Isaiah

(267) September 24: Isaiah 1-3 & Galatians 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what God condemns.

To ponder:
Isaiah is writing to the southern kingdom of Judah, centered on Jerusalem, during the reigns of four kings spanning 791-687BC (1v1, see 2 Kgs 15-20. Uzziah is also called Azariah). It includes numerous oracles given from God at separate times during that period. The first calls heaven and earth to witness God declare judgement against the northern kingdom, known as “Israel,” as opposed to “Judah.” Despite God rearing Israel as his child, she has rejected him, which is worse than the action of animals who at least know their master. The size and seriousness of their sin is stressed, and its irony in spurning the one who is “holy” and so pure (1v2-4). God, like the reluctant parent in discipline, asks why Israel persists meaning that she must be beaten. He takes no delight in having to punish. Her head is injured – no doubt referring to her oppression by enemies, and heart afflicted, perhaps in grief and pain at what she is suffering. In every part she is wounded, meaning that the whole country is filled with burning cities and plundered fields (1v5-7).
            Here the focus changes. Zion was the hill on which Jerusalem was built. So “the daughter of Zion” refers to the city itself (see 1v21), perhaps including the surrounding area of Judah, the southern kingdom. For now, she is safe, like a shelter in the wider field that is being stripped, or a city under siege. And this is only by God’s grace, else she would be totally destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. But this safety doesn’t mean all is well. God declares his word to Jerusalem’s rulers: They must obey him. Indeed, because of their evil their sacrifices, offerings, incense, festivals and assemblies bring him no pleasure. Rather he hates and is wearied by them, and wants the people out of the courts of his temple. He won’t even listen to their prayers. This is a strong affirmation that Jewish rituals were always to be an expression of faith and love toward God. He didn’t need them. Indeed, he detests worship conducted without obedience because of the hypocrisy of it all (1v11-15). God therefore called the people wash and turn. In other words, to repent, learning to do right, seek justice, and care for the needy, all with the promise that in doing so, he would totally forgive them so that they would be “white.” They are therefore reminded of the terms of his covenant: Obedience will mean blessing from the land. But rebellion will mean destruction (1v16-20, see Deut 28-30).
            There is much here: It is easy to look on the decline of the church in certain quarters whilst assuming our worship is acceptable. But we must still ensure we repent when we sin, mindful we could go the same way.
            The change in Jerusalem from faithfulness to prostitution with false gods, from justice and righteousness to murder and more is then outlined, and the rulers condemned for taking bribes and ignoring the oppressed (1v21-23). This is a reoccurring theme, stressing God’s concern that the Christian stands up for the needy. Astonishingly, he describes Judah as the foe he will be relived of and enemy he will avenge himself against. But he promises not only judgement, but a refining that will result in a people who are free from impurity, governed by new rulers as when the nation initially thrived. And so the city will be righteous and called faithful (1v24-26). This is probably the meaning of Zion being redeemed by justice (1v27). It is through God’s justice against his people that he will set them free from sin by destroying those who are rebellious like dry wood in unquenchable fire, shaming them for their idol worship that took place at sacred trees and gardens (1v24-31). This looks not only to Judah’s exile and the return of those of faith, but to the final judgement which will leave God’s people as the new Jerusalem in glory.
            An oracle more specifically about Judah and Jerusalem is now included (2v1). It pictures all nations streaming to God’s temple in the last days, wanting to hear God’s word and walk in his ways. Jerusalem will therefore be the centre from which the knowledge of God flows, and from which he will settle disputes between nations bringing peace (2v2-4). This takes place now as the world hears God’s word from the church (God’s temple, Eph 2v21). And although this will only end in complete peace at Christ’s return, this is foretasted as nations enjoy peace with each other because they are influenced by his teaching. The section ends with God calling Jacob (ie. Israel) to do as the nations do, by walking in God’s light (2v5).
            God’s abandonment of Jacob is then outlined, for sharing in the idolatry of the nations, with the suggestion that the desire for wealth and armaments turned them from the LORD, no doubt because they felt they didn’t need him. Isaiah declares all mankind will be humbled because of this, praying God would not forgive, perhaps because of a right concern that justice is done (2v6-9). He then urges mankind to hide from God’s judgement on the proud and the symbols of their arrogance, symbolised by the tall trees and mountains (2v10-18). He goes on to twice predict people will hide “from the dread of the LORD and the splendour of his majesty,” throwing their idols away in fear. And he urges them to strop trusting mortal man, because he is of no account (2v19-22). The NT sees this as referring to the final judgement, in the light of which people are called to turn from idols to the true and living God (1 Thess 1v9-10, Rev 6v15-17).
            Isaiah returns to his original context, predicting the LORD is about to remove supplies from Jerusalem and Judah, replace her leaders with those unfit to lead, and cause the people to rise up against one-another, with no-one able to help them (3v1-7). He pictures Jerusalem as staggering and about to fall under judgement, because the people defy his presence at the temple by their words and deeds, parading their sin. He promises the righteous wellbeing, but destruction to the wicked. They are ruled by oppressive youths and unqualified women (rather than the wisdom of the elderly), being led astray (3v8-12). So the LORD takes his place as judge, condemning the leaders for ruining his vineyard (the people) and plundering the poor. Women are taken as a case study, perhaps as an illustration of what Zion, pictured as a woman (3v26), will experience. So those who flaunt their looks immorally will receive skin diseases and lose their finery, and Jerusalem’s great warriors will fall. The point is that all the people boast of will be lost (3v13-26). This is a prediction of the eventual exile of Judah by Babylon, but a paradigm of final judgement when all humanity trusts and exalts in will be stripped away.

Praying it home:       
Praise God that his purposes do not end in judgement, but in the establishment of his people in righteousness. Pray that you would live a life of worship that truly obeys God.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Isaiah, click here.

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(268) September 25: Isaiah 4-6 & Galatians 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider how God expresses his judgement.

To ponder:
The “day” is “that day” of God’s judgement against Jerusalem and Judah (4v1, 3v18). Then, because of the destruction on the nation, men will be so scarce that women will be pleading with them to marry them, even offering to provide their own food and clothing, to make this a more attractive option (4v1). But we have learnt God’s goal is not simply the judgement, but the refining of his people that results from it. So on “that day” a “branch of the LORD” will be glorious. This refers to the Messianic king coming from David’s line (see 11v1). He will be seen in all his wonder, the land (then a new creation) will flourish as testimony to God’s blessing on those who survived the judgement (through faith in Christ). And those comprising the new Jerusalem (ie. the church) will be called “holy” and so set-apart for the service of God (4v2-3). At this time, the immorality of the women and the violence of others in Jerusalem will be cleansed by “a spirit” of judgement and fire, which seems to refer to God’s burning anger, as taught by John the Baptist (4v4, Matt 3v11-12). Then, we read God’s glory (as during the Exodus) will cover Mount Zion (ie. the people of God) as a shelter from metaphorical heat and storms (4v5-6, see Rev 7v15-17, 21v22-23). It may seem strange to jump from a prediction of God’s judgement in the exile to what will actually follow the final judgement, but there is a link: The righteous who died when Babylon attacked, would pass into the final state with Christ. And so God’s judgement on the nation would result in such people being made perfect. Death for the believer is the means of their life.
            5v1-7 is a famous song describing God’s people as his vineyard (see 5v7), and so explaining Jesus’ use of the vineyard in his parables. God loved it, cleared its ground of stones (the Canaanites) and planted it in the land, ensuring its protection (the watchtower) and expecting fruitfulness (the winepress). But it yielded only bad fruit (ie. a lack of justice and righteousness, 5v7). So God asks Judah and Jerusalem to judge between him and the people as to whether he could have done more. Of course he couldn’t, and so his judgement is right. He promises to remove the vineyard’s hedge and wall (ie. protection) causing it to be trampled (by conquerors), hindered by thorns (probably, co-resident nations, Jos 23v13), and without his blessing (no rain). The song still moves the Christian and church to be concerned with bearing good fruit.
            Numerous woes follow, outlining the bad fruit warranting this fate (5v8-25): seeking land and property without concern for those God had allocated it to; drunkenness and feasting without concern for celebrating what God had done; people dragging sin and deceit wherever they go, whilst hypocritically desiring to benefit from God’s plans, unaware that it will mean destruction for them; calling what is evil good and vice-versa; being wise in their own eyes rather than humbly accepting God’s ways; taking bribes and denying justice. God declares the very thing they embrace in their sin is the thing they will lack in judgement (5v9-10, 13-14). So the noble and arrogant will be humbled, yet God exalted as his excellence is displayed in his justice and holy righteousness. In short, the people will be burnt up by his anger for spurning his law. How this will happen is seen as he calls the nations with a banner and whistle, and they come quickly and without tiredness or hindrance to do battle and seize their prey (5v26-30). The sins of the people resonate with those within our culture and even church. We must be clear: They will also be judged when God sees fit.
            A new section begins with a description of God’s particular call of Isaiah. As this took place when Uzziah died, but Isaiah received visions during his reign, it seems by this time he had already been prophesying (6v1, 1v1). The vision in the uncertainty of succession within the monarchy shows God as the true king, reigning from behind the scenes. His immensity from his high throne way above the temple displays his supremacy and greatness over all else, and the temple as the earthly place of God’s heavenly rule. Moreover, the fear and reverence that his utter purity warrants is evident in that even seraph’s (fiery beings) could not look on him or show their feet. Their song stresses his holiness (here, the supremacy of his kingly majesty and purity) and universal glory, evident no doubt in the beauty of creation, but stressing that he is king not just of Israel but the whole world. There’s a sense in which the seraph’s words announce God, who then enters his temple – as the doorways shake, and smoke denotes God’s presence, as with the pillar of cloud (6v1-4). Isaiah’s response is the only fitting one: terror (6v5). He and the people are unclean and so liable to God’s holy anger if he comes close in this way. And how much more so, when Isaiah has seen what even the seraph’s won’t look on. The stress of unclean lips is probably because our speech reflects our heart (Lk 6v45). And if Isaiah was condemned on this basis, how much more are we. But there is hope: The coal from the temple’s altar illustrates God’s readiness to forgive sin on the basis of sacrifice (ie. in Christ).
We are then challenged as to how readily we give ourselves to service in appreciation of God’s mercy to us (as Rom 12v1-2): God asks who he can send to preach to his people, and Isaiah eagerly volunteers (6v6-8). God’s response is however surprising. He wants Isaiah to declare that God’s intent is that the people don’t understand their need to turn from their sin and be healed. Instead, he is going to use Isaiah’s preaching to harden them in their refusal to listen until the exile takes place, the land is destroyed and only a holy “seed” or remnant of people remain in the land, from which a people will again grow (6v9-13). The point is that after the people have ignored God’s word and warnings for so long, it is now too late. Justice must be done. And so, God confirms them in their rebelliousness so that they don’t repent and therefore receive the punishment they deserve. Jesus taught this explained why so many in his day just couldn’t see or accept who he was (Mk 4v11-12, Jn 12v37-41). Moreover, Paul notes that God acts in this way toward all who “refuse to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess 2v10-12). It’s seems this is a warning that those who stubbornly ignore the gospel may find God pre-empts his judgement by so hardening them that they will never repent.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for all he is going to establish through Christ. Pray that having received such clarity about Christ, you would never turn from it.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(269) September 26: Isaiah 7-9 & Galatians 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider how the events look forward to Christ.

To ponder:
These events take place as Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel (also called “Ephraim” after it’s most prominent tribe) are allied against the southern kingdom of Judah, ruled by king Ahaz (see 2 Kgs 16). Although they are unable to take Jerusalem, Ahaz and his people are shaken (7v1-2). By commissioning Isaiah and his son (whose name means “a remnant will return”) to meet Ahaz, he is no doubt wanting him to realise that through faith, the people can survive. And so Isaiah urges Ahaz not to be afraid, describing the allies as smouldering firewood – ie. not particularly dangerous. He acknowledges that they are seeking Ahaz’s ruin, wanting to invade Judah and place their own king over it. But God declares through Isaiah that this won’t happen because Aram’s capital and king are not an especially significant power. Indeed, he also predicts that within 65 years the northern kingdom will be shattered (through their coming exile), similarly, because its capital and king aren’t especially significant either. He adds that unless Ahaz is able to trust him in faith to protect him and his people, he will not be able to “stand” – ie. he will remain terrified (as 7v2) and eventually be defeated. Yet God is gracious: Accounting for Ahaz’s weakness, he urges him to ask for whatever sign he wants, in order to boost his faith that God is with him (7v3-11).
Foolishly, Ahaz refuses, and spiritualizes this as not wanting to test God. In reality, he is not even willing to try to trust God’s word, because he knows that might mean facing up to his enemies. Isaiah’s response is stark, and addressed to the kingly line. Ahaz is trying God’s patience, and in response God will give his own sign anyway: A woman who at the time was a virgin, will conceive and bear a son called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (7v12-14). Because of the ruin due to come on Judah, he will be destined to eat only curds and honey even when old enough to know right and wrong (7v15, see 7v22). Yet, even before that, and so in the next few years, God will lay waste the lands of the allies Ahaz fears, and then move the Assyrian empire (who Ahaz was looking to for help, 2 Kgs 16v7) against Judah too, bringing on them a time worse than any since the kingdom split after Solomon (7v13-17). This detail means that we cannot jump straight from 7v14 to its fulfilment in Christ (Matt 1v23). Most likely, it initially referred to Isaiah’s son via the prophetess, who would have been a virgin at the time the sign was foretold (compare 8v4 with 7v16). Matthew’s point is that just as in the days of Isaiah, Jesus’ birth is a sign of God coming in judgement against his people whilst calling them to trust him. The challenge is for us to do what Ahaz couldn’t, and so escape destruction.
            Isaiah continues with imagery that describes God calling Egypt and Assyria to ruin the land and humiliate the people. All they will be left to eat is curds from milk and honey (bringing the prediction about the son to pass) because vineyards and fields will be covered with briers and thorns (7v18-25). In then telling Isaiah to write the name meaning “quick to the plunder” on a scroll witnessed by others, God formalizes this prophecy as certain. And so the sign is fulfilled as the prophetess gives birth to a son, and God predicts the capitals of Aram and Ephraim will be carried off by Assyria before he can say father and mother. By naming him “quick to plunder” God also stresses this will happen (8v1-4). He then speaks again: Because the people considered his help like a mere gentle stream, and so rejected it, whilst rejoicing that the kings of Aram and Ephraim will be destroyed (no doubt when they should have lamented it), he will bring Assyria like a mighty floodwater drowning Judah, the land in which Immanuel lives.
But here there is an interesting change. Because Immanuel is a sign that God is with his people, whatever destruction they must suffer in the short term, they can be sure God will not abandon them. And so the prophecy calls the nations to prepare for battle whilst declaring that they will be shattered (8v8-10), and with great intensity (strong hand) God warns Isaiah not to follow the people in paranoid fear at plots against them. Instead, he is to fear God, who is almighty and so fully able to be a sanctuary to those who trust in him. However, for both kingdoms of Israel, he will be a stone they stumble over, in the sense that their attitude to him will bring their downfall in being broken and snared (8v11-15). Jesus makes just this point about himself, implying he saw himself as God (Matt 21v44, Rom 9v33). To reject him is extremely serious. But to trust him removes fear.
In the light of all this, Isaiah commits himself and the prophets who followed him as disciples to keep God’s law (or perhaps hold to the word God had given), trust God and wait for his deliverance. He declares how he and his sons named “remnant will return” and “quick to the plunder” (7v3, 8v3) are signs and symbols of what God has promised. He then seems to address his disciples in telling them not to give into pressure to consult mediums, who do not speak according to God’s word; promising that they, or those who consult them, will end up starving, cursing their king and God, before experiencing the darkness of death and what lies beyond (8v18-22). It’s a warning against giving up on God and seeking help elsewhere in times of trial.
We have little space for the famous chapter 9. Here we see clearly that there is more to Immanuel than Isaiah’s son. The hope for those who hold out in faith will come from Galilee, dispelling the darkness of despair and death with light. What follows is a promise of enlargement of the nation, joy, deliverance from oppressors, and a child born to rule as the everlasting God with wisdom, bringing peace, and fulfilling God’s promise to David by forever reigning on his throne with justice and righteousness – and all achieved by the LORD (9v1-7). Here we see that Judah’s troubles did not end after their eventual exile, because they continued to be oppressed. They ended with the coming of Christ and the kingdom to come.
The rest of the chapter states that there would be no restoration for the northern kingdom, because God would maintain his anger against them (9v8-12). Indeed, because the people hadn’t returned to him when experiencing his judgement, their leaders and prophets who mislead them would be cut off, and all the people suffer because they all acted wickedly. Indeed, just as wickedness consumes, so would God’s wrath, causing the northern kingdom to fight amongst itself and then turn against Judah (9v13-21).
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God for the deliverance from all oppression enjoyed through Christ. Pray that when faced with trial and the enemies of darkness, you would not fear or not look anywhere but Christ for help.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(270) September 27: Isaiah 10-12 & Galatians 5

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider how we are to be encouraged by the idea of judgement.

