Sunday, June 26, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 5

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 5

The prophet has been explaining what's wrong with the men of ancient Jerusalem and Judah. He talked about how weak they were and said none of them were heroes. Today he talks about the women and they don't fare any better.

"Youths oppress My people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path." (Isaiah 3:12) The wise and aged men are not in power. As we saw yesterday, Isaiah said the younger generation had risen up against the elders. These young men who had taken things over wanted nothing to do with the old ways or with the laws of God. As a result they are immoral, oppressing the people they rule over. Scholars appear divided in their opinion of what it means here that "women rule over them". We know of no female rulers in the days of the kings but Isaiah could be saying that women are ruling the roost and that their husbands are driven to oppression and thievery because the women covet riches. Later in today's passage we will find the women decked out like queens, so this could be the case. 

The guides mentioned are probably the false prophets, the ones who kept denying the words of men like Isaiah and Jeremiah. The false prophets were promising victory for the people instead of the coming disaster. And the people were listening because the false prophets didn't tell them to repent. "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of My people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:13-14) The people have wounded themselves with their sins, and these wounds are deep and serious, but instead of telling them how to be healed the false prophets are covering up the wounds. Is there anything worse than a wicked spiritual leader? The citizens have fallen so far from God that they have lost spiritual discernment; they can't tell that these men are lying to them, and so they are led even farther astray by men who pervert the word of God. The true prophets were urgently crying out the same words John the Baptist will still be crying out when the New Testament opens, "Repent! Repent!" Repenting in humility of spirit was the cure for their wounds. A deep cut that isn't cleaned and stitched and dressed with ointment isn't going to heal very well if we just slap a bandage over it. It will continue to ooze and fester. It will become so ugly we won't even want to peel up an edge of the bandage to peer under it. That's what hidden sin looks like: a nasty infected wound. Every time I've had stitches the doctor told me not to cover them with a band-aid; he said they needed to heal in the open air. That's the same thing the Lord says about our sins. We are to confess them to Him, get them out in the open, and let them heal. 

The book of Isaiah began with the Lord, the Judge, being seated at the bench to hear the charges against the people. The prophet continues with that metaphor. "The Lord takes His place in court; He rises to judge the people. The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of His people: 'It is you who have ruined My vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor?' declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 3:13-15) Israel is often referred to as a vineyard or a vine in the Scriptures. This gives us the impression of her as a choice and special type of plant. The Lord uprooted the inferior vines that were in the land before her (the wicked tribes of Canaan with their idols, their sex cults, and their heinous practice of child sacrifice). The people of Israel have brought some of their ruin on themselves of course but the religious leaders are guiltier than the ordinary citizens, for their job was to set a godly example. Their job was to make God's laws known to the people and to govern the land according to those laws. But instead even the priesthood is overcome by greed. They are running after ill-gotten gains instead of running for God's word. Instead of caring for the poor and the widows and the orphans, the Lord says these men have ground their faces into the dust. The priests were still going about their duties at the temple but their hearts were far from the Lord and so He rejects their service. The service He requires from them looks more like this, "Religion that our God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

Next the Lord talks about how far the women have fallen into greed and covetousness. They are worshiping the things of the world and not the things of God. I wish I could remember who said this, but I once heard an evangelist say we can judge how far a society has fallen by the way the women conduct themselves. The presence of women is usually a civilizing force. Women were brought over to the New World to help the men and that is when the men began to be very successful in building the nation. Things weren't advancing very far until the ladies showed up and then the men were inspired to do great things, to marry and be good providers, to make a home for their wives and children. Women tend to bring order to things. We value the reading of the Scriptures, we value education, we value the home and the family, we value productivity and hard work. But in today's passage we find the women of Judah and Jerusalem living only for themselves and for what they can get. They enjoy the fine things their men get for them by oppressing others. They don't care that their finery was gotten by injustice. A vicious cycle has come about because the men began oppressing others out of greed, then the women began to enjoy the finer lifestyle this gave them and so they praised their husbands for their wrongdoing. In turn, this led to the men going out and committing bigger and bigger crimes against their fellow citizens. "The Lord says, 'The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald." (Isaiah 3:16-17) When Babylon comes and conquers Jerusalem, thousands of people will be taken captive, and a common practice of captors is to shave the heads of their prisoners. The women who are spending scads of money at the beauty shops of Jerusalem will have no hair to dress in those days.

