Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 21

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 21

In our study on Monday, Isaiah was told by the Lord to put a binding on the book of prophecy, a protective covering, an outer layer that gives reverence and honor to what's contained inside. Everything the Lord has told him will come true; not one word of it will fail. As Isaiah will later say, "The word of our God endures forever." (Isaiah 40:8b)

After he has finished relating to the people what the Lord told him, Isaiah says, "Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion." (Isaiah 8:18) The Lord has given Isaiah two sons: Shear-Jashub which means "a remnant shall return", and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz which means "speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder". Their very existence along with their names are intended as prophetic signs to the people. Shear-Jashub is the elder son and his name contains the promise that, though Israel and Judah will be carried off into captivity, God isn't finished with them. They won't perish in a foreign land or integrate with pagan peoples to the point of losing their identity. A remnant shall return. They will see the promised land again. And we find an example of the merciful character of God here in that He gives a comforting sign before He delivers the bad news, giving the promise of return before giving the prophecy of defeat. The second son's name indicates overthrow. Assyria will succeed in causing the capitol city of Israel to fall, taking captive all but the poorest of the land. Assyria will terrorize the countryside of Judah and will eventually come up to Jerusalem itself, though they will not prevail against it. Later Babylon will rise and in those days Jerusalem will fall and her people will be carried captive to a foreign land. So Isaiah's second son's name is a sign that defeat is coming, that the promised land will be trampled underfoot and its citizens plundered. But through it all there remains the certain prophecy, "A remnant shall return".

Isaiah states that he himself is a sign to the people. His name means "in the Lord is salvation". There is no hope for the people except in the Lord. Their allies will be of no use to them. Aram has joined with Israel but Aram's king will die at the hands of the Assyrians and her capitol will fall to them before Assyria marches on and conquers Israel. Egypt will attempt to assist Judah but won't be able to defend herself, much less Judah, from Babylon. False idols will be no help to them because they are symbols of things that do not exist. They are useless images unable to hear or see or speak or do anything good or bad. The Lord, whom we have seen presented as the Judge seated on the throne in Isaiah, will call these false deities into His courtroom and demand an accounting of their ineffectiveness. He will offer them their day in court and an opportunity to mount a defense, "Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear." (Isaiah 41:22-23) The Lord flings these taunts at the mute idols because He knows they are incapable of hearing Him or giving Him an answer. Their painted eyes can't see. Their carved ears can't hear. Their red mouths full of fearsome teeth can't speak. The hands that hang at their sides will never lift to supply aid. The feet they stand on will never rush to anyone's defense. So the righteous Judge condemns the idols who have been the downfall of His people. 

There is one God and He is our only hope. He was the only means of salvation for the twelve tribes of Israel and He is the only means of salvation for you and me today. Why seek guidance from anyone else? Isaiah points out the foolishness of engaging in occult practices for spiritual counseling, "When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isaiah 8:19) There was an attitude in the nation of seeking anyone but the Lord. Panic-stricken at the thought of a coalition of armies coming against them, the people were advising their friends to have their fortunes told by psychics or to have mediums call up the dead for advice. They didn't want to accept the sign of "speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder", which meant defeat was coming. And they didn't even want to acknowledge the sign that "a remnant shall return" because it meant captivity was coming first. They wanted to shut their ears to the truth Isaiah was preaching and run to someone who would tell them what they wanted to hear. The living God was urging them to repent or face the collapse of the nation and this simply wasn't what a large portion of the population wanted to do.

I like the way Isaiah says the fortune-tellers and mediums "whisper and mutter". The word of the Lord is clear. The prophecies He gave were simple. He plainly told the people what their problems were and what they needed to do about them. He presented the penalties for disobedience in language anyone could understand. But the mediums and spiritists, because they were fakes, put on a big dramatic show of speaking with the spirit world in garbled and unclear mutterings. It was smoke and mirrors. There was no substance to it. The messages they claimed to receive from the spirit world made little sense because the messages were entirely made up in wicked minds.  

Instead of paying good money for foolish advice, Isaiah pleads with the people, "Consult God's instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." (Isaiah 8:20) Did the messages of the mediums line up with the word of God? If not, Isaiah says to discount everything they say. This is the fail-proof test of all counseling. Is it in line with the Bible or is it not? The people of Isaiah's day had all the books of Moses to consult, which denounce occult practices and attempts to contact the dead. They had the ten commandments and all the laws given for righteous living. The word of God was freely available to them for guidance and counseling. I like to picture Isaiah standing before the people holding a copy of the law in his hands, pointing to it and saying, "If anyone does not speak according to this word, there is no truth in them."

Isaiah said those who were seeking help from the occult, forsaking the laws of Almighty God and scorning His offer of redemption, would come to a bitter end. "Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness." (Isaiah 8:21-22) They will believe the lies they want to believe: the lie that they don't need to repent, the lie that God won't allow anyone to defeat them. Because they believe these things they will witness the coming destruction of the nation. Rather than admitting the distress is the penalty for their sin, they will blame the king for their predicament and they will blame the Lord. 

Chapter 8 ends on a disheartening note but, as always in the book of Isaiah, good news is about to follow. Though the book of Isaiah was written about seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, in Chapter 9 we find the prophet speaking of a Man who will someday walk the shores of Galilee. In the midst of the darkness of today's prophecies the hope of a future redemption will dawn and Isaiah will say of the coming Savior and King, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light."

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