Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 56

    Isaiah 56 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said: Be honest and fair! Soon I will come to save you; my saving power will be seen everywhere on earth.
  2. I will bless everyone who respects the Sabbath and refuses to do wrong.
  3. Foreigners who worship me must not say, "The LORD won't let us be part of his people." Men who are unable to become fathers must no longer say, "We are dried-up trees."
  4. To them, I, the LORD, say: Respect the Sabbath, obey me completely, and keep our agreement.
  5. Then I will set up monuments in my temple with your names written on them. This will be much better than having children, because these monuments will stand there forever.
  6. Foreigners will follow me. They will love me and worship in my name; they will respect the Sabbath and keep our agreement.
  7. I will bring them to my holy mountain, where they will celebrate in my house of worship. Their sacrifices and offerings will always be welcome on my altar. Then my house will be known as a house of worship for all nations.
  8. I, the LORD, promise to bring together my people who were taken away, and let them join the others.
  9. Come from the forest, you wild animals! Attack and gobble down your victims.
  10. You leaders of Israel should be watchdogs, protecting my people. But you can't see a thing, and you never warn them. Dozing and daydreaming are all you ever do.
  11. You stupid leaders are a pack of hungry and greedy dogs that never get enough. You are shepherds who mistreat your own sheep for selfish gain.
  12. You say to each other, "Let's drink till we're drunk! Tomorrow we'll do it again. We'll really enjoy ourselves."

Isaiah continues, through the first eight verses of this chapter, to write about the future state of Israel under the reign of the Messiah in His second advent. At that time the Lord's salvation will come and righteousness will be revealed. Happy will be those who maintain righteousness, including the foreigner and the eunuch. God's covenant relationship with Israel does not exclude others from a saving relationship with Him. All come to God in the same way. In Isaiah's day it was through the keeping of the Mosaic law. Since Christ's first advent it is through a faith relationship with Christ. In verses 6 and 7, it is emphasized that all who convert to the Lord will be taken by the Lord to rejoice in His house of prayer which is for all nations.

Beginning with verse nine, however, Isaiah suddenly returned to Israel's state in his day. Her religious leaders, who were responsible to guide Israel spiritually, were blind watchmen who had no concern for her evil spiritual condition. They were like dogs who do nothing but sleep and eat. They were more interested in their own gain than in the people's welfare. Therefore, the Lord called for the "animals of the field and forest" to "come and eat!" This was an invitation to the Gentile nations to come and devour Israel. One day Israel will bask in the Lord's blessings, but in Isaiah's day it was time for judgment.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 55

    Isaiah 55 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If you are thirsty, come and drink water! If you don't have any money, come, eat what you want! Drink wine and milk without paying a cent.
  2. Why waste your money on what really isn't food? Why work hard for something that doesn't satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will enjoy the very best foods.
  3. Pay close attention! Come to me and live. I will promise you the eternal love and loyalty that I promised David.
  4. I made him the leader and ruler of the nations; he was my witness to them.
  5. You will call out to nations you have never known. And they have never known you, but they will come running because I am the LORD, the holy God of Israel, and I have honored you.
  6. Turn to the LORD! He can still be found. Call out to God! He is near.
  7. Give up your crooked ways and your evil thoughts. Return to the LORD our God. He will be merciful and forgive your sins.
  8. The LORD says: "My thoughts and my ways are not like yours.
  9. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, my thoughts and my ways are higher than yours.
  10. "Rain and snow fall from the sky. But they don't return without watering the earth that produces seeds to plant and grain to eat.
  11. That's how it is with my words. They don't return to me without doing everything I send them to do."
  12. When you are set free, you will celebrate and travel home in peace. Mountains and hills will sing as you pass by, and trees will clap.
  13. Cypress and myrtle trees will grow in fields once covered by thorns. And then those trees will stand as a lasting witness to the glory of the LORD.

God extends an invitation to all who thirst, inviting them to enjoy the "choicest of foods" through His son, the Messiah, or Son of David. Many who hunger and thirst try to satisfy this thirst with things that do not satisfy. God asks, "Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy?" Spending money on food is a metaphor. The real issue is spiritual satisfaction, and God is asking why people will pursue things that do not satisfy this spiritual hunger and thirst. He promises, though, that if people will "pay attention and come to me," that they will live and that He will make with them an everlasting covenant.

God's offer, however, has a window of opportunity to it. He says, "Seek the Lord while He may be found." This obviously implies that He cannot be found indefinitely. But if one is to turn to the Lord, "Let the wicked one abandon his way, and the sinful one his thoughts." (55:7) How can the Lord satisfy our spiritual thirst if we do not leave behind the lifestyle that causes that thirst? Nor should we hold back from turning to the Lord, questioning His way of salvation. For His "ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." (55:9) We cannot understand His ways, they will make no sense to us, as long as we are far off from Him. We must come to know God and to learn His ways before they make sense.

At every level, whether far off or near, we must learn to trust Gods ways. His ways are as sure as the weather. "For just as rain and snow fall from heaven, and do not return there without saturating the earth, and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it to do." (55:10-11) If we will accept God and His word, we will "go out with joy and be peacefully guided; the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." (55:12) Then a word about ecology. Man's sin brought not only a curse upon himself, but upon creation. The only way to reverse this curse is to turn from sin. In so doing, the thornbush will be replaced by a cypress, and in place of a brier, a myrtle will come up. Creation will rejoice at man's salvation and will flourish, and will serve as an "everlasting sign" to the Lord. (55:13) All our efforts at ecology can improve it somewhat, but will not address the root problem. The same is true of our lives. Unless we turn to God, through Christ, abandoning our wicked ways, our thirst will never be satisfied.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 54

    Isaiah 54 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Sing and shout, even though you have never had children! The LORD has promised that you will have more children than someone married for a long time.
  2. Make your tents larger! Spread out the tent pegs; fasten them firmly.
  3. You and your descendants will take over the land of other nations. You will settle in towns that are now in ruins.
  4. Don't be afraid or ashamed and don't be discouraged. You won't be disappointed. Forget how sinful you were when you were young; stop feeling ashamed for being left a widow.
  5. The LORD All-Powerful, the Holy God of Israel, rules all the earth. He is your Creator and husband, and he will rescue you.
  6. You were like a young wife, brokenhearted and crying because her husband had divorced her. But the LORD your God says, "I am taking you back!
  7. I rejected you for a while, but with love and tenderness I will embrace you again.
  8. For a while, I turned away in furious anger. Now I will have mercy and love you forever! I, your protector and LORD, make this promise."
  9. I once promised Noah that I would never again destroy the earth by a flood. Now I have promised that I will never again get angry and punish you.
  10. Every mountain and hill may disappear. But I will always be kind and merciful to you; I won't break my agreement to give your nation peace.
  11. Jerusalem, you are sad and discouraged, tossed around in a storm. But I, the LORD, will rebuild your city with precious stones; for your foundation I will use blue sapphires.
  12. Your fortresses will be built of rubies, your gates of jewels, and your walls of gems.
  13. I will teach your children and make them successful.
  14. You will be built on fairness with no fears of injustice; every one of your worries will be taken far from you.
  15. I will never send anyone to attack your city, and you will make prisoners of those who do attack.
  16. Don't forget that I created metalworkers who make weapons over burning coals. I also created armies that can bring destruction.
  17. Weapons made to attack you won't be successful; words spoken against you won't hurt at all. My servants, Jerusalem is yours! I, the LORD, promise to bless you with victory.

