Friday, July 15, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 24

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 24

We have been seeing a pattern in the book of Isaiah of alternating the good news and the bad news. In Thursday's passage we read some of the best news there is: a King of the nation of Israel was going to be born, a Child from the tribe of Judah, and someday the government of the entire world will rest on Him. 

The book of Isaiah doesn't necessarily follow a chronological order all the way through but I believe it does have a divine order. If God hadn't interspersed the prophetic warnings with the promises of future deliverance, how could anyone bear it? This book could have been written in two sections, with the first being about all that was wrong in Israel and Judah and the trouble that was going to come, and with the second being the glorious promises of a reigning King and Savior. But I think it would have been very difficult to even get to the second section because the first would have been so disheartening. It would be easy to give up before ever getting to the good news. Even while proclaiming judgment, God is gracious. He gives the people something to hope for.

Today's passage deals with God's righteous anger against Israel. "The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel. All the people will know it---Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria---who say with pride and arrogance of heart, 'The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.'" (Isaiah 9:8-9) This prophecy is about the northern kingdom of Israel, the ten tribes that separated from Judah and Benjamin. The Lord often uses the words "Jacob" and "Israel" interchangeably and in Isaiah we find "Ephraim" being used interchangeably with "Israel" as well, since Ephraim was the largest tribe of the northern kingdom. They have fallen prey to raids of their enemies but boast that they will build back bigger and better. In place of plain bricks they plan to set beautifully dressed stones. In place of fig trees they intend to plant mighty cedars.

When we studied the kings we noted that there were six different kings in Israel's final years. None reigned very long. This was a symptom of the internal collapse that was taking place in their society. If her enemy Assyria had not eventually come and conquered her, I think Israel would have conquered herself in time. The nation fell apart just as its citizens fell apart: from the inside out. The downfall began in their hearts and spread out from there. There is no true and lasting peace and prosperity without the Lord. As the psalmist said, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." (Psalm 33:12) 

Isaiah warns the northern kingdom that their boasting is in vain. Without turning back to the Lord their plans will fail. "But the Lord has strengthened Rezin's foes against them and has spurred their enemies on. Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west have devoured Israel with open mouth. Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised." (Isaiah 9:11-12) Rezin is the king of Aram who ends up allying himself with Israel for the purpose of forming a large army against Assyria, but Rezin's enemies will become Israel's enemies. The northern kingdom hasn't yet been conquered when Isaiah preaches this message but it has already endured incursions by the surrounding nations and tribes. 

Isaiah warns the people that God's anger is not satisfied by the calamities that have already come upon Israel. His hand is still upraised, or in other words, He has already struck Israel and has raised His hand to strike her again. I was hesitant to word it this way, even though it seems to be clearly what the prophet is saying, because I didn't want to create the wrong image in our minds. When we think of a man raising his hand and striking someone over and over, we tend to picture it in the terms of some type of domestic violence, and that's not what's happening here. A better description would be that of a father disciplining a stubborn child by applying a spanking. God isn't abusing the nation; He's disciplining it out of love and concern. His intention is that the hardships to come will turn the hearts of the people back to Him. He intends for them to think back on the old days when the nation was glorious. It was glorious because the people made God the head of it. He wants them to take it to heart and get back to their roots. He has tried reasoning with them through the prophets for a long time now and they have not listened. Had they listened, the "spanking" would have been avoided, but now God has no choice. 

"But the people have not returned to Him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 9:13) This verse proves that the troubles in Israel were for the purpose of turning the people back to God. Affliction is often the quickest way for God to get our attention when we're going down the wrong path. There's nothing we hate more than troubles and sorrows, so it's natural for us to think about why a calamity has come upon us. If we let the Lord have His way in our hearts, He will show us if our troubles are the result of sin in our lives. If He didn't love us He'd let us go our own way, falling deeper and deeper into sin, making a mess of our lives and our families. But like any loving father, God wants what's best for us, and when we don't listen to verbal instruction He may have to resort to applying discipline. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11) The discipline isn't pleasant for us and it's not pleasant for the Lord either. It's painful for us and I believe it's painful for Him. But the purpose of it is to train us in righteousness and peace. It's not intended to beat us down but to raise us up. God doesn't want us living defeated lives. Christ didn't die for us so we could live defeated lives. The Holy Spirit didn't come to dwell within us so we could live defeated lives. God wants strong and healthy children with sound minds and faithful hearts, children who walk through this world in victory, children who overcome. 

I've said many times it seems like I've learned every lesson the hard way but you don't forget lessons learned like that. My God has been a faithful Father. He loves me too much to let me wander away from Him. And He loved Israel that much too.

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