reasons to cry out

May 2015 (23)Isaiah 40:6-11

6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And he responded, “What will I cry out?” All flesh is grass, and all his loyalty like the flowers in the field. 7 Grass withers; a flower withers when the breath of Yahveh blows on it. The people are just like that grass. 8 Yes, Grass withers; a flower withers, but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Go for yourself up to a high mountain, Zion, bringer of good news! Lift up your voice strongly, Jerusalem, bringer of good news! Lift it up; you must not fear! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 Look! Yahveh, Yahveh comes strongly, and his arm rules for him. Watch! His reward accompanies him, and his recompense is before his face. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather lambs in his arm, and he will carry them at his chest; he will lead those who nurse.

reasons to cry out

Isaiah was having a bad day. Maybe he had just sat in a prophet team meeting all day and went over budgets and voted on projects and determined schedules and such. Maybe he had tried to get through to some important somebody only to be ignored or mocked. For whatever reason, Isaiah was not in a very encouraged state this day. And the LORD came to him and told him to prophesy. Isaiah did not feel like prophesying. We felt it was no use. You can’t get through to these people. They are like the grass in a field. It’s going to grow until it stops, then it’s going to wither and die, and crying out to it is going to make no difference.

The LORD reminded Isaiah that he had two very good reasons to keep crying out his prophesies, even to this rebellious grass-like people who would not listen:

1. First, the power of God’s word which Isaiah preaches. The power for change and accomplishment is not in the people. The power is in the word of God itself. All flesh is grass; it is temporary. When the hot air hits it, it dies and returns to dust. But God’s word stands. There is no greater investment that pouring yourself into God’s word, and spending your life preaching, teaching, praying, and blogging it!

2. Secondly, the purposes of God’s word. Yahweh told Isaiah that he had the wrong simile. The words he were saying were not to be like the strong wind that beats upon the grass and dries it out. The prophets words are the strong acts of conquering king, and the caring acts of a loving shepherd. God will give the people what they need. He purposely sent his word to do that.

LORD, we commit ourselves to crying out in every way possible to this needy generation. We also commit to learning your word so that our words are not useless and harmful hot air, but strengthening and nurturing words – from you.

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reasons for comfort

May 2015 (22)Isaiah 40:1-5

1 “Comfort; comfort my people,” says your God. 2 “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and say to her, that her compulsory labour will be fulfilled, that her sin will be paid for, that she has taken from the hand of Yahveh double payment for all her sins.” 3 Be a voice calling in the wilderness, “Clear the road for Yahveh! Make a highway smooth in the desert for our God! 4 Every valley should be lifted up, and every mountain and hill should become low, And the rough ground should be like a plain, and the rugged ground like a low valley. 5 Then the glory of Yahveh will be revealed, and all flesh will see him together, because the mouth of Yahveh has spoken.”

reasons for comfort

“God’s comfort is not a hollow, positive-thinking, “There’s-a-silver-lining-behind-every-cloud” kind of message. God always gives His people reasons for comfort” (David Guzik).  Isaiah speaks comfort for Jerusalem for the following reasons.

1. The exile will come to an end. God regarded the exile as a period of compulsory labour, and he sees the end of that period. He wants to assure his people that there will be life after exile. He wants to assure us of the same fact. No matter what we may be dealing with, even if we consider it an exile of our own making, God comforts us with the assurance that there will be an end to it.

2. Her sin will be paid for. They cannot overcome their own transgressions, but the Messiah will. He alone can and will bring redemption and restoration. Jerusalem will have paid double for their sins, first by their exile, then by the sacrificial atonement their Messiah will bring about by his own death on the cross.

3. Jerusalem will become a level place and on it the glory of Yahveh will be revealed. All of the former pretence to power and importance will be erased, and while that is happening, the Messiah will come. The glory of Yahveh will be revealed in him. This happens in both advents, and Isaiah puts them both together here. Ultimately, his words reflect the fact that when the Messiah returns to set up his kingdom on earth, all nations will see and recognize him as their rightful king.

LORD, thank you for the comfort from your word, comfort for all who wait for your Christ.

