Friday, October 29, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 6

    Jeremiah 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Run for your lives, people of Benjamin. Get out of Jerusalem. Sound a trumpet in Tekoa and light a signal fire in Beth-Haccherem. Soon you will be struck by disaster from the north. *
  2. Jerusalem is a lovely pasture, but shepherds will surround it and divide it up,
  3. then let their flocks eat all the grass.
  4. Kings will tell their troops, "If we reach Jerusalem in the morning, we'll attack at noon. But if we arrive later,
  5. we'll attack after dark and destroy its fortresses."
  6. I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I will command these armies to chop down trees and build a ramp up to the walls of Jerusalem. People of Jerusalem, I must punish you for your injustice.
  7. Evil pours from your city like water from a spring. Sounds of violent crimes echo within your walls; victims are everywhere, wounded and dying.
  8. Listen to me, you people of Jerusalem and Judah. I will abandon you, and your land will become an empty desert.
  9. I will tell your enemies to leave your nation bare like a vine stripped of grapes. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken.
  10. I have told the people that you, LORD, will punish them, but they just laugh and refuse to listen.
  11. Your anger against Judah flames up inside me, and I can't hold it in much longer. Don't hold back my anger! Let it sweep away everyone-- the children at play and all adults, young and old alike.
  12. I'll punish the people of Judah and give to others their houses and fields, as well as their wives. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  13. Everyone is greedy and dishonest, whether poor or rich. Even the prophets and priests cannot be trusted.
  14. All they ever offer to my deeply wounded people are empty hopes for peace.
  15. They should be ashamed of their disgusting sins, but they don't even blush. And so, when I punish Judah, they will end up on the ground, dead like everyone else. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  16. The LORD said: My people, when you stood at the crossroads, I told you, "Follow the road your ancestors took, and you will find peace." But you refused.
  17. I also sent prophets to warn you of danger, but when they sounded the alarm, you paid no attention. *
  18. So I tell all nations on earth, "Watch what I will do!
  19. My people ignored me and rejected my laws. They planned to do evil, and now the evil they planned will happen to them."
  20. People of Judah, you bring me incense from Sheba and spices from distant lands. You offer sacrifices of all kinds. But why bother? I hate these gifts of yours!
  21. So I will put stumbling blocks in your path, and everyone will die, including parents and children, neighbors and friends.
  22. The LORD said, "Look toward the north, where a powerful nation has prepared for war.
  23. Its well-armed troops are cruel and never show mercy. Their galloping horses sound like ocean waves pounding on the shore. This army will attack you, lovely Jerusalem."
  24. Then the people said, "Just hearing about them makes us tremble with fear, and we twist and turn in pain like a woman giving birth."
  25. The LORD said, "Don't work in your fields or walk along the roads. It's too dangerous. The enemy is well armed
  26. and attacks without warning. So mourn, my people, as though your only child had died. Wear clothes made of sackcloth and roll in the ash pile."
  27. Jeremiah, test my people as though they were metal.
  28. And you'll find they are hard like bronze and iron. They are stubborn rebels, always spreading lies. *
  29. Silver can be purified in a fiery furnace,
  30. but my people are too wicked to be made pure, and so I have rejected them.

The time of repentance for Judah had past and the time of punishment and destruction was quickly approaching. The Lord had appointed prophets and priests as watchmen to warn Judah of her sin and of coming destruction because of her sin. But the appointed watchmen were as false in their dealings as everyone else, "claiming: Peace, peace, when there is no peace." (6:14) Furthermore, the Lord instructed these watchmen to inquire concerning "the way to what is good," (6:16) but they protested that they would not do it. Nor were they willing to listen for coming danger and sound the alarm. Why were God's appointed spiritual leaders so derelict in their assigned duty? A number of responses could be given to that question, but the bottom line is that they were more concerned for their own comforts than for faithfulness to God. Serving as God's watchmen to a people intent on evil was not a pleasant task. Both Judah and Israel had a history of killing the prophets who spoke truth to them concerning their sin and coming punishment.

Jeremiah, however, was a prophet who was true to his calling and spoke the message God gave him. Therefore he gave this message to Judah: "Look, an army is coming from a northern land; a great nation will be awakened from the remote regions of the earth." Concerning this army he told Judah: "Their voice roars like the sea, and they ride on horses, lined up like men in battle formation against you, Daughter Zion." (6:22-23) God instructed this invading army to "Glean as thoroughly as a vine the remnant of Israel. Pass your hand once more like a grape gatherer over the branches." (6:9) In other words, the destruction of Judah was to be complete. As no grapes were to be left on the vine, nothing in Judah was to be left untouched by destruction.

As mentioned before, the time of repentance for Judah had past and the time of punishment and destruction was quickly approaching. Did this mean that God would not stop the destruction at this point if Judah were to finally repent? Even at this late date I think God would turn away the destruction if Judah were to repent. In fact, I believe that is the intent of this message delivered by Jeremiah. Every warning of doom is an opportunity for repentance. However, Judah was so deep into her evil ways she was incapable of repentance. Nor could she be convinced that her ways were evil and required repentance. To say the time of repentance had past is not to say that God would no longer accept it, but that Judah was no longer capable of it.

Many would judge God's actions in this situation as vindictive and hateful. But what do we know of God's motives or of true justice for that matter? Do we know better than the Creator what is good and what is bad, what is just and what is unjust, what is vindictive and what is not? Furthermore, though this chapter speaks of God's wrath, the whole of scripture indicates that God's every action has a redemptive purpose. This situation with Judah is no different. Though Judah might be incapable of repentance prior to a punishing destruction, God would hopefully have her attention following it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 5

    Jeremiah 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. "Search Jerusalem for honest people who try to be faithful. If you can find even one, I'll forgive the whole city.
  2. Everyone breaks promises made in my name."
  3. I answered, "I know that you look for truth. You punished your people for their lies, but in spite of the pain, they became more stubborn and refused to turn back to you."
  4. Then I thought to myself, "These common people act like fools, and they have never learned what the LORD their God demands of them.
  5. I'll go and talk to the leaders. They know what God demands." But even they had decided not to obey the LORD.
  6. The people have rebelled and rejected the LORD too many times. So enemies will attack like lions from the forest or wolves from the desert. Those enemies will watch the towns of Judah, and like leopards they will tear to pieces whoever goes outside.
  7. People of Judah, how can I forgive you? I gave you everything, but you abandoned me and worshiped idols. You men go to prostitutes and are unfaithful to your wives.
  8. You are no better than animals, and you always want sex with someone else's wife.
  9. Why shouldn't I punish the people of Judah?
  10. I will tell their enemies, "Go through my vineyard. Don't destroy the vines, but cut off the branches, because they are the people who don't belong to me."
  11. In every way, Judah and Israel have been unfaithful to me. *
  12. Their prophets lie and say, "The LORD won't punish us. We will have peace and plenty of food."
  13. They tell these lies in my name, so now they will be killed in war or starve to death.
  14. I am the LORD God All-Powerful. Jeremiah, I will tell you exactly what to say. Your words will be a fire; Israel and Judah will be the fuel.
  15. People of Israel, I have made my decision. An army from a distant country will attack you. I've chosen an ancient nation, and you won't understand their language.
  16. All of them are warriors, and their arrows bring death.
  17. This nation will eat your crops and livestock; they will leave no fruit on your vines or trees. And although you feel safe behind thick walls, your towns will be destroyed and your children killed.
  18. The LORD said: Jeremiah, the enemy army won't kill everyone in Judah.
  19. And the people who survive will ask, "Why did the LORD our God do such terrible things to us?" Then tell them: I am the LORD, but you abandoned me and worshiped other gods in your own land. Now you will be slaves in a foreign country.
  20. Tell these things to each other, you people of Judah, you descendants of Jacob.
  21. You fools! Why don't you listen when I speak? Why can't you understand
  22. that you should worship me with fear and trembling? I'm the one who made the shore to hold back the ocean. Waves may crash on the beach, but they can come no farther.
  23. You stubborn people have rebelled and turned your backs on me.
  24. You refuse to say, "Let's worship the LORD! He's the one who sends rain in spring and autumn and gives us a good harvest."
  25. That's why I cannot bless you! *
  26. A hunter traps birds and puts them in a cage, but some of you trap humans and make them your slaves.
  27. You are evil, and you lie and cheat to make yourselves rich. You are powerful
  28. and prosperous, but you refuse to help the poor get the justice they deserve.
  29. You need to be punished, and so I will take revenge.
  30. Look at the terrible things going on in this country. I am shocked!
  31. Prophets give their messages in the name of a false god, my priests don't want to serve me, and you--my own people-- like it this way! But on the day of disaster, where will you turn for help?