A time will come for Israel when she will no longer be deserted. This is the message of chapter 54 which follows the foretelling in chapter 53 of the coming Messiah. Israel's message of hope is wrapped up in this coming Messiah. Though it is not mentioned here, it is Israel's rejection of God that has caused God to desert her and her later rejection of the Messiah will prolong that desertion. But in the millinium Israel will return to the Lord under the reign of the Messiah and will enjoy all the benefits described in this chapter.

At the time of the millinium, Israel will "burst into song and shout" at her prosperity. This prosperity is referred to in terms of fertility and the abundance of children. Israelites will have to enlarge their tents because of this prosperity. Though God has hid His face from Israel for a time due to her sin, He will then have compassion on her with "everlasting love." (54:8) As in the days of Noah when God "swore that the waters of Noah would never flood the earth again," He is now making such a covenant regarding His desertion of Israel, swearing that He will never again be angry with her or rebuke her. Verse 10 states, "My love will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not be shaken."

At that time, Israel will be "established on a foundation of righteousness," no longer will her faithfulness to the Lord be fickle as it has been in all the times past. Though God's everlasting love is emphasized in this passage, it is tied to Israel's everlasting faithfulness which is finally a reality in the millenium. Then Israel will no longer have to be afraid of aggressors for God will defeat them for her. The One who created the craftsman who makes weapons of war will also make those weapons impotent against Israel.

This picture of God's relationship with His people will extend also to those Gentiles who are grafted into the family tree through Christ. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 53

    Isaiah 53 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Has anyone believed us or seen the mighty power of the LORD in action?
  2. Like a young plant or a root that sprouts in dry ground, the servant grew up obeying the LORD. He wasn't some handsome king. Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us.
  3. He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering. No one wanted to look at him. We despised him and said, "He is a nobody!"
  4. He suffered and endured great pain for us, but we thought his suffering was punishment from God.
  5. He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well.
  6. All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the LORD gave him the punishment we deserved.
  7. He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher, as quiet as a sheep having its wool cut off.
  8. He was condemned to death without a fair trial. Who could have imagined what would happen to him? His life was taken away because of the sinful things my people had done.
  9. He wasn't dishonest or violent, but he was buried in a tomb of cruel and rich people.
  10. The LORD decided his servant would suffer as a sacrifice to take away the sin and guilt of others. Now the servant will live to see his own descendants. He did everything the LORD had planned.
  11. By suffering, the servant will learn the true meaning of obeying the LORD. Although he is innocent, he will take the punishment for the sins of others, so that many of them will no longer be guilty.
  12. The LORD will reward him with honor and power for sacrificing his life. Others thought he was a sinner, but he suffered for our sins and asked God to forgive us.

This chapter in Isaiah gives the clearest prophecy in the Old Testament concerning the coming Messiah. Why it was not clearly understood at the time of its fulfillment would be hard to explain other than that people were deceived and didn't want to understand.  Any who fail to understand this passage, and the mission of the Messiah, though, fail to understand God and all of scripture.

Christ the Messiah, the fulfillment of this prophecy, was not appealing in His appearance. Those who are drawn to Him are drawn only because of who He is and what He offers. But in reality He was "despised and rejected" by most people. Those who are attracted to Him are attracted because He gives salvation from sin. And no one can honestly claim to be without sin. As 53:6 points out, "We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way." In this is also the definition of sin - going our own way rather than God's way. Through His suffering, "He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds." (53:4-5) For the individual who rejects Christ, His suffering was in vain. For though He was crushed for their iniquities and they could be healed spiritually by His wounds, they reject these benefits along with their rejection of Christ.

Christ has been rejected by many, but there will come a time when the eyes of many will be opened and will receive Him. And all who make Him a "restitution offering," or "guilt-offering" as restitution for their sin, will fulfill the will of the Lord.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 52

    Isaiah 52 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jerusalem, wake up! Stand up and be strong. Holy city of Zion, dress in your best clothes. Those foreigners who ruined your sacred city won't bother you again.
  2. Zion, rise from the dirt! Free yourself from the rope around your neck.
  3. The LORD says: My people, you were sold, but not for money; now you will be set free, but not for a payment.
  4. Long ago you went to Egypt where you lived as foreigners. Then Assyria was cruel to you,
  5. and now another nation has taken you prisoner for no reason at all. Your leaders groan with pain, and day after day my own name is cursed.
  6. My people, you will learn who I am and who is speaking because I am here.
  7. What a beautiful sight! On the mountains a messenger announces to Jerusalem, "Good news! You're saved. There will be peace. Your God is now King."
  8. Everyone on guard duty, sing and celebrate! Look! You can see the LORD returning to Zion.
  9. Jerusalem, rise from the ruins! Join in the singing. The LORD has given comfort to his people; he comes to your rescue.
  10. The LORD has shown all nations his mighty strength; now everyone will see the saving power of our God.
  11. Leave the city of Babylon! Don't touch anything filthy. Wash yourselves. Be ready to carry back everything sacred that belongs to the LORD.
  12. You won't need to run. No one is chasing you. The LORD God of Israel will lead and protect you from enemy attacks.
  13. The LORD says: My servant will succeed! He will be given great praise and the highest honors.
  14. Many were horrified at what happened to him. But everyone who saw him was even more horrified because he suffered until he no longer looked human.
  15. My servant will make nations worthy to worship me; kings will be silent as they bow in wonder. They will see and think about things they have never seen or thought about before.

Here Isaiah compares Israel's Babylonian captivity with her Eygptian captivity as he has done in previous chapters. In both instances, Israel was "sold for nothing," and "will be redeemed without silver." (52:3) Israel was not sent into slavery to pay any debts and therefore will not have to be redeemed for a price. It was God who sent her into slavery and therefore it was God who redeemed her. The whole process of slavery and redemption is designed by God to return Israel to her God. It also pictures what happens to all of us through sin. When we submit to temptation and sin, we place ourselves in slavery to sin. But God wants to redeem us and bring us out of that slavery and sin.

God's covenant with Abraham was to make of him a nation that would bless the world. At least a portion of this blessing to the world would be to point them to the Lord. This was accomplished in some respects through God's prospering of Israel as the nations saw what her God did for her. But, as is pointed out in this chapter, it was also accomplished through God's redemption of Israel from slavery. Thus, indirectly Israel blessed the nations also through her sin as it demonstrated God's mercy and power to redeem her. And what a wonderful sound it is to hear the proclamation of peace! And how beautiful are the feet of those who herald that peace! (52:7)

Isaiah then looks beyond the restoration from Babylonian captivity to the redemption that will be brought by the Messiah. At that time, He will "sprinkle (cleanse) many nations." (52:15) Not only will Israel be redeemed at that time, but also many nations.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 51