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remembering the future

 

May 2015 (21)Isaiah 39:1-8

1 At that time, Merodach-Baladan, son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, because he heard that he had been sick and recovered. 2 And Hezekiah was thrilled with them and showed them his house with its aromatic gum, silver, gold, spices, good oil, all the armoury, and all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing that Hezekiah had not shown them in his house or in all his domain. 3 And Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and asked him, “What did these men say, and from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah responded “They came to me from a distant country, from Babylon.” 4 But he asked, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah responded “They have seen everything in my house. There is nothing that I have not shown them in my storehouses.” 5 So Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear this word from Yahveh of armies: 6 ‘Watch! days are coming, when all that is in your house and that which your fathers have stored up to this day will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says Yahveh. 7‘And some of your sons who go out from you, whom you fathered, will be taken, and they will be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.'” 8 And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of Yahveh that you have spoken is good,” because he said “At least there will be peace and security in my days.”

remembering the future

Hezekiah had made a huge mistake, letting the Babylonian envoys see all the treasures of his house. The Babylonians would be back, and carry some of his own descendants into exile. Yet, the king consoled himself with the assurance that these consequences would come after his death. How selfish! We need to think about our children and their children. What kind of world will they face? We are deciding that by our actions, or the lack of them. We need to remember the future that awaits our world, because in many respects we are making that future.

LORD, we choose to obey, not for our sakes only, but for the future.

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walking through death’s gates

May 2015 (20)Isaiah 38:1-22

1 In those days Hezekiah was stricken with a terminal illness. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz visited him and told him, “This is what Yahveh says, ‘Give instructions to your household, for you are going to die; you will not get better.'” 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to Yahveh, 3 “Please, Yahveh. Remember how I have served you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion, and how I have carried out your desire.” Then Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Yahveh told Isaiah, 5 “Go and tell Hezekiah: ‘This is what Yahveh, God of your ancestor David says: “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Watch, I will add fifteen years to your life, 6 and rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will shield this city.”‘” 7 Isaiah replied, “This is your sign from Yahveh confirming that Yahveh will do what he has said: 8 Watch, I will make the shadow go back ten steps on the stairs of Ahaz.” And then the shadow went back ten steps. 9 This is the prayer of King Hezekiah of Judah when he had gotten sick and then recovered from his illness: 10 “I thought, ‘In the middle of my life I must walk through the gates of Sheol, I am deprived of the rest of my years.’ 11 “I thought, ‘I will no longer see Yahveh in the land of the living, nor will I any longer see mankind along with the inhabitants of the world. 12 My dwelling place is removed and taken away from me like a shepherd’s tent. I rolled up my life like a weaver rolls cloth; from the loom he cuts me off. You turn day into night and end my life. 13 I cry out until morning; like a lion he shatters all my bones; you turn day into night and end my life. 14 Like a swallow or a thrush I chirp, I coo like a dove; my eyes grow tired from looking up to the sky. O sovereign master, I am oppressed; help me! 15 What can I say? He has decreed and acted. I will walk slowly all my years because I am overcome with grief. 16 O sovereign master, your decrees can give men life; may years of life be restored to me. Restore my health and preserve my life.’ 17 “Watch, the grief I experienced was for my benefit. You delivered me from the pit of oblivion. For you removed all my sins from your sight. 18 Indeed Sheol does not give you thanks; death does not praise you. Those who descend into the pit do not anticipate your faithfulness. 19 The living one, the living one, he gives you thanks, as I am doing today. A father tells his sons about your faithfulness. 20 Yahveh is about to deliver me, and we will celebrate with music for the rest of our lives in the Yahveh’s temple.” 21 Isaiah ordered, “Let them take a fig cake and apply it to the skin blister and he will get better.” 22 Hezekiah asked, “What is the confirming sign that I will go up to the Yahveh’s temple?”

walking through death’s gates

Hezekiah was not known for his consistency. But his illness had taken him close to death. He called it walking through the gates of Sheol (10). He was probably 39 when he was taken ill, and expected to die at middle age. He reflected on the fact that his tent was going to be taken from him, and he would not see the LORD in the land of the living (11-12). He pleaded with God to restore his life, and the LORD did just that. He thanks the LORD for teaching him what is really important through the experience. He resolved that he and his children would worship the LORD all the days of their lives (19-20).