God sent Jeremiah on a mission to find even one righteous person in all of Judah. If even one were found, God would spare the nation from destruction. But Jeremiah was unsuccessful. What he found among the common people was hyprocracy, swearing by the Lord - "As the Lord lives" - but he found they were swearing falsely. He thought maybe it was because the common people were ignorant of the ways of the Lord, so he went to those in power. But he found that they, too, had "broken the yoke." (5:5)

This reference to the "yoke" speaks of being "yoked" in service with the Lord. Breaking from this yoke did not mean they would then have no yoke, for it is not a choice between a yoke or no yoke. It is a question of which yoke they will wear. The Lord's yoke is light while all others are heavy. Jesus spoke of taking on His yoke which He said is easy and His burden light. (Matt 11:30) He was comparing the yoke of His teaching to the heavy yoke of the scribal teaching. This reference in Jeremiah 5:5 is likely a comparison of the Lord's yoke to that of other gods. We are never free of a yoke. The question is with whom or with what will we be yoked? Whatever the answer to this question, it is without question that the Lord's yoke is far superior to any other. By breaking free of the Lord's yoke the people of Judah were not bettering themselves as they thought. Though it was the Lord who "satisfied their needs," they turned to other gods as if it were they who would meet their needs. (5:7)

Turning to idols to meet their needs, the people of Judah have evidently written God off as being impotent. Since they had decided it was not He who met their needs, then neither must He be capable of bringing punishment on them for turning to other gods. They insisted that "Harm won't come to us; we won't see sword or famine." (5:12) To bolster this thinking, the prophets - other than Jeremiah - spoke what the people wanted to hear. If the people would not credit God for meeting their needs, who would they credit for the destruction that was coming their way? For the Lord was bringing another nation against them who would all but finish them off. This nation would consume their harvest and food, their sons and daughters, their flocks and herds, their vines and fig trees, and they would destroy their fortified cities. But God gave the promise that they would not finish Judah off.

God instructed Jeremiah that when the people asked for what offense the Lord had done all these things, he was to answer them: "Just as you abandoned Me and served foreign gods in your land, so will you serve strangers in a land that is not yours." When we break free from the Lord's yoke, not only will we find ourselves yoked to a heavier burden, but we will not always have a choice as to whom or what we will be yoked. The people of Judah broke free from the Lord's yoke but would eventually find themselves yoked in service to strangers in another land.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 4

    Jeremiah 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said: Israel, if you really want to come back to me, get rid of those disgusting idols.
  2. Make promises only in my name, and do what you promise! Then all nations will praise me, and I will bless them.
  3. People of Jerusalem and Judah, don't be so stubborn! Your hearts have become hard, like unplowed ground where thornbushes grow.
  4. With all your hearts, keep the agreement I made with you. But if you are stubborn and keep on sinning, my anger will burn like a fire that cannot be put out. *
  5. "Sound the trumpets, my people. Warn the people of Judah, 'Run for your lives!
  6. Head for Jerusalem or another walled town!' "Jeremiah, tell them I'm sending disaster from the north.
  7. An army will come out, like a lion from its den. It will destroy nations and leave your towns empty and in ruins."
  8. Then I said to the people of Israel, "Put on sackcloth! Mourn and cry out, 'The LORD is still angry with us.' "
  9. The LORD said, "When all this happens, the king and his officials, the prophets and the priests will be shocked and terrified."
  10. I said, "You are the LORD God. So why have you fooled everyone, especially the people of Jerusalem? Why did you promise peace, when a knife is at our throats?"
  11. When disaster comes, the LORD will tell you people of Jerusalem, "I am sending a windstorm from the desert-- not a welcome breeze. And it will sweep you away as punishment for your sins.
  12. (SEE 4:11)
  13. Look! The enemy army swoops down like an eagle; their cavalry and chariots race faster than storm clouds blown by the wind." Then you will answer, "We are doomed!"
  14. But Jerusalem, there is still time for you to be saved. Wash the evil from your hearts and stop making sinful plans,
  15. before a message of disaster arrives from the hills of Ephraim and the town of Dan.
  16. The LORD said, "Tell the nations that my people have rebelled against me. And so an army will come from far away to surround Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  17. (SEE 4:16)
  18. "People of Judah, your hearts will be in pain, but it's your own fault that you will be punished."
  19. I can't stand the pain! My heart pounds, as I twist and turn in agony. I hear the signal trumpet and the battle cry of the enemy, and I cannot be silent.
  20. I see the enemy defeating us time after time, leaving everything in ruins. Even my own home is destroyed in a moment.
  21. How long will I see enemy flags and hear their trumpets?
  22. I heard the LORD say, "My people ignore me. They are foolish children who do not understand that they will be punished. All they know is how to sin."
  23. After this, I looked around. The earth was barren, with no form of life. The sun, moon, and stars had disappeared.
  24. The mountains were shaking;
  25. no people could be seen, and all the birds had flown away.
  26. Farmland had become a desert, and towns were in ruins. The LORD's fierce anger had done all of this.
  27. The LORD said: I have made my decision, and I won't change my mind. This land will be destroyed, although not completely. The sky will turn dark, and the earth will mourn.
  28. (SEE 4:27)
  29. Enemy cavalry and archers shout their battle cry. People run for their lives and try to find safety among trees and rocks. Every town is empty.
  30. Jerusalem, your land has been wiped out. But you act like a prostitute and try to win back your lovers, who now hate you. You can put on a red dress, gold jewelry, and eye shadow, but it's no use-- your lovers are out to kill you!
  31. I heard groaning and crying. Was it a woman giving birth to her first child? No, it was Jerusalem. She was gasping for breath and begging for help. "I'm dying!" she said. "They have murdered me."

A clear warning is given Judah in this passage of the coming destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, along with a clear description of how the destruction might be avoided. The fact that the warning was not heeded is an indication of Judah's spiritual condition. She had become so emersed in her dispicable lifestyle and idolatry and had grown so far from God and His teaching that she had no sense of conscience about what she was doing. In the minds of the people, they were doing nothing wrong so this message delivered by Jeremiah was ridiculous. Jeremiah was a madman speaking nonsense.

Had Judah paid attention to Jeremiah's message from God, the remedy to her impending destruction was clear: "If you return, Israel--this is the LORD's declaration--if you return to Me, if you remove your detestable idols from My presence and do not waver, if you swear, As the LORD lives, in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then the nations will be blessed by Him and will pride themselves in Him." (4:1-2) This promise from the Lord included more than an avoidance of destruction. It was also a promise of blessing.

The destruction of Judah, foretold in this chapter, is just short of complete annihilation. Jeremiah's description of Judah's destruction is a reversal of creation. The land would become formless and empty, the heavens would no longer have light, no lifeforms such as man and birds would be left, and the fertile fields would become wilderness. (4:23-27) Only the Lord's promise that He would not "finish it off" (4:27) assures us that annihilation was not complete. Nothing Judah did would avoid this destruction except for repentance. But this is the one thing she would not do.

Judah is a picture of all people's relationship with God. The Lord, the only true God, desires an intimate relationship with all His creation, desiring to bless them. But much of His creation, as with Judah, either ignores Him altogether or credits His creative work to other sources. In so doing, they turn away from the very source of life Who sustains life and fills it with purpose and meaning. This pursuit of sustenance, purpose, and meaning in directions other than with God leads to destruction. But as much as one might claim ignorance of God or doubt of His existence, scripture tells us this pursuit of life apart from God is not done in ignorance. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 1:20-21 that "From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened." It is a choice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 3

