the stalemate

August 2015 (3)Isaiah 64:7-12

7 There is no one calling on your name, or stirring himself to take hold of you; because you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand we deserve for our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Yahveh, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Yahveh, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. 10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a deserted place. 11 Our holy and glorious house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our enjoyable places have become ruins. 12 After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Yahveh? Will you keep quiet, and oppress us so severely?[1]

the stalemate

Isaiah laments a long period of waiting for God to act, a period that seems like forever. He describes that awful time using the word oppression – a word that the Israelites are so familiar with. He is equating God’s quietness with the harsh reality of oppression by foreign rule. In his mind, they are one and the same. The very reason these foreign rulers can have dominion over the Israelites is that their God has refused to intervene.

Isaiah knows that God is good, and he knows that God can intervene. That is why this long period of silence and lack of demonstration of God’s power is so intolerable to him. Isaiah also knows that this intolerable time is not Yahveh’s fault. He freely admits that this time of God’s hidden face is directly due to the people’s own sins. Sin creates distance, and distance creates more sin. What can happen to overcome such a stalemate? Stay tuned. The New Testament is coming.

LORD, we are calling on your name. We are stirring ourselves to take hold of you. We come to you through the Way that you have provided – Jesus Christ, your Son and our deliverer.

[1] verses 7-12 are verses 6-11 in the Hebrew.

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confessions of the fallen

August 2015 (2)Isaiah 64:1-6

1 O that you would tear open the sky and come down, so that the mountains would shake at your face–[1] 2 like when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your enemies, so that the nations would scurry at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains shook at your face. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God except you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You encounter those who enjoy doing right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous works are like a menstrual cloth. We all fall like a leaf, and our iniquities sweep us away like the wind.[2]

confessions of the fallen

After Isaiah had complained to God that his people are far from the righteousness he expected, he now confesses just exactly how that happened. He wishes that God would make another one of his amazing miraculous encounters, like he did in the old days. But he also know that God chooses to encounter those who enjoy doing right and remember his ways. That is hardly the case for Isaiah’s generation. Instead, Isaiah confesses that God became angry and hid himself, and the people got lost in their own disobedience. Now, they are like a leaf that has fallen, and is swept away by those same sins. Any attempt at works of righteousness, or works of law, is like a woman putting on a menstrual cloth during her period. It merely covers, but does not cleanse. That is how Isaiah sees his generation. It is very much like this generation, isn’t it?

LORD, we do not deserve a miraculous encounter. But we need you. Come and rescue us from our own sinfulness and neglect of your ways!

[1] this verse is part of 63:19 in the Hebrew.

[2] verses 2-6 are verses 1-5 in the Hebrew.

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if they could see us now

August 2015 (1)Isaiah 63:15-19

15 Look down from the sky and see, from your lofty and glorious residence. Where are your passion and your mighty deeds? The roaring of your inner being and your loving sensations? They are withdrawn from me. 16 Because you are our father, though Abraham would not recognize us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, Yahveh, are our father; your name is our Redeemer from of old. 17 Why, O Yahveh, do you let us wander away from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you? Turn back for the sake of your servants, for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. 18 Your holy people took possession for a little while; but now our adversaries have violated your sanctuary. 19 We have long been like those whom you do not rule, like those not called by your name.

if they could see us now

Sometimes, as an American, I think about the patriots who founded my country, and wonder how they would react to some of the laws and court decisions which are reflecting a change in the social fabric of the nation. Isaiah was in a similar mood the day he penned these words. Yet, he brought those thoughts to God. He longed for the fire and passion for holiness and justice he saw in his ancestors. He wanted to see a reflection of God in the faces of his people. They were supposed to be God’s people, with God’s name, but the resemblance was not there, and had not been there for a long time.

I don’t make a lot of political statements in my posts, and this is not intended to be one. The real issue here is not limited to one nation or ethnic group. The real issue is that God’s people from all nations should reflect his holiness and justice. And it is right if we do not see that passion in ourselves not just to complain about our political leaders, but to take the matter to where it belongs. Take this matter up with God, like Isaiah did.

LORD, transform us, so that if people do not see your holiness in their government, at least they see it in your church.

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the old days

July 2015 (31)Isaiah 63:7-14

7 I will detail the ways that Yahveh has shown his covenant loyalty, the praiseworthy deeds of Yahveh, because of all that Yahveh has dealt out to us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has dealt out to them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his covenant love. 8 Because he said, “they are really my people, children who will not deal falsely”; and he became their saviour 9 from all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his face that saved them; in his love and in his compassion he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the old days. 10 But they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit; so he became their enemy; he himself fought against them. 11 Then they remembered the old days, of Moses his servant. Where is the one who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is the one who put within them his holy spirit, 12 who caused his magnificent arm to march at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself a permanent name, 13 who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. 14 Like cattle that go down into the valley, the spirit of Yahveh gave them rest. Thus you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.

the old days

The prophet reminds his people of what their God did for them in the old days. He chose them to be his special people, and delivered them miraculously from bondage in Egypt. When they rebelled, he fought against them, because his people have to be true and obedient. Isaiah’s point is that God stepped in and made a difference each time, either to rescue his innocent people, or to punish them when they rebelled. That is how God worked in the old days, and that is how he works today.