LORD, give us the wisdom to make our relationship with you a priority. May we not have to be at death’s door before we think about you.

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getting the message

May 2015 (19)Isaiah 37:21-38

21 Isaiah son of Amoz sent this message to Hezekiah: “This is what Yahveh, God of Israel says: ‘Because you prayed to me concerning King Sennacherib of Assyria, 22 this is what Yahveh says about him: “The virgin daughter Zion despises you–she makes fun of you; daughter Jerusalem shakes her head at you. 23 Whom have you mocked and hurled insults at? At whom have you shouted and looked so arrogantly? At the sovereign king of Israel! 24 Through your messengers you mocked the sovereign master, ‘With my many chariots I climbed up the high mountains, the slopes of Lebanon. I cut down its tall cedars and its best evergreens. I invaded its most distant regions, its thickest woods. 25 I dug wells and drank water. By the soles of my feet I dried up all the rivers of Egypt.’ 26 Certainly you must have heard! Long ago I worked it out, in ancient times I planned it, and now I am bringing it to pass. Here is the plan: Armed cities will crash into piles of ruins. 27 Their inhabitants are powerless; they are terrified and humiliated. They are as short-lived as plants in the field or green vegetation. They are as short-lived as grass on the rooftops when it is scorched by the east wind. 28 I know where you live and everything you do and how you rage against me. 29 Because you rage against me and the uproar you create has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose, and my bridle between your lips, and I will lead you back the way you came.” 30 “This will be your reminder that I have spoken the truth: This year you will eat what grows wild, and next year what grows on its own. But the year after that you will plant seed and harvest crops; you will plant vines and consume their produce. 31 Those who remain in Judah will take root in the ground and bear fruit. 32 “For a remnant will leave Jerusalem; survivors will come out of Mount Zion. The intense devotion of Yahveh who leads armies will accomplish this. 33 So this is what Yahveh says about the king of Assyria: ‘He will not enter this city, nor will he shoot an arrow here. He will not attack it with his shielded warriors, nor will he build siege works against it. 34 He will go back the way he came– he will not enter this city,’ says the LORD. 35 I will shield this city and rescue it for the sake of my reputation and because of my promise to David my servant.”‘” 36 Yahveh’s angel went out and killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When they got up early the next morning, there were all the corpses! 37 So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and went on his way. He went home and stayed in Nineveh. 38 One day, as he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword. They escaped to the land of Ararat; his son Esarhaddon replaced him as king.

getting the message

The King of Assyria boasted that the LORD could not stop him, and he had evidence on his side. None of the other gods of the other lands could stop the king’s invasions. Hezekiah and Isaiah prayed. Their confidence was in the power of a God who is unlike any other. The LORD cannot be destroyed like the idols of the defeated lands. He is immortal, and they were not. The battle that took place in the hearts of the praying men stopped the king of Assyria in his tracks. 185,000 dead soldiers later, Sennacherib got the message.

LORD, come and answer our prayers, so that your enemies today can get the message about who you really are.

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in this corner…

May 2015 (18)Isaiah 37:14-20

14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers and read it. Then Hezekiah went up to Yahveh’s temple and spread it out before Yahveh. 15 Hezekiah prayed before Yahveh: 16 “O Yahveh who leads armies, O God of Israel, who is enthroned over the cherubs! You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the sky and the earth. 17 Pay attention, Yahveh, and listen! Open your eyes, Yahveh, and observe! Listen to this whole message Sennacherib sent and how he mocks the living God. 18 It is true, Yahveh, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all the countries and their lands. 19 They have burned the gods of the nations, because they are not really gods, but only the product of human hands made from wood and stone. That is why the Assyrians could destroy them. 20 Now, O Yahveh our God, rescue us from his power, so all the kingdoms of the land may know that you alone are Yahveh.”

in this corner…

Hezekiah’s prayer seems pretty bold to me. I am not sure I could easily pray a prayer like that. But it does not seem to bother God at all that this king came to his throne room in prayer and called on him to wake up and pay attention. Hezekiah understood that God’s sovereignty and concern for his people was being challenged. So, Hezekiah expected Yahveh to act to defend his own character and his own chosen people. This prayer was more like an introduction to a cosmic boxing match.