To ponder:
Isaiah continues denouncing those in the northern kingdom who act unjustly and oppress the needy, affirming they will have no-one to run to for help and no-where to leave their riches for safekeeping on the “day of reckoning.” All will be lost. And for the fourth time, we read with this God’s anger will still not be turned away from this section of his people (10v1-4).
            The “woes” of judgement now, however, turn to be against the Assyrian king (see 10v12), who God will use as his agent of anger and wrath, when he sends him to plunder and trample Israel (10v5-6). The reason the Assyrian will nevertheless be punished, is that, although inadvertently serving God, his intent is to destroy nations, proudly boasting that his commanders are kings and of how he has conquered cities, seizing kingdoms from their idols. In boasting of how he would deal with Jerusalem and her images too, their idolatry, which warrants God bringing the Assyrian against them also, is stressed (10v5-11). Here, then, we see the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. He directs even evil acts, but in a way that doesn’t absolve those who do them, because whereas God’s intent is good (here, his justice), the intent of the human being he uses is evil.
            So Isaiah declares that when God has finished with Mount Zion and Jerusalem (in judgement), he will punish the Assyrian king for his pride in saying that he has achieved his world dominance in subduing and plundering nations by his own hand and wisdom (10v12-14). Such arrogance is described in terms such as the axe raising itself above the one swinging it. In other words, the king as God’s axe against Israel is considering himself above God who is wielding him (10v15). The point is that it is God who is the true king over all the earth. And so Isaiah promises that God, as the “Holy One,” will destroy almost all the might and land of Assyria with disease and fire (10v16-19). A remnant of people from all Israel will then no longer rely on the king of Assyria, who struck them down, for protection, but on the LORD. Picking up the name of Isaiah’s first son, God therefore promises only a “remnant” from the vast nation of Israel “will return” to him in faithfulness. Here “Mighty God” is one of the titles given to the promised child (10v21, see 9v6), implying the people will return to God enfleshed as a man!
In the light of all this, the LORD encourages his people in Jerusalem not to fear the Assyrians, as his anger against them will soon end and be redirected to Assyria, lifting their burden from Judah’s shoulders (10v24-27). He then predicts how his people will flee the Assyrians only to find their advance halted at Nob, from where they will overlook and shake their fist at Jerusalem, before God fells their tall trees – referring to their great cities and probably leaders (10v28-34). Most probably this refers to the events of 2 Kings 18-19. And it reminds us that whatever evil may be done to the church, whether in judgement for its compromise or not, those doing it will be brought to account and the faithful will be kept from falling in any ultimate sense.
            With the trees (leaders) of Assyria fallen, Isaiah moves to a branch springing up in Israel from the line of Jesse (David’s father). This king will have God’s Spirit rest on him, granting wisdom, power, and fear of God so that he reigns with justice, righteousness and faithfulness, caring for the needy. Yet his reign will be universal, bringing justice against the wicked and decisions for the good of the poor throughout the earth. Moreover, under this rule, Eden-like order will be brought to the world as animals live in harmony with one-another and with human beings, Mount Zion is freed from destruction, and the earth filled with the knowledge of God (11v1-9). We saw such a description previously (9v1-7). This is the promised Christ to whom the remnant from Israel will turn (10v21) some time after their oppression by Assyria.           
Previously “that day” referred to the day of God’s judgement, but here it refers to his day of salvation through his Christ. This descendent of Jesse will be like a banner to which the nations rally, just as has been the case after Jesus was lifted up on the cross (11v10, John 12v20-23). With this in mind, the “glorious place of rest” may actually be the cross, or Jesus’ reign from heaven. Yet now the remnant is a wider group, comprising exiled Israelites from all over the known world, as at Pentecost. So the Christ will bring peace between those from the northern and southern kingdoms (11v10-13). But the language of war is used too: The united people are said to then plunder Israel’s ancient enemies, and with echoes of the Exodus, we are told God will dry up the Egyptian sea and Euphrates river so the remnant can travel to the land from Assyria just as they once had from Egypt. In the figurative language of poetry we are being told that God will work a new Exodus-like deliverance for his people, ensuring they are able to come to his promised king. And they will inherit the earth and so the land of their ancient enemies, who will themselves be destroyed – hinting perhaps to how God’s people will share in the judgement of the nations (Rev 2v26-27). On “that day” they will praise God for turning his anger away, affirming and trusting him with joy as their salvation, and no longer fearing their enemies. In psalm-style they will call people to thank him, call on him, make know how he has saved them, and sing for joy at his greatness (12v1-6).
This all seems quite a jump from 700BC, but we must remember that the prophets often saw the future compacted, without an awareness of the time span between the different events they predicted. So in what Isaiah says, the final state of new creation is mentioned as if occurring at the same time as the church age in which the nations come to Christ. In short, “that day” spans the period of Christ’ two comings. It should encourage us as we are oppressed by spiritual enemies, just as it would have Judah when faced with their physical enemy.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for the peace that will be enjoyed in the new creation. Pray that you would able to wait for this patiently.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(271) September 28: Isaiah 13-14 & Galatians 6

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what we learn about God’s sovereign rule.

To ponder:
Yesterday we considered Assyria. But it was to be Babylon, who replaced Assyria as the superpower of the day, who would eventually conquer the southern kingdom of Judah and ship many of her people into exile. To this empire, Isaiah now turns.
            Shockingly, he calls the warriors of pagan nations God’s “holy ones” because they are set-apart to serve him. And they are to serve, as Assyria before them, in carrying out God’s wrath. But here this is not against his people. In context God is calling them to enter the Babylonian cities where key nobles live. Isaiah describes the noise of these nations being massed together by God for war, to destroy the whole country (13v1-5). The terror of the destruction that would ensue on this “day of the LORD” is then described (13v6-8). It is to make the land desolate and destroy sinners. And on that day, it is said even the stars, sun and moon will not show their light, and heaven and earth will tremble. This may be a metaphorical way of stressing the despair and death that will be felt, and God’s supremacy over the astrological bodies pagan people’s worshipped. But it may also be looking to the final judgement, implying that it will be marked by a sort of de-creation, before the new creation is brought into being. Here, Babylon may be being used as a paradigm for all society in opposition to God (as Rev 18). So God immediately declares how he will punish the world for its arrogant sin – no doubt that of assuming one can live independent of God, crediting only oneself with whatever is achieved (13v9-13).
            There is warning, then, in what follows, as to the seriousness of the final judgement. The impending judgement on Babylon is described in the most horrific terms. Many living in such a multi-cultural place will flee to their country of origin, whilst those captured will suffer all the terrors that come with war  - whether men, women or children (13v14-16). To this end, God will stir up the Medes (see Dan 5v30-31) who cannot be bought because they don’t care for riches. They will be merciless, causing Babylon, the most glorious of kingdoms, to be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah, never to be inhabited again by anything except wild animals (13v17-22).   
            This would have been a huge encouragement to the Jews when exiled in Babylon. And it gets better: Isaiah tells how God will show compassion on his people, choosing and resettling Israel in their land, with aliens from other nations uniting with them, and so uniting in the worship of God. Indeed, God is so sovereign, that he will cause nations to actually take them to their land, where they will serve God’s people as captives (14v1-2). The point is that the oppression of God’s people will be reversed, as was seen for a time after the return from exile. Moreover, we see Gentile and Jew now united by common faith in Christ; and will see them one day exercise authority over all others as they share in Christ’s judgement (Rev 2v26-27).
Isaiah continues that when the Jews receive relief from their bondage under the king of Babylon, they will taunt him, speaking of how their LORD has broken the ruling power of wicked rulers which subdued nations, how the subdued lands are therefore at peace and breaking into song in response, and how deceased leaders are readying themselves to welcome the king to the grave, speaking of how despite his pomp, he has been brought low and become weak (14v3-11). This is the fate of all leaders who fail to honour God in Christ, no matter how powerful.
            14v12-17 has been thought to describe Satan’s fall. If it does, it describes it as a pattern of the fall of Babylon’s king: His arrogance was to consider his power and authority equal to God’s, like a supreme angel. And so this great king in the eyes of the world, who was in some ways like an angel, has been humbled and brought to the grave, as the world looks on and ponders. Indeed, whereas other kings gain the honour of a tomb, he is denied that, being covered in death by those killed with him. The reason for this particular disgrace is striking: Not only did he destroy other nations, like every tyrant he destroyed his own land and people too. This is the mark of the worst of rulers. And because of it, God will rise up against his sons too, so they will not inherit the land or build cities elsewhere (14v18-23). These sons may well have done evil. However, the point is that God is ensuring the king’s authority is unable to be revived in any form. We should be in no doubt, the things the world esteem and aspires to, will one day be no more too. Moreover, the punishment of those who raise themselves above God by rejecting Christ will be total and everlasting. And it will be most severe for those who have been most arrogant and most evil (Lk 11v20-24, Lk 12v47-48).
            The sudden change to speak of “the Assyrian” – the king of the earlier oracles (14v24, see 10v5, 12), may simply be to say that what God will eventually do to the Babylonian king, he will soon do to the Assyrian one. This couldn’t be imagined by Israel, due to Assyria’s power. So on seeing it take place, the people would have been encouraged that the later Babylonian king could fall too. So God promises again that his plan will stand. The Assyrian king will be crushed in Israel itself, as his army is defeated (see 2 Kgs 19), and his burden taken from Judah. This is a plan for the whole known world of that day, as it was pretty much all under Assyrian rule. God is therefore showing that he is God of the whole earth, who determines its happenings and brings even its greatest rulers to account (14v25-27).
            The small oracle against the Philistines (14v28-32) tells them not to rejoice that the rule of one who struck them is broken. This may refer to king Ahaz of Judah (14v28). But the negative language of “snake” and of attack coming from the north makes an Assyrian ruler more likely, explaining why the oracle is placed here. Whichever is in mind, God is predicting that one of their descendents will lay siege to Philistine gates and cities as God’s judgement against them, and in order to enable the poor and needy in Jerusalem to live safe from Philistine threat. Once more then, we may be seeing God using the evil ambition of pagan peoples as his tool - here in protecting his people.

Praying it home:       
Praise God that he governs the decisions of even the most powerful people. Pray that he would use their decisions for the good of his people, especially where they are being oppressed.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(272) September 29: Isaiah 15-18 & Ephesians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what we learn about God.

To ponder:
Moab was one of Israel’s historic enemies (Num 25). The oracle continues the section dealing with God’s judgements against the nations, affirming that in this life he may sometimes judge non-Christian peoples and rulers for their evil and arrogance.
            Moabite cities will be destroyed in a night, and the people of Dibon will go to their pagan temple and high places of worship to mourn (head and beard shaved) the destruction of other towns. Such mourning will take place throughout towns, with even soldiers crying (15v1-4). And God will too! 15v5 may describe Isaiah as he considers what is probably a vision of Moab’s destruction. But the “I” bringing further disaster (15v9) suggests God is the speaker throughout. So it is his “heart” that cries out in seeing the grief of the Moabite fugitives, as he takes no delight in punishing sin. The land is pictured as dry and barren, with refugees carrying their wealth as they cross a key ravine. It seems this marks them leaving the land as their outcry is said to echo along the border, noting it is heard the whole length of the country. Yet despite his compassion on this situation, God must act in justice, and so promises that although the Dimon river’s waters are already full of blood, still more will come. Indeed, the fugitives escaping and those who remain will be attacked by a “lion” – probably a reference to a foreign oppressor (15v6-9). We are right to feel the tension between God’s love and justice, as it reflects his own heart. But we are very wrong to think it might mean he won’t act justly. Sin will be punished, even if God punishes through metaphorical tears.
            16v1-2 picture the refugees in “Sela” (possibly a fortress in Edom), from which God urges them to send tribute to the king of Zion to allow them to settle in Judah. In this sense, the Moabite women (no doubt, the men are left fighting) at the river Arnon on the edge of Israel are like fluttering birds God has pushed from their nest in Moab. They beg for a decision from Israel, longing for shelter like a shadow at the hottest part of the day (16v3-4a). And at this point God again promises that those he has used to judge Moab will themselves be destroyed, and God’s Davidic king will reign in justice and righteousness. The “love and faithfulness” here may refer to the king’s qualities, but more likely God’s attributes, expressing his care in establishing his king not just for his covenant people but the world (16v4-5). The point is that the Moabites, as with all peoples, will only find justice against their oppressors and true shelter in Christ.
            The common knowledge of Moab’s pride and boasting is then noted, and it is clarified that this is the reason for the destruction that has led to her grief and the trampling of her famous vines by the kings of other nations (16v6-8). Astonishingly we then read of God himself sobbing from his innermost being because he has had to put an end to the joy that was known at Moabite harvests (16v9-11). He delights to give joy and the blessings of creation even to sinners who don’t know him, and is profoundly moved in having to remove them. Nevertheless, again we see he must judge, affirming that it is pointless for Moab to wear themselves out at their praying to their false gods (16v12). Indeed, he states that within three years her splendour will be despised and she will be left with few survivors – and this is as certain as if he were bound by contract (16v13-14). How certain too, is the final judgement Jesus promised will come, even though God brings it reluctantly.
            The oracle against Damascus moves quickly to a denunciation of northern Israel (Ephraim), suggesting it might have come at a time when Syria and Israel were allies. Damascus and other cities in the vicinity will be destroyed and deserted, with the fortified cities of Ephraim removed so she has no security, with the power taken from Damascus too. And so those left in Aram (Syria) will be insignificant like the glory of Israel which will have faded, as the people are removed like corn at harvest, with only a few gleanings left (17v1-6, see 2 Kgs 17). God declares that only then will people look to him rather than their idols. Yet, because of their sin, their strongest cities will be desolate. And this is all because the people forgot their saviour and fortress, seen by them planting imported vines, rather than trusting God to bring fruitfulness to their land as he promised in his covenant (Deut 28-30). They will therefore receive none of their harvest, but, instead, disease and pain too (17v7-11). Here we see how, in the midst if hardship, God may bring those who have forgotten him to look to him again.
            17v12-14 seems to be a sudden reflection on the raging of the nations that are going to bring the destruction Isaiah has detailed, as judgement, like the waters of the flood. The point is that they serve God’s purpose. And so when he rebukes them, they will be driven away as easily as chaff or tumble-weed in the wind. This, Isaiah says, is the portion those who loot God’s people will receive. Once more then, we see that God will punish the very nations he used to punish others.
            Chapter 18 doesn’t necessarily pronounce judgement on Cush (modern Sudan and Ethiopia), but speaks a warning. Understanding the detail is difficult. Just as Cush was known for its many insects, so its many envoys seem to have come to Jerusalem, where they are called to go and fly back to its people, who were known as being aggressive and feared (18v1-2). The sense is that they are to inform them of what is about to happen. 18v3 may refer to the world witnessing God’s banner and trumpet as he is about to act, but in the flow of the chapter seem most likely a reference to Assyria advancing. It is possible they are advancing against Cush, but perhaps more likely they are advancing against Zion, with Cush being called to witness it. And as the world looks on, so will the LORD, quietly, holding back from acting until the last minute, when he will cut the Assyrians down like a crop just before it reaches its goal in harvest (18v4-6, see 2 Kgs 19). In response, the Cushites are said to bring gifts as tribute to God in Zion. The point is that by witnessing his mighty acts those from the world will come to honour him.

Praying it home:       
Praise God that his love is such that he takes no pleasure in punishing sin. Pray that you would never forget him.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(273) September 30: Isaiah 19-21 & Ephesians 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider how trust in nations is being undermined.