LORD, we invite your presence. Rescue us, even if that might mean rescuing us from our own rebellion. We invite you to make a difference in our lives, just like you did in the old days.

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strong enough to deliver

July 2015 (30)Isaiah 63:1-6

1 “Who is this coming from Edom, with bright red garments from Bozrah … this one so fabulously robed, tilting forward in his great might?” “It is I, announcing righteousness, strong enough to deliver.” 2 “Why are your robes red, and your garments like theirs who tread the wine press?” 3 “I have trampled the wine press alone, and no one from the peoples was with me; I trampled them in my anger and crushed them in my wrath; their juice spurted on my garments, and stained all my robes. 4 Because the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year for my redeeming work had come. 5 I looked, but there was no assistant; I was shocked, but there was no one to support me; so my own arm brought me victory, and my wrath supported me. 6 I stomped down peoples in my anger, I made them drunk on my wrath, and I poured their juice out on the ground.”

strong enough to deliver

The people were captives to two separate kingdoms, and Isaiah’s message is that Yahveh is strong enough to deliver them from both. First, they were captives of the nations around them. Isaiah describes Yahveh as the deliverer, coming up from Edom as an army in bright red uniforms. Bozrah was Edom’s capital city, and its name may have been associated with grape gathering. The point is that Edom is only the first of many nations which will be judged and crushed under the power of Yahveh’s might. The end result will be freedom from all oppressors, and the one making this happen is God himself.

But there is another bondage as well. The LORD comes “announcing righteousness” because the people are first and foremost in bondage to sin. In fact, it was this bondage that had led to the other. God’s vengeance against these other nations is also vengeance against that kingdom, and the end result of his judgment will be the obliteration of sin and evil.

The New Testament pictures Jesus as this conquering deliverer: “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. …From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”[1]

Isaiah’s message to his people is the same as John’s message through Revelation: The Lord is the only one strong enough to deliver us from all our bondage. True freedom comes only from him.

LORD, we long for the true freedom which can only come from you. Come and set us free.

[1] Revelation 19:13,15 ESV.

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getting ready for God

July 2015 (29)Isaiah 62:8-12

8 The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain to your enemies to eat, and foreigners will not drink the wine for which you have worked; 9 but those who harvest it will eat it and praise Yahveh, and those who gather it will drink it in my holy courts. 10 Go through, go through the gates, prepare the road for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an flag over the peoples. 11 Yahveh has proclaimed to the edge of the land: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your deliverance is coming; his reward is with him, and his repayment in his presence.” 12 They will be called, “The Holy People, The Redeemed of Yahveh”; and you will be called, “Sought After, A City Not Abandoned.”

getting ready for God

The LORD continues to express his love for his people and his holy city through Isaiah. Crucial to the message that God loves them is his promise to send his deliverance to them, whose reward is with him. Part of that reward is the restoration of justice to the people, and that is demonstrated by the promise to no longer allow a foreign oppressor to steal their crops. But there is more to it than that. Holiness will be restored again. The husband who promised to marry them will be restored to them, and their value will be restored. That is why the people are urged to clear the highway of stones and other impediments, levelling it out. The LORD is returning to his people.

John the Baptist came preaching this centuries old message, and the nation flocked to him. One of the reasons for his success was that he was not simply calling on individuals to “get right with God.” He was calling on all society to get itself ready for God. Likewise, today – our evangelism is not biblical if we just call on people to repent of their “personal sins.” God’s challenge to us is not to change ourselves so that we will be prepared for death. His challenge is for us to change our whole world so that we are ready for what he wants to do with it.

LORD, give us the zeal to want to prepare our society for your arrival, and the wisdom to know how.

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insomniac sentinels

July 2015 (28)Isaiah 62:1-7

1 For Zion’s sake I will not be quiet, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not stay still, until her righteousness shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a blazing torch. 2 The nations will see your righteousness, and all their kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name that the mouth of Yahveh will decide for you. 3 You will be a beautiful crown in the hand of Yahveh, and a royal headband in the hand of your God. 4 You will no more be said to be Abandoned, and your land will no more be said to be Desolate; but you will be called My Enjoyment Is in Her, and your land Married; because Yahveh enjoys you, and your land will be married. 5 Because like a young man marries a young woman, so will your builder marry you, and like the bridegroom enjoys the bride, so your God will rejoice because of you. 6 Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be quiet. You who remind the LORD, take no rest, 7 and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem, glorifying it in the land.

insomniac sentinels

Who are these insomniac sentinels that Isaiah has posted on the walls of Jerusalem? Lots of Christians interpret this image as a call for constant prayer. I’m not so sure that is what Isaiah was getting at. I’m wondering if there were some actual objects or names associated with the walls or gates that were to be a constant reminder to Yahveh that he has promised to marry his betrothed, and enjoy her. At any rate, I am pretty sure that the point is not that God’s people need to pray. We do need to pray without ceasing, but what Isaiah is saying here is that God is not going to forget his promise. The very walls himself remind him of his covenant, as if someone had posted sentinels on it who cannot sleep at night, because they are constantly reminding him of his engagement to his beautiful bride.

