Thursday, June 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 9

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 9

Isaiah continues today with his list of woes. In case you are becoming weary with all the bad news, I promise you better days are coming in the book of Isaiah. As far as I can tell, Isaiah made more prophecies about the Messiah than any other prophet. The Lord Jesus frequently quoted from this book and even began His ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah. This is why we have chosen "comfort my people" as our key verse for this study, because for every tale of coming woe there is a vision of a glorious future. 

Yesterday Isaiah warned the people that God is going to humble them. They have refused to accept His lordship over their lives and have rejected the One who made them into a nation. For their own good He has to show them He is Lord and is not to be disrespected. But the people mock Isaiah and they mock God, so Isaiah says, "Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, 'Let God hurry; let Him hasten His work so we may see it. The plan of the Holy One of Israel---let it approach, let it come into view, so we may know it.'" (Isaiah 5:18-19) The people don't believe what Isaiah is telling them. The prophets have been predicting disaster for a while now and it hasn't happened yet. Instead of realizing this is the mercy of God, that He is giving them time to repent, they challenge the Lord, "So You're going to judge us? Get on with it then!"

We've probably all felt like justice was a long time coming. We've looked around us at wickedness and wondered why God hasn't done anything about it yet. We've seen godly people pass on in the prime of their lives while those who spit in the face of God keep on going. According to the Bible, both these situations are the mercy of God. About the righteous who often seem to leave the world too soon, Isaiah says, "The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil." (Isaiah 57:1) About those who live in rebellion toward God, the Apostle Peter said of God's promise of coming judgment, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) My mother died of cancer when I was only twenty-six. That feels like an awfully young age to lose your mother. She was a fine Christian woman and it seemed unfair that the Lord took her so soon while leaving wicked people here to live on. I felt confused and hurt and angry toward the Lord. I still can't tell you what His purpose was in taking her so soon but in her case maybe it's as Isaiah said, the Lord took her away to spare her from evil. Maybe she's been spared from something she would have thought was worse than cancer. I don't know the answer but I've come to a place where I feel at peace with it. 

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight." (Isaiah 5:20-21) We need the word of the Lord to guide our lives. Otherwise we might start seeing moral issues in a shade of gray rather than in black or white, right or wrong. King Solomon, a man who made many mistakes and learned things the hard way, wrote the book of Proverbs late in his life. He said, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12) We need to be able to judge situations and opportunities in the light of God's word. Things in this life can look pretty good to us, just as the fruit looked good to Eve in the garden, but the result is death. That fruit needed to be judged in the light of God's word and He had said, "You must not eat of it." Things that come our way look good to us on the outside but sometimes the light of God's word shines on them and says, "This is the wrong path. This goes against what I've commanded." That's why Solomon spoke these very wise and familiar words, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Isaiah now attacks their excessive lifestyle and their greed. "Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent." (Isaiah 5:22-23) Things had gotten to the point that a man was considered heroic if he won the drinking contents, if he could hold his liquor better than his companions. We see why, several days ago, Isaiah pointed out that there were no heroes left in the nation. Where are the mighty men like King David and his best friend Jonathan? Where are the godly kings who cast down all the idols and restored the house of God? These were the true heroes of Israel and Judah! Isaiah is a hero. Jeremiah is a hero. All the prophets who dared to stand up in wicked times and hold up the word of God are heroes. The average citizens going about their lives while honoring God are heroes. It takes heroism to swim against the stream, to say of the Lord, "Though no one join me, still I will follow." I believe in our times, as the Lord looks down on this earth from His throne, He sees and blesses the ordinary heroes, the people who are swimming against the cultural stream, those who intend to live their lives by His word no matter what. 

"Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the Lord's anger burns against His people; His hand is raised and He strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised." (Isaiah 5:24-25) Isaiah speaks of the future fall of the nation as if it has already happened. He sees it in his mind. Men will fall in battle but that won't be the end of it. It's not simply that they will be conquered and forced to live under the rule of a foreign king. They will be conquered and taken forcibly to a foreign land.

"He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, He whistles for those at the end of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!" (Isaiah 5:26) I picture God waving a sign over the nation, a sign that invites enemies to invade, as He whistles to get the attention of Assyria and Babylon. Assyria is a huge world power in Isaiah's day and she will soon turn her attention to the northern kingdom of Israel to conquer it. In time, Babylon will rise against Assyria, will rise against Judah's ally Egypt, and will then come and conquer Jerusalem.

The armies of the enemy are strong and well-equipped. Israel and Judah will not be able to stand against them. "Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal strap is broken. Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses' hooves seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. Their roar is like that of a lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds." (Isaiah 5:27-30) I believe the Lord uses the imagery of lions here for a reason. If we look back at the ancient culture of Assyria we find a great deal of lion imagery. Kings who wanted to prove their heroism went on big-game hunts to kill a lion. A lot of archaeological artwork remains as evidence of these lion hunts. So we see that the symbol of a growling lion would be familiar to the people of Isaiah's day and they would have understood the connection between a lion and the king of Assyria. The roaring lion of Assyria will conquer Israel and drag her citizens off to his lair. Likewise, ancient Babylon used the image of a lion as a symbol of her king and his power. The kings of Babylon also participated in lion hunts to display their vitality and strength. In Isaiah's prophecy the king of Babylon is a mighty conqueror who roars over his prey and then grabs it in his jaws to drag it back to his own land. He will conquer Judah and roar over her in victory, then will take her captive to Babylon, where one captive by the name of Daniel will actually end up in a literal lion's den. 

The Lord never promised Israel and Judah a life completely free of trouble if they obeyed Him but He promised to be their Defender. He never promised any of His children a life free of trouble. But He did promise to those who obey Him a life of "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8), a life of "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). He did promise us a life in which we are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). When the Lord looks for heroes on the earth, He finds them in those faithful to Christ, those who take up their cross every day and follow Him. Most of us will never be what the world considers heroes just as we wouldn't have been considered heroes in Isaiah's day, when the nation honored those who excelled at excessive living and in cutting dishonest deals. But in God's eyes, His children are the true heroes, the ones who are more than conquerors, for He says, "These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word." (Isaiah 66:2b) 

The link below is to a song about the promises of God. He didn't promise us a trouble-free life, but He did promise us something the world can't give.

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