    Jeremiah 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said to the people of Israel: If a divorced woman marries, can her first husband ever marry her again? No, because this would pollute the land. But you have more gods than a prostitute has lovers. Why should I take you back?
  2. Just try to find one hilltop where you haven't gone to worship other gods by having sex. You sat beside the road like a robber in ambush, except you offered yourself to every passerby. Your sins of unfaithfulness have polluted the land.
  3. So I, the LORD, refused to let the spring rains fall. But just like a prostitute, you still have no shame for what you have done.
  4. You call me your father or your long-lost friend;
  5. you beg me to stop being angry, but you won't stop sinning.
  6. When Josiah was king, the LORD said: Jeremiah, the kingdom of Israel was like an unfaithful wife who became a prostitute on the hilltops and in the shade of large trees.
  7. I knew that the kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful and committed many sins, yet I still hoped she might come back to me. But she didn't, so I divorced her and sent her away. Her sister, the kingdom of Judah, saw what happened, but she wasn't worried in the least, and I watched her become unfaithful like her sister.
  8. (SEE 3:7)
  9. The kingdom of Judah wasn't sorry for being a prostitute, and she didn't care that she had made both herself and the land unclean by worshiping idols of stone and wood.
  10. And worst of all, the people of Judah pretended to come back to me.
  11. Even the people of Israel were honest enough not to pretend.
  12. Jeremiah, shout toward the north: Israel, I am your LORD-- come back to me! You were unfaithful and made me furious, but I am merciful, and so I will forgive you.
  13. Just admit that you rebelled and worshiped foreign gods under large trees everywhere.
  14. You are unfaithful children, but you belong to me. Come home! I'll take one or two of you from each town and clan and bring you to Zion.
  15. Then I'll appoint wise rulers who will obey me, and they will care for you like shepherds.
  16. You will increase in numbers, and there will be no need to remember the sacred chest or to make a new one.
  17. The whole city of Jerusalem will be my throne. All nations will come here to worship me, and they will no longer follow their stubborn, evil hearts.
  18. Then, in countries to the north, you people of Judah and Israel will be reunited, and you will return to the land I gave your ancestors.
  19. I have always wanted to treat you as my children and give you the best land, the most beautiful on earth. I wanted you to call me "Father" and not turn from me.
  20. But instead, you are like a wife who broke her wedding vows. You have been unfaithful to me. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  21. Listen to the noise on the hilltops! It's the people of Israel, weeping and begging me to answer their prayers. They forgot about me and chose the wrong path.
  22. I will tell them, "Come back, and I will cure you of your unfaithfulness." They will answer, "We will come back, because you are the LORD our God.
  23. On hilltops, we worshiped idols and made loud noises, but it was all for nothing-- only you can save us.
  24. Since the days of our ancestors when our nation was young, that shameful god Baal has taken our crops and livestock, our sons and daughters.
  25. We have rebelled against you just like our ancestors, and we are ashamed of our sins."

Judah's guilt is exposed in this chapter as is God's love and mercy. Given Judah's condition, there is little hope of being restored to the Lord. Her situation is compared to a wife whose husband divorced her and she then goes on to marry another. The question is then raised as to whether the former husband can return to her, and the obvious answer is no. According to the law, if a couple divorced and the wife married another man, she was prohibited from reuniting with her first husband. This is a picture of Judah's relationship with God, and she needed to know that she couldn't sin and expect to return to the Lord at any time she decided or when she needed something from Him.

Already God had withheld rain from Judah because of her sin and she had not been repentant. Furthermore, Judah had watched as God gave her sister, Israel, a "certificate of divorce" because of her spiritual adultery, yet "her treacherous sister Judah was not afraid but also went and prostituted herself." (3:8) Israel's 'certificate of divorce' was a reference to her destruction by Assyria. God considered Judah a worse case than Israel. She had sufficient opportunity to see the error of her ways and yet she had not turned from them. Oh, she gave a pretense of returning to the Lord, but she didn't return "with all her heart." (3:10) We turn away from God because we have forgotten who He is. He is the creator of the universe who has made us and is the source of all we have. He is all-knowing and all-seeing and there is nothing that is beyond His awareness. Yet we play our religious games as if to win His favor, and the only one who is fooled by them is ourselves.

Inspite of Judah's hardness of heart, however, God promised to pardon her if she would return, irregardless of his divorce from her. God's love and mercy is greater than the law. In verse 12 God pleads with both Israel and Judah to return to Him. In so doing, He says, "I will not look on you with anger, for I am unfailing in My love. This is the LORD's declaration. I will not be angry forever." The only condition for God's forgiveness and mercy was that they "acknowledge your guilt." (3:13) God promises not only to receive back the two sisters if they will return, He promises a return to His original relationship with them. He will bless them and they will prosper. The two nations will reunite and Jerusalem will become "The Lord's Throne." (3:17)

Our reading of God's relationship with Israel can be viewed in terms of our own personal relationship with God. He desires an intimate relationship with each of us. But we are not unlike Israel. We turn away from the Lord and are unfaithful to Him. Nevertheless, as with Israel, God desires to restore the relationship and to bless us.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 2

    Jeremiah 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told me
  2. to go to Jerusalem and tell everyone that he had said: When you were my young bride, you loved me and followed me through the barren desert.
  3. You belonged to me alone, like the first part of the harvest, and I severely punished those who mistreated you.
  4. Listen, people of Israel,
  5. and I, the LORD, will speak. I was never unfair to your ancestors, but they left me and became worthless by following worthless idols.
  6. Your ancestors refused to ask for my help, though I had rescued them from Egypt and led them through a treacherous, barren desert, where no one lives or dares to travel.
  7. I brought you here to my land, where food is abundant, but you made my land filthy with your sins.
  8. The priests who teach my laws don't care to know me. Your leaders rebel against me; your prophets give messages from Baal and worship false gods.
  9. I will take you to court and accuse you and your descendants *
  10. of a crime that no nation has ever committed before. Just ask anyone, anywhere, from the eastern deserts to the islands in the west.
  11. You will find that no nation has ever abandoned its gods even though they were false. I am the true and glorious God, but you have rejected me to worship idols.
  12. Tell the heavens to tremble with fear!
  13. You, my people, have sinned in two ways-- you have rejected me, the source of life-giving water, and you've tried to collect water in cracked and leaking pits dug in the ground.
  14. People of Israel, you weren't born slaves; you were captured in war.
  15. Enemies roared like lions and destroyed your land; towns lie burned and empty.
  16. Soldiers from the Egyptian towns of Memphis and Tahpanhes have cracked your skulls.
  17. It's all your own fault! You stopped following me, the LORD your God,
  18. and you trusted the power of Egypt and Assyria.
  19. Your own sins will punish you, because it was a bitter mistake for you to reject me without fear of punishment. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken.
  20. Long ago you left me and broke all ties between us, refusing to be my servant. Now you worship other gods by having sex on hilltops or in the shade of large trees.
  21. You were a choice grapevine, but now you produce nothing but small, rotten grapes.
  22. The LORD said: People of Israel, you are stained with guilt, and no soap or bleach can wash it away.
  23. You deny your sins and say, "We aren't unclean. We haven't worshiped Baal." But think about what you do in Hinnom Valley. And you run back and forth like young camels, as you rush to worship one idol after another.
  24. You are a female donkey sniffing the desert air, wanting to mate with just anyone. You are an easy catch!
  25. Your shoes are worn out, and your throat is parched from running here and there to worship foreign gods. "Stop!" I shouted, but you replied, "No! I love those gods too much."
  26. You and your leaders are more disgraceful than thieves-- you and your kings, your priests and prophets
  27. worship stone idols and sacred poles as if they had created you and had given you life. You have rejected me, but when you're in trouble, you cry to me for help.
  28. Go cry to the gods you made! There should be enough of them to save you, because Judah has as many gods as it has towns.
  29. The LORD said to Israel: You accuse me of not saving you, but I say you have rebelled.
  30. I tried punishing you, but you refused to come back to me, and like fierce lions you killed my prophets.
  31. Now listen to what I say! Did I abandon you in the desert or surround you with darkness? You are my people, yet you have told me, "We'll do what we want, and we refuse to worship you!"
  32. A bride could not forget to wear her jewelry to her wedding, but you have forgotten me day after day.
  33. You are so clever at finding lovers that you could give lessons to a prostitute.
  34. You killed innocent people for no reason at all. And even though their blood can be seen on your clothes,
  35. you claim to be innocent, and you want me to stop being angry with you. So I'll take you to court, and we'll see who is right.
  36. When Assyria let you down, you ran to Egypt, but you'll find no help there,
  37. and you will leave in great sadness. I won't let you find help from those you trust.

A case was brought against Judah. Though in her youth, in the years of her exodus, she was loyal to her God, following Him through the wilderness, she had since turned to worthless idols.  In Judah's apostasy the people were not only worshiping these idols, but were referring to them as their creator, saying, "You gave birth to me." (2:27) The heathen nations around Judah were more faithful to their gods than was Judah to her God. Judah had as many gods as she had town and cities, whereas the other nations were loyal to their one god.

Having turned to other gods, Judah had the audacity to ask for God's help when she was threatened and to bring a case against God blaming Him for her troubles. Though God had brought judgment on her in times past, He concluded that it had been in vain since Judah continued in her idolatry, pursuing other gods as a donkey in heat pursues a mate. Inevitably, Judah drew further away from God and His teaching. Having already strayed by worshiping other gods, the people then spiraled downward, increasing in their sinfulness to the point that their "skirts are stained with the blood of the innocent poor." (2:34) Inspite of it all, though, they claimed innocence, denying that they had sinned.