To ponder:
The oracle against Egypt begins with God riding to Egypt on a cloud like a king on his chariot into battle. The idols tremble, stressing God’s supremacy over Egypt’s false gods. And the hearts of the Egyptians melt, showing how such a seemingly powerful nation should nevertheless fear Israel’s God. God promises to stir up strife between different segments of Egypt’s population. Despondent, and unable to fulfil their plans, perhaps to rectify the situation, they will consult their idols and spirits, who will prove impotent; and the LORD will hand them over to a cruel and fierce king – perhaps an Egyptian tyrant, of one from another nation (19v1-4). The Nile was the source of life and industry to Egypt. But Isaiah pictures it dried up, with the canals that irrigate the land smelling, and the vegetation therefore withering, fishermen unable to catch fish, and weavers of flax (a plant) unable to work (19v5-10). So God’s judgement is seen in civil strife, potential oppression by a foreign power and natural disaster affecting the land. Moreover, Egypt was well known for her wisdom and knowledge, but in all this her wise men are proved useless being unable to predict what God is going to do. Instead God will cause them to give bad counsel, leading Egypt astray and causing her to stagger like a drunk, helpless (19v11-15). If Judah was tempted to look to Egypt for help against Assyria, this oracle would show the foolishness of doing so. Instead, it urges her to trust only God. Similarly, when we consider how subject all peoples and nations are to his will, we are moved to do the same.
            The regular refrain of these oracles then occurs: “In that day,” ie, the day of God’s judgement on Egypt, the people will be terrified at the hand of God raised against them. It may be in this sense that the mention of Judah brings them fear – not because of any military attack, but because the LORD is Judah’s God. On the contrary, in the light of that fear, many of Egypt are pictured as joining with Israel. As with so much prophetic speech, what follows is probably metaphorical. So five cities (out of 30,000) sharing Canaan’s language and swearing allegiance to the LORD shows that a small but significant section of Egypt will come to faith in God, including even those from the city dedicated to Egypt’s sun god (19v16-18, see footnote). So there will be aspects of true worship in the pagan Egypt, and some will cry out to him when oppressed, and find he sends a saviour. By this means God will make himself known to the Egyptians, bringing disaster (the metaphorical plague) and then rescuing them from it (healing them), causing them to offer him true worship (19v19-22).
Whether or not this had a literal fulfilment soon after Isaiah, it surely points to those from Egypt coming to faith in Christ, and so is fulfilled by Christians there today. Indeed, what follows is a picture of Egypt and Assyria united in worship of the LORD, bringing blessing to the earth with Israel, and being described equally with Israel as God’s people, handiwork and inheritance (19v23-25)! This would have been astonishing to Jews, in fear of these great powers. But nothing is beyond the LORD. And so this is fulfilled in the uniting of Gentile and Jew in Christ as God’s means of bringing blessing to the world as they do good and share the gospel, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12v1-3). Again, in the prophecy the events of Isaiah’s day are compacted with those spanning the two comings of Christ.
            20v1-6 can be dated 713BC, when Assyria attacked the Israeli town of Ashdod. Prophets were sometimes called to act out their prophecies. So by going about almost totally naked (probably still wearing a loincloth) for three years, Isaiah is providing a dramatized sign that Assyria will lead Egyptians and Cushites into exile, stripped and humiliated. 20v5-6 therefore warns Israel in a time of fear against trusting in these countries for help against Assyria, rather than trusting God. When Assyria conquers these nations, those who have relied on them will be made afraid because they will then lack protection, and put to shame for so failing to trust the LORD. Let’s not be those who trust anyone or anything for salvation and ultimate help, but Christ.
            It is uncertain what “desert by the sea” refers to (21v1), but the oracle that follows is against Babylon, so it probably describes the Mesopotamian region. It speaks of Media coming to invade like a destructive whirlwind and lay siege to Babylon (see Dan 5v30-31). The time is marked by treachery in the city as people make the most of the opportunity for their own gain. But this is God at work, bringing an end to all the grief Babylon has caused in her oppression of others (21v1-2). At this point Isaiah powerfully describes his horror at the vision he is witnessing, even though he longed for judgement on Babylon. He therefore calls the Babylonian officers to get up from their feasting to prepare for battle (21v3-5). In the dramatic vision, God tells Isaiah to post a lookout, probably in Israel, to look for those coming with news of Babylon’s fall. After some time in post, he then reports the news that the city has fallen and its gods lie shattered (21v6-9). 21v10 tells us this message was one from God for when the Jews lay crushed like grain on the threshing floor, no doubt under Babylonian oppression after the exile. As Christians suffer the same under persecution, they too can be sure that one day their oppressors will be called to account (see Rev 18). Yet like, Isaiah, they should still feel compassion at the horror this will entail for their tormentors.
            Perhaps in this same context, 21v11-12 promises morning, and so relief, for Edom. But the call to come back to the watchman to ask how long, stresses the need to wait patiently during the time of night, and so hardship. There is wisdom here as we await Christ’s return.
            21v13-17 clarifies that those in Arabia will be caught up in the turmoil predicted in these oracles. Whether referring to the oppression by Assyria or Babylon, it calls those travelling in Arabia to provide for the refugees fleeing through their lands. Yet Isaiah also predicts, as certainly as if God had entered a contract, that within a year the pomp of the Arabian city or peoples titled “Kedar” will also be destroyed, with only a remnant of their warriors surviving. Notable here, is that although the fugitives are fleeing to some extent under God’s judgement, he still calls people to care for them. How much more should the believer care for all who are needy, suffering the consequences of God’s curse on all humanity.
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God that that the darkness of the world as it is will one day pass into the morning of the world to come. Pray for wisdom about how you might provide relief to those suffering the hardships of this present time.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(274) October 1: Isaiah 21-23 & Ephesians 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider how the security of any nation should be unsettled by these oracles.

To ponder:
The reference to Jerusalem’s deliverance with the phrase “Valley of Vision” suggests it might refer to the valley where the Assyrian army were camped outside Jerusalem before withdrawing (22v5,7, 2 Kgs 19). The oracle begins with people of Jerusalem on their roofs, and Isaiah asking why they are there at a time the town is full of revelry, perhaps celebrating the withdrawal. At this point he seems to look ahead to a contrasting picture of people slain not by sword, perhaps suggesting a siege, and the people and their leaders fleeing and captured. On seeing this he asks people not to console him as he is so distraught at what will happen to his people (22v1-4). Here Isaiah could be seeing the future destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon (2 Kgs 25). But the lesson is that God’s work in our lives should not breed complacency. Rather, we are in need of genuine repentance, so that having been delivered in the short term we do not end up destroyed in the end.
Isaiah then seems to describe the recent crisis as a day of tumult in the valley. This may refer to those living outside Jerusalem being terrorised by the enemy allies, with village walls battered down and cries carrying to mountains as Judah’s defences are stripped away and the valleys filled with soldiers ready to take the capital (22v5-8). It may even refer to some preliminary moves against the city. Isaiah’s point is that the people’s priorities in responding to this were wrong: They sought weapons in “the Palace of the Forest” (the room in the temple where weapons were kept), they stored water for a siege, they strengthened the wall with bricks form houses, and they built a reservoir. But what they didn’t do is look to God, who made water and planned what was coming to pass (22v9-11). He had looked for them to call on him in heartfelt repentance, asking for deliverance. But instead they just assumed they would die and indulged in an hedonistic frenzy (22v12-13). God promises that this sin of blind refusal to look to him in faith will never be atoned for. Rather the people will be held to account.
Here he singles out Shebna, the palace steward, who at the time of the vision was preparing a prominent grave for himself. God declares that he will never be able to use it, but will be hurled away from the land to die in a large country – no doubt a reference to him (and his chariots) being taken away by an enemy at some point. Moreover, God will give his role, authority and uniform of office to another, who like a dependable tent peg will care for the city and kingdom, control access to the king, gain the sort of honour Shebna wanted, and be the means by which his own family will receive glory (22v14-24). Nevertheless, God declares that even this successor will give way and all relying on him be cut down. This may also refer to Babylon’s destruction of the city in generations to come, which would have cut off Eliakim’s line. But we learn through it that only God is dependable. In all difficulty, and especially in combating sin and death, our first response should be repentant prayer, not practical steps to help ourselves. Indeed, those who faithlessly don’t look to God at all will be cut off on the last day just like Shebna.
Whereas the oracle against Babylon on the eastern edge of the known world began Isaiah’s declarations of judgement against the nations, he finishes with one against Tyre, the great city on the western edge. It begins with its merchant ships receiving news from Cyprus that Tyre is destroyed so they have no homes or harbour to return to. The people of the Tyre area who have materially gained so much from trade with the nations are called to be silent and ashamed (23v2-4). The sense is that that God’s judgement is right and a word cannot be said against it. The meaning of the sea speaking of how it has not given birth to children is unclear, but may be stressing that whereas Tyre had given birth to colonies, it is no more, whilst the sea remains (23v4). Because of Tyre’s fame, as the word spread, so does anguish – to Egypt. Perhaps this is anguish at the goods they will no longer be able to buy. And there is shock too. The traders who now have no home to go to are told to cross the sea to Tarshish and mourn there. There they are stunned. Can it really be that this joyous, ancient city, from which so many travelled, is destroyed (23v6-7)? It’s a reminder that no city or country has a guarantee that it will remain.
The question is who planned this for such an esteemed city. The answer of course is the LORD, because he humbles those throughout the earth who proudly glorify themselves (23v9). There is warning here to successful, prosperous and esteemed cultures. 23v10 is uncertain but may be calling Tarshish to work her own land because she can no longer rely on Tyre for the imports she needs. What is clear is that by witnessing the destruction of such a famed city within Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), the LORD causes all kingdoms to tremble in uncertainty over their fate (23v10-12). And there is no rest or peace for the traders from Tyre, as every country is therefore under threat. So even if they travelled to Cyprus, they would live in fear, for the Assyrians had even decimated Babylon, turning it into a ruin for desert animals. Those in their ships really did therefore have good reason to wail at the destruction of the great fortress of Tyre (23v12-14).
Yet 23v15-18 gives hope: A known song is used to teach that after 70 years Tyre will woo those who love her goods again, and so prostitute herself by giving what she has away for money to the kingdoms of the known world of the day. What is striking, however, is that her profits won’t be horded, but set-apart for God’s use, being a means his people, like Israel’s priests, would be provided with abundant food and fine clothes. The most obvious implication is that those within Tyre will come to faith in the LORD and so benefit from her prosperity, as has happened at times in the history of the church. It may also allude to the glory of the nations being brought into the new creation (Rev 21v26). Then, God’s people will somehow benefit from all the achievements of human culture.
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God that that his kingdom endures and cannot be shaken. Pray for a realisation within western culture of the fragility of what is so often boasted in.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(275) October 2: Isaiah 24-25 & Ephesians 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what these oracles warn us against.

To ponder:
We jump now from God’s judgment upon the nations in Isaiah’s day, to the final judgement they are a paradigm of. Just as God promised various lands would be laid waste, now he promises the whole world will be devastated and plundered, with all its inhabitants scattered, irrespective of their status in life (24v1-3). 24v4-6 reflect Genesis 3v17-19: The earth is pictured as drying up and unfruitful under God’s curse because its inhabitants have defiled it (tainted its purity) by their sin. The allusion to Genesis 3 suggests the “eternal covenant” is that God implicitly made with all humanity through Adam and Eve (often called the covenant of works): If they obeyed him they would enjoy life on the earth. Although framed in the language of the Mosaic covenant, the laws humanity have broken are therefore the principles that reflect God’s character and the order of creation, that are written in human consciences and later developed in the Mosaic law with reference to Israel (see Rom 1v18-32). Because of God’s judgement, all joy and revelry is banished from the earth, which is portrayed a city whose houses are desolate. Indeed, almost all the earth’s inhabitants are not there because they have been “burned up” - presumably referring to God’s burning anger, leaving the world like an olive tree after being beaten so that its fruit falls – barren, but with just a few pieces remaining (24v6-13). It is those who remain throughout the earth who shout for joy, praising God’s majesty and excellence (24v14-16). They are the remnant from every nation, tribe and people who will forever worship God (Rev 7v9-14).
            In witnessing this vision Isaiah expresses terror that metaphorically causes him to wither up himself. Surely we should feel something of this too. Inescapable punishment awaits humanity in their treachery, as the very creation implodes with images of flood and earthquake, never to rise again as the world it was. And this is all because it is so weighed down by the guilt of human rebellion (24v16-20). There is theological truth here that humanity are so closely linked to the creation they were created to rule, that their guilt means its destruction. In the day of this judgement, we are also told God will punish angelic beings in heaven (demons) as well as the rulers of the earth. They will all be imprisoned for a long time, which Christ taught would entail them being thrown everlastingly into hell (Matt 25v41). Then God will reign in Zion and before its leaders (elders) so gloriously that the brilliance of the sun and moon are put to shame. As we have been told this creation will have fallen, this must picture the new Jerusalem in the new creation that will supersede this one (Rev 21v22-27). There is both warning and encouragement here.
            Chapter 25 praises God for his justice in faithfully destroying the city and stronghold as symbols of power, just as he planned long before. This could refer to the destruction of the nations Isaiah has already noted, or the final judgement just mentioned. Perhaps the ambiguous language includes both. The point is that such destruction was always God’s plan. And it is good: First, because whether witnessing it (eg. in the destruction of Assyria and Babylon) or contemplating it (the final judgement) strong and ruthless peoples and nations will come to honour God, no doubt because they come to fear him. Second, it is good because it means refuge and safety for the poor and needy, whether in being rescued from tyrannical rulers when God judges them in this life, or rescued from hardship generally when through faith they are separated from all evil in the life to come. In the light of God’s judgement then, the roar of the ruthless is powerless, like a storm hitting a wall or heat disappearing when cloud comes (25v4-5). It seems the life to come is in mind, as Isaiah then speaks of how on Mount Zion God will prepare a banquet of food and wine for those from all peoples, destroying the shroud (burial sheet) of death, and wiping away the tears of suffering (see Lk 14v15-24, Rev 7v14-17). He will also remove the disgrace of his people. In context this probably refers to them being vindicated for their trust in God after having been mocked and despised. So we read that in that day they will joyfully declare the LORD is their God, and that they trusted him and he saved them (25v6-9). Yet whereas God’s hand will rest in blessing on Zion, he will trample on Moab – who as Israel’s historic enemy are probably representative of her enemies in general. The picture is again of humbled pride, as despite their cleverness, the Moabites metaphorically swim in manure with their fortress cities laid low (25v10-12)! As throughout the book, we see God’s judgement is ultimately on pride, just as it was when Adam and Eve sought to be like God. So we must humble ourselves before him, acknowledging our sin and need, and trusting him for salvation and help.
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God that his justice brings people to repentance and will deliver them from oppression. Pray that you would always be humble before him.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(276) October 3: Isaiah 26-27 & Ephesians 5

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note the main things Isaiah predicts.

