judgment from the other side

April 2015 (21)Isaiah 29:6-10

6 You will be punished by Yahveh of armies with thunder and earthquake and great sound, storm wind and hurricane and a flame of a devouring fire. 7 And the accumulation of all the nations who fight against Ariel, all those who fight her and her stronghold, and those who inflict her will be like a dream, a night time vision. 8 And it will be like when the hungry person dreams—see him eating! Then he wakes up and his insides are empty. Or like when the thirsty person dreams—see him drinking! And he wakes up and see him parched, and his insides are longing for water. So will be the accumulation of all the nations who fight against Mount Zion. 9 Be incredulous and be amazed! Blind yourselves and be blinded! They are drunk but it is not wine; they stagger but it is not strong drink.

judgment from the other side

Isaiah’s audience had heard his ranting so much that they had tuned him out. They did not take his words seriously any more than their own nightmares. They might be frightened by a bad dream, but then when they woke up and everything was OK, the dream would be quickly forgotten. Likewise, they had learned to pretty much ignore Isaiah’s words. They were scary sometimes, but they would not amount to anything.

So, Isaiah tells the people what is going on in the minds of their coming invaders. The mass of invaders will soon attack and overpower them. Their campaign to overcome and enslave Judah will run so smoothly, it will be like a dream. Then, one day, they themselves will be conquered, and Judah will be free again. The whole invasion will be like a sudden hurricane, which does massive damage, but that damage will be repaired, and it will be like the storm never happened. Their whole invasion will be reflected on as if it were a bad dream.

There are two things that Isaiah is trying to get across to this insensitive people. God’s judgment is going to happen because his people deserve it. God is faithful to his word. But God’s faithfulness to his word also means that he will restore them. There will be a people left who will see that judgment from the other side, the restoration side.

This generation has tuned out the prophets of coming judgment. They do not want to hear about God’s wrath against sin. They want to erase hell. They never consider God as a God of armies who might even use war to get his people’s attention. Their god is all about peace and prosperity. To this generation, Isaiah declares that the nightmare is coming. See you on the other side.

LORD, forgive us for ignoring the message throughout most of your word. Teach us to take you seriously – not just the God of grace, but also the God of judgment.

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a ghost’s whisper

April 2015 (20)Isaiah 29:1-5

1 Oy! Ariel, Ariel, city where David encamped! Keep on, year after year, let your festivals recur. 2 But I will keep inflicting Ariel, and there will be mourning and lamentation, and I will consider it like a bloody altar.[1] 3 And I will encamp like a sphere against you, and I will lay siege to you with a tower, and I will raise up siege works against you. 4 Then you will be low; you will speak from ground level, and your word will be low, from dust. And your voice will be from the ground, like a ghost, and your word will be a whisper from dust. 5 And the mass of your invading foreigners residing in you will be like fine dust, and the mass of tyrants ruling over you like chaff that blows by. And this will happen in an instant, suddenly.

a ghost’s whisper

The inhabitants of Isaiah’s Jerusalem prided themselves on the importance of their city. It was the mighty city where David had encamped. They celebrated their importance regularly with festivals. When a politician from Jerusalem spoke, people listened, because it was always considered a message from a higher-up. But Isaiah broke the spell of their arrogance and self-importance. He told them that God considered that great city an altar for a bloody sacrifice. He told them that he was going to surround them and bring them down. Their mighty voice would be reduced to a ghost’s whisper. It would be a voice from the ground; people will say “Did I hear something?” And the foreign invaders will overwhelm that great city and be everywhere, like the dust, or like the chaff blowing around at harvest.

Why would God treat his own city like that? Because he abhors pride and pretense. Our generation needs to understand this, because we honor the celebrities who think they are better than everyone else. We feed on their words as if they are coming from a higher place. Is it any wonder that so many of those celebrities turn out to be dirt bags? We need leaders who dare to speak God’s words to the needy world around them. We need to follow those who are humbly following Christ.

LORD, give us wisdom to listen to the voices who speak for you. Keep us from the pride and pretense that was Jerusalem’s undoing.

[1] “A bloody altar” is another possible meaning of the name “Ariel.”