The outcome? "you will be led out from here with your hands on your head since the LORD has rejected those you trust," Jeremiah told them.  The first step was, and is for us, to replace the loyalty we should reserve for God with other loyalties. Left unchecked, a person spirals downward drifting further and further from God and wandering further and further from His teaching.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 1

    Jeremiah 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. My name is Jeremiah. I am a priest, and my father Hilkiah and everyone else in my family are from Anathoth in the territory of the Benjamin tribe. This book contains the things that the LORD told me to say.
  2. The LORD first spoke to me in the thirteenth year that Josiah was king of Judah,
  3. and he continued to speak to me during the rule of Josiah's son Jehoiakim. The last time the LORD spoke to me was in the fifth month of the eleventh year that Josiah's son Zedekiah was king. That was also when the people of Jerusalem were taken away as prisoners.
  4. The LORD said:
  5. "Jeremiah, I am your Creator, and before you were born, I chose you to speak for me to the nations."
  6. I replied, "I'm not a good speaker, LORD, and I'm too young."
  7. "Don't say you're too young," the LORD answered. "If I tell you to go and speak to someone, then go! And when I tell you what to say, don't leave out a word!
  8. I promise to be with you and keep you safe, so don't be afraid."
  9. The LORD reached out his hand, then he touched my mouth and said, "I am giving you the words to say,
  10. and I am sending you with authority to speak to the nations for me. You will tell them of doom and destruction, and of rising and rebuilding again."
  11. The LORD showed me something in a vision. Then he asked, "What do you see, Jeremiah?" I answered, "A branch of almonds that ripen early."
  12. "That's right," the LORD replied, "and I always rise early to keep a promise."
  13. Then the LORD showed me something else and asked, "What do you see now?" I answered, "I see a pot of boiling water in the north, and it's about to spill out toward us."
  14. The LORD said: I will pour out destruction all over the land.
  15. Just watch while I send for the kings of the north. They will attack and capture Jerusalem and other towns, then set up their thrones at the gates of Jerusalem.
  16. I will punish my people, because they are guilty of turning from me to worship idols.
  17. Jeremiah, get ready! Go and tell the people what I command you to say. Don't be frightened by them, or I will make you terrified while they watch.
  18. My power will make you strong like a fortress or a column of iron or a wall of bronze. You will oppose all of Judah, including its kings and leaders, its priests and people.
  19. They will fight back, but they won't win. I, the LORD, give my word-- I won't let them harm you.

This first chapter of Jeremiah contains the prophet's call from God to take God's message to the nation of Judah. I see in his call truths that I believe apply to God's relationship and call to any individual and not only applicable to Jeremiah. One is God's purpose for Jeremiah which was determined before the prophet was even conceived by his parents. I believe God has a purpose for every life which He has determined before conception. We have a choice not to acknowledge His purpose in our lives, though, thus aborting His purpose for us. This truth gives cause for any who see God as being impersonal and unconcerned about our individual situations to reconsider this perspective. God is very involved in the life of every individual who will allow that involvement.

There also cause in this revelation to rethink our perspective on abortion if, indeed, we have no problem with aborting a fetus thinking that in its early stages, at least, a fetus is not yet a viable form of life. Whether in reference to Jeremiah or anyone else, God has a purpose for every life, and that purpose is aborted along with the fetus when the choice is made to terminate a pregnancy. Speaking for myself, I don't wish to intervene in God's intended purpose for any life over a matter of personal preference or convenience in regard to an unwanted pregnancy, which is the motivation in the majority of abortions.

Another element of Jeremiah's call that I think is not isolated to Jeremiah is God's promise to make him able for the task he is given and to protect him in carrying out that task. Most of us would probably respond as did Jeremiah, saying that the task is beyond our capabilities. If we should think otherwise, we are probably not ready for the task. None of us are capable for the task to which God calls us. Only God can make us capable, and we will be destined to failure should we attempt to do it using only the capabilities we have.

A final factor I see in Jeremiah's call is a reminder that the assignment was to accomplish God's purpose, not Jeremiah's. As much as Jeremiah may have wished for his nation to avert disaster, his assignment to try to avert certain disaster for Judah was a fulfillment of God's purpose. Therefore, the conduct of that assignment must be according to God's direction and not according to any strategies Jeremiah might devise. In fact, God's enabling and protection for the task were dependent on conducting it as God directed. Otherwise Jeremiah was on his own. If he wished to do it on his own, God would leave him on his own.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 66

    Isaiah 66 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said: Heaven is my throne; the earth is my footstool. What kind of house could you build for me? In what place will I rest?
  2. I have made everything; that's how it all came to be. I, the LORD, have spoken. The people I treasure most are the humble-- they depend only on me and tremble when I speak.
  3. You sacrifice oxen to me, and you commit murder; you sacrifice lambs to me and dogs to other gods; you offer grain to me and pigs' blood to idols; you burn incense to me and praise your idols. You have made your own choice to do these disgusting things that you enjoy so much.
  4. You refused to answer when I called out; you paid no attention to my instructions. Instead, you did what I hated, knowing it was wrong. Now I will punish you in a way you dread the most.
  5. If you tremble when the LORD speaks, listen to what he says: "Some of your own people hate and reject you because of me. They make fun and say, 'Let the LORD show his power! Let us see him make you truly happy.' But those who say these things will be terribly ashamed."
  6. Do you hear that noise in the city and those shouts coming from the temple? It is the LORD shouting as he punishes his enemies.
  7. Have you ever heard of a woman who gave birth to a child before having labor pains?
  8. Who ever heard of such a thing or imagined it could happen? Can a nation be born in a day or come to life in a second? Jerusalem is like a mother who gave birth to her children as soon as she was in labor.
  9. The LORD is the one who makes birth possible. And he will see that Zion has many more children. The LORD has spoken.
  10. If you love Jerusalem, celebrate and shout! If you were in sorrow because of the city, you can now be glad.
  11. She will nurse and comfort you, just like your own mother, until you are satisfied. You will fully enjoy her wonderful glory.
  12. The LORD has promised: "I will flood Jerusalem with the wealth of nations and make the city prosper. Zion will nurse you at her breast, carry you in her arms, and hold you in her lap.
  13. I will comfort you there like a mother comforting her child."
  14. When you see this happen, you will celebrate; your strength will return faster than grass can sprout. Then everyone will know that the LORD is present with his servants, but he is angry with his enemies.
  15. The LORD will come down like a whirlwind with his flaming chariots. He will be terribly furious and punish his enemies with fire.
  16. The LORD's fiery sword will bring justice everywhere on this earth and execute many people.
  17. Some of you get yourselves ready and go to a garden to worship a foreign goddess. You eat the meat of pigs, lizards, and mice. But I, the LORD, will destroy you for this.
  18. I know everything you do and think! The time has now come to bring together the people of every language and nation and to show them my glory
  19. by proving what I can do. I will send the survivors to Tarshish, Pul, Lud, Meshech, Tubal, Javan, and to the distant islands. I will send them to announce my wonderful glory to nations that have never heard about me.
  20. They will bring your relatives from the nations as an offering to me, the LORD. They will come on horses, chariots, wagons, mules, and camels to Jerusalem, my holy mountain. It will be like the people of Israel bringing the right offering to my temple.
  21. I promise that some of them will be priests and others will be helpers in my temple. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  22. I also promise that you will always have descendants and will never be forgotten, just as the new heavens and the new earth that I create will last forever.
  23. On the first day of each month and on each Sabbath, everyone will worship me. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  24. My people will go out and look at the dead bodies of those who turned against me. The worms there never die, the fire never stops burning, and the sight of those bodies will be disgusting to everyone.

In this final chapter, Isaiah addresses his fellow Israelites, both the faithful and the impenitent, concerning God's expectation and His future promise.

To the impenitent he relays the Lord's message, "Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house could you possibly build for Me?" (66:1) He goes on to refer to their perverted forms of worship. The message is that God is not impressed with their outward forms of worship or any house of worship they might build. What impresses Him is "one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My word."  (66:2) It is the heart on which He looks. Externals are meaningful only if they are driven by a heart with pure motives. Though our practice today is not to offer sacrifices, the Lord is no more impressed with our "authentic" worship practices nor with the enthusiasm of our worship music and gyrations unless they are motivated by a pure heart. Unless we are humble before the Lord, submissive in spirit to His will in our lives, and observe the teaching of His word, He will be no more pleased with our worship practices than with those of the unfaithful Israelites.