To ponder:
Chapter 26 records a song that will be sung on the “day” the earth is judged, death is defeated and God’s people enjoy the promised banquet (as chapters 24-25). It celebrates the strength of the new Jerusalem – a strength that flows not from bricks and mortar, but God’s saving act of destroying all who are evil so that his people can be secure. The gates are open to the righteous of the nation who keep faith, and who are promised perfect peace. So the people are exhorted to trust God forever as their rock of strength, the one who humbles the proud, and who enables the oppressed to trample down their cities – implying they are therefore those of faith who end up exalted (26v1-6).
God is then affirmed as the one who enables the righteous to walk in his laws without stumbling. The people also state that they will wait with patience for God’s action rather than take matters into their own hands, that they desire his glory above all else, and yearn to be with him day and night (26v7-9). Most likely the new Jerusalem remains in mind. So these things describe those there. What follows is acknowledgement that it is God’s judgements that teach people righteousness, just as the previous oracles have revealed what provokes him. And this is necessary, for although grace is shown to the wicked in the many goods God patiently gives them, they learn nothing from it, even in an upright land. Yet now judgement has come, it is prayed that such people (ie. the wicked) would see God’s zeal for his people, as he consumes them in his anger just as has been predicted (26v10-11). We are therefore urged to learn from the judgement oracles, so that we would join those of faith.
The singer goes on to acknowledge that it is the LORD alone who has enabled his people to accomplish anything, and who they honour, even though ruled at times by other kings. And this is wise, because these kings died under God’s punishment, whilst God has enlarged the nation. 26v16-18 clarifies that this enlargement is through peoples from the world coming to join Israel in fulfilment to God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12v1-3). And it was certainly not achieved through Israel’s doing, as she metaphorically gave birth to wind – failing in her calling (26v17-18). Rather, peoples who could barely even pray came to the LORD because he disciplined them (26v16). This may refer to his judgements causing people to turn to him as they experience hardship (26v9). The point is, the gathering of those who are the new Jerusalem is a work that God has performed, and performed even through his judgements in this world. Again, we should ensure we share in this.
As for those God has gathered: they will be resurrected from death with joy, springing from the earth for a new dawn like plants covered in dew on a new day. Yet, alluding to the Passover, they are urged to hide themselves behind their doors while God’s wrath passes over as he comes to punish the people of the earth, calling then to account for their sin – here, bloodshed (26v19-21). “In the day” ends the first section with a focus on the slaying of the Leviathan (27v1). Most probably, this fictional monster is a symbol for evil and the chaos it brings, perhaps even for Satan (see Rev 12v9, 20v2). The sense is that all that evil will then be destroyed.
What follows is a call to sing of Israel as a fruitful vineyard that God watches over, waters, and guards without anger. No doubt this is his justified anger at her previous failure to bear the fruit of righteousness and so attract the nations to join her. Now he states a readiness to attack any who might hinder the vineyard’s fruitfulness like thorns, whilst calling them instead to escape that by coming to him themselves for peace and refuge (27v2-5). This suggests that, as in previous oracles, the “day” in mind throughout these two chapters spans the two comings of Christ. So it is predicted that Jacob (ie. Israel, representing God’s people) will be established and bear good fruit throughout the world as people from all nations choose to join him, escaping God’s judgement (27v6).
This picture is obviously far removed from Israel’s state under Isaiah. 27v7-9 addresses this by noting that God has not punished Jacob to the extent of other nations. Rather, through war and exile he will atone for his (Jacob’s) sin – ie. count it sufficient punishment to put the nation at one with him again. And the result will be that he brings the nation to a point of repentance, seen in bearing fruit by destroying the means of idolatry. This time of righteousness in which the nations come to join Israel therefore lies beyond the exile Isaiah is predicting.
27v10-11 may describe the whole world, throughout which God’s people have destroyed the means of idolatry. But the context suggests it refers to the land of Israel after the exiles return, as the settlements are “abandoned” because the people were taken away. It is a picture of Israel’s strength (fortresses) in ruins, with animals grazing in the towns, and the people left dwelling in the land lacking knowledge of God, and so lacking his favour. It is from this low point, that the LORD promises to bring in a harvest of Israelites from the land stretching from Assyria (by the Euphrates) to Egypt, calling them with a trumpet to worship him in Jerusalem (27v12-13). In the light of 26v19, the fact that some are described as “perishing” may hint to this being fulfilled ultimately in the resurrection, as all who are God’s people through faith will come to worship him forever as part of the new Jerusalem.
What is clear in both chapters is that through the coming trial of exile, Israel has a glorious future in which her people will be brought to repentance, gathered to worship God, bear good fruit, be joined by people from all nations, and after the judgement of the entire earth in which all evil is destroyed, be raised from death and live forever in righteousness and peace within a new Jerusalem. This is the “day” Isaiah sees in his vision 700 years before Christ.
                       
Praying it home:       
Praise God for the different elements of this glorious future. Pray that you would learn from the judgement oracles and so place your trust in him.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(277) October 4: Isaiah 28-29 & Ephesians 6

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note the attitude to all Isaiah has said that is being commended.

To ponder:
Chapter 28 begins with a woe against a city described like the garland of flowers worn by revellers, which fades and diminishes as the night goes on. Most likely this is Samaria, the key city of the northern kingdom, described after its major tribe “Ephraim.” Isaiah predicts its sacking by Assyria, being brought by the Lord like a destructive storm. So Samaria will be like a beautiful wreath now trampled and faded, or a ripe fig that is swallowed and so disappears (28v1-4). And whereas Ephraim took pride in the glorious beauty of Samaria, then the remnant of faithful Israelites will regard the Lord as their glorious crown or wreath – granting a spirit of justice to those who judge and strength to warriors, and so enabling his people to live uprightly before him (28v5-6).
            The key sin Isaiah denounces is drunkenness, which in context implies a disregard of responsibility amongst rulers who are supposed to execute justice. He adds that even priests and prophets live as drunks, and mock his teaching, arrogantly saying they are not children just off the breast to be told to do this and do that (28v7-10). In response, Isaiah states God will therefore speak to them through the Assyrian foreigners that he will grant rest in their land, and who will bring rules Israel must live by, until the people end up injured, ensnared and captured by them. The picture here is perhaps of them like children who refuse to listen and have to learn the hard way by stumbling (28v11-13).
There’s strong warning, here, against scoffing at the warnings of scripture regarding our impending judgement. And in the light of that, Isaiah turns to Jerusalem in the south, wanting them to learn from Samaria. He parodies the rulers in Jerusalem who have made an agreement (with Egypt, 31v1) to protect them against harm: They scoff at Isaiah’s warnings, boasting that this covenant means that any disaster won’t affect them. In this sense it is an agreement with death, that death will not take them. But, Isaiah declares, they are seeking safety in a lie, as this is a false confidence (28v14-15). Yet, there is hope: God is laying a stone in Zion (Jerusalem), that will uphold and keep it together like the cornerstone of a building and its foundation. Moreover, he will measure and lay out the structure of Zion not with a tape measure but with justice and righteousness. In other words, he is promising spiritual renewal for the people, not something literally structural for the city. And in the light of that he promises that those who trust in him will never be dismayed at what is to come. Nevertheless, he does promise that Jerusalem’s false refuge in their alliance will be swept away, their covenant annulled so that they will suffer the coming disaster, and be carried away – presumably in being taken captive (28v16-19). In applying the language of cornerstone to Christ (1 Pet 2v6), Peter teaches that he is the means of spiritual renewal for God’s people and of salvation from the greater judgement to come.
            Isaiah declares this message will bring terror, and can’t be escaped by dulling oneself with sleep or a false alliance. Yet, the coming disaster God brings will be his “strange work” in the sense that judgement against his people is unusual, as he leans by nature towards grace and mercy. Indeed, he calls the people to stop mocking so that their captivity doesn’t have to be worse (28v19-22). The point of 28v23-29 is unclear. It may be saying that just as God instructs the farmer with wisdom, so that he doesn’t continually plow, but plants, so God will not continue the ploughing of Judah by Babylon forever, but plant his people to bear the fruit of righteousness. Again, just as the farmer protects his grain in the way he treats it, so that it will fulfil the purpose he has for it, so the LORD will be careful in the judgement he brings, so that his people eventually fulfil his purpose for them. All this, we’re told displays God’s magnificent wisdom. Even in the impending disaster, as in the trials we face, he knows what he is doing, working out his purposes.
            Jerusalem now receives its own “woe.” It is unclear why it is called “Ariel,” but this may refer to it being the place of God’s “altar hearth” (29v2) which sounds similar. Despite the continuance of her festivals, God declares that he will besiege her and bring her down to the dust. Yet he continues, her many enemies will become dust to as the LORD comes against them in all his awesome power, illustrated by the elements, so that they disappear like a dream that seems real at the time, but when gone, leaves everything as it was (29v3-8). This is no doubt a prediction of Assyria besieging Jerusalem before God put the army to death, causing them to withdraw and disappear (37v26-28). Yet the metaphor also suggests that Jerusalem were currently asleep to the truth of what was going on, because God had kept her prophets from seeing it themselves. So, Isaiah’s vision is effectively like a scroll that can’t be opened or read. He therefore says, “be stunned at what I am saying, be blind and like a drunk in not grasping it’s meaning” (29v9-12).
            Here the LORD declares the problem: The people honour him in what they say, but have hearts that are actually far from him, worshipping only according to their own rules. So God will astound them, by causing this so called wisdom of man-made religion to perish, and punishing those who think their wicked plans are hidden from him, and who effectively deny God made them or that they are subject to him (29v13-16). Jesus faced the same problem (Mk 7v6-23).
            29v17 refers to the great cedars of Lebanon becoming like a field, and a field like the cedars. It is probably saying that the proud amongst God’s will be humbled, whilst the humble will be exalted. That will come as those previously deaf and blind to what Isaiah has declared will understand and so come to rejoice in God, whilst the ruthless, mocking, wicked and unjust will be “cut down” in judgement. So God, who redeemed (freed) Abraham from sin and its consequences, in order to build a people from his descendents, will bring about a time when his people will see God causing Jerusalem to flourish with people he describes as children of Jacob. At that time, rather than be dismayed at the destruction Jerusalem has undergone, the people will acknowledge God’s holiness with awe, and those who have been like wayward children, will receive instruction from him as their heavenly parent – no doubt, by accepting the truths Isaiah has taught (29v22-24). We see all this fulfilled as Christ opens spiritually blind eyes to understand his word.
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God for opening your blind eyes. Pray that you would accept the truths you’ve been learning.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(278) October 5: Isaiah 30-32 & Philippians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note that God promises beyond judgement.

To ponder:
Here Judah are denounced for their obstinacy in not listening to the LORD (30v9) but forming a military alliance with Egypt that he had not led them to (30v1-2). He promises this will lead to disgrace as Egypt will prove useless, embarrassing Judah for her foolish decision (30v3-5). 30v4 may refer to Judean emissaries being accepted throughout Egypt. They risk danger to take riches to Egypt, no doubt to pay for their help. But Egypt, often described as the terrifying sea monster Rahab, will just sit there and do nothing (30v6-7). We should understand that trusting man or man-made religion rather than God for salvation, will always lead to shame as they prove impotent.
            Isaiah is then commissioned to write as an everlasting witness against Judah for rebelliously being unwilling to listen to God, like wayward children. Indeed, they tell their prophets not to speak, or at least not to confront them with their sin, but say only what is pleasant (30v8-11). How contemporary this sounds, as believers today complain of preaching being too serious or negative because of its realism about sin and judgement.
            God as the “Holy One” condemns Judah for rejecting God’s warning in order to rely on oppressive and deceptive rulers – whether its own, or Egypt. Either way, this sin will crack and break, implying Judah’s alliance will slowly begin to falter before suddenly failing. And so God affirms that salvation is found not in Egypt, but in repentance and quite trust in God. But Judah would have none of it, instead getting horses so that they can flee if necessary. In our foolishness, rather than trust God, we too can be tempted to assume we can escape judgement by our own effort. God declares that the people will flee, and their enemies by so terrible that a thousand will have to flee before just a few, until they are far away like a flag on a distant mountain (30v12-17).
            Yet, as before, Isaiah reminds the people that God still longs to be gracious, rising to take action in showing compassion. And this is based on his justice: He is not uncontrolled in his anger, but heeds those who wait for him, keeping his commitments to his promises (30v18). It is God’s just commitment to do what is right by the gospel that is our basis for hope.
            The promise that follows is of an end to weeping because of God’s speedy grace when Judah cries for his help. This is seen in the re-establishing of teachers to guide the people, so that they get rid of their means of idolatry (30v19-22). The establishing of teachers in the church is always a sign of grace. God also promises to give rain and sun to ensure fruitfulness to the land, as he heals the wounds the people suffered in their affliction (30v23-26). This accords with his covenant promises (Deut 28-30) and, no doubt, ultimately looks to the new creation.
            Next God is said to come in burning wrath and flood-like judgement, causing the nations to go astray and suffer destruction. Judah will then rejoice as at her festivals to see God’s kingly command (majestic voice) bring about the destruction of Assyria, pictured by the dramatic power of the elements (30v27-32). So God’s anger will light a prepared funeral pyre for Assyria’s king in the valley outside Jerusalem (30v33). This may be simply metaphorical for his defeat and eventual death (see 37v37-38), or refer to the king’s army suffering the plague outside Jerusalem (see 37v36). Because it is just and means people being delivered from all evil and oppression, God’s judgement is something to rejoice in (Rev 19v1-3).
            Chapter 31 continues the “woe” at those who trust on the military might of Egypt rather than God (31v1): He is also wise and able to bring disaster, and, unlike Egypt, he doesn’t draw back from his promises. Moreover, the Egyptians are mere men. So God will rise up in judgement, causing both the helper (Egypt) and the helped (Judah) to fall (31v2-3). Indeed, he will be like a lion with its prey, unperturbed by a whole band of shepherds seeking to fight it off. Yet, although Judah will suffer, God promises to protect Jerusalem like a mother bird hovering in protection over her nest (31v4-5, fulfilled in 36v1 and 37v35-36). Here, he calls Israel to repentance, promising that in “that day” they will reject their idols (see 2 Kgs 22-23). Repentance is the right response to God acting in judgement and salvation.
            The oracle continues affirming that Assyria will fall by God’s sword, with their young men enslaved, their fortresses taken, and their commanders panicking, all because of God’s burning anger from his dwelling place in Zion’s temple (31v8-9). At this point, he speaks of a righteous king reigning who ensures his rulers rule justly, sheltering the people from oppression. Then people will hear, understand and speak God’s word, so that fools who speak error about God, who are ungodly and oppress the poor, will no longer be esteemed as rulers in Judah (32v1-8). No doubt this initially looked to the reign of Josiah, soon after Jerusalem’s deliverance (2 Kgs 23v25). But this is surely a paradigm for the reign of David’s greatest son. 
             Isaiah goes on to tell Judah’s women in their false security that within a year they will be trembling at a failing harvest – perhaps, symbolic for the invasion of Assyria like thorns amongst the vineyard of Israel. So they are urged to mourn in repentance for the land, and the homes and city in its complacent revelry, as fortresses and cities will be abandoned and become wastelands for animals forever – until, that is, God pours out his Spirit, causing the land to become a field and then towering forest (32v9-15). This further suggests the language is metaphorical, speaking of the fruitfulness (ie. righteousness) of the people, or at least including this in any literal fruitfulness of the land. So it is then said justice and righteousness will dwell in the land, bringing quietness and confidence forever – presumably, peace between the people, but also security in knowing they are not subject to God’s judgement (32v17-18). Although the people must face their pride and cities being flattened, they can therefore be sure that they will be blessed in the end, thriving with great fruitfulness in the land because they will then live righteously before God (32v19-20). This exalted language certainly wouldn’t describe the restoration under Josiah, and so looks us to the kingdom of Christ.
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God for renewing people’s hearts so that they know him. Pray that you would better esteem teaching in the church.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(279) October 6: Isaiah 33-35 & Philippians 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note that different things that will mark the final state for God’s people.

