of Isaiah

Overview of Isaiah Photo Credit:

Overview of Isaiah
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The book of Isaiah is the first, and arguably the most well written book of the prophets.  Isaiah is a very eloquent writer, doing a superb job of weaving together prophecy and the call to redemption, but not leaving the people without the hope of the coming kingdom of God.  This is the longest book of the prophets as well, separated into two sections.  The first half of Isaiah talks very heavily about the coming judgments on Israel, Judah, and the nations around them as well.  He does this by pointing out the sins that they are caught in and calling them to repentance, warning that if they do not repent they will face the judgment and wrath of the Lord.  There is a is bridge between the two sections around chapters 36-39, which leads into the second section which in which Isaiah speaks God’s comfort to a nation that has been punished with exile.  In it, Isaiah talks of a coming restoration and a time in which all things would be made right.

Part of the comfort that Isaiah speaks of is that of a coming messiah, a servant of the Lord who will bring peace and restoration.  However, this isn’t the only purpose of the coming man of God, the messiah that is promised more in Isaiah than in any of the other prophetic books.  Much of what we look to when it comes to the time of Lent in the church calendar comes from Isaiah’s prophecies of Jesus’ coming.

Timeline of Isaiah Photo Credit:

Timeline of Isaiah
Photo Credit:

The actual writing of the book of Isaiah takes place over the course of many years in the history if Israel and Judah during the middle of the 8th century through the beginning of the 7th century B.C.  In fact, Isaiah’s call to be a prophet starts in the year that king Uzziah dies and his ministry takes place throughout the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in Judah and Pekah and Hoshea in the kingdom of Israel.  He wrote during a very turbulent time in both Israel and Judah, dealing with the rise of the Assyrian Empire to the north, the empire that would eventual decimate and deport the northern kingdom of Israel.  However, as Isaiah will say later, even Assyria was under the judgment of God and fell to the Babylonians.

Isaiah's Vision in Isaiah 6 Photo Credit:

Isaiah’s Vision in Isaiah 6
Photo Credit:

Today we pick up the beginning of the ministry of Isaiah.  The first five chapters could be considered the introduction to the whole book, and chapter 6 the actual event of Isaiah’s calling and commissioning as a prophet of God.  As I said yesterday, it is entirely possible that Isaiah was a priest, likely the high priest, working in the Temple of God when he saw this vision.  It is also entirely possible that this vision happened on the day of atonement, when the High Priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place and commune directly with God.  He starts his account of the vision as if he wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary, and then he sees this amazing vision of God.  The description that follows is one full of beautiful images of the throne room of God.  Many of the images are ones that we see repeated in other visions in the Bible, from the prophets to the vision of John in Revelation.  This is called “apocalyptic writing,” imagery that is very representative of things that would have been already well known by the Hebrew people.

The Angel Touches Isaiah with a burning coal Photo Credit:

The Angel Touches Isaiah with a burning coal
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The part of the vision that strikes me the most, as a seminary student and preacher, is the vision of the angel touching the mouth of Isaiah with a burning coal.  This strikes me in several different ways.  Isaiah’s confession of being unclean has a very familiar ring to it in my life, and likely in yours as well.  As we all work through the calling of God on our lives, or even as we encounter God in worship and/or devotions, it is very easy to recognize our own weaknesses and defects.  We are indeed a people of unclean lips and we often succumb to the lie that we are not able or even worthy to do the things that God has called us to.  Isaiah recognizes this too, and something happens to him in his vision that has happened to us as well, he is touched by a burning coal from the alter of God.  This cleanses his lips and prepares him for the service which the Lord has called him to.  We too have been touched, cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ.  The gifts that we are given and the things that God has called us to do are made righteous, cleansed from any sin that may taint them as we truly offer them to God.  Like Isaiah, the words that we say come from God, the actions that we take are ordained by God.  On our own we are not worthy, but we are not on our own are we?  The Spirit walks with us each moment of each day, directing, counseling, and sanctifying us in Christ Jesus as we seek to live for him

Day 197 (part 2): Isaiah 2

I didn’t post much about the actual reading in today’s post… so I thought that I would give it some more attention.  I am going to do this by posting a reflective paper, meant to be a short sermon or homily, that I wrote for my Hebrew class on Isaiah 2.  This particular passage is centered in between two passages about the wickedness of Judah and the coming judgment that will happen if they don’t repent.  In the middle of it though we get a vision of what things will be like on the other side of the judgment, how God will make things right.  The imagery is powerful and beautiful!  The people of Israel would have seen very clearly the hope that is written into these 5 verses.  I hope that you can take the time to re-read and visualize the images that Isaiah paints for us here.

This was written at the end of April/beginning of May during the last weeks of the school year.  I hope that can give you some context into the general situation that I was writing into.

Isaiah 2:1-5

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Mountain of the Lord

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord.