To the faithful Isaiah relays this message from the Lord: "Your brothers who hate and exclude you because of Me have said: Let the LORD be glorified, so that we can see your joy! But they will be put to shame." (66:5) Their impenitent Israelite brothers will persecute them for their faithfulness to the Lord even while they are in exile. Their brothers will mock them by telling them to glorify the Lord so they might see their joy at being miraculously delivered from exile. This behavior raises a question, for it is not uncommon behavior for people of any time period or nationality. Why is it that we think the only reason to worship God and be faithful to Him is for the blessings He might give us? Is not the fact that God is our Creator and the source of life and everything we have sufficient to faithfully submit ourselves to Him and worship Him? Is not the fact that a life lived in observance of God's word brings with it greater fulfillment and joy than one lived otherwise further reason for faithfulness to God regardless of whether or not we have great prosperity or live a life free of problems? Are we in the habit of befriending only people who we perceive might benefit us in some way, or do we also befriend people for the shear pleasure of their company? Why must God constantly be the benefactor of good things for us to befriend Him? Is it not sufficient to befriend Him and be faithful to Him for the pleasure of the relationship and the resulting joy?

God also says to the faithful, "I will make peace flow to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flood; you will nurse and be carried on her hip, and bounced on her lap. As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you, and you will be comforted in Jerusalem. You will see, you will rejoice, and you will flourish like grass; then the LORD's power will be revealed to His servants." (66:12-14) This is a reference to God's deliverance of the faithful of Israel in the millenium.  In contrast to the blessings of the millenium for the faithful, though, there will be judgment for the unfaithful. Though verse 14 says, "then the LORD's power will be revealed to His servants," it goes on to say, "but He will show His wrath against His enemies."

God will send the faithful of Israel as 'missionaries' to the nations of the world to proclaim His glory to reduce the number upon whom His judgment will fall. As a result, "They will bring all your brothers from all the nations as a gift to the LORD on horses and chariots, in litters, and on mules and camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring an offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. I will also take some of them as priests and Levites, says the LORD."  (66:20-21)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 65

    Isaiah 65 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I, the LORD, was ready answer even those who were not asking and to be found by those who were not searching. To a nation that refused to worship me, I said, "Here I am!"
  2. All day long I have reached out to stubborn and sinful people going their own way.
  3. They keep making me angry by sneering at me, while offering sacrifices to idols in gardens and burning incense to them on bricks.
  4. They spend their nights hiding in burial caves; they eat the meat of pigs, cooked in sauces made of stuff unfit to eat.
  5. And then they say to others, "Don't come near us! We're dedicated to God." Such people are like smoke, irritating my nose all day.
  6. I have written this down; I won't keep silent. I'll pay them back just as their sins deserve.
  7. I, the LORD, will make them pay for their sins and for those of their ancestors-- they have disgraced me by burning incense on mountains.
  8. Here is what the LORD says: A cluster of grapes that produces wine is worth keeping! So, because of my servants, I won't destroy everyone.
  9. I have chosen the people of Israel and Judah, and I will bless them with many descendants. They will settle here in this land of mountains, and it will be theirs.
  10. My people will worship me. Then the coastlands of Sharon and the land as far as Achor Valley will turn into pastureland where cattle and sheep will feed and rest.
  11. What will I, the LORD, do if any of you reject me and my holy mountain? What will happen to you for offering food and wine to the gods you call "Good Luck" and "Fate"?
  12. Your luck will end! I will see to it that you are slaughtered with swords. You refused to answer when I called out; you paid no attention to my instructions. Instead, you did what I hated, knowing it was wrong.
  13. I, the LORD God, will give food and drink to my servants, and they will celebrate. But all of you sinners will go hungry and thirsty, overcome with disgrace.
  14. My servants will laugh and sing, but you will be sad and cry out in pain.
  15. I, the LORD God, promise to see that you are killed and that my chosen servants use your names as curse words. But I will give new names to my servants.
  16. I am God! I can be trusted. Your past troubles are gone; I no longer think of them. When you pray for someone to receive a blessing, or when you make a promise, you must do it in my name. I alone am the God who can be trusted.
  17. I am creating new heavens and a new earth; everything of the past will be forgotten.
  18. Celebrate and be glad forever! I am creating a Jerusalem, full of happy people.
  19. I will celebrate with Jerusalem and all of its people; there will be no more crying or sorrow in that city.
  20. No child will die in infancy; everyone will live to a ripe old age. Anyone a hundred years old will be considered young, and to die younger than that will be considered a curse.
  21. My people will live in the houses they build; they will enjoy grapes from their own vineyards.
  22. No one will take away their homes or vineyards. My chosen people will live to be as old as trees, and they will enjoy what they have earned.
  23. Their work won't be wasted, and their children won't die of dreadful diseases. I will bless their children and their grandchildren.
  24. I will answer their prayers before they finish praying.
  25. Wolves and lambs will graze together; lions and oxen will feed on straw. Snakes will eat only dirt! They won't bite or harm anyone on my holy mountain. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Chapter 64 records the prayer of a faithful remnant of Israel petitioning God to demonstrate His power against their enemies. This chapter is God's response to that prayer. In summary, God tells them that Israel's longstanding sin of rejecting Him must be punished, but a faithful remnant will be spared.

God had offered a special relationship to Israel along with abundant blessings, but she had continually rejected His offer. Therefore, God will be "found by those who did not seek Me," (65:1)  that is, by the Gentiles. Israel had continually been stubborn, independent, and evil in response to God's continual readiness to help them. Their sins of worshiping in pagan gardens, involvement in necromancy (consulting the dead), disregard of God's dietary laws, and being religious snobs, must be dealt with. However, even in an otherwise bad vineyard, there are a few good grapes. But So the good grapes of Israel, that is, the faithful remnant, will be spared, and through them, God will "produce descendants from Jacob." (65:9) But for the rest of Israel, because when God "called and you did not answer, I spoke and you did not hear; you did what was evil in My sight and chose what I did not delight in,"  they were destined "for the sword, and all of you will kneel down to be slaughtered." (65:12)

Then a contrast is drawn between the faithful and the rebellious who have abandoned the Lord. The faithful will eat, drink, and rejoice while the rebellious will be hungry, thirsty, and put to shame. The faithful will "shout for joy from a glad heart," while the rebellious will "lament out of a broken spirit." (65:13-14) Eventually, through the faithful remnant, a new Israel will be raised up and will enjoy the blessings of the millenial age. Then, there will be no weeping, life will be extended many years, the people will prosper, and they will live in peace, including the wild animals who will be domesticated.

During the millenial age life will be as God intended it. But in the meantime, sin continues to subvert that life as man continually pursues his idea of the 'good life,' which is persistently evasive, consistently leading to the same outcome experienced by the rebellious Israelites - hunger, thirst, and shame.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 64

    Isaiah 64 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Rip the heavens apart! Come down, LORD; make the mountains tremble.
  2. Be a spark that starts a fire causing water to boil. Then your enemies will know who you are; all nations will tremble because you are nearby.
  3. Your fearsome deeds have completely amazed us; even the mountains shake when you come down.
  4. You are the only God ever seen or heard of who works miracles for his followers.
  5. You help all who gladly obey and do what you want, but sin makes you angry. Only by your help can we ever be saved.
  6. We are unfit to worship you; each of our good deeds is merely a filthy rag. We dry up like leaves; our sins are storm winds sweeping us away.
  7. No one worships in your name or remains faithful. You have turned your back on us and let our sins melt us away.
  8. You, LORD, are our Father. We are nothing but clay, but you are the potter who molded us.
  9. Don't be so furious or keep our sins in your thoughts forever! Remember that all of us are your people.
  10. Every one of your towns has turned into a desert, especially Jerusalem.
  11. Zion's glorious and holy temple where our ancestors praised you has been destroyed by fire. Our beautiful buildings are now a pile of ruins.
  12. When you see these things, how can you just sit there and make us suffer more?

The prayer of the faithful remnant of Israel begun in 63:15 continues into this chapter. God is petitioned to demonstrate His power against His enemies. It is evidently presumed that Israel's enemies are also God's enemies. It has been a long time since the relationship between these petitioners and their God has been close enough that they have seen God perform "awesome deeds that we did not expect," (64:3) but they are remembering and wishing to see them again on their behalf.