    Isaiah 51 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If you want to do right and obey the LORD, follow Abraham's example. He was the rock from which you were chipped.
  2. God chose Abraham and Sarah to be your ancestors. The LORD blessed Abraham, and from that one man came many descendants.
  3. Though Zion is in ruins, the LORD will bring comfort, and the city will be as lovely as the garden of Eden that he provided. Then Zion will celebrate; it will be thankful and sing joyful songs.
  4. The LORD says: You are my people and nation! So pay attention to me. My teaching will cause justice to shine like a light for every nation.
  5. Those who live across the sea are eagerly waiting for me to rescue them. I am strong and ready; soon I will come to save and to rule all nations.
  6. Look closely at the sky! Stare at the earth. The sky will vanish like smoke; the earth will wear out like clothes. Everyone on this earth will die like flies. But my victory will last; my saving power never ends.
  7. If you want to do right and to obey my teaching with all your heart, then pay close attention. Don't be discouraged when others insult you and say hurtful things.
  8. They will be eaten away like a moth-eaten coat. But my victory will last; my saving power will never end.
  9. Wake up! Do something, LORD. Be strong and ready. Wake up! Do what you did for our people long ago. Didn't you chop up Rahab the monster?
  10. Didn't you dry up the deep sea and make a road for your people to follow safely across?
  11. Now those you have rescued will return to Jerusalem, singing on their way. They will be crowned with great happiness, never again to be burdened with sadness and sorrow.
  12. I am the LORD, the one who encourages you. Why are you afraid of mere humans? They dry up and die like grass.
  13. I spread out the heavens and laid foundations for the earth. But you have forgotten me, your LORD and Creator. All day long you were afraid of those who were angry and hoped to abuse you. Where are they now?
  14. Everyone crying out in pain will be quickly set free; they will be rescued from the power of death and never go hungry.
  15. I will help them because I am your God, the LORD All-Powerful, who makes the ocean roar.
  16. I have told you what to say, and I will keep you safe in the palm of my hand. I spread out the heavens and laid foundations for the earth. Now I say, "Jerusalem, your people are mine."
  17. Jerusalem, wake up! Stand up! You've drunk too much from the cup filled with the LORD's anger. You have swallowed every drop, and you can't walk straight.
  18. Not one of your many children is there to guide you or to offer a helping hand.
  19. You have been destroyed by war and by famine; I cannot comfort you.
  20. The LORD your God is angry, and on every street corner your children lie helpless, like deer trapped in nets.
  21. You are in trouble and drunk, but not from wine. So pay close attention
  22. to the LORD your God, who defends you and says, "I have taken from your hands the cup filled with my anger that made you drunk. You will never be forced to drink it again.
  23. Instead I will give it to your brutal enemies, who treated you like dirt and walked all over you."

Restoration is the theme of this chapter. Israel's exile to Babylon had not taken place at the time of this writing, but God was foretelling through Isaiah all that was to come so they could not credit any of it to their idols. Israel's exile had been foretold and now her restoration is the subject.

Those who seek the Lord are first addressed and encouraged to look to their roots, to "the rock from which you were cut." (51:1) By doing so they would also be returned to the roots of their relationship with God. Israel loved the story of her exodus from Eygpt and had no doubt of God's hand in their rescue from bondage and deliverance to their land of promise. She should liken that exodus to what was to happen in her restoration from Babylonian exile. As surely as God took them from Eygpt to the Promised Land, He would take them from Babylon back to that land of promise.

Doubt overcomes us when our focus is in the wrong place. Everything around us - whether it is other people, this world, or the heavens - will all pass away. But the Lord's salvation is sure. It "will last forever, and My righteousness will never be shattered." (51:6) Their focus, and our focus, should be on the Lord and His salvation. With the focus on the Lord's salvation, the reader is taken back to the exodus. Who was it that "hacked Rahab (a reference to Eygpt) to pieces?" (51:9)  Who was it that dried up the Red Sea and made the sea-bed a road for Israel to pass over? The obvious answer is the Lord. He did all these things. The Lord will also do similar great things to deliver Israel from Babylon. The message to Israel is to focus on this and not on her oppressors. The oppressor will not last, but God's salvation is sure.

After years of exile in Babylon, it was time for Israel to wake up and be ready for what the Lord will do. They had drunk the cup of His fury (51:17) but now "I have removed the cup of staggering from your hand; that goblet, the cup of My fury. You will never drink it again. I will put it into the hands of your tormenters." (51:22-23)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 50

    Isaiah 50 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD says, "Children, I didn't divorce your mother or sell you to pay debts; I divorced her and sold you because of your sins.
  2. I came and called out, but you didn't answer. Have I lost my power to rescue and save? At my command oceans and rivers turn into deserts; fish rot and stink for lack of water.
  3. I make the sky turn dark like the sackcloth you wear at funerals."
  4. The LORD God gives me the right words to encourage the weary. Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching;
  5. he made me willing to listen and not rebel or run away.
  6. I let them beat my back and pull out my beard. I didn't turn aside when they insulted me and spit in my face.
  7. But the LORD God keeps me from being disgraced. So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down.
  8. My protector is nearby; no one can stand here to accuse me of wrong.
  9. The LORD God will help me and prove I am innocent. My accusers will wear out like moth-eaten clothes.
  10. None of you respect the LORD or obey his servant. You walk in the dark instead of the light; you don't trust the name of the LORD your God.
  11. Go ahead and walk in the light of the fires you have set. But with his own hand, the LORD will punish you and make you suffer.

In the opening verses of this chapter the Lord makes it plain that Israel is to blame for her exile to Babylon. The Lord acknowledges that He has divorced her, a reference to Jeremiah 3:8, but it was not for insignificant issues that He did so. Rather it was Israel's own iniquity, her own adulterous unfaithfulness with idols that brought it about. Neither did the Lord 'sell' Israel to Babylon to fulfill a debt to this nation. No, it was Israel's transgressions that brought about this tragedy. Then He asks of them why they had ignored Him. Did they think He was powerless to deliver them?

For whatever reasons they rejected God in this period of their history, they also rejected His Son, the Messiah, at a later period. Though the Messiah was faithful, the people beat Him and scorned Him and then crucified Him. Following the Babylonian exile Israel may have intensified their faithfulness to the observance of the worship practices God had prescribed for them, but when the Messiah came on the scene their hearts were no nearer to Him than before. They had become comfortable in their legalistic observance of the law, but it was not the Lord on whom they were relying, but rather their own piety. The arrival of the Messiah turned all of their practices upside down which they could not tolerate.

We all need to heed the words of hope in verses 10 and 11. Regardless of our past, we need to trust "in the name of the LORD" and lean on Him, for if we persist in following a path of rebellion against God, we "will lie down in a place of torment."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 49

