Day 266: Amos 7-9; The Same or Different?

The people of Israel were called to be a nation that was set apart from the nations of the world.  God called them to “be Holy as I am Holy” and to be a light to the nations.  However, as Amos points out here towards the end of his book, Israel had become the same as the “Cushites,” which is a group of people from the Nile region, namely Egypt.  God’s people were no better than the people that enslaved them, the people that they came from, and the people that they conquered.  Because of their sins, they would face the same destruction as these nations as well.

While I don’t think that things here completely translate, today’s reading made me wonder a great deal about where we stand as the Church in today’s culture.  There is so much talk around churches about being relevant and being able to speak to today’s culture.  We do things like use technology, play rock music (some that doesn’t even Christian), and even dumb the message of the Gospel into just living and being nice to people (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism).  All this we have done in an effort to reach more people, but I wonder as I’m writing this if that is really what we have done.  I wonder if we have not made some of the same mistakes as Israel did, running off after other nations, cultures, and gods rather than seek after the God that called them out of slavery and bondage and into a new life with a new identity.

As we have talked about before, the people of Israel were convinced that it was the land that God had given them that gave them their identity as God’s people.  Because the land was a promise from God, they thought that living there was enough to make them God’s people.  However, for Israel it was actually their command to live a Holy life, to Love the Lord with all their Heart, Soul, and Mind and to Love their neighbor as they loved themselves that they derived their identity.  They were to be set apart, to honor God with their lives and to be a witness to God among the nations.

Again, I am drawn to the question of how the Church is doing in this category.  Are we God’s people set apart and living in a way that both honors God and points others to Him?  Or are too busy trying to make ourselves look like the culture around us, squabbling about musical styles, and making sure that those that come in our doors think the way we do?  Is the Church called to cower in the face of culture, to curl up and let culture wash over us?  Or are we called to stand up in the midst of a morally declining culture and be a beacon of light that points to the good news of the Gospel of Christ Jesus in whom we find our ultimate identity?  I think it is the latter.

Day 248: Ezekiel 29-31; The Fall of the Great Oppressor

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пи...

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пирамиды Гизы на изображении. Español: Las Pirámides de Guiza (Egipto). Français : Les Pyramides de Gizeh (Egypte). Català: Les Piràmides de Giza, a Egipte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many ways, the prophesies against Egypt mirror those of the prophesies against Tyre and Sidon.  The Egyptians built an empire that was very powerful from the time of Abraham all the way until now.  For over a thousand years the Pharaohs ruled the land building great structures, amassing great wealth, and conquering many nations.  At the center of their power was the Nile, a life giving river that cuts through the barren desert.  All these things were blessings from God, given to the Egyptian people by the hand of the Almighty.  Yet the people of Egypt failed to recognize God’s hand in all of it.  Instead, the Pharaoh‘s, whom the Egyptians viewed as sons of the gods, claimed that it was them who create and sustain the Nile.

Green irrigated land (3.4 million ha) along th...

Green irrigated land (3.4 million ha) along the Nile amidst the desert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Egypt was also known as a cruel slave master.  They enslaved the Israelites for 400 years in the early days, brought out only by God’s hand and the might works He performed in Egypt.  God showed Himself to be more powerful that all the gods of Egypt, yet the people still didn’t believe in or worship the God of Israel.  They were an idolatrous nation, worship a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses.  Moreover, in the face of these great miracles, ones that would be remembered in Egypt for generations upon generations, they still set themselves up as being the most powerful nation in the area, claiming their own dominance and power over that of God.

This is probably the reason the the people of Israel sought help from Egypt time after time, even wanting to go back there when they were wandering in the wilderness.  Several of the last kings of Judah, Hezekiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah, all sought help from Egypt against the invasions that they were struggling with.  It makes good physical sense to seek help from the next most powerful nation and one that is quite close to them, yet it was a direct violation of God’s law.  The Lord wanted His people to trust in Him alone, seeking help in times of trouble from only Himself.  He knew that they lure of power and military might would draw them back to the nation that oppressed them for so many years and He didn’t want that and expressly forbade it in the Law.  Yet as the people of Israel and their leaders became increasingly desperate to deal with things on their own without God, they broke the law (many times in fact) and went back to their oppressors for help.

To this nation God says, “you too will fall.”  Even a nation that has stood as long as Egypt falls quickly and helplessly before God.  It truly doesn’t matter what resources or strength we think we might have, God has more.  It doesn’t matter how hard we have worked to do anything, what we have is a blessing from God.  We may have built our house, our business, and even our family, but these are all blessings from God and we need to remember that.  This doesn’t mean that we not try or work hard at our jobs and at home; God has called us to be good stewards of what we have been given.  However, in all things, at all times, and in all places we need to remember that all that we have and all that we are, everything that has brought us to that point has been made possible, provided for, and sustained by God alone.