The prevailing sin of Israel that has brought them to the present circumstances in which they are in exile has been idolatry. They turned away from their God to the so-called gods of other nations. But they now confess that "From ancient times no one has heard, no one has listened, no eye has seen any God except You, who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him." (64:4)  Faith is frequently referred to in scripture as a factor in answered prayer, but waiting is here considered the important factor, saying that God acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him. So in this passage, it is waiting that is important. The question comes to mind in discussions of faith in regard to prayer as to what it means to have faith. Is it a mental process of thinking strongly that a prayer will be answered? If not, then what? This reference in Isaiah 64:4 is, I believe, at least a partial answer to that question. Faith in prayer is demonstrated in waiting for God's answer. In my own journey of faith with God, waiting has seemed to be a frequent factor that has tested my faith. And the longer the wait, the greater the test. But as I have endured the wait, my faith has grown, and the outcome has been worth the wait.

Confession is also a factor in prayer, as this petitioner in Isaiah 64 demonstrates, confessing that Israel has "become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garmet." (64:6) It is not only the confession of sin that is important, but also the confession of who God is, and this petition states that God is their Father. And their relationship to God their Father is as clay to the potter. God is the potter and they, as the clay, are the work of His hands. God, as the focus of their faith, is the important element of faith and not their ability to have faith. Then, having confessed their sin and confessed that God is their Father and they are His people, they simply as God to look at their situation of desolation and act on their behalf.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 63

    Isaiah 63 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Who is this coming from Bozrah in Edom with clothes stained red? Who is this hero marching in his glorious uniform? "It's me, the LORD! I have won the battle, and I can save you!"
  2. What are those red spots? Your clothes look stained from stomping on grapes.
  3. "I alone stomped the grapes! None of the nations helped. I stomped nations in my anger and stained my clothes with their blood.
  4. I did this because I wanted to take revenge-- the time had come to rescue my people.
  5. No one was there to help me or to give support; my mighty arm won the battle, strengthened by my anger.
  6. In my fury I stomped on nations and made them drunk; their blood poured out everywhere on earth."
  7. I will tell about the kind deeds the LORD has done. They deserve praise! The LORD has shown mercy to the people of Israel; he has been kind and good.
  8. The LORD rescued his people, and said, "They are mine. They won't betray me."
  9. It troubled the LORD to see them in trouble, and his angel saved them. The LORD was truly merciful, so he rescued his people. He took them in his arms and carried them all those years.
  10. Then the LORD's people turned against him and made his Holy Spirit sad. So he became their enemy and attacked them.
  11. But his people remembered what had happened during the time of Moses. Didn't the LORD bring them and their leaders safely through the sea? Didn't he give them his Holy Spirit?
  12. The glorious power of the LORD marched beside Moses. The LORD will be praised forever for dividing the sea.
  13. He led his people across like horses running wild without stumbling.
  14. His Spirit gave them rest, just as cattle find rest when led into a valley. The name of the LORD was praised for doing these things.
  15. Please, LORD, look down from your holy and glorious home in the heavens and see what's going on. Have you lost interest? Where is your power? Show that you care about us and have mercy!
  16. Our ancestors Abraham and Jacob have both rejected us. But you are still our Father; you have been our protector since ancient times.
  17. Why did you make us turn away from you, our LORD? Why did you make us want to disobey you? Please change your mind! We are your servants, your very own people.
  18. For a little while, your temple belonged to us; and now our enemies have torn it down.
  19. We act as though you had never ruled us or called us your people.

In the previous chapter Isaiah spoke of a time when Israel would prosper and would have peace. A time when her enemies would join her in rebuilding Israel. The time frame is the millenium. This chapter begins, still in that time frame, referring to God's vengeance on the nation of Edom who perpetually opposed Israel.

Then the time frame shifts to Isaiah's day and a prayer goes up from the faithful remnant of Israel remembering how the Lord had been good to them, but also how Israel had rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit. The remnant then pleads for the One who delivered Moses and his people to deliver them. They ask God to "look down from heaven and see from Your lofty home," asking "Where is Your zeal and Your might?" They are praying for that same deliverance that Moses and his people received. Confessing that they have strayed far from the ways of Abraham and of the past Israel, they point out that the Lord is still their Father.

The question is then raised as to why God 'made' them "stray from Your ways?" and why He "harden(ed) our hearts so we do not fear You." (63:17) We know that God does not cause His people to sin. As James stated, "For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone." (James 1:13) The question of this remnant of Israel is more likely the question so many of us ask, "Why have you allowed this?" God allows us to make our own choices and to reap the results. He allowed Israel that same choice and they strayed and hardened their hearts. Now they are asking why He allowed them to do this. It is a similar question that a child who has matured and recognized the error of his past ways asks his parents wondering why they let him get away with his former behavior.  Such questions are only wishful thinking, wishing they had not taken the path they took and wishing someone had stopped them. Yet even in asking the question they recognize no one could have stopped them from taking that path nor did anyone cause them to take it.

We all want the freedom to make our own choices and object to outside control over those choices - even from God. Yet when our choices lead us into trouble, we are prone to ask God why He allowed us to take that course or the trouble to come our way.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 62

    Isaiah 62 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jerusalem, I will speak up for your good. I will never be silent till you are safe and secure, sparkling like a flame.
  2. Your great victory will be seen by every nation and king; the LORD will even give you a new name.
  3. You will be a glorious crown, a royal headband, for the LORD your God.
  4. Your name will no longer be "Deserted and Childless," but "Happily Married." You will please the LORD; your country will be his bride.
  5. Your people will take the land, just as a young man takes a bride. The LORD will be pleased because of you, just as a husband is pleased with his bride.
  6. Jerusalem, on your walls I have stationed guards, whose duty it is to speak out day and night, without resting. They must remind the LORD
  7. and not let him rest till he makes Jerusalem strong and famous everywhere.
  8. The LORD has given his word and made this promise: "Never again will I give to your enemies the grain and grapes for which you struggled.
  9. As surely as you harvest your grain and grapes, you will eat your bread with thankful hearts, and you will drink your wine in my temple."
  10. People of Jerusalem, open your gates! Repair the road to the city and clear it of stones; raise a banner to help the nations find their way.
  11. Here is what the LORD has said for all the earth to hear: "Soon I will come to save the city of Zion, and to reward you.
  12. Then you will be called, 'The LORD's Own People, The Ones He Rescued!' Your city will be known as a good place to live and a city full of people."

Israel is encouraged not to give the Lord rest, praying that "He establishes and makes her Jerusalem the praise of the earth." God has made it known that this is what He wants, but He encourages Israel to pray for it anyway. Why is that? Several reasons are possible. For one, Prayer is a great compliment to God, demonstrating our trust in Him as the solution to what we pray for. Also, prayer indicates our agreement with God regarding our prayer concern. Furthermore, we show in prayer the degree to which we desire the thing for which we pray. God's great desire is for Israel to experience the fulfillment of the covenant between them and the blessings that come with it. But if Israel never petitions God to make it happen, she shows no reciprocal desire for the covenant fulfillment.

When the covenant is fulfilled, the prime indicator will be Israel's righteousness. It will shine "like a bright light" for all nations to see and Israel will no longer be desolate and deserted, but will be the Lord's delight. At that time, the Lord will no longer give Israel's produce to her enemies, but she will enjoy the fruit of her labor and praise the Lord for this blessing.

Isaiah urgences Israel to prepare for the Lord's coming. Though he speaks of preparing the way and building up the highway, the preparation is spiritual. "Clear away the stones," removing the obstacles in their lives that hinder the Lord's coming, and "build up the highway," making strong their observance of His teaching.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 61

    Isaiah 61 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The Spirit of the LORD God has taken control of me! The LORD has chosen and sent me to tell the oppressed the good news, to heal the brokenhearted, and to announce freedom for prisoners and captives.
  2. This is the year when the LORD God will show kindness to us and punish our enemies. The LORD has sent me to comfort those who mourn,
  3. especially in Jerusalem. He sent me to give them flowers in place of their sorrow, olive oil in place of tears, and joyous praise in place of broken hearts. They will be called "Trees of Justice," planted by the LORD to honor his name.
  4. Then they will rebuild cities that have been in ruins for many generations.
  5. They will hire foreigners to take care of their sheep and their vineyards.
  6. But they themselves will be priests and servants of the LORD our God. The treasures of the nations will belong to them, and they will be famous.
  7. They were terribly insulted and horribly mistreated; now they will be greatly blessed and joyful forever.
  8. I, the LORD, love justice! But I hate robbery and injustice. My people, I solemnly promise to reward you with an eternal agreement.
  9. Your descendants will be known in every nation. All who see them will realize that they have been blessed, by me, the LORD.
  10. I celebrate and shout because of my LORD God. His saving power and justice are the very clothes I wear. They are more beautiful than the jewelry worn by a bride or a groom.
  11. The LORD will bring about justice and praise in every nation on earth, like flowers blooming in a garden.

Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Messiah in His hometown synagogue by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah verses 1 and 2a of chapter 61 and pointing to its fulfillment in Himself. The full passage in Isaiah goes through verse 3 and describes what the Messiah was sent to do: He would bring healing and set captives free. He would also "proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" and "the day of our God's vengeance." For those in Zion who mourn, He will give them comfort and a crown of beauty. (61:2-3)

When Jesus read this passage in the synagogue, He stopped in the middle of verse 2 with proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor. Some commentators see this as an intentional distinction between the Messiah's first and second advents. In other words, the portion Jesus read in the synagogue referred to His mission at that time, and the portion He did not include, verses 2b and 3, refer to His second coming. At that time He would proclaim "our God's vengeance . . .".  The remainder of the chapter, verses 4-11 fit into the time frame of the Messiah's 2nd coming. It will be at that time that Israel will fulfill her role as God's people and God will fulfill all of His promises to His people.

At the Messiah's 2nd coming, Israel will be completely rebuilt and the other nations give her honor instead of the reproach she has known throughout much of her history. Also, Israel will be a nation of priests who mediate on behalf of others as did the Levitical priests. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 60

    Isaiah 60 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jerusalem, stand up! Shine! Your new day is dawning. The glory of the LORD shines brightly on you.
  2. The earth and its people are covered with darkness, but the glory of the LORD is shining upon you.
  3. Nations and kings will come to the light of your dawning day.
  4. Open your eyes! Look around! Crowds are coming. Your sons are on their way from distant lands; your daughters are being carried like little children.
  5. When you see this, your faces will glow; your hearts will pound and swell with pride. Treasures from across the sea and the wealth of nations will be brought to you.
  6. Your country will be covered with caravans of young camels from Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and spices in praise of me, the LORD.
  7. Every sheep of Kedar will come to you; rams from Nebaioth will be yours as well. I will accept them as offerings and bring honor to my temple.
  8. What is that sailing by like clouds or like doves flying home?
  9. On those distant islands your people are waiting for me, the LORD. Seagoing ships lead the way to bring them home with their silver and gold. I, the holy LORD God of Israel, do this to honor your people, so they will honor me.
  10. Jerusalem, your city walls will be rebuilt by foreigners; their rulers will become your slaves. I punished you in my anger; now I will be kind and treat you with mercy.
  11. Your gates will be open day and night to let the rulers of nations lead their people to you with all their treasures.
  12. Any nation or kingdom that refuses to serve you will be wiped out.
  13. Wood from Lebanon's best trees will be brought to you-- the pines, the firs, and the cypress trees. It will be used in my temple to make beautiful the place where I rest my feet.
  14. The descendants of enemies who hated and mistreated you will kneel at your feet. They will say, "You are Zion, the city of the LORD, the holy God of Israel."
  15. You were hated and deserted, rejected by everyone. But I will make you beautiful, a city to be proud of for all time to come.
  16. You will drain the wealth of kings and foreign nations. You will know that I, the mighty LORD God of Israel, have saved and rescued you.
  17. I will bring bronze and iron in place of wood and stone; in place of bronze and iron, I will bring gold and silver. I will appoint peace and justice as your rulers and leaders.
  18. Violence, destruction, and ruin will never again be heard of within your borders. "Victory" will be the name you give to your walls; "Praise" will be the name you give to your gates.
  19. You won't need the light of the sun or the moon. I, the LORD your God, will be your eternal light and bring you honor.
  20. Your sun will never set or your moon go down. I, the LORD, will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will come to an end.
  21. Your people will live right and always own the land; they are the trees I planted to bring praise to me.
  22. Even the smallest family will be a powerful nation. I am the LORD, and when the time comes, I will quickly do all this.

Israel's glory, described in this chapter, is in stark contrast to her sinful condition described in the previous two chapters. Chapters 58 and 59 are addressing Israel in Isaiah's time and chapter 60 addresses Israel in the Millennium under the reign of the Messiah. Also in contrast is God's blessing on Israel during this time as opposed to Isaiah's time when He brought judgment on the nation. The attitude of all other nations toward Israel is also a contrast. During much of Israel's history since her pinnacle under the reign of king David and his son, Solomon, other nations of the world have looked down on Israel and sought to put her down. This is true even today. But in the Millennium it will be vastly different. Other nations will actually help Israel rebuild Jerusalem and the Lord's sanctuary, bringing gold and other fine metals along with timber from Lebanon.

During the time of the Millennium, Israel will return to the Lord and the Lord will richly bless her. Israel's children will come from all the places around the world to which they have been scattered, returning to their homeland. Israel will know peace and will be able to leave the gates of Jerusalem open both day and night for there will be no danger of attack. Instead, people of other nations will come at all times bringing their wealth to Jerusalem and the gates will remain open to receive them. God promises that "Violence will never again be heard of in your land; devastation and destruction will be gone from your borders. But you will name your walls salvation, and your gates praise." (60:18)

Not only will God be Israel's protector, He will be their light - literally. In place of the sun and moon, the Lord "will be your everlasting light." (60:19) Thus, the "sun will no longer set, and your moon will not fade; for the LORD will be your everlasting light." (60:20) Finally, God's plan for Israel will be accomplished. All her people will be righteous and Israel will possess the land forever. All of this so that the Lord "may be glorified." (60:21)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 59

    Isaiah 59 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD hasn't lost his powerful strength; he can still hear and answer prayers.
  2. Your sins are the roadblock between you and your God. That's why he doesn't answer your prayers or let you see his face.
  3. Your talk is filled with lies and plans for violence; every finger on your hands is covered with blood.
  4. You falsely accuse others and tell lies in court; sin and trouble are the names of your children.
  5. You eat the deadly eggs of poisonous snakes, and more snakes crawl out from the eggs left to hatch. You weave spider webs,
  6. but you can't make clothes with those webs or hide behind them. You're sinful and brutal.
  7. You hurry off to do wrong or murder innocent victims. All you think about is sin; you leave ruin and destruction wherever you go.
  8. You don't know how to live in peace or to be fair with others. The roads you make are crooked; your followers cannot find peace.
  9. No one has come to defend us or to bring about justice. We hoped for a day of sunshine, but all we found was a dark, gloomy night.
  10. We feel our way along, as if we were blind; we stumble at noon, as if it were night. We can see no better than someone dead.
  11. We growl like bears and mourn like doves. We hope for justice and victory, but they escape us.
  12. How often have we sinned and turned against you, the LORD God? Our sins condemn us! We have done wrong.
  13. We have rebelled and refused to follow you. Our hearts were deceitful, and so we lied; we planned to abuse others and turn our backs on you.
  14. Injustice is everywhere; justice seems far away. Truth is chased out of court; honesty is shoved aside.
  15. Everyone tells lies; those who turn from crime end up ruined. When the LORD noticed that justice had disappeared, he became very displeased.
  16. It disgusted him even more to learn that no one would do a thing about it. So with his own powerful arm, he won victories for truth.
  17. Justice was the LORD's armor; saving power was his helmet; anger and revenge were his clothes.
  18. Now the LORD will get furious and do to his enemies, both near and far, what they did to his people.
  19. He will attack like a flood in a mighty windstorm. Nations in the west and the east will then honor and praise his wonderful name.
  20. The LORD has promised to rescue the city of Zion and Jacob's descendants who turn from sin.
  21. The LORD says: "My people, I promise to give you my Spirit and my message. These will be my gifts to you and your families forever. I, the LORD, have spoken."

Isaiah spoke in the previous chapter of Israel's insincere efforts at fasting as a means of appeasing God so He would deliver them from their exile. Here he outlines more of Israel's problems of wickedness and injustice that are the real reasons deliverance has not come. It is not because "the LORD's hand is . . . too short to save, and His ear is . . . too deaf to hear" (59:1) that Israel has not been delivered, but because her "iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen." (59:2) Verses 3 through 7 detail Israel's iniquities, concluding in verse 8 that Israel has known no peace because no one who walks on crooked ways will know peace. There are many today, as there probably were in Isaiah's day, who are rather naive about peace. They espouse peace as if all one must do is stop fighting. They do not addess the causes of that fighting, though. In fact they seem ignorant of the causes. They make no connection between wicked lifestyles and the lack of peace. Many who espouse such peace on a national level do not even know peace on a personal level. But God tells us peace is only possible through a lifestyle of righteousness.