    Isaiah 49 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Everyone, listen, even you foreign nations across the sea. The LORD chose me and gave me a name before I was born.
  2. He made my words pierce like a sharp sword or a pointed arrow; he kept me safely hidden in the palm of his hand.
  3. The LORD said to me, "Israel, you are my servant; and because of you I will be highly honored."
  4. I said to myself, "I'm completely worn out; my time has been wasted. But I did it for the LORD God, and he will reward me."
  5. Even before I was born, the LORD God chose me to serve him and to lead back the people of Israel. So the LORD has honored me and made me strong.
  6. Now the LORD says to me, "It isn't enough for you to be merely my servant. You must do more than lead back survivors from the tribes of Israel. I have placed you here as a light for other nations; you must take my saving power to everyone on earth."
  7. Israel, I am the holy LORD God, the one who rescues you. You are slaves of rulers and of a nation who despises you. Now this is what I promise: Kings and rulers will honor you by kneeling at your feet. You can trust me! I am your LORD, the holy God of Israel, and you are my chosen ones.
  8. This is what the LORD says: I will answer your prayers because I have set a time when I will help by coming to save you. I have chosen you to take my promise of hope to other nations. You will rebuild the country from its ruins, then people will come and settle there.
  9. You will set prisoners free from dark dungeons to see the light of day. On their way home, they will find plenty to eat, even on barren hills.
  10. They won't go hungry or get thirsty; they won't be bothered by the scorching sun or hot desert winds. I will be merciful while leading them along to streams of water.
  11. I will level the mountains and make roads.
  12. Then my people will return from distant lands in the north and the west and from the city of Syene.
  13. Tell the heavens and the earth to celebrate and sing; command every mountain to join in the song. The LORD's people have suffered, but he has shown mercy and given them comfort.
  14. The people of Zion said, "The LORD has turned away and forgotten us."
  15. The LORD answered, "Could a mother forget a child who nurses at her breast? Could she fail to love an infant who came from her own body? Even if a mother could forget, I will never forget you.
  16. A picture of your city is drawn on my hand. You are always in my thoughts!
  17. "Your city will be built faster than it was destroyed -- those who attacked it will retreat and leave.
  18. Look around! You will see your people coming home. As surely as I live, I, the LORD, promise that your city with its people will be as lovely as a bride wearing her jewelry."
  19. Jerusalem is now in ruins! Nothing is left of the city. But it will be rebuilt and soon overcrowded; its cruel enemies will be gone far away.
  20. Jerusalem is a woman whose children were born while she was in deep sorrow over the loss of her husband. Now those children will come and seek room in the crowded city,
  21. and Jerusalem will ask, "Am I really their mother? How could I have given birth when I was still mourning in a foreign land? Who raised these children? Where have they come from?"
  22. The LORD God says: "I will soon give a signal for the nations to return your sons and your daughters to the arms of Jerusalem.
  23. The kings and queens of those nations where they were raised will come and bow down. They will take care of you just like a slave taking care of a child. Then you will know that I am the LORD. You won't be disappointed if you trust me."
  24. Is it possible to rescue victims from someone strong and cruel?
  25. But the LORD has promised to fight on our side and to rescue our children from those strong and violent enemies.
  26. He will make those cruel people dine on their own flesh and get drunk from drinking their own blood. Then everyone will know that the LORD is our Savior; the powerful God of Israel has rescued his people.

This chapter takes us into a new section of Isaiah. The previous nine chapters dealt with the role of Cyrus, king of Persia, in delivering Israel from Babylonian captivity. This nine-chapter section is about the role of the Messiah in restoring Israel to the land leading up to His Millennial reign. The restoration through Cyrus was not as complete as will be the one through the Messiah. His deliverance will also extend beyond Israel to include Gentiles.

In the Messiah's first coming His labor with Israel seemed in vain. He felt He had "spent my strength for nothing and futility." And yet, His vindication and reward "is with my God." (49:4) This must be the mindset of any who have given themselves to serve the Lord. Whatever mission He gives is His, and whether or not this mission succeeds, the outcome is the Lord's. He rewards us, not for the success or failure of what He gives us to do, but for our service.

The Messiah's mission with His second coming will expand beyond Israel, though. "It is not enough," says the Lord, "for you to be My servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth." (49:6) Though the Messiah was rejected at His first coming, when He comes again,  "Kings will see and stand up, and princes will bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel." (49:7)

During the interim, between the two advents of the Messiah, Israel will think the Lord has abandoned her, but the Lord assures her that He hasn't. Even though a mother might forget her nursing child, which is not likely, the Lord will not forget Israel. (49:15) When Israel returned to Jerusalem (Zion) following her Babylonian exile, only a meager remnant made the return. But leading up to the Millennium, her return to the land will be so great that it will seem the land is too small. Even the Gentile nations will assist Israel in her return. Presently many nations want to be rid of Israel and to dispossess her of her homeland, but it will be very different at the Millennium. Then, those who contend with Israel will find that the Lord contends with them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 48

    Isaiah 48 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. People of Israel, you come from Jacob's family and the tribe of Judah. You claim to worship me, the LORD God of Israel, but you are lying.
  2. You call Jerusalem your home and say you depend on me, the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel.
  3. Long ago I announced what was going to be, then without warning, I made it happen.
  4. I knew you were stubborn and hardheaded.
  5. And I told you these things, so that when they happened you would not say, "The idols we worship did this."
  6. You heard what I said, and you have seen it happen. Now admit that it's true! I will show you secrets you have never known.
  7. Today I am doing something new, something you cannot say you have heard before.
  8. You have never been willing to listen to what I say; from the moment of your birth, I knew you would rebel.
  9. I, the LORD, am true to myself; I will be praised for not punishing and destroying you.
  10. I tested you in hard times just as silver is refined in a heated furnace.
  11. I did this because of who I am. I refuse to be dishonored or share my praise with any other god.
  12. Israel, my chosen people, listen to me. I alone am the LORD, the first and the last.
  13. With my own hand I created the earth and stretched out the sky. They obey my every command.
  14. Gather around me, all of you! Listen to what I say. Did any of your idols predict this would happen? Did they say that my friend would do what I want done to Babylonia?
  15. I was the one who chose him. I have brought him this far, and he will be successful.
  16. Come closer and listen! I have never kept secret the things I have said, and I was here before time began. By the power of his Spirit the LORD God has sent me
  17. with this message: People of Israel, I am the holy LORD God, the one who rescues you. For your own good, I teach you, and I lead you along the right path.
  18. How I wish that you had obeyed my commands! Your success and good fortune would then have overflowed like a flooding river.
  19. Your nation would be blessed with more people than there are grains of sand along the seashore. And I would never have let your country be destroyed.
  20. Now leave Babylon! Celebrate as you go. Be happy and shout for everyone to hear, "The LORD has rescued his servant Israel!
  21. He led us through the desert and made water flow from a rock to satisfy our thirst.
  22. But the LORD has promised that none who are evil will live in peace."

Isaiah repeatedly compares God to the idols Israel was prone to worship. In this comparison he also repeatedly points to two proofs of God's uniqueness: His creative power and His ability to foretell the future. Of course these abilities go together. One can undoubtedly foretell the future when they are creating those future events. It is the ability to foretell the future, however, that Isaiah gives greatest attention to in this chapter. 

According to this chapter, a key reason God foretold Israel's future was to keep Israel from crediting these events to their idols. Before they occurred, God had already spoken of them. In keeping with this pattern, God declared, "From now on I will announce new things to you, hidden things that you have not known." (48:6) Not only will God announce new things, these new things will be His creation. What new thing does He refer to? It is Israel's deliverance from Babylon at the hands of Cyrus, king of Persia. 