Day 244: Ezekiel 20-21; Old News… Bad News…

There is a great deal of bad news that comes with today’s reading.  It’s almost depressing to be honest.  Ezekiel probably has one of the most comprehensive descriptions about what is going on with the people of Israel, why it is happening, and even how it will take place.  As I was reading all of chapter 20 though, I kept thinking that I had heard all of this in another place before now.  Of course we have heard a lot of this message in Isaiah and Jeremiah, but it wasn’t with them that we had heard all of Ezekiel’s telling of the story of the people of Israel.  Do you remember where it came from?  It’s been a long time since we talked about it and it had been a long time chronologically speaking for the people of Israel too.  However, any good Hebrew scholar of the Scriptures in that time would have recognized Ezekiel’s words as coming from the book of Leviticus, particularly the end, as well as other parts of Exodus and Deuteronomy that talk about the Covenant and all that would happen if they broke the covenant.

What Ezekiel was saying here, the Word of the Lord that came to him, was certainly not anything new for the people of Israel.  I would assume that Ezekiel knew exactly what God was saying and where He was drawing from as the words were flowing out of his mouth.  If you have a moment, read the following excerpt from Leviticus 26, you might notice some similarities between Ezekiel 20 and this:

Leviticus 26

14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again seven fold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you seven fold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God.45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

The Word of the Lord to Ezekiel is not something made up on the spot, neither is it contrary to the Covenant that God has made with His people.  Yet even at the end of Chapter 20, as we have seen in the writings of the prophets and many more times throughout Israel’s history, God forgives and His grace abounds.  In so many ways, God’s grace abounds.  Even with the people of God don’t get it, when they don’t repent, God still forgives and still continues to try to teach them.  He even goes so far as to send His Son to do what they could not so that the whole world would know that He is God.

Day 233: Jeremiah 46-48; Messages against the Nations (Part 1)

Like the Prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah too has a section of his book that is a collection writings about the judgments against the nations.  It is likely that these judgments, which we will read over the next couple of days, were actually delivered to Jeremiah throughout his life and are chronologically out of order here.  However, the messages are none-the-less true and did indeed come to pass on the nations mentioned here.

There is a lot of doom and gloom that comes with these particular messages.  Today we read about Egypt, Philistia, and Moab as being some of the first to fall in judgments of God.  In fact, it was Egypt’s defeat by King Nebuchadnezzar at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. that ushered Babylon on to the main stage of world power.  Assyria had declined and Egypt had fallen, leaving Babylon to dominate the area and serve as the instrument of the Lord’s judgement throughout the land.  One of the commentaries that I read suggested that Babylon’s victory over Egypt was actually a bit of a surprise and might not have happened if Egypt hadn’t allied itself with Judah, or perhaps the other way around.  I’m not necessarily sure how I feel about this, but it is clear that Judah once again disobeyed God by turning to Egypt, their former master, for help, a move than ultimately wound up with both being crushed.

Yet even in these messages we see the nature of God come forward and His faithfulness to the covenant and His people displayed:

But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
    for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
    to which I have driven you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

Here, and really in all the readings of the prophets, as the Life Application Study Bible notes point out, we gain several insights about God and his plan for this world:

  1.  Although God chose Israel for a special purpose, he loves all people and wants all to come to Him.
  2. God is holy and will not tolerate sin.
  3. God’s judgments are not based on prejudice and a desire for revenge, but on fairness and justice.
  4. God does not delight in judgment, but in salvation.
  5. God is impartial – He judges everyone by the same standard.

Like we spoke about at the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, we should not simply box God into this idea of a fluffy, loving God who just gives us nice things, we need to understand the true nature of God.  He is indeed Holy and therefore cannot and will not tolerate sin, thus the wrath of God is against sin.  God is also a God of justice, true and fair justice, and therefore will judge the sin of the nations as well.  We also remember though, that God is also the God of forgiveness and grace as Psalm 103 reminds us:

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

Day 232: Jeremiah 42-45; No One Can Run From God

Time and again in Scripture we see people asking for the help of God, or in this case a Word from the Lord, and then doing the exact opposite.  It makes so little sense to me why people that have just witnessed the fulfillment of everything Jeremiah had been saying, would still not listen to what he says, even after they ask him.  What’s worse, is that in their direct disobedience to the Lord in what they do here, they also force Jeremiah to participate in this, albeit against his will, by taking him with them to Egypt.  I guess its one thing to disobey and a wholly other thing to force someone else to disobey.  Jeremiah didn’t run away, he was taken away, thus it is safe to say that he was not disobeying the Lord.  In fact, while he is in Egypt he continues to receive messages from God and delivers them to the small group of people that had fled there.