To ponder:
In the context of the book, the destroyer and betrayer who will be destroyed and betrayed is probably Assyria (33v1). But this is a truth that stands for all who do evil in the light of final judgement. What follows is a prayer for God’s grace seen in daily giving strength and salvation in the face of threat. And it is said in confidence that at God’s word of command people scatter as he providentially brings other men to harvest the plunder of Israel’s enemies like locusts (33v2-4). And so Isaiah can declare God is exalted (most highly regarded) because he dwells in heaven and will bring his people in Zion to live in justice and righteousness. So he is Judah’s sure foundation that will keep her from falling, giving salvation, wisdom and knowledge as a treasure to those who fear him (33v5-6). Our confidence for all these things should therefore be in God.
            33v7-9 pictures Assyria breaking her agreement with Judah and attacking, so the warriors cry and envoys that agreed peace weep. Furthermore, the land is deserted and ashamed – probably at the Jews relying on their deals for deliverance, rather than on God. At this point God says he will arise and show his power so he is exalted (see 33v13). He will burn up the Assyrian peoples. By saying Assyria’s breath is fire, he implies her own actions will lead to her downfall. In the light of this, God calls people near and far to acknowledge him, stating how the sinners in Zion tremble in considering their own liability to his anger (everlasting burning). However, he affirms that those who are righteous, refusing to act unjustly or do evil, will be kept safe and well supplied so they survive (33v10-16).
This language suggests God’s treatment of Assyria is actually intended to cause us to contemplate the judgement to come and the grace we need from him. What follows, builds on this (33v17-24): A beautiful king will be seen ruling an expansive land. This language is too much for any merely human king ruling Judah, and is later seen to refer to God (33v22). But in being “seen” there is a hint of him being visible as Christ. At that time, faithful Jews will remember their trials under Assyria, recognizing that the Assyrian officials who counted Jerusalem’s towers and arranged a tribute to be paid accordingly will have gone. Moreover, they will witness Jerusalem as peaceful and secure forever, with God reigning there as judge, lawgiver, king and saviour. The wide rivers symbolise the abundance of the land, and the note that no ships will sail them, stresses its security, as no enemy will use them to attack. So although Judah is now in disarray like an unkept ship unable to attack her enemies; then, even the lame will share in the plunder from the nations. More than that, there will be no sickness, and those there will have experienced the forgiveness of their sins. In other words, these great blessings will be received because God will have dealt with the sin that provoked him in justice to bring Assyria against Judah in the first place. And because sin will have been dealt with, those in this new Jerusalem will experience freedom even from the curse of Eden that brought sickness and death.
            Following this picture of the final state, chapter 34 calls the world to be attentive to the fact that God is angry with all nations and their armies, and will utterly destroy them (34v1-4). There is suggestion too that the creation itself will unravel as it experiences what it is to be cut off from the source of life. But the removal of the stars may also speak of God’s judgement on evil angelic beings too. So God’s sword of judgement will punish those in the heavens, and then turn to the world. Whereas Israel was descended from Jacob, Edom was descended from his brother Esau. So Edom here may be symbolic of all who are not God’s people. Or Isaiah may be portraying its destruction soon after his prophecy as a paradigm for the ultimate destruction of all nations. Its destruction is said to be like a sacrifice, implying it satisfies the demands of God’s justice at sin (34v5-7). Yet, it is also a day of vengeance against those who have attacked his people. Sulphur on the land recalls God’s judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah, implying utter destruction. Moreover, the unquenchable fire and forever rising smoke stresses that this is an irreversible destruction, from which Edom and ultimately the world will never recover, as God’s anger against human sin will burn forever (see Rev 14v10-11). Just as measuring lines were used to build, here God is pictured using chaos and desolation to demolish. So important people will vanish, mighty fortresses will be overrun with brambles, and the land will be forever portioned out by God to animals that his Spirit will gather together to live with one-another in peace (34v8-17). This may be purely figurative language stressing how human beings have forfeited the gift of creation. But it does describe the reality in many parts of the world where great cities once stood before falling. This implies a literal fulfilment of this prophecy for Edom was probably intended, although as a paradigm of the final judgement. Indeed, the call to examine the scroll (34v16) may be a way of saying: “look and see how Isaiah’s words have been fulfilled for Edom as a warning that they will be fulfilled for all nations too.”
            Isaiah 35 takes up this theme by compacting a description of the new creation, that was foreshadowed in the miracles of Jesus’ ministry (35v5-6, Lk 7v21-23), and the final judgement he will bring at his second coming: The renewal of creation is pictured as desert wilderness blossoming and rejoicing, being as glorious as the most beautiful parts of the current world because it will see God’s glory, or excellence – which we know is to behold him in Christ. And so those living in fear of Assyria or any other evil are urged to encourage each other to be strong as they wait for God to arrive, confident he will come with vengeance for how they’ve been treated, saving them by destroying their oppressors. It is then that physical affliction will be gone and the land flourish in abundance, as the time of devastation throughout the earth passes (compare 35v7 with 34v13). And at this time, those God has redeemed (set free from oppression) and who are clean (and so acceptable to him), will return to Jerusalem with joy along a “highway of holiness,” without fear of being attacked and so being kept from their destination. Then in Zion, sorrow and sighing will flee away. With poetic language we therefore see the certain future those who lead holy lives of faith and worship will one day enjoy in comprising the new Jerusalem.
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God for the certain hope portrayed here. Pray that you be full of holiness and joy as you travel towards the heavenly Zion.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(280) October 7: Isaiah 36-39 & Philippians 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note how Hezekiah and the people would have been tempted to doubt God.

To ponder:
These chapters record the historical event that much of the book to this point has been predicting, which also illustrates the point Isaiah has been making: We should trust God not man.
            Much repeats 2 Kings 18v13-20v19 (see notes there for more detailed comment). As Isaiah had predicted, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, attacked and captured the fortified cities of Judah. But God protected Jerusalem, responding to Hezekiah’s prayer by sending an angel to put to death 180,000 of the Assyrian army camped around the city, causing the king to withdraw, before later being assassinated in the temple of his god. Critical is the Assyrian commander’s taunt of Hezekiah in the hearing of the residents of Jerusalem: In the name of Assyria’s king, he asks “on what” Hezekiah is basing his “confidence” (36v4), describing Egypt as a splintered staff that cannot therefore bear the weight of Judah’s hopes, but that will eventually pierce her hand (36v6). Assuming Hezekiah’s destruction of the means of idol worship would offend God, the commander also questions his reliance on the LORD (36v7). And so he offers an alternative alliance with Assyria, and claims that the LORD had told Assyria to march against the country – which to some extent was true (36v8-10). He then urges the people not to let Hezekiah persuade them to trust the LORD to deliver them, promising that a treaty with Assyria would result in the sort of peace and prosperity that God himself had promised in the covenant (36v16-17). The tension and temptation couldn’t be clearer. And the same one lies behind every struggle we face in life, and especially our battle with sin and Satan.
            Hezekiah’s response is a model. He mourns and prays, and leads his officials to do so too. And God’s response through Isaiah is that he and his people need not fear the king of Assyria, as God will cause him to return to his country where he will be assassinated (37v1-7). Nevertheless, when the king of Assyria heard Egypt was advancing to fight him, he sent a letter to Hezekiah urging him not to believe God’s word in promising Jerusalem’s safety (37v9-13). But again, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer for deliverance, motivated by a desire that all the watching kingdoms of the earth would know that he alone is God (37v 14-20). Isaiah’s response declares that what the king of Assyria was boasting in, he only managed because God had first ordained it. And because he was raging against God, God would lead him away like his slave. Isaiah then goes on to promise Judah will again thrive as a land, a remnant will survive, and the city will be saved because of God’s promise that David’s descendents will forever reign there (37v22-35). It is then that we read of the army and Assyrian king being put to death. The point is that the most powerful gods and the most powerful men and nations, are nothing against the true and mighty God.
            The record of Hezekiah’s deliverance from illness may be included to highlight our ultimate need of God to deliver us from the curse of the fall, rather than the power of oppressors, which has been a theme throughout the previous oracles. Certainly, the sign whereby God caused the sun’s shadow to go back rather than forward stresses he is the creator who governs all creation. The record of Hezekiah’s prayer (38v10-20) in response to his healing is not recorded in 2 Kings, and so makes more of his healing, perhaps for this reason. Hezekiah notes how he looked at death asking whether he would no longer see God at work in the land of the living or be with mankind. He describes his decline as like a temporary tent being pulled down (see Paul describing our bodies like this, 2 Cor 4v4), or a tapestry being completed. He also notes how he felt God was breaking his bones like a lion, and how he cried out for aid. Yet noting God responded by sending word and then healing him, Hezekiah promises to live humbly before God, presumably in recognising that his life is wholly dependent on God and not himself. He recognizes that it is by such humility that people live, because they constantly look to the LORD. And so he concludes that his anguish was ultimately to his own benefit and so an expression of God’s love and grace in not treating him as his sins deserved. This means that Hezekiah’s praise of God’s faithfulness, is not just of God’s readiness to heal him, but of him using the illness to humble him too. This attitude teaches much as to how we can view trials God puts us through. And in context it was surely a lesson to Judah, that having been delivered from her anguish before Assyria, she should learn humility and trust in God. It actually led Hezekiah to renewed confidence that God would save him in the future too (38v20). And because he knew he had only fifteen years to live (38v5), he must have salvation from death itself in mind. Similarly, experiencing God use hardships for our good in deepening our reliance upon him gives us confidence that he will display that same faithfulness in our eventual salvation (Rom 8v28-39).
            Whether or not Hezekiah’s action in chapter 39 was selfish or just foolish, the chapter looks ahead to the second half of Isaiah, where the rise of Babylon as the new superpower is in mind. Here too, the people are going to have to trust the LORD. Similarly, having experienced God deliver us from a time of trial, he may soon test us again, to see whether we have learnt to be people of faith.
                       
Praying it home:       
Praise God that he is wholly trustworthy and faithful. Pray that you stand firm in faith when trial comes.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(281) October 8: Isaiah 40 & Philippians 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what exactly it is that should be a comfort to Jerusalem.

To ponder:
With chapter 40v1 we jump a hundred and fifty years. Many have been shipped away from Jerusalem as captives to Babylon. Isaiah’s prophecy is therefore one that was to be kept for that time. And in it God urges Isaiah to proclaim comfort to both people and city, that Jerusalem’s sin has been more than paid for by her trials (40v1-2). Moreover he is to urge her to prepare for God’s speedy coming, in which nature would be levelled as is fitting for such a king (40v3-5), and by which all humanity would see God’s glory (excellence) in saving his people. Although God did come to their rescue in Babylon, this is ultimately fulfilled as John the Baptist promises God coming to rescue them through faith in Christ, who displays the glory of God (Mk 1v1-3).
            Isaiah is called to cry out that people are like grass, which whither under God’s breath, whereas his words of promise stand forever. God’s people can therefore be sure that he can deal with the Babylonians as easily as grass in order to fulfil his purposes (40v6-8). And so Isaiah is told to proclaim God’s arrival to Jerusalem from a high mountain, calling people to see God come in power bringing the exiles with him like a shepherd carrying and leading lambs (40v9-11). It is with this same tenderness that the Good Shepherd carries and leads us to his heavenly Zion.
            With Job-like language, God asks who has measured and weighed aspects of creation as a way of showing that just as none have such wisdom, none can expect to fathom or instruct God in what he does. This is important to grasp as we ponder why we or the church might suffer, just as Judah would have in being conquered. God continues by stressing how seemingly insignificant the mighty nations of the world are to him. Indeed, the whole of Lebanon’s resources are insufficient to properly please him through the giving of offerings (40v12-17). In the light of this, he asks who can he can be compared to, implying the foolishness of crafting an idol to present offerings to. Instead, he asks whether people have grasped that he is enthroned in heaven above earth, so that its people are like mere grasshoppers to him; that he stretches the heavens out like a tent and brings mighty rulers to nothing with a breath (40v18-24). In short, he declares he is incomparable, and in his mighty power in particular, by which he brings out the stars at night as if calling them by name (40v25-26). In the light of this, he then asks why Israel complain that he doesn’t see their afflictions or has disregarded them, affirming that he is the everlasting creator of all, who doesn’t tire or grow weary in his attentiveness. But he affirms too, that none can grasp his understanding of things. His encouragement, however, is that even young people struggle, but anyone who hopes in him will find their strength renewed so they become tireless (40v27-31). Although there is literal fulfilment in the new creation, this, no doubt, applies also to God’s strengthening those feeling despondent as they would have at Israel’s predicament.
                       
Praying it home:       
Praise God that he is a caring shepherd to his people, in carrying them to glory. Pray that you trust him in times of trial, knowing that his ways cannot be fathomed.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(282) October 9: Isaiah 41-42 & Colossians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider how God acts for Israel’s good.

To ponder:
Chapter 41 begins with God commanding silence from the nations, and calling them in their weariness, no doubt through suffering and anxiety, to strengthen and meet with God for judgement. The LORD then tells of how, just as he has called every generation to fulfil his purposes, he has displayed his righteousness in calling a ruler in the east to serve him by pursuing, subjecting and destroying nations, and remaining unscathed in doing so (41v1-4). This almost certainly refers to the Persian Cyrus (see 45v1), who would be God’s means of judging Babylon amongst others. As we have seen throughout, God uses even the evil motives of the rulers of the world to execute his justice.
            In response the earth is said to tremble, with people encouraging each other to be strong and make new idols to turn to for help (41v5-7). Yet here, God encourages Israel himself, telling her she need not fear, as she is his chosen servant, descended from his friend Abraham. He therefore promises to strengthen and uphold Israel in the face of this threat. His “righteous right hand” probably refers to the fact that this reflects his commitment to do right by his promises to both Abraham and Israel (41v8-10). So God states that all who rage against Israel will be ashamed by defeat and destruction, and reiterates his promise to help the small nation of Israel because he is her redeemer – presumably, referring to the relationship he entered into with her through the Exodus (41v11-14). What specifically God will do, is make Israel like the sledge used to separate wheat from the chaff, but with focus on them reducing the hills to nothing. As in 40v4 this probably refers to him enabling the people to return home across the mountains from their exile in Babylon with ease – as they did after Cyrus’ decree that they could. And so they would rejoice in the LORD (41v15-16). All this reflects our ultimate protection because of God’s commitments to us in Christ: Nothing can separate us from his love, and he will bring us to the glory to come with equal ease.
           41v17-20 may look to the final state when the new creation will thrive. But more likely, it is figuratively describing how God will not forsake his people, but enable those in exile who thirst in their need of better life to then thrive, causing others to recognise that this miraculous transformation was from God. Here, again, God calls the nations’ idols to give evidence that they are actually gods and so can predict the future from past events, or do anything at all so that they should be feared. It’s a challenge to Isaiah’s hearers not to put their trust in idols as they face the rising threat of Persia (as in 41v7), for they are not only worthless, but less than nothing in the sense that they actually lead astray. Those choosing them are “detestable” because they give false gods the honour and trust that God alone is due. We should view the self-conceived gods of our day in this way too.
            Here Cyrus’ attack of Babylon from the north is predicted. He calls on God’s name probably only in the sense that he acknowledges Israel’s God as he would have those of the other peoples he conquered (see Ez 1v2-4). And the point of the prediction would be that when the events happen it would be recognized that no-one else but God foretold it. Indeed, he challenges the idols to say which of them predicted it, stating that none can answer, so proving that they and their images are nothing (41v25-29). We should see the fact that all these things came to pass as proof that Israel’s God is the one true God too.
            So far Cyrus and Israel have been described as servants (41v2, 8). 42v1 introduces a third. Like the second he is chosen, and like the first, he executes justice. But he is different: He will receive strength from God, be delighted in by him, and act justly with respect to all nations in the power of his Spirit. He will not do this in a way that oppresses the weak, and he will continue until justice fills the entire earth will all peoples hoping in his law, ie. trusting it to provide the order and wellbeing law should bring (42v1-4). The descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism presents him as this servant. And with great solemnity, God declares that he is the creator and states that in his righteous commitment to his promises, he has called this servant to embody a new covenant agreement between him and his people, and to be a light for Gentiles, which probably implies his teaching (as 42v4) flowing from Israel to the nations, enabling them to escape the darkness of evil and ignorance. This suggests 42v7 is primarily figurative, as Jesus himself taught (Jn 9v39).
            In the light of all this, God affirms that he alone is the LORD and will not give his glory to others by having people praise idols. The point seems to be that as people see his reality proved by his former predictions about Cyrus coming to pass, they should turn to him from idols in readiness for these “new things” he is predicting about the coming servant (42v8-9). So the islands of the world (ie. distant places across the sea) are called to sing a new song to God, as are closer lands (eg. Kedar, that borders Israel). In particular they are to glorify God for marching in judgement against his enemies (42v8-13). Here God speaks personally of how he has held this judgement back in silence, but now he will cry out like a woman in childbirth, suggesting his judgement will lead to the birth of a new order. So he will destroy the earth, implying those in it, whilst also guiding the spiritually blind out of their darkness into a place of stability, described as smooth ground they can’t stumble on. The key mark of those who will not experience this salvation, is that they trust in idols not the LORD (42v15-17).
            Now a blind and deaf servant is described (42v18-19). Whereas the previous servant brought light, this one is in darkness like the Gentiles (see 42v6-7), and in what follows, is clearly Israel (as 41v8). The people have seen God’s acts (in Judah’s exile), but don’t see or hear their significance. For the sake of his righteousness being witnessed by the nations in Israel’s adherence to the law, he made their law great and glorious (as Deut 4v6-8). But instead of displaying its goodness, they disobeyed, provoking God’s judgement, and leaving them plundered and imprisoned by Babylon. And so God asks who from Israel will listen to Isaiah, acknowledging that it was the LORD who brought this about in his burning anger (42v20-25). Today many still baulk at the idea that God was behind these events. But he wants to stress he was, so that we prepare for the judgement to come by coming under the rule of his Spirit-anointed servant, Jesus Christ. 
                       
Praying it home:       
Praise God that in Christ he brings light into our darkness. Pray that many would turn from idols to the light of Christ.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(283) October 10: Isaiah 43-44 & Colossians 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider how God proves he is the true God.