God will do this new thing as much for Himself as for Israel. In an act of restraint, God will deliver Israel from Babylon and not allow her to be destroyed. Rather than destroying Israel, her time in Babylon will serve to refine her - a testing in "the furnace of affliction." (48:10) Though it is for Israel's benefit, it is also for God's praise. God will not give His glory to another. And on this note God reminds them that it was His hand that founded the earth and spread the heavens. Then He challenges them to tell Him who among the idols has "declared these things." (48:14) 

In conclusion, God reminds them that He is the "Lord your God," who teaches them for their benefit. If only they had paid attention to His commands, He says. Then they could have had peace and prosperity. But He reminds them that there is no peace for the wicked. However, they will be given another chance. "Leave Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans! Declare with a shout of joy, proclaim this, let it go out to the end of the earth; announce, 'The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob!'" (48:20) They can go back to Jerusalem praising God and this time paying attention to His commands.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 47

    Isaiah 47 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. City of Babylon, You are delicate and untouched, but that will change. Surrender your royal power and sit in the dirt.
  2. Start grinding grain! Take off your veil. Strip off your fancy clothes and cross over rivers.
  3. You will suffer the shame of going naked, because I will take revenge, and no one can escape.
  4. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the holy God of Israel. I am their Savior.
  5. Babylon, be silent! Sit in the dark. No longer will nations accept you as their queen.
  6. I was angry with my people. So I let you take their land and bring disgrace on them. You showed them no mercy, but were especially cruel to those who were old.
  7. You thought that you would be queen forever. You didn't care what you did; it never entered your mind that you might get caught.
  8. You think that you alone are all-powerful, that you won't be a widow or lose your children. All you care about is pleasure, but listen to what I say.
  9. Your magic powers and charms will suddenly fail, then you will be a widow and lose your children.
  10. You hid behind evil like a shield and said, "No one can see me!" You were fooled by your wisdom and your knowledge; you felt sure that you alone were in full control.
  11. But without warning, disaster will strike-- and your magic charms won't help at all.
  12. Keep using your magic powers and your charms as you have always done. Maybe--just maybe-- you will frighten somebody!
  13. You have worn yourself out, asking for advice from those who study the stars and tell the future month after month. Go ask them how to be saved from what will happen.
  14. People who trust the stars are as helpless as straw in a flaming fire. No one can even keep warm, sitting by a fire that feeds only on straw.
  15. These are the fortunetellers you have done business with all of your life. But they don't know where they are going, and they can't save you.

An accurate worldview is vital to understanding life in its totality. From the context of an accurate worldview we can place both victory and defeat in their proper perspectives. This accurate worldview begins with a biblical understanding of creation. We must come to recognize God as creator of everything, including ourselves. With this foundation we can grasp our true identity as being made in God's image and can recognize that the One who created it all is also over it all and in control of it all. Though there are many other pieces to be added, these are the main building blocks to an accurate worldview. Within this context we can understand that we do nothing without the Creator's involvement. We would be mistaken to totally credit ourselves with success, failing to recognize the hand of our Creator in the success. We would also be mistaken to fully blame our Creator for our failures without recognizing our own hand in them. We often get these reversed: fully credit ourselves for success and fully blame God for failure.

Babylon was guilty of an inaccurate worldview. Thus, she did not recognize God's hand in her victory over Israel and did not consider what her role should be in Israel's exile. It is true that God "was angry with My people; I profaned My possession, and I placed them under your (Babylon's) control,"  but Babylon, "showed them no mercy; you made your yoke very heavy on the elderly." (47:6) Because of Babylon's inaccurate worldview she overplayed her hand. She did not recognize her role in the events surrounding her victory over Israel and exile of the people. She was God's instrument of discipline for Israel. Instead, Babylon took full credit for her victory and saw herself as being invulnerable. In other words, Babylon was putting herself in God's place.

Because of this mistake, Babylon would also experience defeat and exile. She would become another's servant with no mercy shown as she showed no mercy to Israel. God challenged Babylon to avert this pending disaster with her sorcery and astrology of which she was so proud. She also prided herself on her many astrologers who observed the stars and made monthly predictions based on these observations. But her sorcerers and astrologers would be useless to avert the disaster that was coming her way. Only her Creator, who was sending the disaster, could avert it. Her only hope would be to place herself at His mercy. And so it is with us all.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 46

    Isaiah 46 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The gods Bel and Nebo are down on their knees, as wooden images of them are carried away on weary animals.
  2. They are down on their knees to rescue the heavy load, but the images are still taken to a foreign country.
  3. You survivors in Israel, listen to me, the LORD. Since the day you were born, I have carried you along.
  4. I will still be the same when you are old and gray, and I will take care of you. I created you. I will carry you and always keep you safe.
  5. Can anyone compare with me? Is anyone my equal?
  6. Some people hire a goldsmith and give silver and gold to be formed into an idol for them to worship.
  7. They carry the idol on their shoulders, then put it on a stand, but it cannot move. They call out to the idol when they are in trouble, but it doesn't answer, and it cannot help.
  8. Now keep this in mind, you sinful people. And don't ever forget it.
  9. I alone am God! There are no other gods; no one is like me. Think about what happened many years ago.
  10. From the very beginning, I told what would happen long before it took place. I kept my word
  11. and brought someone from a distant land to do what I wanted. He attacked from the east, like a hawk swooping down. Now I will keep my promise and do what I planned.
  12. You people are stubborn and far from being safe, so listen to me.
  13. I will soon come to save you. I am not far away and will waste no time; I take pride in Israel and will save Jerusalem.

To whom is God to be compared? That is the question raised in this chapter. Certainly He is not to be compared to idols that can do nothing for mankind. Instead of carrying the burdens of those who worship them, idols are actually a burden to them, for they must be carried. And instead of rescuing the people from captivity, they go into captivity with them. It is ridiculous to think that an object that has been crafted by a goldsmith could then become one's god. How can one think such a thing of an object they have had to carry and set in its place and is then unable to budge from that place?

If God is to be compared to such an object, then consider this, house of Jacob: it is God who has made you and sustained you and who "will bear and save you." (46:4) This God, who can be compared to no one, will never change. He will be the same as long as any shall live. On Him one can depend. This God "declares the end from the beginning." (46:10) Whatever this God plans, He will do. He will do all He has planned. This God says to the house of Jacob (Israel): "I am bringing My justice near; it is not far away, and My salvation will not delay. I will put salvation in Zion, My splendor in Israel." (46:13) 

Man, in his desire to have a god he can see and manipulate, designs his own god. But only a fool would think that an object made by one's own hand or created in one's own mind could do anything for them.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 45

    Isaiah 45 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said to Cyrus, his chosen one: I have taken hold of your right hand to help you capture nations and remove kings from power. City gates will open for you; not one will stay closed.
  2. As I lead you, I will level mountains and break the iron bars on bronze gates of cities.
  3. I will give you treasures hidden in dark and secret places. Then you will know that I, the LORD God of Israel, have called you by name.
  4. Cyrus, you don't even know me! But I have called you by name and highly honored you because of Israel, my chosen servant.
  5. Only I am the LORD! There are no other gods. I have made you strong, though you don't know me.
  6. Now everyone from east to west will learn that I am the LORD. No other gods are real.
  7. I create light and darkness, happiness and sorrow. I, the LORD, do all of this.
  8. Tell the heavens to send down justice like showers of rain. Prepare the earth for my saving power to sprout and produce justice that I, the LORD, create.
  9. Israel, you have no right to argue with your Creator. You are merely a clay pot shaped by a potter. The clay doesn't ask, "Why did you make me this way? Where are the handles?"
  10. Children don't have the right to demand of their parents, "What have you done to make us what we are?"
  11. I am the LORD, the Creator, the holy God of Israel. Do you dare question me about my own nation or about what I have done?
  12. I created the world and covered it with people; I stretched out the sky and filled it with stars.
  13. I have done the right thing by placing Cyrus in power, and I will make the roads easy for him to follow. I am the LORD All-Powerful! Cyrus will rebuild my city and set my people free without being paid a thing. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  14. My people, I, the LORD, promise that the riches of Egypt and the treasures of Ethiopia will belong to you. You will force into slavery those tall people of Seba. They will bow down and say, "The only true God is with you; there are no other gods."
  15. People of Israel, your God is a mystery, though he alone can save.
  16. Anyone who makes idols will be confused and terribly disgraced.
  17. But Israel, I, the LORD, will always keep you safe and free from shame.
  18. The LORD alone is God! He created the heavens and made a world where people can live, instead of creating an empty desert. The LORD alone is God; there are no others.
  19. The LORD did not speak in a dark secret place or command Jacob's descendants to search for him in vain. The LORD speaks the truth, and this is what he says
  20. to every survivor from every nation: "Gather around me! Learn how senseless it is to worship wooden idols or pray to helpless gods.
  21. "Why don't you get together and meet me in court? Didn't I tell you long ago what would happen? I am the only God! There are no others. I bring about justice, and have the power to save.
  22. "I invite the whole world to turn to me and be saved. I alone am God! No others are real.
  23. I have made a solemn promise, one that won't be broken: Everyone will bow down and worship me.
  24. They will admit that I alone can bring about justice. Everyone who is angry with me will be terribly ashamed and will turn to me.
  25. I, the LORD, will give victory and great honor to the people of Israel."