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the right way

April 2015 (19)Isaiah 28:23-29

23 Pay attention, and listen to my voice! Listen alertly, and hear my word! 24 Does the plowman plow all day at planting time – while the land is open to sow seed, does he still harrow his ground? 25 Once he has flattened the ground’s face does he not scatter dill, and sow cumin seed, and put wheat in a planted row, and barley in an appointed place, and spelt grain for its border? 26 And his God instructs him, teaching him about the right way to do this. 27 Because dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a wheel of a utility cart turned over cumin, but dill is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod. 28 Grain is crushed fine, but definitely one does not thresh it forever; and one drives the wheel of his cart, but his horses do not crush it. 29 This also comes forth from Yahveh of armies. He gives wonderful advice; he produces much wisdom.

the right way

Isaiah had been called to share the word of God to a stubborn people who would not accept it. He had just told them that the very foundation stone of God’s way to deliverance would be rejected by his people. Now, hoping against hope, he pleads with them not to do this. He uses the analogy of a farmer, plowing all through planting season. It is work, but it is not the right work to accomplish the task. If you keep plowing and never plant, you will never have a harvest. If you harvest with the wrong tools, you ruin your crop. Isaiah pleaded with his generation to trust that God knows the means of his own plan for deliverance.

Ultimately, many in Isaiah’s nation chose to reject Christ, the son of the virgin, when he appeared centuries later. A remnant recognized who this man, Jesus, was. He is God’s plan “A” for delivering his people, and there is no plan “B.” Even today, all over this planet, there are people busy plowing who do not realize it is planting time. Their souls can never produce the righteousness and peace they seek. They have rejected the one way – the right way. Perhaps they think their way is more logical, or more practical, but it is neither. Only God’s way brings results.

LORD, forgive us for trusting in ourselves. Show us how to trust in Jesus, your way to bring righteousness and peace to this planet.

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his strange work

April 2015 (18)Isaiah 28:16-22

16 Therefore the Lord Yahveh says this: “See me! laying a stone in Zion, a testing stone, a precious cornerstone, an ultimate foundation: ‘The one who trusts will not worry and hurry. 17 And I will make justice a measuring line, and righteousness a plumb line; and hail will sweep away a lie’s refuge, and waters will flood over a hiding place. 18 And your covenant with death will be canceled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; you will become a trampling place for the overpowering flood when it passes through. 19 Each time passing through each morning it will pass through, each day and each night, and hearing the warning will bring only terror.” 20 Because your bed time is too short to get enough sleep, and your covering is too small to protect oneself. 21 Because Yahveh will rise up like he did at Mount Perazim; he will rave like he did in the valley at Gibeon to do his work–his strange work — and to work his work–his alien work! 22 And now you must not ridicule it, or your captivity will be severe, because I have heard from the Lord, Yahveh of armies: complete destruction decreed upon all the land.

his strange work

The apostle Paul quotes from this passage in Romans:

“What shall we say then?–that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness got it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not get it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by having faith but (as if it were possible) by doing works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who puts faith in him will not be put to shame.”[1]

Paul saw what Isaiah meant by Yahveh’s strange work. First, the LORD will take his chosen people and reduce them to ruin. Then, upon that leveled ground, he will place his foundation stone (Jesus Christ). If his people will dare to trust that he (God) knows what he is doing, they will put their faith in Christ. Otherwise they will stumble over the very stone which is God’s plan for their restoration. If they insist on seeking righteousness by their own works, they will never be able to take advantage of God’s work, however strange it may seem.

Perhaps God is doing a strange work in your life right now. Maybe even in your prayers, you find yourself saying, “Lord, this does not make sense.” Don’t worry, don’t hurry to find a solution. Wait on the Lord and trust in him. Some day you will look back on his work in your life and realize that he had a plan, and was carrying it out. But, for now, you need to be content in knowing that it is he who is doing this strange work.

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy, and may your whole being (spirit and soul and body) be kept blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

[1] Romans 9:30-33.

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baby talk

April 2015 (17)Isaiah 28:7-15

7 And these also wobble because of wine and stagger because of strong drink; priest and prophet stagger because of strong drink; they are swallowed by wine. They stagger because of strong drink; they err in vision. They stumble rendering of a decision, 8 for all tables are filled with disgusting vomit, without a clean spot. 9 “Who will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain his message? Those who are weaned from milk, just taken from the breast? 10 Because we hear command upon command and rule upon rule,[1] a little here, a little there.” 11 Because he speaks with stammer of lip and another tongue to this people, 12 to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they were not willing to hear. 13 And to them the word of Yahveh will be “command upon command and “rule upon rule, a little here, a little there,” so that they may try to walk and stumble backward and be broken and trapped and captured. 14 Therefore hear the word of Yahveh, mocking men, rulers of these people in Jerusalem: 15 Because you have said, “We have cut a covenant with death, and we have made an agreement with Sheol. The overwhelming flood, when it passes through, will not come to us, because we have made a lie our refuge, and we have hidden ourselves in falsehood.”

baby talk

Isaiah’s words to the nobility were falling on deaf ears. He kept giving them God’s words, and they accused him of being too simplistic and naïve. They were big shots, and Isaiah was treating them like babies. He kept embarrassing them by telling them the same thing, over and over again, as if they were too immature to understand.