To ponder:
“But now” (43v1) contrasts the judgement Israel would suffer in exile (42v24-25) with God’s mercy he would then give: As the one who created them, he declares they need no longer fear as he has redeemed and summoned them. This probably refers to Israel’s “birth” in the Exodus. The point is that because God brought Israel into being as his chosen people, they have hope. So he promises they will survive flood and fire, as he is their God (43v1-2). In speaking of nations being paid as a ransom for them, he probably means that the conquering of these nations is somehow required for Cyrus to gain the power necessary to send the Jews home from Babylon. Whatever the case, the point is that Israel are so precious to the LORD that he is prepared to have men die in the reconfiguring of the Middle East that would be necessary for their return (43v3-4). We should remember, he would even give his own Son for our redemption.
            God then promises to bring Israelites home from the four corners of the earth, noting they were called by his name, and so belong to him, and created for his glory, and so to bring honour to him (43v5-7). He calls the nations to lead out the blind and deaf, which are the Israelites who have not understood what God has been doing (43v8). With the nations gathered, probably for judgement, he also asks them to bring witnesses to prove who (presumably of their gods) predicted these things. The assumption is that they can’t. By contrast the LORD declares Israel to be his servant and witnesses, who can now know and believe that he is the true God, because he revealed, saved and proclaimed the return from exile, which they have witnessed when looking back on this prophecy. And for us too, this is a key reason we can know he is the only God, whose supremacy is seen in the fact that no-one can be delivered by another from his judgements, and his actions cannot be reversed (43v9-13).
            God therefore says he will cause the Babylonians to become captives, with repeated stress of his special relationship with Israel: He is “the LORD” (YAHWEH, his personal covenant name), Israel’s creator and King, and so will act for their sake (43v14-15). Here he recalls his destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, but instructs Israel not to dwell on it because he is now doing a new thing, equivalent to causing streams to appear in the desert, he is going to refresh his people in the metaphorical desert of their captivity, so that they praise him (43v16-21). Yet this will be an act of grace as Israel have not called on him for deliverance, and whereas God had not burdened them with an excessive demand for offerings and incense, they have burdened him with their sins, and so not really brought him sacrifices in the manner he intended at all, because they weren’t offered in a way that honoured him (43v22-24). Nevertheless, he is the one who totally forgives Israel’s sins “for his name’s sake” – ie. so that he would be glorified in delivering and restoring them. But, in case some would suggest this proves they are actually innocent, he calls them to debate with him, reviewing their past which shows they were sinful since the time of Abraham or Jacob. And this is why they must first suffer by going into exile, with the disgrace to their priests and destruction of the people it will bring (43v25-28). Our redemption in Christ is not because we are any better than others, but simply because in grace God has chosen to set his love upon us and forgive us.
            Again, for these same reasons, God tenderly reminds Jacob as his servant that he need not fear, as God will bring about a spiritual renewal equivalent to the streams in the desert, so their descendents will not continue in such sin, but flourish in righteousness, considering it an honour to belong to the LORD, and by implication be eager to serve him (44v1-5). And again, here God declares that he is the only God, calling others to say if they know of any like him who has done equivalent past acts or foretells what is to come (44v6-7). We must remember that Isaiah’s words were spoken over a century before the exile. So through them, God can tell the exiles not to fear as he proclaimed their exile long ago, which means they are witnesses to the fact that as the one who can predict the future he is the true God, and so is their rock, who will act for their good (44v8).
            Perhaps because of the temptation they might have faced to turn to Babylonian idols, God then reiterates that those who make idols are nothing, and those who commend them are blind, and they will all be brought down, presumably by Babylon’s destruction (44v9-11). That there is nothing special in those who craft idols or the materials they use is then stressed in a way that mocks the irrationality of worshipping or relying on such things. The point is that idols are made of wood just as fires are, and so are a lie, not being able to know or see anything (44v12-20). It is equally ludicrous to worship gods crafted out of our own ideas or preferences.
            And so, God again calls Israel as his servant to remember these things, and so be sure he hasn’t forgotten them when they are in exile. Declaring he has swept away their offences he calls them to return to him as he has redeemed them, presumably by having already acted in such a way that will enable them to walk free. And all heaven and earth are called to sing in praise because of this, as God displays his excellence in it (44v21-23). How much more for our full redemption in Christ. God then declares that he is the creator of all, who foils false prophets by not fulfilling what they say will pass, whilst carrying out the words of his true prophets (servants), who declare that Jerusalem will again be inhabited and Judah rebuilt in an act equivalent to the Exodus when God declared the Red Sea would become dry; and who declare that Cyrus will be like God’s shepherd in leading the people back to this pasture by decreeing not only that the city will be rebuilt, but the temple be relaid (44v24-28).
These prophecies really are an astonishing display of God’s kindness to his people in preparing so long in advance to keep their eyes fixed on him. The same sentiment is found in Jesus warning his disciples that he would leave them, and in the New Testament predictions of the difficulties Christians will undergo. They also keep us from thinking God has abandoned us, and look us forward to the day we inhabit the heavenly Jerusalem.
           
Praying it home:       
Praise God that we can be so sure he is the true God because all these things came to pass. Pray that we would be comforted in the knowledge that he has not forgotten us, but will fulfil his gospel purposes.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(284) October 11: Isaiah 45-47 & Colossians 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note how God deals with those who might question the justice of what he is doing.

To ponder:
The LORD now addresses Cyrus, the future King of the Persian Empire. He calls him “anointed,” implying he bears an authority from God – here, in God using him to subdue nations. Indeed, God promises to pave the way for him and grant him riches in plunder, all so that Cyrus himself “knows” he is summoned by the God of Israel, even if not truly converted (45v1-3, see Ez 1v2-4). We’re told God’s summoning of this most powerful king is all for the sake of Israel, who he had chosen. Moreover, it is so that in witnessing the LORD ensure the return of the Jews, men throughout the world might “know” that he alone is God, and that he brings both prosperity and disaster (45v4-7). So God has a missionary purpose too. No doubt, many in the lands around Israel were astounded to see the Jews return and may have heard the prophecies that they would. Moreover, through Christ, God is glorified not just for these acts, but for rescuing people from all oppression by granting them eternal life through the death and resurrection of Christ.
            45v8 affirms that although God’s action will entail much disaster and destruction, it is right and just, and will result in salvation and a harvest of righteousness too, no doubt in the faithful Israelites who would return. So God challenges those who would argue that what he is doing is wrong. He likens them to a mere broken piece of pottery (potsherd), highlighting the presumption of the clay questioning what the potter does with it, when it is the potter’s right to do as he pleases. Here the question “he has no hands” may be to suggest that the potter shouldn’t use his hands to shape the clay. Yet he declares a “woe” over those who query what he conceives (45v9-10), responds simply that he is the creator. The point is that we have no right to question what he does. So in his righteousness, God will raise up Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem and free the exiles, and without reward – no doubt stressing that he should do this simply because his creator requires it of him (45v11-13). There is much God continues to do that tests our faith, and to which we must submit, trusting that all he does is righteous and wise.
            45v14 may refer to the nations submitting to Israel (through Christ), but more probably to Cyrus, meaning that although he doesn’t act for reward, he will gain from what he does. Key, however, is the nations’ acknowledgement of God. He is the one who felt hidden to them, but who they now see acting, shaming all idols in showing their impotence, and working an everlasting salvation for Israel. This obviously looks to how the return leads to the birth of Christ, and the ultimate salvation from all hardships that is found in him (45v15-17). This is confirmed when God then declares that he intends the earth to be inhabited, and so for a remnant of humanity to be saved; and that he can be found by people as he hasn’t spoken in secret. He therefore calls escapees from all nations to assemble, challenging those who look to idols to acknowledge it was he who foretold these things, recognise that he is a righteous Saviour, and so turn to him and be saved. At this point God promises that every knee will eventually bow to him, even those who have raged against him, acknowledging he has acted righteously and in strength. Moreover, those from Israel will be found righteous and so faithful, and praise him. Of course, we see all this fulfilled as the nations assemble in the church and look to the day when every knee will bow to Christ (Phil 2v5-11).
            46v1-2 pictures two of Babylon’s gods that are carried in a festival, carried into captivity as burdens. It’s a vivid way of stressing their impotence. And so God declares again to Israel’s survivors that as the one who conceived and carried them like a child, he will sustain and rescue them from their exile, and that he is incomparable as the one true God, whereas idols cannot answer prayers or save (46v5-7). He urges them in their rebelliousness to remember what he has done and what he predicted he would do, and so know that he alone is God and there is no other. He does what he pleases, even summoning Cyrus like a bird of prey to bring his righteousness close as he acts in faithfulness to save them from their captivity (46v8-13).
            Chapter 47 is against Babylon, picturing her like a tender and delicate royal virgin, who is humiliated in having to sit in the dust, do manual work and suffer the indignity of exposing her skin like a slave. The point is simply that in vengeance for the merciless way Babylon treated Israel, despite God giving Israel into her hand in anger at their sin, he will send Babylon into darkness (47v1-7). God may use the evil acts of men in judgement of others, but it doesn’t excuse their acts, for which he will hold them account.
In arrogance, Babylon thought herself like God, assuming she would continue forever as an eternal queen and thinking none were like her. Yet her sense of security was false. In one day she will loose her children (people) and become a widow (probably referring to the destruction of the gods she was married to, as 46v1). And the magic for which she was famed will not be able to prevent this. She trusted in her wickedness, assuming no-one (ie. God) saw. Yet her wisdom misled her, as there is someone beside her and greater than her – the LORD. A sudden disaster she cannot ward off will therefore befall her (47v8-11). Yet God mockingly urges her to continue her sorcery in causing terror, and bring out her astrologers to predict the future, challenging them to save her. Of course he declares they can’t as are in error. Indeed, they’ll be burnt up in the coming catastrophe too (47v12-14). This section reflects the arrogance of humanity in general, in assuming they will continue without ever being judged for their sins. It also notes that we can do nothing to escape justice for our sins – except, of course, embrace the Lord Jesus.
           
Praying it home:
Praise God for drawing close in righteousness in the person of Jesus, to work salvation for us. Pray that you and others would be mindful that we are not secure, and so turn from idols to trust him along for salvation.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(285) October 12: Isaiah 48-49 & Colossians 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what God is going to do for his people and how.

To ponder:
God calls Judah to listen to him, charging them with taking oaths and invoking his name to help, but not in truth or righteousness  - presumably meaning without sincerity nor according to God’s law. So the LORD reminds them that the one whose city they are citizens of and who they rely on, is Almighty. And he repeatedly brought to pass what he first foretold because he knew how stubborn and reluctant to bow they were, and wanted to keep them from saying idols had done what he had actually done. Indeed, he calls them to admit this, and states he is going to tell them knew things that they don’t know too - again, so it is very obvious these things come about by God’s hand, and no-one can say they were already aware of them (48v1-7). As we have seen, this predicting of what is then fulfilled is a key proof of God’s reality.
            Once more, he states his people’s reluctance to listen to him, and their rebelliousness, explaining that the only reason they have not been cut off is because he has delayed his wrath so that he would be praised. He then stresses he has refined them into a degree of purity through the fire of affliction (ie. the exile). This suggests the praise coming to him is either from them after having been purified so that they appreciate him, or from others in seeing him do that work of purification. Perhaps it is both (48v8-11). The LORD is worthy of praise in how he uses hardship to deepen holiness in us too; not least, because it displays such patience and grace towards our sin.
            Once more, God affirms he is the first and last, the creator, calling Jacob (ie. the people of Israel) to listen. He asks which idol foretold Cyrus acting as God’s ally against Babylon, and promises he will succeed, noting that he did not announce this event in secret, so the people really can know it was his doing. He also says he will be there when it all happens. Presumably this is to stress he is the one bringing it to pass (48v14-15).      
Isaiah continues with a reminder of God’s personal relationship with Israel, which means that he teaches what is best for them. If only they had obeyed, they would have known continual peace (like a river) and abundant righteousness (like the sea), and their descendents would have been innumerable (as promised to Abraham), never being cut off and destroyed as they had now been in the exile (48v17-19). It’s a powerful reminder that one reason we obey God is because he knows what is best for us as his people, yet also because, if it displays genuine faith, it will result in the fulfilment of these things in glory.
            Yet having noted Israel’s failure, God now calls them to joyfully proclaim to the ends of the earth his call to flee Babylon, for he has redeemed them in the sense that he has commissioned Cyrus to free them. So he is caring for them just as he did when he miraculously gave them water from the rock. But he warns them too: There will be no peace for the wicked. He wants them to have learnt their lesson and so be repentant (48v20-22). How foolish to cry to God in distress, and then, if he delivers us, carry on in sin.
            Having commanded Jacob to “listen” the nations are now (49v1, see 48v1). What follows is a description of God calling a prophet before he was born, making his mouth like a sword in the sense that his words would have power to judge, and hiding him until the time was right to reveal him. The prophet then says that God declared he was his servant, naming him “Israel” and saying God’s splendour would be displayed in him somehow. The strange thing is that the prophet then says that he laboured for nothing, probably because those he spoke to wouldn’t listen, but was content to do so because his reward was with God. This is hard to relate to Israel. Moreover, God then says this servant was formed in the womb to bring Jacob back to God. So he is called Israel but cannot be Israel. He therefore seems to be someone who represents Israel, or who does what Israel should have done. So he can say he is “honoured” and strengthened by the LORD, and is being commissioned to be a light to the nations, as Israel should have been, bringing God’s salvation to the whole earth (49v1-6). From what we have heard elsewhere in the book, this means this servant is the Messianic king (see 42v6, 9v2-7). He is one who will be despised by Israel, who will serve rulers (no doubt by bringing them salvation), yet also be honoured by them - all because he has been chosen by Israel’s God (49v7). This reminds us why we should listen to and honour Christ.
            In the light of the servant’s cry at being rejected (49v4, 7) God declares that in the day of his grace and salvation he will help him, making him a covenant agreement with his people to restore the land and free captives. And in that day God will ensure his people will have all they need, guiding and enabling them to return without hindrance from all directions (49v8-12, Aswan marked the southern limit of the civilized world). So this return is not that from Babylon. It is that begun at Pentecost, in which, having been rejected, those from all nations started coming to Christ, in whom they are freed from the troubles of this world and brought into the abundance of the new creation. And this act of comfort and compassion from God is a reason for heaven and earth to rejoice (49v13).
At this point Zion (Jerusalem) says she has been forgotten. In response, God declares he can no more forget Zion than a mother the baby she bore. Indeed, it’s as if her name is engraved on his palms and her walls always before his eyes. This is how present to God’s mind we are as the new Jerusalem. God therefore declares that Jerusalem’s sons will return whilst those who destroyed her will depart, and she will somehow be beautified by them like jewellery, perhaps because they will then be righteous (49v13-18). Indeed, they will be so many she won’t be able to accommodate these children born during her bereavement (ie. born in exile, 49v19-21).
And how will these sons will return? As the sovereign LORD who governs all things, God will call the Gentile nations to bring them home, so that they are cared for by foreign kings and queens, who will bow before Zion, presumably in recognition of Zion’s God. And this astonishing feat will prove that the LORD is God and hope in him is well founded. This picture clearly moves beyond the return from Babylonian exile, showing it is a paradigm for the ultimate coming of people to Christ, in which kings and queens have played this part by promoting the gospel, and bowing before the church.
            The chapter ends affirming God is able to do this, bringing judgement on Israel’s oppressors and so saving his people from them – and all so humanity will know that the LORD is Israel’s Saviour, Redeemer and Mighty One. This was proved when Babylon fell; and it will be proved at the final judgement too.

Praying it home:
Praise God for how he governs even the most powerful to ensure those he is saving come to Christ. Pray that the government in our country would be willing to promote the gospel and bow in recognition of the church.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(286) October 13: Isaiah 50-52 & 1 Thessalonians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider the ways God comforts his people.