I don't feel the Lord finds anything wrong with a woman looking her best in a godly way. You should do whatever your beliefs and your conscience tell you is right for you in the matters of how you dress your hair and whether or not you wear makeup. I grew up in a church culture that felt a modest amount of makeup was fine so I do wear a light amount of neutral makeup. If we begin to look like "ladies of the evening" then we are doing too much, but personally I have nothing against a woman wearing a modest amount of makeup or coloring her hair or wearing pretty clothes. The problem with the women in the book of Isaiah is that their lives revolve around serving themselves. They are flaunting their wealth because wealth has become their god. Each of them is trying to outdo the other. They have become shallow and heartless. It's not their clothing or their jewelry or their makeup that has ruined them; it's the condition of their hearts.

The Lord speaks of the coming disaster and the loss of the things they put such value on, "In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls." (Isaiah 3:18-23) That's a lot of stuff to be wearing all at once! I would say they were definitely overdressed. Many women, myself included, enjoy shopping. It's a form of recreation and entertainment. I've been guilty of using shopping to raise my spirits instead of going to the One who gives me the Holy Spirit. I've bought things because I was feeling down or neglected or unappreciated. If we aren't careful this can become an addiction and some years back I realized I was heading down that path. I wasn't buying expensive items or running up debt but I could see it was becoming a pattern of me saying to myself, "I feel depressed so I'll buy a new lipstick or nail polish or pair of earrings." The women in today's passage were filling their lives with things because they felt so empty inside. They believed getting more and more things would fill the emptiness. But we are created with a hole in our hearts that only the Lord can fill and nothing else will ever satisfy us. If we have Him at the center of our lives, then all our other blessings can be enjoyed in a godly way. But if we don't have Him then no amount of worldly goods will make us feel better.

"Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding. Your men will fall by the sword, your warriors in battle. The gates of Zion will lament and mourn; destitute, she will sit on the ground." (Isaiah 3:24-26) The gorgeous embroidered and bejeweled sashes will be replaced with a rope in the day they are carried away captive. They will be tied together in a chain as slaves of a foreign nation. The men who have taken things from others to give it to their wives will fall in battle. These providers will be gone. The wealthy women who were once so proud will be exactly like the poor widows whom their husbands treated unjustly.

Jerusalem will fall under Babylon and then, centuries later, she will fall again under Rome. The Romans cast a medal that depicts the downfall of Jerusalem and in it a Jewish woman is sitting sadly on the ground with a soldier looming over her. She is destitute, sitting on the ground, just as Isaiah said she would be in verse 26.

There's nothing we have today that can't be taken from us tomorrow except our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from Him. But what had happened in Isaiah's day was that the people had pushed God out of their lives and were trusting in things that don't last. How will their bracelets and tiaras help them when a mighty army pours in? Their enemy won't be interested in accepting bribes but will be intent on carrying them away captive. The gold and silver the men have heaped up won't be able to buy their way out of trouble. The false prophets who promise peace will be exposed as liars. The pagan household idols won't speak a word when soldiers break down the door, they won't hear the cries of distress, they won't come to the rescue. If only the nation had repented at the words of Isaiah and turned back to the Lord, He would have fought for them. He would have been their sword and shield. He would have overcome the enemy. This is why, time and again, we find the Lord fighting for the nation in the times of the godly kings. Whenever a revival took place and an enemy came against them, the Lord took up His sword. He was their Deliverer. And we can have that in our own lives in our daily battles. If God is the Lord of our lives, He will be the same sword and shield for us. Enemies may come against us but we will know our God is behind us. Far better to face the enemy in the power of God than in our own power. We are nothing on our own.

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