LORD, teach us to call you to action with our prayers, so that you have reason to rescue us, to defend your honour and protect your investment in us.

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posturing

May 2015 (17)Isaiah 37:8-13

8 And the chief consultant returned and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, because he had heard that he had left from Lachish. 9 And he heard something about Tirhakah the king of Cush, that, “He has set out to fight against you.” After he heard this, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “You will say this to Hezekiah, king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God (I know that you trust in him) deceive you by saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 11 Watch! you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands to destroy them, and you–will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that my fathers destroyed deliver them–Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the sons of Eden who lived in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah now?'”

posturing

To posture is to assume an artificial or pretended attitude in order to produce the affect associated with that attitude. The chief consultant for Assyria assumed that Hezekiah was posturing when he claimed to trust in Yahveh for deliverance. He knew Hezekiah was afraid, and so were the rest of Judah. They had good reason to be afraid, because the consultant was right to point out that all of the other nations who had opposed Assyria were defeated. Their posturing proved to be empty.

What about us? If much of our faith-talk empty posturing? Are we fond of certain Bible verses because they build up for us a feeling of protection and fearlessness which does not match what we have experienced? Are we people who trust God, or are we just addicted to empty posturing? A true crisis will reveal the answer to those questions. Nothing reveals the heart like a life-or-death challenge. When that kind of crisis hits, people who truly trust God go to their knees. They don’t try to bolster a false confidence. They seek God’s face.

LORD, build in us a confidence that comes from regular visits to your throne room. Replace our empty posturing with a real faith.

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embarrassing confessions

May 2015 (16)Isaiah 37:1-7

1 After King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes, covered himself with a course robe, and hurried to Yahveh’s temple. 2 Eliakim, the palace steward, Shebna the Scribe, and the elders among the priests who were also covering themselves with course robes, sent word to Isaiah son of Amoz, the prophet. 3 And they said to him, “This is what Hezekiah says: ‘I proclaim this day one of trouble, insult, and humility, like when a baby is ready to leave the birth canal, but the mother is too weak to push him out. 4 Maybe Yahveh your God hears all these words of the chief consultant has said on behalf of his master, the king of Assyria, who sent him to mock the living God. If Yahveh your God hears, maybe he will punish him for the words that he said. So lift up a prayer for those of us who remain.'” 5 After King Hezekiah’s servants of came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah told them, “You must tell your master this: ‘This is what Yahveh says: “Do not be afraid because of what you have heard; the king of Assyria’s servants have insulted me. 7 Watch! I have control of his mind. He will hear a rumor and he will return to his country, and I will kill him by the sword in his country.” ‘”

embarrassing confessions

Hezekiah knew that Yahveh is the living God, and that he sees all and knows what the Assyrian consultant had said. He felt embarrassed and weak, like (in his analogy) a mother who has come to the point of giving birth, but feels too weak to do it. There will be times in our lives when that happens to us as well. We will feel ashamed even to come to the Lord with our crisis. We will feel that we have somehow let him down by crying out to him again. But the living God just wants us to watch and see what he can do once we dare trust him.

LORD, forgive us for being so embarrassed by our dependence upon you. It is an honour to come to you in prayer, because of your power to save, and your love for us.

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challenged by superior strength

