Thursday, June 23, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 2

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 2

When we left off yesterday we found the twelve tribes of Israel called before the Judge. The Lord was spelling out the charges against them: their rebellion, their rejection of God their Savior, their idolatry. Today He continues to read the crimes they have committed but He also offers them a plea deal.

"Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of My sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the cause of the widow." (Isaiah 1:16-17) The people can admit their guilt and throw themselves on the mercy of the court. Their actions have broken the laws of a holy God but He is also a merciful God. In bringing these charges against the children of Israel, God's hope is that they will acknowledge their guilt and repent. He has no desire to pass a life sentence or render the death penalty for their sins. He's saying, "You don't have to keep going down this wrong road. It's not too late to get back on the right track. Confess your guilt and repent and be made clean. Do what is right in My eyes. Defend those who have no defender. Rescue those who are oppressed. Speak up for those who have no voice." 

"'Come now, let us settle the matter,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 1:18a) There is still time to show remorse and reduce their penalty, just as in our justice system today. When a person is accused of a serious crime, often the prosecutor and defense attorney will try to work out a deal before the case goes to court. Sometimes they manage to work out a plea bargain while the trial is in progress. Until the verdict is read and the judge bangs the gavel down, there is still an opportunity for the accused to change the course of his life. He can't undo what he has already done but in admitting guilt and showing remorse he may be handed a lighter sentence. The Lord is saying, "There's still time to settle this matter out of court. I haven't passed sentence yet. You and I both know you are guilty. Is there anything you would like to say to Me before I give My verdict?"

The Lord now offers a way out, a road to redemption, and that road leads to Him. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.' For the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 1:18-20) The Lord sets before the people a choice. We might compare this to a judge offering a guilty person the choice between jail time or community service. They can confess their sins and repent right here before the Judge's bench. They can kneel down before Him and receive forgiveness and mercy. Then they may go free, free to serve the Lord and walk in His ways. Peace will come to their nation if they are obedient. But if they refuse to repent and change their ways, they are refusing God's offer of mercy. They are saying no to peace and yes to hardships.

The Lord sets the same choice before us today. Be willing and obedient to follow Him and enjoy peace and fellowship with our Maker. Our God will be our defender, mighty to save. But if we resist and rebel, as King Solomon said, "The way of transgressors is hard." (Proverbs 13:15) 

The Lord speaks of how Jerusalem has rejected Him, "See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her---but now murderers!" (Isaiah 1:21) When King David established the capitol at Jerusalem, he ruled according to the laws of the Lord. It was all downhill from there. His son Solomon married many pagan women and he built shrines for them to their false gods. The spiritual condition of the nation began its slide into decay as king after king drifted farther away from the Lord. Judah had a few good kings but the vast majority of them were unfaithful to God. As a result, by the time of Isaiah dishonesty abounds. Injustice prevails. Capital crimes are not punished. The morals of their society have broken down. 

"Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them." (Isaiah 1:22-23) Silver full of impurities is useless. Wine mixed with water would taste disgusting. The sad spiritual condition prevails throughout the land until the entirety of it is contaminated. Justice is no longer served because the people no longer care about the law. Whoever has the most money can bribe an official to rule in their favor.

"Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: 'Ah! I will vent My wrath on My foes and avenge myself on my enemies. I will turn My hand against you;'" (Isaiah 1:24-25a) Later in our study of Isaiah the prophet will say, "Your sins have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2) When the people spurned the Lord who loved them and brought them out of slavery into a land of plenty, they made themselves His enemy. They ended the relationship. They broke the covenant. What do we call someone who rejects us, thinks nothing of our love and friendship, and walks away from us without looking back? We would consider that person an enemy, not by our own will, but by theirs. The Lord's brother James had this to say about those who turn from the Lord to cling to the pleasures of the world, "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4) We have to live in the world and there are many good things in the world that the Lord intends for us to enjoy. But these verses are talking about a spiritual condition in which people have forsaken the Lord in favor of other gods: they have become unfaithful to Him and are called adulterers and prostitutes. They are bowing their knees to gods they have not known.

We studied many of these false gods in 1st and 2nd Kings and we learned what unspeakable activities went on in their religious rituals. Some were fertility cults that involved all sorts of sexual practices between men and women who were not married to each other. Serving the goddess Asherah gave the people an excuse to indulge every carnal urge they felt. One idolatrous king even turned the temple into a brothel with male and female shrine prostitutes conducting business there. The people of Israel had adopted the Canaanite god Molech to whom children were sacrificed. Two of Judah's kings even sacrificed a son to this abominable false diety. They were running to any god they heard about, any god but the one true God, and that is why He calls them His enemies.

God has said He will turn His hand against the people, which is something we might expect a righteous Judge to say, but then things go in an unexpected direction. The turning of His hand against the people is not for the purpose of destroying them but for the purpose of regenerating them. "I will turn My hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your leaders as in days of old, your rulers as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City." (Isaiah 1:25-26) The Lord will wound them so He can heal them. Job, a man who knew sorrows we can't even begin to imagine, said, "For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal." (Job 5:18) The Lord will wound them so they will come to their senses and say, "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds." (Hosea 6:1)

If the Lord had never wounded me, I wouldn't be here studying His word with you this morning. I was walking in the ways of the world, an enemy of God, until He turned His hand against me. Even since coming to Christ, the Lord has had to purge the dross and will continue to do so. Precious metals like silver and gold have to be heated to high temperatures so the impurities can rise to the surface and be skimmed off. This is why we sometimes find ourselves walking through the fire of adversity when we have gone astray. "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey Your word." (Psalm 119:67) Every now and then we find ourselves in the heat of the fire even when we've been living in the will of the Lord. This is because He is in the business of continual improvement. As long as we live in the flesh, we are under construction. God wants the best for His children and there are some lessons we can learn in the good times but there are some we can only learn in the hard times.

There is a pattern we will find repeated throughout the book of Isaiah. It's a pattern of delivering bad news, then good news. God is telling the people they are guilty and that He is going to bring trouble on them. But the good news is that the trouble is for their redemption. It's going to lead them back to Him so He can restore them as they were in the beginning.

"Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish." (Isaiah 1:27-28) The sins the people have committed will bring hardship on them but there will be those who will learn from their troubles. They will see the connection between their sins and their afflictions. They will return to the Lord their Maker and be healed. These are the ones who do what King Solomon advised, "Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise." (Proverbs 19:20) But during the trials that are about to come upon Israel, there will be those who refuse to admit the Lord is righteous when He judges. They will refuse to listen to His advice and accept His discipline. They will have this attitude, "A person's own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord." (Proverbs 19:3) The Lord is promising restoration for the penitent but disaster for the stubborn.

Those who continue to cling to idolatry will be disgraced because of it. They have built groves on all the high hills and have placed altars to false gods there. They have cried out to graven images that lack the power to hear them or to help them. "You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen. You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water. The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, and no one will quench the fire." (Isaiah 1:29-31) It's far better to repent and look back on our past with shame than to refuse the word of the Lord and stand before Him someday in shame. This is the choice He is setting before Israel in today's passage and it's the choice He sets before all mankind. We can come to Him and leave our disgrace behind or we can continue in our sins and stand before our Judge without excuse, without defense. The choice is up to us. Our destiny is in our hands. If we make the correct choice we will stand before our holy Judge and the Lord Jesus Christ will stand beside us as our defense attorney, pleading our case, and God the Father will declare us "not guilty".

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