Speaking on behalf of Israel, Isaiah confesses the nation's sins in verses 9 through 15. He acknowledges that it is because of her sin that salvation is far from her. But then the Lord looked down and saw that there was no one interceding for Israel. Israel was totally incapable of helping herself. Only God could help her. Sometimes people get caught in a vicious cycle. They may recognize their sin and even recognize the results of that sin and want to be freed from them. But thinking they must first change their sinful ways before coming to God to ask Him to free them from those results, they find themselves helpless to be rid of the sin. What they fail to understand is that only God can free them from both sin and its results. They will wait forever if they try to be rid of the sin before coming to God. Only God can free them from the sin, but He will not do so against their will. They need to seek His help. The cause is helped if there is someone interceding on their behalf and seeking God's help for them. This is what was referred to in verse 16. Israel was helpless to change her sinful ways and there was no one to intercede on her behalf. Therefore, God decided to step in.

God's intercession comes in conjunction with the Messiah's second coming. That is my understanding of verse 20, "The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression." This intercession through the Messiah is part of a new covenant God will make with Israel. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 58

    Isaiah 58 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Shout the message! Don't hold back. Say to my people Israel: You've sinned! You've turned against the LORD.
  2. Day after day, you worship him and seem eager to learn his teachings. You act like a nation that wants to do right by obeying his laws. You ask him about justice, and say you enjoy worshiping the LORD.
  3. You wonder why the LORD pays no attention when you go without eating and act humble. But on those same days that you give up eating, you think only of yourselves and abuse your workers.
  4. You even get angry and ready to fight. No wonder God won't listen to your prayers!
  5. Do you think the LORD wants you to give up eating and to act as humble as a bent-over bush? Or to dress in sackcloth and sit in ashes? Is this really what he wants on a day of worship?
  6. I'll tell you what it really means to worship the LORD. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused!
  7. Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don't turn away your relatives.
  8. Then your light will shine like the dawning sun, and you will quickly be healed. Your honesty will protect you as you advance, and the glory of the LORD will defend you from behind.
  9. When you beg the LORD for help, he will answer, "Here I am!" Don't mistreat others or falsely accuse them or say something cruel.
  10. Give your food to the hungry and care for the homeless. Then your light will shine in the dark; your darkest hour will be like the noonday sun.
  11. The LORD will always guide you and provide good things to eat when you are in the desert. He will make you healthy. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water or like a stream that never runs dry.
  12. You will rebuild those houses left in ruins for years; you will be known as a builder and repairer of city walls and streets.
  13. But first, you must start respecting the Sabbath as a joyful day of worship. You must stop doing and saying whatever you please on this special day.
  14. Then you will truly enjoy knowing the LORD. He will let you rule from the highest mountains and bless you with the land of your ancestor Jacob. The LORD has spoken!

Isaiah is here addressing the current situation of his day. If the people are to be restored, they will have to genuinely turn to the Lord. But they have gotten so far away from God they don't realize what is lacking. Their complaint is typical of a people who are going through the motions but whose hearts are somewhere else. They say, "Why have we fasted, but You have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but You haven't noticed!" They think the Lord should be pleased because they are observing the ritual of fasting. But without the heart it has no meaning. If a ritual of any kind is to have meaning, it should be a reflection of what is in the heart. Israel had ritualistically observed the fast in an effort to appease God and gain His favor toward them. But they really didn't know God if they thought He could be duped so easily. Or else they were themselves duped to think they could observe the rituals and everything would be alright even though their hearts didn't change nor did their unjust practices.

The fast that Israel observed was "A day for a person to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes?" (58:5) But the fast that the Lord wanted was, "To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke?" Furthermore, it was to "share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and to not ignore your own flesh and blood?" (58:6-7) A fast is a denial of oneself. If a person is denying himself for the betterment of others, as described in verses 6 and 7, there is no need for the ritual of fasting. God told the Israelites that if they begin to act justly and to care for the hungry and poor, the thing they seek with their fasting, recovery from exile, will come quickly. Their, "righteousness will go before you, and the LORD's glory will be your rear guard. At that time, when you call, the LORD will answer; when you cry out, He will say: Here I am." (58:8-9)

After the fall of Jerusalem fast days were instituted as a means to persuade God to quickly restore Israel to her homeland. But there were many other specific commands God had given them they were not observing, such as those mentioned in verses 6 and 7. Another command they were not observing was the keeping of the Sabbath. Their need to reinstate observance of the Sabbath is mentioned in the last verses of this chapter. If they were going to seriously return to the Lord, not only did they need to do the things outlined in verses 6 and 7, but they needed to return to observing the Sabbath. "Sabbath observance was a barometer of one’s faithfulness to the Mosaic Covenant. By following the rules for the Sabbath a person acknowledged the importance of worshiping God and showed that he depended on God to bless him materially for that time he took off from work." (Bible Knowledge Commentary)

The Christian observes the first day of the week, Sunday, when Christ was resurrected, as their day of worship. But the principle is the same. The observance of this day to worship their Lord and Savior tends to be a barometer of one's faithfulness to the Lord. A true follower of Christ has given Him his life. But how can one claim to have given their life to the Lord and yet not give Him the time to worship Him on Sunday?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 57

    Isaiah 57 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. God's faithful people are dragged off and killed, and no one even cares. Evil sweeps them away,
  2. but in death they find peace for obeying God.
  3. You people are unfaithful! You go to fortunetellers, and you worship idols. Now pay close attention!
  4. Who are you making fun of? Who are you sneering at? Look how your sins have made fools of you.
  5. All you think about is sex under those green trees where idols are worshiped. You sacrifice your children on altars built in valleys under rocky slopes.
  6. You have chosen to worship idols made of stone; you have given them offerings of wine and grain. Should I be pleased?
  7. You have spread out your beds on the tops of high mountains, where you sacrifice to idols.
  8. Even in your homes you have placed pagan symbols all around your huge beds. Yes, you have rejected me, sold yourselves to your lovers, and gone to bed with them.
  9. You smear on olive oil and all kinds of perfume to worship the god Molech. You even seek advice from spirits of the dead.
  10. Though you tired yourself out by running after idols, you refused to stop. Your desires were so strong that they kept you going.
  11. Did you forget about me and become unfaithful because you were more afraid of someone else? Have I been silent so long that you no longer fear me?
  12. You think you're so good, but I'll point out the truth.
  13. Ask your idols to save you when you are in trouble. Be careful though-- it takes only a faint breath to blow them over. But if you come to me for protection, this land and my holy mountain will always belong to you.
  14. The LORD says, "Clear the road! Get it ready for my people."
  15. Our holy God lives forever in the highest heavens, and this is what he says: Though I live high above in the holy place, I am here to help those who are humble and depend only on me.
  16. My people, I won't stay angry and keep on accusing you. After all, I am your Creator. I don't want you to give up in complete despair.
  17. Your greed made me furious. That's why I punished you and refused to be found, while you kept returning to your old sinful ways.
  18. I know what you are like! But I will heal you, lead you, and give you comfort, until those who are mourning
  19. start singing my praises. No matter where you are, I, the LORD, will heal you and give you peace.
  20. The wicked are a restless sea tossing up mud.
  21. But I, the LORD, have promised that none who are evil will live in peace.

Isaiah describes the conditions in Israel during his day. Evil was so rampant that the only escape for the righteous was death. They stood no chance of turning their fellow countrymen away from their evil practices. Was it their evil practices that led them to idolatry or vice versa? Did they turn to idols to legitimize their evil practices pretending that their sexual orgies was a part of their religious observances? Or were the orgies already a part of the worship of idols that led them to convince themselves that such practices were legitimate?

How is it that a person will credit godly attributes to an inanimate object such as an idol of wood or stone? I suspect it has a lot to do with a desire to have a god that one understands, a god that can be manipulated and is predictible. It is not unlike having a genie that is at one's beck and call. But a god whose ways are no greater than man's, who is predictible, and can be manipulated, is a god who himself is no greater than man. God told the Israelites who had turned to such gods that when they got in trouble they should cry out to their idols and "let your collection of idols deliver you!" (57:13) Then they would see how great were their supposed gods.

The Israelites, as is the case with many of us, did not understand that God's expectations of them, which they had grown weary to observe, were actually for their own good and not simply a means of appeasing God. They became unwilling to give their lives over to God, living the life He prescribed, so they might have a better life. Instead, they gave themselves over to religious practices that required the sacrifice of their children to appease a god of man's imagination that was supposedly a wrathful god.

But God is merciful, and promises that those who return to Him and take refuge in Him will again possess "My holy mountain." The result is that those who turn to God will know peace, but "There is no peace for the wicked."