The Mountain of the Lord will be established... Photo Credit:

The Mountain of the Lord will be established…
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Not all the visions of the prophets have such an awesome message and outcome as this vision of Isaiah does.  Some are downright horrifying.  However, today we encounter the Word of God that has come to Isaiah regarding the last days and what is to come for the people of God.  As I read, could you envision what Isaiah was seeing?  Was it spectacular?  The mountain of the house of the Lord raised high above all the other mountains, people coming and going freely to worship and encounter the living God who is dwelling among them!  There is transformation as well, from people carrying weapons with disputes and disagreements, to peaceful people who no longer learn war and use weapons for gardening tools.  Isaiah’s vision reveals the transformative liturgical lifestyle that exists within the Kingdom of God.

Let’s map this out.  As the narrative of Isaiah’s vision open, we see that the mountain of the house of the Lord is raised up and established.  The Hebrew word here, “nakone,” communicates an image of permanence of this establishment.  This language is also spoken the “vav-consecutive” form, meaning this future event is being spoken about as if it is in the past.  As the Lord’s House is established, all the nations of the world shall come, ascending the mountain to God’s House.  They say, “Come, let us go up…”  Yet even this is written in a causative form, meaning that they aren’t going up, but are being brought up to the house of God, called and raised up by the Lord Himself.  I don’t know how you pictured this, but in my imagining of what this looks like, there are joyful people that are processing, possibly with boom-whackers, all the way up the mountain.  The air is thick with anticipation; people waiting excitedly to hear the Word of the Lord go out.

Yet what we read is that people have come with weapons, not boom-whackers, apparently ready to engage in the normal behaviors of humanity.  It isn’t until the Word of the Lord goes forth that these weapons are put down, transformed into tools.  It isn’t until the Word of the Lord goes forth that decisions and judgments are made.  It isn’t until the Word of the Lord goes forth that the nations’ tendency for conflict and war is transformed into peace; when even the learned abilities of war evaporate into nothingness.  Though this may not look like our initial vision, the transformational outcome is nonetheless a picture of peace, of reconciliation, of Shalom.

However, in these last days of classes and exams, I’m sure that we awake, perhaps even this morning, and often think twice about coming here for worship or class for that matter.  We’d rather not ascend the circle drive of seminary and go in to learn the ways of the Lord.  You probably feel you’ve been sufficiently ‘learned’ and the last thing you want to do is come to chapel today for more, much less invite your roommate, spouse, or fellow student.  This morning seminary, chapel, or classes may feel like the highest of hills, a mountain you’d rather not climb, especially not to hear some trite words about “hanging in there” or “pressing on towards the goal.”  I’d be willing to bet that your thoughts this morning are something akin to “Oh house of Western, come, let us all just go back to bed.”  I’m sure that there have been mornings like this before; times in which you didn’t feel the joy you probably ought to feel as you came in to the house of the Lord for worship.  I’m sure the joyful procession that we envision flowing to the house of the Lord here probably feels more like a pedantic plodding, with weapons at the ready in these last days of the semester.  And the only judging and deciding that we are really thinking about at this moment is that of whether we are going to pass Dr. Bolken’s Greek Exam, our preaching final, or the last classis exam.  Suffice to say, the image that we encounter today of going to the house of the Lord seems quite distant from our current predicament.

Yet, this morning we encounter a text that says, in the most Hebrew way possible, the vision of Isaiah “Shall be…”  It will take place when the Word of the Lord goes forth.  Moreover, the vision that is Isaiah sees doesn’t depend on the physical context of the people of Israel, we don’t read that “when Israel finally gets it all together, the mountain of the Lord will be established.”  There is no caveat in here for a specific way of life that need be established for these things to take place.  No… today the Word of the Lord comes to us as a dramatic inbreaking of the new and assured reality of the “Liturgical Lifestyle” of God’s people as they live lives of worship to God in the midst of the Kingdom of God.  This doesn’t come to us as Law for moralistic living so that you don’t make God angry, but comes as the seemingly natural way of living that happens because of the work God has already done for us.  In Jesus Christ the mountain of the house of the Lord has been established and we hear the echoes of our Lord’s invitation, Come you who are weak, weary, tired, sick, etc etc… Come up to the house of the Lord.

This morning that call has gone out once again, “Come to the house of the Lord…”  And that call is set in the Liturgical Lifestyle of the people of God.  We hear God’s call and in responding He brings us up to His house, a journey made not of our own strength but by the will of the one who established the House itself.  Once we arrive we hear the Word of the Lord go out, not as moralistic decrees but as life-giving, transformational Words that renew us and strengthen us once again.  And from here we are sent out into the world, with tools instead of weapons, with peace and love instead of war as we enter into the lives we have been called to lead.  In these “last days” of the semester, as we would rather be doing anything but the life we are currently leading, we are called to the Word by the Word to be ascend to the House of God and be transformed and renewed once again… at God’s house, at the Table of our Lord where we ascend, remember, eat, and are transformed and renewed once again, for the mountain of the Lord has been established, and once again the call to this transformational, “liturgical Lifestyle” has gone out.  Come, people of God, let us go up to the Table of our Lord.  Come, people of God, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Day 197: Isaiah 1-3; Introduction to the Prophets

Yesterday we closed out the section of the Bible known as the Wisdom literature.  In that time we had taken a step back from the overall story of Israel and had jumped into a wholly different genre of Biblical literature.  Even though these were different, and not necessarily all directly connected to the grand narrative of redemptive history, we did find that they were certainly well linked with it.  Today we begin the final section of the Old Testament: The Prophets.  In this section we will jump back into the story of Israel, though the people we will be reading lived at different times within the history of Israel from roughly the time the Kingdom split up to and even during the time of Exile for Judah.  The books are not necessarily in chronological order and it is fair to say that some of these prophets were likely working at the same time, perhaps even in the same places.