May 2015 (15)Isaiah 36:1-22

1 During the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, King Sennacherib of Assyria marched up against all the armed cities of Judah and captured them. 2 This king of Assyria sent his chief consultant from Lachish to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem, along with a large army. The chief consultant stood at the conduit of the upper pool which is located on the road to the field where they wash and dry cloth. 3 Eliakim son of Hilkiah, the palace supervisor, accompanied by Shebna the scribe and Joah son of Asaph, the secretary, went out to meet him. 4 The chief adviser said to them, “Inform Hezekiah: ‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: “What is your means of confidence? 5 Your claim to have a plan and military strength is just empty talk. In whom are you trusting, that you would dare to rebel against me? 6 I see, you must be trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed staff. If someone leans on it for support, it punctures his hand and hurts him. That is what Pharaoh king of Egypt does to all who trust in him. 7 Perhaps you will tell me, ‘We are trusting in Yahveh our God.’ But Hezekiah is the one who destroyed his high places and altars and then told the people of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship at this altar.’ 8 Now you should make a deal with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, provided you can find enough riders for them. 9 Certainly you will not refuse one of my master’s petty officials and trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen. 10 I remind you that it was by the command of Yahveh that I marched up against this land to destroy it. Yahveh told me, ‘March up against this land and destroy it!'”‘” 11 Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the chief adviser, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, because we understand it. Don’t speak with us in the Judahite vernacular in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12 But the chief consultant said, “My master did not send me to speak these words only to your master and to you. His message is also for the men who sit on the wall, because they will be eating their own excrement and drinking their own urine along with you!” 13 The chief consultant stood there and called out loudly in the Judahite vernacular, “Listen to the message of the great king, the king of Assyria. 14 This is what that king says: ‘Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you, for he is not able to rescue you! 15 Don’t let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in Yahveh by saying, “Yahveh will certainly rescue us; this city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.” 16 Don’t listen to Hezekiah!’ Because this is what the king of Assyria says, ‘Send me a sign that you will submit and surrender to me. Then each of you may eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you to a land just like your own–a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Hezekiah is misleading you when he says, “Yahveh will rescue us.” Has any of the gods of the nations rescued his land from the power of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Exactly…, did any gods rescue Samaria from my power? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have rescued their lands from my power? So how can Yahveh rescue Jerusalem from my power?'” 21 They were silent and did not respond, for the king had told them, “Don’t respond to him.” 22 Eliakim son of Hilkiah, the palace supervisor, accompanied by Shebna the scribe and Joah son of Asaph, the secretary, went to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and reported to him what the chief adviser had said.

challenged by superior strength

Perhaps today you are discouraged because you have taken a look at your track record, and you seem to be on the wrong side. Maybe you feel like these citizens who were told by their king to trust Yahveh. Then you listened as all the reasons you should not trust the LORD were laid out before you. You feel disheartened, because although you want to trust God, you are tempted to find a team with a better track record. After all, lots of losers who came before you trusted their gods to save them.

I am not going to try to convince you. You know the right thing to do. You know that times like this are the very reason for your existence. The world and God’s heaven are watching to see if you will trust God. Goliath has said his bit. It’s time for you to run, or pick up some rocks.

LORD, give us all the courage to side with you, regardless of what challenges we face.

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not whisked off

May 2015 (14)Isaiah 35:1-10

1 Wasteland and dry land will be glad and desert will rejoice and blossom like the crocus. 2 It will blossom lavishly, and it will greatly rejoice with rejoicing and exulting. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of Yahveh, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen weak hands and make staggering knees rock-solid. 4 Say to those whose hearts are rushed, “Be strong; you must not fear! Watch! your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution will come and save you.” 5 Then blind eyes will be opened, and deaf ears will be opened. 6 Then a lame one will leap like the deer, and a mute tongue will sing for joy, because water will break forth in the wasteland and streams in the desert. 7 And the parched ground will become a pool, and a thirsty ground springs of water. Her resting place is in a settlement of jackals; grass will become like a reed and a rush. 8 And a highway will be there, and a way, and it will be called the way of holiness. The unclean will not travel through it, but it is for they who walk the right way; and fools will not wander about. 9 No lion will be there, and no ferocious wild beast will go up it. It will not be found there, but the redeemed will walk there. 10 And the ransomed of Yahveh will return, and they will come to Zion with rejoicing. And everlasting joy will rest on their head; joy and gladness will come upon them, and sorrow and sighing will escape from them.

not whisked off

Isaiah’s message was not that the ransomed of the LORD were to be whisked off to heaven. They were going to return to Zion with everlasting joy. Jesus’ first ministry on earth was a foretaste of the kind of restoration and revival proclaimed here. God will come in vengeance, visiting his retribution (4), then the highway will be there, and the ransomed will return, with singing.

We will see this event. The LORD’s vengeance will come upon all those who rejected his Messiah. His ransomed ones will return to a redeemed, restored, resettled and sanctified earth. The joy we will know will be like coming home to a home that we never had. It will be like returning to a place better than we ever thought possible. But it will be the world intended for us by our creator.

LORD, come and restore.

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