LORD, come and take your bride, and enjoy us forever.

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permanent joy

July 2015 (27)Isaiah 61:7-11

7 Because their shame was double, and insult was celebrated as their lot, therefore they will possess a double portion; permanent joy will be for them. 8 Because I, Yahveh, love justice, I hate robbery and violent crime; I will faithfully give them their compensation, and I will make a permanent covenant with them. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them will acknowledge that they are a people whom Yahveh has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in Yahveh, my soul will display joy in my God; because he has clothed me with the garments of deliverance, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom outfits himself with a head-dress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 Because as the earth produces its shoots, and as a garden causes what is planted in it to spring up, so the Lord Yahveh will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

permanent joy

Three times in his prophecies, Isaiah predicts that Israel will experience permanent joy.[1] This is the third time. He looks upon a nation whose shame was celebrated, and promises a day when their descendants will be glorified permanently. He describes their joy using two delightful similes. They will rejoice like an engaged couple preparing for the wedding. They will rejoice like a garden which has produced a beautiful display of righteousness and praise for all the nations to see.

The good news for you today is that you, too can be part of that wedding show. You can be part of the bumper crop of beautiful that God has planned. We who put our faith in Christ will also inherit this permanent joy. The angel who announced Christ’s birth said his coming was good news of great joy to all the people.[2] The fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy.[3] And we are part of that great crowd of believers who will rejoice on that wedding day.[4] Put your faith in Christ, and you will know that joy that can never be taken away.

LORD, enfold us into your plan to redeem and glorify your planet. We accept your offer of permanent joy.

[1] (שמחה עולם). 35:10; 51:11; 61:7.

[2] Luke 2:10.

[3] Galatians 5:22.

[4] Revelation 19:6-7.

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a head-dress instead of ashes

July 2015 (26)Isaiah 61:1-6

1 A spirit from my Lord Yahveh is upon me, because Yahveh has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the ones with broken hearts, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and liberation for the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of Yahveh’s favour, and the day of retribution from our God; to comfort all the mourners; 3 to set up those who mourn in Zion– giving them a head-dress instead of ashes, oil to enjoy instead of using it for mourning rituals, the mantle of praise instead of a tired spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, those whom Yahveh planted to display his glory. 4 They will build up the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; they will repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 5 Strangers will stand and feed your flocks, foreigners will till your soil and dress your vines; 6 but you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God; you will enjoy the wealth of those nations, and you will glory in their riches.

a head-dress instead of ashes

Their is a considerable Sikh population here in South Auckland, New Zealand, where I currently live. The Sikhs wear turbans. For them, that elaborate head dress conveys “royalty, grace and uniqueness.”[1] The Israelites in Isaiah’s day knew nothing of these concepts. They only knew oppression, slavery, devastation and shame. Isaiah’s words of comfort to these people challenged them to imagine a new day: a day when they become the “haves” instead of the “have nots.”

Jesus came preaching a message to this same people, and he carried the same anointing.[2] He looked upon this spiritually poor, oppressed and mourning people, and he told them that they are blessed by the Lord. The Lord has given them a turban to wear instead of the ashes of humility and mourning. He has proclaimed them part of his royal priesthood, his unique people.

The gospel proclaims this same message for everyone, everywhere. You do not have to live in the shame and bondage that you are living in now. God has a future for you that is totally different. Dare to believe in this restoration, and you will see it some day.

LORD, give us the insight to accept your challenge, and to believe in our future in Christ.


[2] Luke 4:18-19.

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permanent light

July 2015 (25)Isaiah 60:18-22

18 Violence will not be heard in your land any more, nor devastation or destruction within your borders; you will call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. 19 The sun will no longer be your day light, neither will the moon give light to you for brightness by night; but Yahveh will be your permanent light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will go down no more, nor will your moon withdraw itself; because Yahveh will be your permanent light, and your days of mourning will have been completed. 21 All of your people will be righteous ones; they will possess the land permanently. They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands, to show my glory. 22 The smallest of them will become a clan, and the most insignificant one a mighty nation; I am Yahveh; when its time comes, I will do this quickly.

permanent light

Earlier in this chapter, Isaiah had challenged his people to be light in their dark world. Now, he promises a future day when that light will completely overtake the darkness. He encourages them to think of the future when there will be no more sun or moon to light the land, only the permanent light of God’s glory, shining through his people. In fact, he says that showing God’s glory was the very reason that he planted them. The particular darkness that Isaiah had in mind is described as violence, devastation and destruction, and its accompanying emotion: mourning. The light indicates that the mourning is over, and peace, fulfilment, wholeness and joy has come again. The Light is the actual presence of Yahveh himself.

That promise is the backdrop we need for an accurate understanding of the pictures of the holy city in John’s Revelation.[1] In the future holy city, nothing changes in regard to the source of our peace and righteousness. The source of our light stays the same. The presence of God in us and through us stays the same.

LORD, shine through us, and let our roughness never hide your glow. Shine through us, and may the dark world around us come to know that you are its permanent light.

[1] Revelation 21:23; 22:5.

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