To ponder:
God describes Judah’s experience as like divorce or the paying of creditors. The sense is that she has been sent away because of her unfaithfulness to God and his demand for justice. And he couldn’t be blamed for this. He could dry up the Red Sea and clothe the sky with darkness, so he was quite able to save her; but she didn’t answer his call – perhaps the prophets’ call to repent (50v1-3). Here Isaiah speaks as God’s servant: God’s sovereignty as the ruler of the nations is stressed. And it is he who Isaiah says instructs him as servant every morning with a word to sustain the weary, no doubt by proclaiming the glorious future God will bring about. The servant’s obedience is also emphasized, despite it meaning he was mocked and beaten – an obedience he can sustain with face like flint because God helps him, and in whom he knows he will be vindicated for what he proclaims. Indeed, in the light of this, the servant asks who will condemn him (50v4-9). And so Isaiah’s servant looks not only to Christ’s work and suffering, but that of God’s people who follow him (see especially Rom 8v33-39).
The oracle continues asking who will fear God and obey the servant’s message, urging those in the darkness of ignorance and evil to walk in the light and trust God – ie. to understand the servant’s message and live righteously through faith (50v10). 50v11 may be literal, referring to those attacking with torches, or metaphorical, referring to those seeking their own “light” – ie. their own knowledge and morality. Either way, they will experience torment under God’s judgement. This chapter therefore urges us not to blame God for the trials of life under the curse of Eden, but instead to fear and trust him, obeying his call through Christ and the church to repent.
            What follows is a promise to the righteous that just as God brought many from the one Abraham, so in compassion he will restore Zion to an Eden-like state, filled with joy (51v1-3). The people are referred to as God’s people and nation, and the sense is that as they live by God’s law, God’s justice will be seen as “light” by the nations as his salvation draws near in fulfilment of his righteous commitment to his promises. Judgement will follow, the creation will disappear, but this salvation will endure forever (51v4-6). This is the framework of the days spanning Christ’s return. But what is striking is the expectation that believers will be so godly as to attract those from all nations to their light. These people are said to have God’s law in their hearts (see Heb 8v10) and urged not to fear persecutors as they will be destroyed, whereas they as believers will experience everlasting salvation (51v7-8). There is much encouragement here.
            At this point God is called to awake and act as he did in the exodus, when he slayed Rahab (a monster that depicts Egypt), and brought the redeemed through the Red Sea. So, it is declared, the ransomed will return from exile and enter Jerusalem with everlasting joy that crowns them (perhaps as victorious in God), and with suffering fleeing away. The exalted language suggests that what is in mind is the ultimate salvation those of faith who return from exile would experience (51v9-11).
            Here God returns to the faithful fearing the “wrath of the oppressor.” He declares this unnecessary as he is the one comforting them and whereas men are transient like grass, he is the almighty creator. He therefore promises the prisoners will soon be freed and provided for (51v12-15). Moreover, turning to his servant, he declares that he has not only given him his words, but as creator, he protects him too. The sense is that what God does for his servant he will do for Zion, who he says are his people (51v16). We can be confident too, that he will protect us from the powers of evil, granting us freedom and all spiritual provision until bringing us to the heavenly Zion.
            Jerusalem is now the one called to “awake.” The LORD states how she drunk of his wrath in her various calamities with none to guide or comfort her because they shared in her punishment. But now he promises to take the cup from her hand and give it to those who walked over her (51v17-23). Moreover, he calls her (Zion) to awake and clothe herself with strength from God (to trust him to deliver), and with splendour (probably, that of being pure and holy). The reference that none who are uncircumcised or defiled will enter her again is shorthand for those who are not true worshippers. It’s a promise that was not fulfilled after the return, and so looks to the new Jerusalem that comprises only the faithful. But here Zion (the people of God) is vividly urged to shake off the dust of her humiliation in exile, and rise to sit enthroned, free from her chains (52v1-2). This is our destiny through our literal resurrection in Christ, as we come to reign with him in all godliness.
            God promises that whereas Israel chose to journey to Egypt and were oppressed by Assyria, her current trials are more directly God’s doing. Indeed, he readily gave them up without even requiring money. But because of that, he also needs none to redeem her (52v3-4). The point is that it is easy for him. Yet as he looks on his people, he finds their leaders mocking (52v5, or wailing, footnote). 52v6 suggests the references to God’s name being blasphemed refer to Judah’s ungodliness and unbelief (or how their exile makes God look unable to defend them): God will act in fulfilment of his word through Isaiah in such a way that his people will know his name, ie. his power, authority and his faithfulness to his promises. And it is his action through Christ that reveals this most fully.
            52v7-10 celebrates this: The feet of those crossing the mountains to Zion with news of God returning to the city are described as beautiful. Their message is of him bringing salvation, grounded in the fact that it is he who reigns over all, and who is therefore more than able to rescue the people from their exile. So the people of Zion hear the watchmen who guard the walls shout for joy, no doubt as the messenger shouts up with the news, and as they then eagerly look for the LORD who is bringing the people back. The very ruins of the city are then exhorted to burst into song for this great act of salvation which will be witnessed throughout the known world of the day. At this point the Jews in Babylon are called to depart. But something has made them clean and holy, so that they musn’t touch anything unclean, and so they can all be portrayed as fulfilling the levitical role of carrying the vessels for the sanctuary within the temple. The point is that they are now all purified, and returning without the fear of haste or flight, but with God guarding them and leading them home (52v11). Paul applies the message of salvation to that preached in the gospel (Rom 10v15). This speaks of redemption from the exile from Eden and the slavery of sin. And by it, God purifies his people, dwells amongst them by his Holy Spirit, and brings them to the heavenly city.

Praying it home:
Praise God that he himself leads us to our heavenly Zion. Pray that we would not fear this world, confident in him.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(287) October 14: Isaiah 53-55 & 1 Thessalonians 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider the different things achieved by the servant.

To ponder:
We’re starting at 52v13 where we see “the servant” idea developed beyond a reference to Israel or Isaiah. Its past tense emphasizes its certain fulfilment, and perhaps that what follows was seen by Isaiah in a vision: The servant will act wisely, and be highly exalted - language that refers to the LORD himself (see 6v1)! What follows explains that he will be so honoured because of his willingness to suffer in order that God’s people might be saved.
First we learn that the world and its rulers will be shocked and silenced to witness this suffering, but on seeing it “understand” (ie. grasp) why it was necessary (52v14-15). Paul applies this to the preaching of the gospel (Rom 15v20-21). The reason that only then will people understand is because Isaiah’s message won’t have been previously believed, nor God’s way of salvation fully revealed (53v1). In context this may mean that until Christ God wouldn’t enable people to understand what Isaiah is now declaring.
Describing the servant as a “root” implies he is David’s descendent who would bear fruit in a way the vine of Israel hadn’t (see 11v1). Yet, it is noted that there was nothing in his appearance to attract people to him (unlike the handsome Saul). Rather he was despised and rejected. But in this, he somehow carried the people’s sickness and sorrow to the point that they presumed he must have been struck by God (53v1-4). As the sorrow in mind in Isaiah is that of the exile, this implies he bore the people’s sin and its punishment. This is then declared explicitly (53v5-7): As a substitute, this Davidic servant took the servant Israel’s place, bearing her waywardness and its penalty so she could be “healed” - presumably of the sickness of sin. And he was not coerced, but did this willingly, identifying with an animal sacrifice. Yet it was at the hands of human injustice that he was put to death for his people’s sins. And despite his innocence, he was buried with the wicked and rich (which probably implies they were oppressive). In every sense then, the servant received the fate that would be right for the sinner. What follows explains why: God was crushing him – making his life a guilt offering for Israel’s sins. And because of this, moving to the future tense, we are told God will raise him from death too, so that he sees his offspring, prospers, and is satisfied at what his sufferings have achieved. As we’ve heard he had no descendents (53v8), “offspring” here must refer to those who receive life through his death. And it is his knowledge of this that will bring him satisfaction (53v10-11). By bearing their sin, the servant will justify them - ie. God will count them as if they had lived a fully righteous life (see also Rom 3v21-26). 53v12 may refer to the servant being given those he justified as his portion and the strong who opposed him as his spoils. But it could refer to him receiving great honour and the new creation as his inheritance, which he then shares with those who are made strong by him. Whatever the case, it is because of his willingness to suffer so acutely in order to deal with Israel’s sin that the servant will be exalted (as 52v13). Obviously this can’t be read without seeing it as an astonishing accurate prediction of the death, resurrection and work of Christ (see Phil 2v5-11).
What follows is an outline of what will result (54v1-10): Zion is pictured as a barren woman without children, who can now sing because as one currently without the LORD as her husband, she will end up with far more children than cities that have their gods. Indeed, her descendents will settle in others’ cities, which probably refers to the faithful inheriting the earth. So Zion need not be afraid or disgraced, as she will forget the shame of her exile when she was without the LORD. He is still her husband and he will call her back. Having abandoned her in anger, he will have compassion on her, and swear, as he did with Noah, never to abandon her again, but in unfailing love keep his covenant of peace with her forever. The return from exile and the coming to Christ in faith is being compacted here. The promise is that the true people of God, who are those justified in Christ, will never be abandoned as they were in the exile. Rather, God promises Jerusalem will be built with jewels, picturing its Eden-like glory and preciousness (54v11-12, see Rev 21-22). It’s sons will be taught by God himself (54v13) so they truly know him – a work Jesus described as the inner work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 6v45, 63). They will enjoy peace, righteousness and security in the knowledge that God will not bring anyone against them again in judgement, and if people do attack them, they will surrender (54v14-15). What follows suggests this idea of being attacked is a metaphorical way of describing the believer’s ultimate security in Christ, and the fact that because justified, none can condemn them (54v16-17, see Rom 8v32-39). This is the inheritance that Israel should receive by embracing Jesus, and by which they are vindicated as the LORD’s.
Chapter 55 calls people to the LORD so they will share in all this. The life he offers is described as water, food, celebratory wine, and nourishing milk. It will satisfy and bring delight. And, astonishingly, it is free. All that is necessary is to hear Isaiah’s message and come (55v1-3). And God gives encouragement. Whereas the people broke the Mosaic covenant, God promises an everlasting one on the basis of his promise that one of David’s descendents would always rule. And it is this descendent (ie. Christ) who God has made as witness (of God’s truth) and leader of all the peoples of the world. He will therefore summon nations who don’t know him, and they will come because God has endowed him with splendour, presumably the excellence of who he is (55v3-5, see 2 Cor 4v6). 55v6-7 are probably therefore intended to call the world to turn from wickedness and seek God. This is to seek his presence in one’s life specifically by calling for mercy. And those who do are promised free pardon, explaining how the life God gives can also be free.
Such repentance is to embrace God’s ways and thoughts rather than one’s own. And they are as distinct from those of sinners, as heaven is to earth (55v8-9). But, in case those called feel they are unattainable, what follows affirms that help comes from heaven to enable them to embrace them. So just as rain comes from heaven bringing a crop, so God’s word will achieve his purposes in bringing spiritual life by moving people to seek the LORD, and also, no doubt, in teaching them his thoughts and ways. This suggests the going out “in joy” (55v12-13) is not primarily about leaving Babylon, but coming in peace to God. It is of such significance that the very creation celebrates it. And what it leads to is a godliness of life, symbolised by the absence of thorns and briers (which stemmed from the fall, Gen 3v18), and the growth of pine and myrtle. Moreover, this renewed people, comprising Jews and Gentiles, will be an everlasting sign that brings honour to God.

Praying it home:
Praise God for giving his own Son to suffer such horrors so we could be saved. Pray that throughout the world, God’s word would fulfil its purpose in bringing people to Christ and to the life he gives.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(288) October 15: Isaiah 56-58 & 1 Thessalonians 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider the life God calls his people to.

To ponder:
We’ve learnt God’s salvation is received by repenting of sin. The LORD now outlines what that entails. Because salvation and its blessing is imminent, the people are to maintain justice, do what’s right, and keep the Sabbath, which was the key symbol of obedient faith in God. But what is new, is the promise that those previously excluded from the assembly of true worshippers can now be fully included. So if they display the same obedient faith and love for God, eunuchs, whose name could not be continued through descendents, will be given an everlasting name within the temple that they were previously forbidden from entering. In other words, they will forever exist there, implying the temple is shorthand for the heavenly city (Rev 21v22-23). Moreover, foreigners (who with eunuchs were uncircumcised) will rejoice at this temple, and have their sacrifices accepted (56v1-7). This all looks forward to the gathering of the nations with Israel (56v8) in Christ, but using concepts those in Isaiah’s day would have understood. The point is not that Christians must keep the Mosaic Sabbath or offer sacrifices, it is that they will display the response to God these things symbolised.
            At this point God moves from urging repentance to confronting sinners: Israel’s “watchmen” are described as “shepherds” meaning Isaiah is referring to the Jewish religious leaders who should lead and care for the people. They lack knowledge, dream, seek their own gain, and get drunk. So they are unable to ward of the beasts God is calling (ie. Babylon and her allies) as dogs should do in guarding sheep (56v9-12). They should understand the significance of contemporary events and call the people to repentance so they are saved from the coming conquest. But instead, although they witness God causing the righteous to die to save them from the coming evil, they don’t ponder what it means (57v1-2). And so God calls them to account (57v3-10). They show they’re descended from sorceresses, perhaps because they are engaging in the occult, and adulterers and prostitutes, because they are embracing false gods. So we read they mock God, whilst engaging sexually in the fertility worship of the surrounding religion, in pagan child sacrifice, and in idol worship (“high and lofty hill” refers to the high places idol worship was conducted). Moreover, instead of putting the law on their doorposts (Deut 6v9, 11v20) they put pagan symbols. And the note of them climbing into bed with lovers, probably refers to embracing the false Canaanite gods, whilst implying the sexual immorality that accompanied that. So the leaders are pictured like men who oil and perfume themselves as they go out to look for lovers; but here they are seeking out other gods to give themselves to - even considering the gods of the underworld. And although they exhaust themselves in their quest, and feel it hopeless as these gods fail to give the life and satisfaction they crave, they just renew their strength and carry on.
This all shows how far a nation can fall from faithfulness to God. But the point of the section is the utter unfaithfulness of those who should have been leading the people towards righteousness, and how fitting God’s judgement therefore is (57v6). Indeed, he asks who (ie. which god) the leaders were afraid of that they would do this, noting that they should have feared him, but did not because he had not spoken through prophecy for some time (57v11). He will therefore expose what they assume is righteous, but is actually false worship, and show it will not benefit them. And he will do this by bringing a judgement that will cause them to cry to their idols for help, only to find them unable to response and actually be carried off. Yet the LORD reassures too: Those who look to him for refuge will eventually inherit the land (57v11-13).
            With this in mind, people will be told at this time to remove obstacles, no doubt so the people could return from exile to the land, which signifies returning to the LORD. But it is God who is behind this work, as the one who revives the humble and repentant. Indeed, he promises that he won’t accuse and be angry forever out of concern that the spirits of men would faint (ie. be forever in fear). So, although his people keep on in their evil even after being punished, God promises to heal them (from their sin and its consequences), guide them (teach them his ways) and comfort them (with the salvation he gives). This will be evident in the fact that some end up mourning – presumably over Israel’s sin and its results in the exile. And it is they who will rejoice, and experience peace and healing. It could be this passage that leads Jesus to declare “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5v4). But the wicked who, like the sea, never cease their wickedness, will not experience peace (57v14-21).
In the light of this, Isaiah is urged to proclaim to the people how they have rebelled. They act as if righteous, in seeking God’s justice and being eager for his presence, wondering why he has not responded when they fast and pray. Yet as they fast, they oppress workers, quarrel and fight. So they can’t expect God to hear them, as if all he wants is for people to humble themselves with sackcloth for a day. Rather, the “fast” he has chosen is that which seeks do act justly, free the oppressed, care for the needy and for one’s relatives (58v1-6). If this is done, God promises their “light” (reflection of God’s glory) will break forth – presumably getting rid of the darkness in their souls and being seen by others. This is probably what is meant by their healing appearing too. It will become evident that God has healed them from their sin and the pain of its consequences. So like Israel leaving Egypt, God will be infront and behind them – infront, in the sense that by making them righteous they will experience his inner guidance as to what is right; and behind as his glory or excellence ensures their safety. And it is then, because they display an obedient faith, that the LORD will hear their cries for help, strengthening them, enabling them to flourish spiritually, and ultimately restore Jerusalem – whether literally, or metaphorically in the sense of being restored together as the people of God (58v7-12). This all applies equally to Christians. We cannot expect God to answer our prayers unless we seek to obey him with sincerity (Jam 4v1-10).
The chapter ends with a solemn promise that if the people delight in the Sabbath because keeping it pleases God; and if in doing so, they don’t do their own thing but remember the LORD, then they will rejoice in him, and in some sense reign with him and enjoy the best of the land (58v13-14). Again, this is stressed because Sabbath keeping sums up a right attitude to God, in putting aside one’s desires to take joy in pleasing him. And it is this denial of self, that eventually receives all things (see Mk 8v34-38).

Praying it home:
Praise God for his readiness to do what we can’t do ourselves, in transforming us into righteousness. Pray that he would ensure that you delight in obeying him from the heart.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(289) October 16: Isaiah 59-61 & 1 Thessalonians 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what God promises those who repent of their sin.