Bible Timeline Photo Credit:

Bible Timeline
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Most of the writings of the prophets are focused on calling the people back from their sins, to repent and return to God.  The office of prophet, instituted by Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, is one that serves in a similar way to the priest, but is also very different.  The prophet serves, in many ways, as the mediator between God and the people.  Some would say that the prophet functions as the mouth of God.  Where as the priest would make intercession between the people and God, the direction of this being primarily upward, the prophet was in many ways the mediator between God and people, a primarily downward direction.  Some prophets, like Isaiah, served in both rolls, both prophet and priest as it is very likely that Isaiah himself was the high priest in the Temple.

Even as we read these chapters today we can see that the message of Isaiah is not necessarily one that would make him a super popular guy among the general populace.  Their messages tend to emphasize the negative, the sinful disobedience of Israel.  While people, even today, like to hear messages about God’s love and forgiveness, when those messages are made in the same thought as the judgment that God was going to pour out on the people if they don’t repent, the overall tone of the message is seen as negative.  And that is the thing about the prophets, this is what tended to happen.  Again, you can see this already modeled in the first three chapters.  What do you remember from reading it?  Likely it is that you remember the negative things, the judgment and destruction, not the love of God or the piece on the mountain of the Lord being established.

However, like the Lament Psalms that we encountered a couple weeks ago, there isn’t a single prophet in the Bible that ever speaks of judgment without hope.  There isn’t any prophet that speaks of the wrath of God without talking about God’s love and holiness.  These things that were destined to happen if the people didn’t repent were always trumped by the hope that was also there both in repentance and in what God was going to do after judgment came.  What the prophets are saying is that there is a time when God’s patience would run out and they would be punished for their sins.  What these same prophets are not saying is that once that time comes they no longer have hope.  Indeed there is a great thing to hope for, and it was testified and prophesied about throughout the period of the Old Testament, and that was the coming of the Messiah.  Isaiah testifies to it here in Isaiah 2, and He and most of the other prophets will indeed bring good news of a coming savior that would make things as they should be.  Though none that heard Isaiah’s words would have lived to see their true fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the hope of the coming Kingdom of God would have been well in their minds, even if they chose to focus more on the negatives of the coming judgment.  We will be with Isaiah for the next three weeks or so, and then on the Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the rest.  The section of the prophets is the one of the longest section in the Bible, contains the most information about the coming Messiah prior to the New Testament, and in many ways helps us to better understand what God is up to in redemptive history, His true Holiness and wrath against sin, and His true and unconditional love for His people.

Day 196: Song of Solomon 5-8; Love Song of Love Songs (part 2)

So yesterday we talked about love in today’s culture.  There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about “love.”  Sadly, our culture does a great misuse to this word, infusing it with all the sexual innuendos and experiences that it has to offer.  We have traded true love for cheap lust, the gift of sex for meaningless pleasures, and the lasting covenant of marriage for a string of one-night stands and throw away relationships.  Everything seems to be turned on its head; culture has taken all that has been given to us by God and made it into a sinful abomination.

There is more to this book too though, more than just a love song between a man and the woman to which he is going to be married.  There is also more to this book than the appropriate modeling of what clean, pure, Biblical love looks like.  The standard that is set here is high; the standard of a man with eyes for the one that he loves, of a man who cannot wait to be married to his bride to be.  I see this as being so different from the idea of what marriage is, or how we are to be excited for it.  As I prepare to be married and seek advice from those already married, I’ve been encouraged to enjoy being single.  People describe marriage as a “Ball and Chain” or even relate it to like “being in prison.”  We are taught to see marriage as a hindrance to our individuality rather than an amazing addition to our lives much less something we are actually looking forward to.

More than that though, Song of Songs is about love… true love.  Love and marriage are things in our lives that help us to understand the love that God has for us as well.  Marriage is something that the Bible uses again and again to talk about the love that God holds in His heart for us.  In the New Testament, the Church is called the bride of Christ.  Some of the prophets relate the people of Israel as if the whole nation were God’s wife.  As we read through Song of Solomon and as we gather a much clearer view of the passion, feeling, and attraction that the husband and wife have for each other, we begin to see a picture of how Christ loves us.  This is a sacrificial, self giving, unconditional love with which He loves us.  Throughout Scripture this is a continuing motif and appears again and again.  Many times these Scripture verses are misinterpreted as ways that one spouse can get the other to do something or act a certain way, but this too is a gross misinterpretation.  The love that spouses have for each other is to be modeled after the love that God has for us.  This is the type of love we are called to as Christians… it is counter-cultural… but this is how we are loved by God and this is the love we are to pass on to our spouse, our children, and our neighbors.