How ironic it was, because from Isaiah’s standpoint (and God’s) they were babies. They were stumbling around as if they had not yet learned to walk straight. They were blurping all over the table, so it no longer had a clean spot. They were living in a fantasy world of make –believe, where they could hold back judgment and death by merely wishing it away. Their refuge was a lie, and they had chosen to hide in it, instead of seeking truth from God.

LORD, your word can bring us into a right standing with you. Your word is the means of our growing into maturity and stability. Teach us to respect your word, giving you the authority in our lives that you deserve.

[1] The Hebrew may have been intended to sound like baby talk: “tsav lasav, tsav lasav, kav lakav, kav lakav.”

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transformed by invasion

April 2015 (16)Isaiah 28:1-6

1 Oy! The majestic garland of Ephraim’s drunks, and a withering flower of the his glorious beauty, which stands at the head of a fat valley – people attacked by wine! 2 See! The Lord has someone mighty and strong, like a rainstorm of hail, a wind storm of destruction, like a rainstorm of mighty overflowing waters, he will toss him to the land by hand. 3 The majestic garland of Ephraim’s drunks — they will be trampled by feet, 4 also that withering flower — its glorious beauty which stands at the head of a fat valley will be like its early fig before summer, which, when the one who sees it sees it, he swallows it straight from his hand. 5 In that day, Yahveh of armies will become a beautiful garland and a glorious crown to the survivors of his people, 6 and a spirit of justice for the one who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back battle from the gate.

transformed by invasion

Isaiah describes a people – his own people, transformed spiritually. They begin as spoiled, proud drunks whose pride is in their own majesty and beauty. Then, the LORD tosses in an invading army, and that invasion strips all such foolishness away. Suddenly, the only prize worth having is the LORD himself. The people are no longer a withering flower, attacked by their own addiction to wine. It suddenly makes sense to have honest judges and brave warriors. The coming invasion would do what generations of peace had not. It would sober the people and get them interested in having a relationship with God, and living in maturity as a result of that relationship.

War is a terrible thing, and it should not be sought after. But sometimes a society gets so drunk with pride in itself that it no longer listens to reason. Sometimes an invasion is the only thing that can shake a people enough to get their eyes off themselves and back on the LORD.

LORD, invade our lands with your Holy Spirit. We fear that if this does not happen, other invaders are the only thing that can stop our runaway immaturity.

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the difference

April 2015 (15)Isaiah 27:7-13

7 Does he strike him like the striking of one striking him, Or is he killed like the killing of his killed ones. 8 By expelling her, by her sending away, you argue with her. He removed with his strong wind, on an east wind day. 9 Therefore by this he will atone the guilt of Jacob, and this all of the removal fruit of his sin: in his setting all altar stones like crushed stones of chalk, no worship Asherah poles or incense altars will stand. 10 Because our fortified city is solitary, a settlement deserted and forsaken, like the wilderness; a calf grazes there, lies down there and destroys its branches. 11 with her branch being dry, they are broken; with women coming, setting light to it. Because it is not a people of understanding; therefore his maker will not have compassion on him, and his creator will not show him favor. 12 And this will happen: on that day, Yahveh will thresh from the floodwaters of the Euphrates to the wadi of Egypt, and you, you will be gathered one by one, sons of Israel. 13 And this will happen: on that day, a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria will come, and those who were scattered in the land of Egypt, and they will bow down to Yahveh on the mountain of holiness at Jerusalem.

the difference

The difference between Israel and the nations surrounding it is this: although Yahveh crushes both in judgment, he will ultimately restore Israel. The lost from Assyria and Egypt (and Auckland, and Williamsburg) who come to him in repentance, he will bring into his own family, and they will worship on the mountain of holiness. God cannot abide sin in anyone, but he can forgive sin committed by anyone.

LORD, thank you for your holy hatred of our sin, and your holy love of us sinners.