To ponder:
We begin acknowledging how able God is to hear our call and save us (59v1). The only conceivable hindrance is our sin. Israel’s had separated them from him so he would not hear them. This is outlined vividly as violence, lying, injustice, conceiving deeds that harm others, rushing into wickedness, bringing ruin and destruction, and never knowing peace (59v2-8). Because of this God had not executed his justice against Israel’s enemies, nor displayed his righteous commitment to his promises in coming to their aid. The people therefore look for light (ie. hope) but everything is dark (hopeless). Indeed, they are spiritually blind: Lacking knowledge of God, they are unable to find their own way out of their predicament (59v9-11). This is because of the degree of their sin and rebellion, which means that they themselves don’t display the sort of justice or righteousness they long for God to display. These virtues are pictured unable to enter the city with God’s truth stumbling in its streets and honesty absent, meaning that those who avoid evil are the one’s preyed on (59v12-15). We see this in every unbelieving culture.
            Yet as the LORD looked on, he was displeased, but also appalled that there was no-one to intervene and help. This is the tension as he looks on sin and the penalty it deserves. And it moves him to work salvation himself. 59v17 pictures the LORD dressed in his own godly character to do battle for Israel. Paul urges us to put on these same things as “God’s armour” when we battle our spiritual enemies (Eph 6v10-20). The point is that only God can give the victory. Isaiah therefore promises he will act in wrath against his people’s enemies in proportion to their deeds, and this will cause people across the world to fear and revere him in his glory. Indeed, against these enemies, he will “come” like a rushing and destructive flood driven by a roaring wind. But he will also “come” to Zion with redemption for those who repent (59v18-20). And to this repentant people and their descendents (presumably, raised to share their repentance) he promises a covenant through which they will have his Spirit rest on them, and be enabled to speak his word. Strikingly, these are the marks of the Messiah (61v1-2). The inference is that they are received through allegiance to him. And this looks to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and his equipping the church to speak of Christ (Acts 2).
            At this point a glorious picture of God’s repentant people is painted. They are told to arise from their darkness and despair, because the light of hope they longed for has come in the form of God’s glory - ie. God himself (see 59v20), like the rising of the sun that heralds a new dawn. In a world of darkness, God’s glory will therefore be seen over and shining on his people, so that they themselves are lit up – ie. displaying that glory in a righteous character. And seeing this, nations and kings will be drawn to them, not only bringing Israel’s sons and daughters to Zion, but bringing their wealth to be used by God’s people in worship, the adorning of his temple, and the honour of God. Astonishingly then, God will extend Israel’s rule to the nations not with force, but by making them so attractive that people will willingly come to join with them. So having shown his people his anger, God will show them compassion, causing foreigners and kings to serve them and rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Moreover, he promises that the city’s gates will then be forever open so that the nations and kings might come in this way, whilst those who don’t will perish. Even the sons of Israel’s oppressors and her despisers will bow before her and acknowledge Zion is the city of the LORD. In context this probably refers not to a reluctant submission at the final judgement, but an acknowledgement of God with the other foreigners who seek to serve his people (60v1-14).
God therefore promises that after his people had been so forsaken and hated, they will be the pride and joy of all generations forever. Pride here refers to the people being exalted before the world. They will receive or “drink” the best from nations and kings, and be governed in peace and righteousness. Violence and destruction will be gone. Indeed, the walls (of protection) will be called “salvation” as God will keep the city safe from its enemies; and the gates called “praise” because that is the sentiment of those who enter. Furthermore, God’s glory will be Zion’s light, giving all the life that is needed, so there will be no need for the sun or moon. Sorrow will also pass, the wider land be possessed, the people become a fruitful shoot which displays God’s glory in their righteousness, and from a small remnant, a great multitude come result. Moreover, all this will happen quite suddenly (60v15-22).
            Once more we see this cannot refer simply to the return from exile, but has something else in mind. The rising light of God’s glory and the nations bringing gold and frankincense give us hints (60v1, 6). These events span the two comings of Christ. Jesus represents the people, in whom God’s glory is fully manifest, and to whose birth the nations come with their gifts. And it is in him that the new Jerusalem comprising God’s repentant people is formed from faithful Jews, and those from kings and nations who put their faith in him. Moreover, as they come, they bring their wealth to serve the new Jerusalem (the church) and so honour God. This entire people will then be established in the new creation just as Isaiah predicts (Rev 21-22).
            With all this in mind, Isaiah can declare that in his own day he fulfils 59v21 by being anointed with the Spirit to proclaim this good news to those who the exile has made poor, broken and captive. It’s a message of God’s favour and comfort in salvation, and vengeance against Israel’s enemies. It’s one that turns the grief (signified by ashes on the head) to joy (signified by oil on the face), and promises not just that the people will be dressed in royal robes of praise, but that they will become like oaks of righteousness, displaying the splendour of God’s character to the world (61v1-3). This is why our personal godliness really matters. By declaring these words are fulfilled in him (Lk 4v18-21), Jesus is not only saying that he fulfils Isaiah’s calling, but also his message, as the end of all the exile signified comes through responding to his gospel. Not only would those who repent be saved through death from the oppression of Rome, but from the oppression of Satan, sin and all suffering that stems from the fall.
            As before, the concepts of Isaiah’s day are used to describe this distant spiritual renewal. So he says the repentant people will restore Israel’s ruined cities, have foreigners care for their livestock, receive their wealth to feed on, and all be called priests – ie. those who are closest to God in their service. Their disgrace will be replaced by a double portion (ie. abundance) of the land, and all because God loves justice and hates sin. The sense is that in justice the LORD rewards repentance. So he promises an everlasting covenant guaranteeing that his people’s descendents will be known and acknowledged as blessed amongst the nations – just as Christians often are (61v4-9).
            In 61v1-11 Isaiah seems to speak as Zion, delighting in God having clothed the city in the splendour of this salvation and righteousness of life, recognizing that just as in the growth of plants, God has causes the city’s righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations. One cannot but think of this fulfilled in the parable of the sower (see also 55v10-13).

Praying it home:
Praise God for including you in this great and certain hope. Pray that you and Christians you know would rejoice more deeply in it.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(290) October 17: Isaiah 62-64 & 1 Thessalonians 5

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note God’s commitment to his promises.

To ponder:
God declares that he will continually refrain from silence until all he has predicted comes to pass, and Jerusalem shines with the glory of his righteousness and is seen by kings (62v1-2). The point may be that he will continually issue sovereign commands to ensure his promises are fulfilled (see 63v1b). The new character to the glorifed city is signalled by God giving her a new name, and her being like a crown of splendour that God holds. The sense may be that the city demonstrates God’s rule over all things, and is being held up to the world so people can see. So the watching world will call Zion by names reflecting God’s delight in her as his bride, and her binding “marriage” not only to God, but to her descendents and her land (62v3-5). God also declares that he has posted “watchmen” (possibly leaders) who will call on him to act until he does as he promised (62v6-7). This reminds us that although God has promised Christ will build his church and then return, we are still called to persistently pray that God would act to that end.
            In terms of Jerusalem, we then read that God had sworn by his right hand of power that he would never again give Israel’s harvests to foreign oppressors. Rather, these things would be enjoyed in the context of the feasts that celebrate harvest (62v8-9). Again, the call is given to prepare the way for the people to come from the nations and through the gates of Zion. And it is said a worldwide proclamation has been made, telling the nations to declare to Zion that her Saviour is coming with his reward (62v10-11). The people will then be called “holy” and “redeemed” and “sought after” and “no longer deserted:” More names to reflect their change of status (62v12).
63v1 then pictures someone looking from Zion’s battlements, asking who it is that strides with great strength towards Jerusalem from Edom and its capital, in glorious robes that are stained red. God himself answers with confidence not only that he is mighty to save, but that he is speaking in righteousness – ie. that what he has just done is right in terms of his commitment to justice and to his promises. Asked why his garments are red, he then explains that it is the blood of the nations: It seems that having called the nations to release his people to return to Zion, he could find none who would do this and so help him fulfil his promise. So he worked his salvation by his own arm, destroying them in vengeance at their treatment of Israel, and so redeeming (freeing) his people from their grasp. His wrath therefore sustained him in the sense that it kept him going until they were destroyed and his people freed. (63v1-6). This was fulfilled in the destruction of Babylon which led to the return from exile, but looks to the final judgement when those who oppress God’s people are destroyed. God will let nothing keep him from his promises.
Isaiah then commits to telling of God’s contrasting kindness to Israel, according to his compassion. He relates Israel’s history: God became their Saviour because they were his people, and he assumed they would not be false to him. He was distressed at their distress, no doubt in Egypt, and so saved them by his angel (presumably referring to the Passover, and his leading them through the desert). These were the “days of old.” Yet despite such love and mercy, the people rebelled and grieved God’s Holy Spirit (possibly referring to the “angel of his presence,” see v11, 14) so that God fought against them. This seems to refer not to Israel’s rebellion in the desert, but her much later unfaithfulness under her kings. At this point we’re told the people remembered the old days of the Exodus when God’s Holy Spirit was amongst them and with Moses, who he gave to shepherd them. And so they asked where is God, who had previously parted the sea and guided them for the sake of his name (63v7-14)? Here Isaiah picks up this same sentiment, pleading with God to look down from his throne and see Israel in her need, asking where his zeal and might are, and stating that his tenderness and compassion are withheld. Affirming God is their father and redeemer from of old, he asks why God made them wander from his ways and harden their hearts, and asks him to return to Zion for Israel’s sake, and rule over them so they are called by his name – which is presumably a prayer that he would make them the holy and righteous people they should always have been (63v15-19).
This all acknowledges God’s utter sovereignty in purposing even Israel’s apostasy. Moreover, it fulfils 62v6-7 providing a model for what the people should pray. So Isaiah calls God to descend from heaven with earthquake and fire as in the past, to make his name (ie. authority and character) known to his enemies, causing the nations to quake (64v1-3). He affirms that none have ever heard or seen any God except the LORD who acts for those who wait on him. He acknowledges God helps the righteous, but that it was Israel’s sin that provoked him to anger. He then confesses the people’s sins which caused them to be swept away – presumably a reference to the exile. He states none call on God because God has hidden his face so they waste away in punishment for their sins. Yet affirming God is their father and creator, he prays God would not be angry or remember their sins forever, but act for them as his people. He reminds the LORD of the desolation of Judah, Jerusalem and the temple by Babylon, asking if God will still hold himself back and punish the people beyond measure (64v4-12).
We should remember Isaiah lived long before the exile. So if he gave these prophecies in their entirety, by wording them as if during the exile, he would provide later generations with hope and help in prayer when they themselves were exiled. Having said this, it is possible that what we have in this part of the book are Isaiah’s original predictions, but with inspired additions made during the exile to proclaim and apply them to that context.

Praying it home:
Praise God for acting so powerfully in Christ to ensure our salvation. Pray that you pray more for the fulfilment of his purposes in the church.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(291) October 18: Isaiah 65-66 & 2 Thessalonians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what we learn about the church age and the glory to come.

To ponder:
Chapter 65 begins with God declaring how he revealed himself to Israel despite her not seeking or calling on him. This probably refers to his original creation of the nation through Abraham and in Egypt (65v1). The point is that they cannot blame God for their coming exile. His action from the start is evidence that he always acted in grace. Paul applies this principle to God revealing himself to the Gentiles too (Rom 10v20). God continues, stressing that he constantly held out his hands to Israel despite her being obstinate and provoking him with her idolatrous worship, disobedience of his cleanliness laws, and hypocrisy in warding others off for fear that they would be contaminated by them. No doubt, God held out his hands through the prophets, calling the people to take them in repentance. But not having done so, he is now clear: They cause him to fume with anger (65v2-5). And so he will pay them back the full payment for their sins and those of previous generations. And the certainty of this seems stressed by it being “written before” God – perhaps this oracle that decrees judgement (65v6-7). God’s is incredibly patient ad longsuffering. But he will judge in the end.
            65v8-10 declares, however, that God will not destroy all his people, as he has some fruitful servants (the remnant) on the vine of Israel. Indeed, he will bring forth more grapes (descendents) who will inherit the land and seek him. But those who forsake him, forget Zion, and engage in the occult, he will destine for destruction because they did not respond to his call (65v11-12). Whereas his faithful servants will eat, drink, rejoice and sing, their experience will be the opposite. Indeed, it will be so bad for them, that their name (reputation) will be left as a curse, in which people would say “may it be to you as it was to the unfaithful Israelites.” By contrast, the faithful will have another name – ie. their reputation and experience will be markedly different. And from then, those in the land will rely on God’s truthfulness in their blessings and oaths, because their sin and its consequences will have been forgotten by them and hidden from God, showing that he keeps his word (65v13-16). This is a certainty for those who trust in Christ.
            What follows displays how completely forgotten those things will be: God will create a new heavens (the sky, including stars etc) and earth in which the former things won’t be remembered. This may not be absolute, as there must be some awareness if God is to be praised for his grace. The point is, that the distress and shame of the past will have gone. And so Isaiah’s hearers are called to be rejoice in the future in which he will delight in Jerusalem and its people will no longer weep. Indeed., they will live to a good old age, their homes and vineyards will not again be taken from them, and so their childbearing and work (cursed in the fall, Gen 3v16-19) will not be in vain, as they and their descendents will be blessed by God, and he will answer their prayers even before asked (see Matt 6v8). More than this, on mount Zion, there will be harmony between animals, and the serpent (Satan) will eat dust, ie. experience his humiliation and defeat (65v17-25). Obviously, this is not to be read wholly literally, as in the new creation people will live forever (see 26v6-9), not a hundred years, and no-one will be considered accursed. Rather, using concepts the Israelites would understand, God is describing in poetic language the reversal of the curse and the experience of blessing, peace, security and harmony that will mark the world to come. This future life is certainly portrayed a continuation of the sort of life we enjoy in this world, but perfected. But we will need to decide from wider scripture whether we think there will be a literal Jerusalem, work, vegetarian animals etc.
            Returning either to Isaiah’s day, or looking ahead to the rebuilding of the temple after the exile, God speaks of his immensity, in which he is enthroned in heaven with his footstall on earth. This brackets the body of the book with Isaiah’s vision in 6v1. The point is that despite the existence of the temple, none can really build a house for him as God made everything (66v1-2). This is a reminder that although the temple rituals display the attitude of worship God seeks, the essence of what he looks for in worshippers is humility, sorrow for sin and fearful reverence for God’s word – presumably, not just his law, but these prophecies. So the ungodliness of God’s people meant that their offerings were actually the equivalent of serious sin, uncleanliness with respect to worship, and idolatry. Indeed, they so delighted in their abominations and refused to respond to God’s call through his prophets, that he declared that he would choose harsh treatment for them (66v3-4). It’s another reminder of how much God detests the hypocrisy of worship in those who are unrepentant and who neglect his word.
            Next God address the faithful. Their fellow Israelites who hate and exclude them whilst speaking piously of God’s glory and joy, will be shamed and repayed. The note about uproar in the city and temple looks to their destruction by Babylon, or if post exile, to some future destruction (66v5-6). By contrast, God stresses that the children Zion gives birth too – ie. his faithful remnant, will be born speedily and painlessly because God is in charge of the delivery. Its striking how true this is, when one considers it occurs as he brings us to faith in Christ. So those who love and mourn over the coming destruction of Jerusalem can also rejoice and be glad for her, for they will be nursed by her – implying there will be abundance to enjoy within a new Jerusalem (66v7-11). And so God promises Jerusalem peace or wholeness, and the wealth of the nations like a river and stream, which were the life source for any city. And by this means, her children will be fed, carried and comforted, and also find joy like the child on its mother’s knee. On seeing this, God’s servants will rejoice and flourish, seeing God’s hand acting for them, whilst his enemies witness his anger, as he comes like a heavenly warrior to judge all men (66v12-16).
In what follows God summarises Israel’s entire future in a few paragraphs (66v1-24): He declares Israelites who engage in idolatry and unclean acts will meet their end, and, as if to make up for their loss, he will gather non-Israelites from all nations to see his glory. Having set up some “sign” amongst the Israelites, he will send some of those who aren’t destroyed (presumably because they are repentant) to proclaim his glory to the nations. And those from the nations will then come to Jerusalem bringing Israelites with them as an offering to the LORD. Shockingly, God will even select some of them to be priests and Levites – ie. those who minister in whatever is the equivalent of the temple. And so God will have ensured not only that the “name” and so reputation of Israel will endure forever before him in this remnant, but those from all mankind will forever bow before him. However, they will see those who rebelled outside the city in a never ending destruction (66v1-24). This is all an astonishing fit with the church age, in which Jesus outlined a series of events as a “sign” of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 (Lk 21v7-24), repentant Jews became the first Christians and took the gospel to the nations, who in turn shared it with Jews who have joined them in coming to the new Jerusalem through faith. And God has made many of those Gentile ministers of the church, his spiritual temple. Here we might note Paul’s stress on word ministry as a priestly ministry whereby people are offered to God (66v20, Rom 15v16).

Praying it home:
Praise God for how he has eventually fulfilled his purposes despite Israel’s sin and failure to attract the nations to him. Pray that you would play your part of proclaiming his glory to the nations.

Thinking further:
None today.


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