To make matters worse, the people that had fled to Egypt, again this is a pretty sad irony in itself, have not gone there to be safe and worship God away from the power of Babylon, no sooner did they arrive than did they start to worship other gods yet again.  Not only had they not learned the lesson from the judgment on Judah, they insisted on continuing to sin against the Lord and place their trust in other gods.  Likely, they thought by not being in Judah and having Jeremiah with them meant that they could get away from all that had happened… Jeremiah’s message from the Lord dictated otherwise.

In 568 B.C. king Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian military attacked Egypt.  Though there was resistance and rebellion on the part of the Egyptians, it was quickly crushed and the great empire that had one enslaved the people of God and in which that same people continually placed their hope was crushed, subject to the same fate as Judah.  Sadly, the people that had gone their for refuge were not allowed to return to Judah… ever… because of their disobedience to the Lord.

I hesitate to make claims about God’s judgment on the peoples and nations of the world in our present day context.  Too often people explain away tragedies like 9/11 and the monstrous hurricanes and massive tornadoes that seem to keep hitting America as judgments from God on a sinful nation because of something that we have done or allowed to happen.  Sadly and unfortunately, I think these are just reminders and evidence of a broken world that is desperately in need of restoration.  Yet I think that the message of Jeremiah can often be applied to the lives of people affected by these tragedies as well.  It is clear, living in the world today, that we desperately need God.  He is calling to us, offering us grace through the death of His Son Jesus, and longs for us to answer.  Times of hardship, struggle, and even tragedy remind us again and again that our hope rests in God alone, or at least it needs to be as such.  There is no place we can run, no rural town we can hide, no other country that we can go to where we can escape this call of God or this need for Him.  As Christians, we do not need to be preaching judgment in the face of tragedy, but instead offering the hope of restoration in Christ to those who find themselves broken and alone.

Day 226: Jeremiah 24-26; The Good and the Bad

Today we read all about the 1st exile to Babylon.  Yes, I said the first.  See, Nebuchadnezzar actually attacked Jerusalem twice, first when Jehoiachin was king of Judah and then again 10 years later when Jerusalem and the Temple were utterly destroyed.  Jeremiah is living in this time, speaking to the people about the troubles and hardship they are about to endure, the judgment and exile that are taking and will take place in the coming years.  What is interesting about this message of Jeremiah’s is that it contains no call to repentance to the people of Judah nor does it give any good way out.  Jeremiah has turned the focus of the message from avoiding the disaster to the proper and appropriate response to it.  This is what the vision of the figs is all about in chapter 24.

The good figs represented the exile to Babylon, oddly enough.  This didn’t have anything to do with the good that was in them, but because their hearts were open and would respond to God in this time of difficulty.  Because of their openness and because they would be transformed and refined by this time, God would preserve them and eventually bring them back to the land.  God, through Jeremiah, makes the point of saying time and again that He would watch over them while they were in exile.  There is no where they could go that would be too far for His watchful eye.  There is a promise here in chapter 24:6-7 of God’s work to bring them back to the land and to rebuild His nation through them.

The bad figs, however, are the people who did not go as captives to Babylon.  They remained in the land somehow or escaped to Egypt, a rather obvious irony if you ask me and a blatant act of disobedience against the Law of God as well.  But that would have been par for the course for these people, and that’s really the point.  They are choosing to not trust in God’s providence of faithfulness in this crisis.  In many ways, it seems like they are thinking that they would actually be blessed because they didn’t go into exile, that they could somehow escape the judgment and the hardship that is to come.  Interestingly, one of the commentaries I read suggested that the people believed that their blessing was tied solely to the land itself, not the God that gave it to them.

I wonder if we too don’t sometimes think that way as well.  We strive desperately to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, a happy equilibrium where we feel happy and blessed.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, the sole pursuit of this can actually pull our hearts away from God.  We begin to pay more attention to the holding on to our things than we do to God who gave them to us.  “Trouble,” this commentary points out, “is a blessing when it makes us stronger, and prosperity is a curse if it entices us away from God.”  Perhaps, like the people of God, we need to not look at trouble as being completely bad, but as an opportunity to embrace God’s moving and work towards growing us up in Him.

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 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 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 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.