The theme continues into this chapter of God's use of Cyrus as His anointed one to deliver Israel, and of God as the only God who has made everything. Also prominent in this theme is the re-settlement of Israel and the coming of Gentiles to recognize God as the only God. 

The reference to Cyrus as God's anointed in verse one might be seen in a similar light as the references to Saul and David as God's anointed kings over Israel. In exile, Israel would have no king and God was anointing Cyrus to serve that role to re-establish Israel once again in her homeland. As God's anointed, Cyrus would find that God had gone before him to "level the uneven places." In other words, the way would be prepared for him to have victory over his enemies and to gather treasures from those he conquered. But even in all this, Cyrus was not a believer. He was not a God-worshiper. This relationship as God's anointed was bestowed upon him, not because of his faithfulness to God, but for the benefit of Israel, that she might be freed and her enemies brought to task. God is not dependent only on those who acknowledge Him to accomplish His purposes. He also uses those who do not acknowledge Him to accomplish His purposes. God will not be restrained by the boxes we might be prone to draw around Him. 

Just as it is foolish to attempt to restrain God by drawing our boxes around Him and His activities, it is also foolish to question what He does. It is compared in verse 9 to a clay pot that argues with the potter who made it concerning the way the pot was made. Or, in verse 10, to a child questioning its parents as to why he was born. For whatever reasons people make idols and worship them, I suspect that the underlying motivation is to have a god they can control, one that is predictable, and one that can be seen. We do not like submitting ourselves to another to be led as they see fit. And yet, this is what the one God asks of us - to submit ourselves to Him and trust Him to direct our lives according to the good plan He has for us. But we don't trust that His plan is good or is what we want. We think we have a better plan. However, once our plan has run its course, we inevitably discover that it was not so good. On the other hand, those who submit to God's plan do inevitably learn that it is good and discover in the end it was what they desired as well.

This is what God wanted to do for Israel but she did not cooperate fully enough to see God accomplish it. But one day, in Christ's millennial reign, God's plans will  be accomplished for Israel. At that time Israel will "be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation." Then the people of the various nations will bow down to Israel and will confess that "God is indeed with you, and there is no other; there is no other God." (45:14) 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 44

    Isaiah 44 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. People of Israel, I have chosen you as my servant.
  2. I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born. Israel, don't be terrified! You are my chosen servant, my very favorite.
  3. I will bless the thirsty land by sending streams of water; I will bless your descendants by giving them my Spirit.
  4. They will spring up like grass or like willow trees near flowing streams.
  5. They will worship me and become my people. They will write my name on the back of their hands.
  6. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the first and the last, the one and only God. Israel, I have rescued you! I am your King.
  7. Can anyone compare with me? If so, let them speak up and tell me now. Let them say what has happened since I made my nation long ago, and let them tell what is going to happen.
  8. Don't tremble with fear! Didn't I tell you long ago? Didn't you hear me? I alone am God-- no one else is a mighty rock.
  9. Those people who make idols are nothing themselves, and the idols they treasure are just as worthless. Worshipers of idols are blind, stupid, and foolish.
  10. Why make an idol or an image that can't do a thing?
  11. Everyone who makes idols and all who worship them are mere humans, who will end up sadly disappointed. Let them face me in court and be terrified.
  12. A metalworker shapes an idol by using a hammer and heat from the fire. In his powerful hand he holds a hammer, as he pounds the metal into the proper shape. But he gets hungry and thirsty and loses his strength.
  13. Some woodcarver measures a piece of wood, then draws an outline. The idol is carefully carved with each detail exact. At last it looks like a person and is placed in a temple.
  14. Either cedar, cypress, oak, or any tree from the forest may be chosen. Or even a pine tree planted by the woodcarver and watered by the rain.
  15. Some of the wood is used to make a fire for heating or for cooking. One piece is made into an idol, then the woodcarver bows down and worships it.
  16. He enjoys the warm fire and the meat that was roasted over the burning coals.
  17. Afterwards, he bows down to worship the wooden idol. "Protect me!" he says. "You are my god."
  18. Those who worship idols are stupid and blind!
  19. They don't have enough sense to say to themselves, "I made a fire with half of the wood and cooked my bread and meat on it. Then I made something worthless with the other half. Why worship a block of wood?"
  20. How can anyone be stupid enough to trust something that can be burned to ashes? No one can save themselves like that. Don't they realize that the idols they hold in their hands are not really gods?
  21. People of Israel, you are my servant, so remember all of this. Israel, I created you, and you are my servant. I won't forget you.
  22. Turn back to me! I have rescued you and swept away your sins as though they were clouds.
  23. Tell the heavens and the earth to start singing! Tell the mountains and every tree in the forest to join in the song! The LORD has rescued his people; now they will worship him.
  24. Israel, I am your LORD. I am your source of life, and I have rescued you. I created everything from the sky above to the earth below.
  25. I make liars of false prophets and fools of fortunetellers. I take human wisdom and turn it into nonsense.
  26. I will make the message of my prophets come true. They are saying, "Jerusalem will be filled with people, and the LORD will rebuild the towns of Judah."
  27. I am the one who commands the sea and its streams to run dry.
  28. I am also the one who says, "Cyrus will lead my people and obey my orders. Jerusalem and the temple will be rebuilt."

Israel had forgotten her God and turned to the gods of the nations around her. Thus, God was reminding her of who He is and pointing out that their choice to follow other gods cannot be compared to following Him. 

First, God confirmed His love for Israel (also known as Jacob and Jeshurun). He had chosen Israel, He was her Maker who had shaped her from birth. And, He will continue to care for her. Then He declared that He is the only God. "There is no God but Me." (44:6) Neither is there any who can even compare to Him. If any claim to have that standing, then let them announce the events of the future as does God. This foretelling of future events is emphasized both here and in the previous chapter. The idols they worshiped could tell them nothing, let alone tell them the future.

He proceeded, then, to point out the folly of worshiping idols beginning with the fact that they are made by human hands. It was the ironworker or woodworker who crafted these idols. The materials that went into them were gathered from nature - from trees such as cedar, cypress, or oak. Then the craftsman took the block of wood cut from the tree, and with half of it he shapedt he idol, and with the other half he built a fire to bake his bread and roast his meat. Yet the one who says to the idol, "you are my god," does not reflect on the incongruity of these things. It is beyond his perception or insight to recognize that what he had called his god is only a block of wood of which he had also made a fire to cook his food. His mind was deceived and had led him astray.