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vicious vintner

April 2015 (14)Isaiah 27:1-6

1 On that day, Yahveh will punish Leviathan with his cruel, large and strong sword, that fleeing serpent, and Leviathan, that twisting serpent, and he will kill the sea monster that lives in the sea. 2 On that day: “A vineyard of beauty! Sing in praise of it! 3 I, Yahveh, am her keeper; I water it moment by moment; so no harm comes to it, I guard it night and day; 4 There is no wrath against me. Whatever brings me thorns and briers, I will fight against in battle. I will burn it up completely. 5 Or let it grasp at my protection; let it make peace with me; peace let it make with me.” 6 The ones who come, he will root in Jacob; Israel will blossom and send out shoots, and they will fill the world’s face with fruit.

vicious vintner

Israel is depicted as a vineyard, and Yahveh as a vicious protective vintner, determined to grow his vineyard and destroy all obstacles. The great sea monster, Leviathan, can not stop him. No one dares display wrath toward that vineyard keeper. He does not take prisoners. He waters the vineyard, but he burns up the thorns and briers. His goal is to fill the world’s face with fruit from his vineyard. The only way to avoid destruction from this vicious vintner? Make peace with him – become part of his vineyard. He can root you in Jacob. Have you made peace with him?

LORD, we surrender. Make us part of your eternal vineyard.

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He brings life

April 2015 (13)Isaiah 26:16-21

16 Yahveh, in distress they have approached you; they poured out an whispering prayer, feeling your discipline upon them. 17 Like a pregnant woman at the time of giving birth, she writhes; she cries in her labor pains. So we were because of your presence, Yahveh. 18 We became pregnant, we writhed; we produced wind. We cannot bring about deliverance to the land, and no residents of the world are born from our efforts. 19 Your dead will live; my corpse will rise. Wake up and sing for joy, dust dwellers, for your dew is dew of light and the land will resurrect its ghosts. 20 Go, my people, enter into your chambers and shut your door behind you; hide for a little, a little while, until wrath has passed over. 21 Because, watch! Yahveh –about to emerge from his place to punish the iniquity of the resident of the land against him, and the land will disclose her blood and will no longer cover her slain.

He brings life

Isaiah uses two figures of speech to describe his people’s inability to help themselves in the midst of their crisis. They face annihilation by a foreign enemy because of God’s judgment for their immorality. But they are not able to affect the means of their own deliverance.

  • When they weakly offered last-minute prayers, it was like coming to the point of delivering a child, only to produce wind.
  • When the land around them was full of ghosts, so there was no hope of a deliverer emerging from among the people, God steps in and says that he is going to raise the dead.

By means of both figures of speech, Isaiah reminds his people that no matter what their condition, God is not helpless. When he so chooses, he will fulfill his promises. We cannot force him to act. He is under no obligation to regard our feeble attempts at last-minute repentance in order to prevent his judgment. But neither can we prevent him when he wants to raise the dead. The LORD stands as a constant island in a sea of uncertainties. The wise thing to do is put our trust in him, even when our situation seems hopeless.

LORD, we are watching. We trust you to bring life into our barrenness and deadness.

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the role of cultural heritage

April 2015 (12)Isaiah 26:12-15

12 Yahveh, you will ensure peace for us, because even all of our works you have done for us. 13 Yahveh, our God, lords besides you have once ruled over us, but we remember your name alone. 14Those dead gods are not alive now; their dead spirits do not rise because you have punished and destroyed them, and you have destroyed all memory of them. 15 You have increased the nation, Yahveh. You have increased the nation; you are honored. You have extended all borders of our land.

the role of cultural heritage

The prophet reflects on the heritage of his people. The ancestors of the Israelites were pagans, and had worshipped other gods. Although Isaiah acknowledges that, he does not look back on that heritage with pride. Those were false gods, and Yahveh punished and destroyed them. They are dead in their graves, and will not rise again. Everything good that Israel as a nation had done is by the power and providence of Yahveh. Yahveh has increased the nation, and extended its borders. Yahveh alone is to be honored.

It is popular in many lands today to celebrate all the cultures for their distinctiveness. There is nothing wrong with that, but it can be taken too far. God has given us a reflection of himself in every culture and ethnic group on the planet. But sin has also infected every culture and ethnic group. We need to be careful that we do not elevate a culture’s sinfulness as we celebrate it. The role of cultural heritage is to reflect on the diversity of God’s gift of life, not to replace God.

LORD, we thank you for the wonderful diversity you have given humanity. May we celebrate that diversity, and see your hand in who we are. But may we be careful to worship you, not ourselves.

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