Finally, God clarified the situation. It was God who had formed Israel and He would never forget her. He had "swept away your (Israel's) transgressions like a cloud." (44:22) The One who did this is "the Lord, who made everything." (44:24) He also said that Cyrus, the king of Persia, would fulfill the Lord's pleasures and would bring about the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. This word through Isaiah was spoken 150 years before these events occurred. When they were spoken, Assyria was the imminent threat, not Babylon. So how would these things be received by Israel? We can only guess. The message assured Israel that the Assyrian threat should not be a concern, but it also announced to her that another threat was coming that was real and would result in their exile. And then it assured her that this exile would not be forever. They would be returned to their own land and would again rebuild what they had lost. It also challenged the Israelites to accept the Lord as their God and trust His word to them and not the idols to which they have placed their trust.

This is the challenge given all of us. Will we make the the Lord our God and trust His word to us, or will we trust in objects of our own design?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 43

    Isaiah 43 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Descendants of Jacob, I, the LORD, created you and formed your nation. Israel, don't be afraid. I have rescued you. I have called you by name; now you belong to me.
  2. When you cross deep rivers, I will be with you, and you won't drown. When you walk through fire, you won't be burned or scorched by the flames.
  3. I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, the God who saves you. I gave up Egypt, Ethiopia, and the region of Seba in exchange for you.
  4. To me, you are very dear, and I love you. That's why I gave up nations and people to rescue you.
  5. Don't be afraid! I am with you. From both east and west I will bring you together.
  6. I will say to the north and to the south, "Free my sons and daughters! Let them return from distant lands.
  7. They are my people-- I created each of them to bring honor to me."
  8. Bring my people together. They have eyes and ears, but they can't see or hear.
  9. Tell everyone of every nation to gather around. None of them can honestly say, "We told you so!" If someone heard them say this, then tell us about it now.
  10. My people, you are my witnesses and my chosen servant. I want you to know me, to trust me, and understand that I alone am God. I have always been God; there can be no others.
  11. I alone am the LORD; only I can rescue you.
  12. I promised to save you, and I kept my promise. You are my witnesses that no other god did this. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  13. I am God now and forever. No one can snatch you from me or stand in my way.
  14. I, the LORD, will rescue you! I am Israel's holy God, and this is my promise: For your sake, I will send an army against Babylon to drag its people away, crying as they go.
  15. I am the LORD, your holy God, Israel's Creator and King.
  16. I am the one who cut a path through the mighty ocean.
  17. I sent an army to chase you with chariots and horses; now they lie dead, unable to move. They are like an oil lamp with the flame snuffed out.
  18. Forget what happened long ago! Don't think about the past.
  19. I am creating something new. There it is! Do you see it? I have put roads in deserts, streams in thirsty lands.
  20. Every wild animal honors me, even jackals and owls. I provide water in deserts-- streams in thirsty lands for my chosen people.
  21. I made them my own nation, so they would praise me.
  22. I, the LORD, said to Israel: You have become weary, but not from worshiping me.
  23. You have not honored me by sacrificing sheep or other animals. And I have not burdened you with demands for sacrifices or sweet-smelling incense.
  24. You have not brought delicious spices for me or given me the best part of your sacrificed animals. Instead, you burden me down with your terrible sins.
  25. But I wipe away your sins because of who I am. And so, I will forget the wrongs you have done.
  26. Meet me in court! State your case and prove that you are right.
  27. Your earliest ancestor and all of your leaders rebelled against me.
  28. That's why I don't allow your priests to serve me; I let Israel be destroyed and your people disgraced.

Israel had failed to fulfill the purpose of her covenant relationship with God which was to help bring the world to a knowledge of God. Instead, she had become like all the nations around her, following their gods rather than the true God who had formed them and redeemed them. Therefore God planned to use the sin of His people as a means yet to accomplish the purpose of His special relationship with them.

First, the Lord assured Israel of His love for her. He created them, formed them, and will redeem them. The redemption is stated in the present tense as of Isaiah's prophecy. It is in reference to their Babylonian captivity which they had not yet experienced. Yet the redemption was not future tense but present. He, even then, had prepared their redemption. They were to pass through difficulty, but it would not overwhelm them. It would be for their good and not their demise. Because they were "precious in My sight and honored, and I love you," God was putting others in their place. (43:4) God raised up Cyrus, king of Persia, who not only conquered Babylon and ultimately released Israel from her exile, but for this liberation of Israel God also gave to Cyrus victory over Egypt, Cush, and Seba.God considered these a ransom price for the redemption of His people. There is always a price for sin! We should never forget that. And, unfortunately, many often suffer as a result of the price of another's sin.

Then the redeemed Israel would become a witness to the Lord's existence, His love, and His mercy. Verses 8-13 describe a gathering of the nations before which Israel would serve as a witness of who God is. The question is raised among these nations as to which of their gods could do what God had done for Israel. They were challenged to present their witness to verify the truth of any such claim. Obviously, none could do so. But not only are all the other nations challenged by God, but Israel is also challenged with the fact that it was God alone who saved her and not any foreign god among them. Furthermore, He was declaring that from that day forward He was to be the only god to which Israel gave recognition. Following the Babylonian captivity, although Israel still failed in so many ways in her relationship with God, she never again turned to other gods.

Though God was stating His love for Israel and assuring her of His deliverance, He was not doing so because Israel merited His love or deliverance. This is a reality we must all come to understand. Though God is always ready and willing to forgive us of sin and offer us salvation, it is never because of our own merit, and always because of His love and mercy. Often there is the mistaken idea that before one can turn to God and seek His help they must first become worthy of His help. None of us are ever worthy. We must come to God as we are. It is He who will transform us into what we should be if we will allow Him to. But we cannot make that transformation on our own.

At the time Isaiah wrote this, Israel was still not honoring God with her worship. God stated that Israel had become weary of Him. (43:22) Therefore the people were not honoring God with their offerings and worship. God had not burdened them with the expectation of offerings or sacrifices, but the people had burdened Him with their sin. Nevertheless, God was sweeping away their trangression, not for their sake, but for His own sake.

May we get over the age-old idea that we can somehow merit or earn God's favor. And with that, may we simply place ourselves at God's mercy, repenting of our sin and allow ourselves to receive the forgiveness and salvation that He so desires to give. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 42

    Isaiah 42 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Here is my servant! I have made him strong. He is my chosen one; I am pleased with him. I have given him my Spirit, and he will bring justice to the nations.
  2. He won't shout or yell or call out in the streets.
  3. He won't break off a bent reed or put out a dying flame, but he will make sure that justice is done.
  4. He won't quit or give up until he brings justice everywhere on earth, and people in foreign nations long for his teaching.
  5. I am the LORD God. I created the heavens like an open tent above. I made the earth and everything that grows on it. I am the source of life for all who live on this earth, so listen to what I say.
  6. I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side. I selected and sent you to bring light and my promise of hope to the nations.
  7. You will give sight to the blind; you will set prisoners free from dark dungeons.
  8. My name is the LORD! I won't let idols or humans share my glory and praise.
  9. Everything has happened just as I said it would; now I will announce what will happen next.
  10. Tell the whole world to sing a new song to the LORD! Tell those who sail the ocean and those who live far away to join in the praise.
  11. Tell the tribes of the desert and everyone in the mountains to celebrate and sing.
  12. Let them announce his praises everywhere.
  13. The LORD is marching out like an angry soldier, shouting with all his might while attacking his enemies.
  14. For a long time, I, the LORD, have held my temper; now I will scream and groan like a woman giving birth.
  15. I will destroy the mountains and what grows on them; I will dry up rivers and ponds.
  16. I will lead the blind on roads they have never known; I will guide them on paths they have never traveled. Their road is dark and rough, but I will give light to keep them from stumbling. This is my solemn promise.
  17. Everyone who worships idols as though they were gods will be terribly ashamed.
  18. You people are deaf and blind, but the LORD commands you to listen and to see.
  19. No one is as blind or deaf as his messenger, his chosen servant,
  20. who sees and hears so much, but pays no attention.
  21. The LORD always does right, and so he wanted his Law to be greatly praised.
  22. But his people were trapped and imprisoned in holes with no one to rescue them. All they owned had been taken, and no one was willing to give it back.
  23. Why won't his people ever learn to listen?
  24. Israel sinned and refused to obey the LORD or follow his instructions. So the LORD let them be robbed of everything they owned.
  25. He was furious with them and punished their nation with the fires of war. Still they paid no attention. They didn't even care when they were surrounded and scorched by flames.

The Servant Messiah will come to do what the servant Israel failed to do -  to help bring the world to a knowledge of God. The Servant Messiah will bring justice to the nations, will be gentle, will not be boisterous or engage in conflict, and will not grow weak or discouraged before His task is completed. (42:1-4) By contrast, the servant Israel has become blind and deaf. She has become disobedient. (42:18-25) Regarding the Servant Messiah, the Lord will "hold you by your hand. I will keep you, and I make you a covenant for the people and a light to the nations." (42:6) But concerning servant Israel, the Lord will give her over to robbers and plunderers because of her disobedience.

Up to this point the Lord God has remained quiet and restrained Himself, but now He will no longer allow His glory to be given to another, or His praise to idols as servant Israel has done. Those who trust in idols and call metal-plated images their gods will be put to shame. Therefore, the Lord will "lead the blind by a way they did not know; I will guide them on paths they have not known. I will turn darkness to light in front of them, and rough places into level ground." (42:16) But the Lord will not forsake them.

The time has come to "Sing a new song to the Lord; sing His praise from the ends of the earth."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 41

    Isaiah 41 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Be silent and listen, every island in the sea. Have courage and come near, every one of you nations. Let's settle this matter!
  2. Who appointed this ruler from the east? Who puts nations and kings in his power? His sword and his arrows turn them to dust blown by the wind.
  3. He goes after them so quickly that his feet barely touch the ground-- he doesn't even get hurt.
  4. Who makes these things happen? Who controls human events? I do! I am the LORD. I was there at the beginning; I will be there at the end.
  5. Islands and foreign nations saw what I did and trembled as they came near.
  6. Worshipers of idols comfort each other, saying, "Don't worry!"
  7. Woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and other workers encourage one another and say, "We've done a great job!" Then they nail the idol down, so it won't fall over.
  8. Israel, you are my servant. I chose you, the family of my friend Abraham.
  9. From far across the earth I brought you here and said, "You are my chosen servant. I haven't forgotten you."
  10. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Don't tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories.
  11. Everyone who hates you will be terribly disgraced; those who attack will vanish into thin air.
  12. You will look around for those brutal enemies, but you won't find them because they will be gone.
  13. I am the LORD your God. I am holding your hand, so don't be afraid. I am here to help you.
  14. People of Israel, don't worry, though others may say, "Israel is only a worm!" I am the holy God of Israel, who saves and protects you.
  15. I will let you be like a log covered with sharp spikes. You will grind and crush every mountain and hill until they turn to dust.
  16. A strong wind will scatter them in all directions. Then you will celebrate and praise me, your LORD, the holy God of Israel.
  17. When the poor and needy are dying of thirst and cannot find water, I, the LORD God of Israel, will come to their rescue. I won't forget them.
  18. I will make rivers flow on mountain peaks. I will send streams to fill the valleys. Dry and barren land will flow with springs and become a lake.
  19. I will fill the desert with all kinds of trees-- cedars, acacias, and myrtles; olive and cypress trees; fir trees and pines.
  20. Everyone will see this and know that I, the holy LORD God of Israel, created it all.
  21. I am the LORD, the King of Israel! Come argue your case with me. Present your evidence.
  22. Come near me, you idols. Tell us about the past, and we will think about it. Tell us about the future, so we will know what is going to happen.
  23. Prove that you are gods by making your predictions come true. Do something good or evil, so we can be amazed and terrified.
  24. You idols are nothing, and you are powerless. To worship you would be disgusting.
  25. I, the LORD, appointed a ruler in the north; now he comes from the east to honor my name. He tramples kings like mud, as potters trample clay.
  26. Did any of you idols predict what would happen? Did any of you get it right? None of you told about this or even spoke a word.
  27. I was the first to tell the people of Jerusalem, "Look, it's happening!" I was the one who announced this good news to Zion.
  28. None of these idols are able to give advice or answer questions.
  29. They are nothing, and they can do nothing-- they are less than a passing breeze.

God is fully adequate to accomplish His purposes, but man is never adequate. Even when man sets out to accomplish his own purposes, he succeeds only with God's aid. Ironically, even people who believe there is no God are unwittingly used by God in the accomplishment of His purposes. Those He uses may think they have succeeded in their purpose when they have merely been used in the succeeding of God's purpose. Once His purpose has been accomplished they will find themselves on a course of destruction.

These are the dynamics referred to in this chapter. All the nations of earth are called together by God to the trial He has convened against them. The purpose of the trial is not to determine their guilt or innocence. This has already been determined, and they have been found guilty. They are called to the trial so they might realize their own guilt. With God as our judge, guilty is the only plausible plea we can make. For man is always guilty of sin and his only hope is to agree with God and to plead guilty. Then he will experience God's mercy. In this situation, the judgment has already been set in motion. God has already stirred up a leader from the east for God's righteous purpose. Here is an example of ungodly people being used unwittingly for God's purpose. Cyrus, the leader from the east, will be used for God's judgment against the nations, but Cyrus' tremendous success militarily was only because of God's involvement. God handed the nations over to him. We all will eventually discover that we do not at all control our own destinies. Our choices will play a huge role in our destinies, but God controls the outcome.

This trial against the nations is for Jacob's (Israel's) benefit. God is bringing judgment on those nations that contended with Israel. Though taken exile into Babylon, God's instrument, Cyrus, will defeat Babylon for the release of God's people from their exile. "Those who war against you," God says to Israel, "will become absolutely nothing." (41:12)

As the shadow of the advancing Persian army, led by Cyrus, moves toward the nations, they will turn to each other for help and encouragement, and the craftsmen will work to bolster their idols as protection against the assault. Mockingly, Isaiah says the craftsmen will fasten the idols with nails so they will not fall over. How could any possibly think these objects could offer any protection? Those who look to their idols for help are challenged to have their gods predict what will happen. Who among the idols told of this one from the east that God has set in motion against them? None. "No one announced it, no one told it." (41:26) "Look, all of them are a delusion; their works are nonexistent; their images are wind and emptiness." (41:29) Such is the help to which the nations turn in their delimma. But when we turn instead to the Lord God, we turn to the One who has control over all things.