Monday, July 4, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 13

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 13

In Sunday's study we found the prophet Isaiah assuring King Ahaz that the combined forces of Israel and Aram will not prevail against Judah. The Lord gave the idolatrous Ahaz an opportunity to become a man of faith by challenging him, "If you do not stand in faith, you will not stand at all." He reminded Ahaz that the leaders of Israel and Aram are only mortal men of flesh and blood, while the leader of Judah is God Himself. But Ahaz isn't accustomed to bowing his knees to the one true God and the Lord knows the king doesn't have it in him to make a leap of faith. So God mercifully offers to make it easier for him. "Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 'Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or the highest heights.'" (Isaiah 7:10) God is willing to do whatever it takes to change Ahaz's life, to turn him away from idols to the living God. God will show Ahaz any sign he asks for, anything he needs to prove to him that God is real and that His words are true.

Ahaz is probably the most superstitious man in Judah, a man who will bow to any idol he thinks may hold the key to his success. He has adopted pagan deities of other nations, even going so far as to sacrifice his own son and burn him to an abominable false god. He will later give away consecrated temple articles to pay tribute to Tiglath-Pileser, the king of Assyria. And after that he will desecrate the temple itself by setting up a heathen altar in it and sacrificing to Tiglath-Pileser's god. But though Ahaz is a superstitious man whom we would expect to welcome a sign from God, he rejects this with a hypocritically pious attitude. "But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.'" (Isaiah 7:12) He is quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah." 

We see from this that Ahaz knows the Scripture, or at least some of it, and can quote it by heart. He says he's going to obey the command not to test the Lord. However, the verse he quotes is smack dab in the middle of a passage he has not obeyed, for when taken in context it reads like this, "Fear the Lord your God, serve Him only and take your oaths in His name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and His anger will burn against you, and He will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees He has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said." (Deuteronomy 6:13-19) When we read the whole paragraph we see just how insulting Ahaz's answer is to the Lord. He has kept none of these instructions, yet he declares in a super-religious tone of voice that he dares not test the Lord. 

The children of Israel were said to have tested the Lord because they accused Him of bringing them out of Egypt only to kill them with thirst in the wilderness. It's an illogical accusation, for if God wanted them dead, He didn't have to take them anywhere. He could have killed them right there in Egypt. The Egyptians were already racially discriminatory against the Hebrews and feared them. They had enslaved them because of a paranoid idea that the Hebrews were going to rise up and take over the country. If God had wanted them dead, He didn't even have to lift a finger, for in time the Egyptians would likely have wiped them out. But He brought them out of bondage with many miraculous signs such as the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians and the awesome parting of the Red Sea. But as soon as they reached their first campsite they began to complain against the Lord, so He brought water out of a rock and Moses named the place Massah because that word means "testing". They were trying God's patience. They were like tired children, pushing God to His limits, exasperating Him with their whining. I remember being a bratty child who, when disciplined, would illogically whine to my parents, "You don't love me!" Never mind the many thousands of ways they had proven their love; when one little thing didn't go my way I accused them of having no feelings. This is how the children of Israel tested God in the wilderness and it has no bearing on the sign God wished to furnish to King Ahaz. It's not testing God when He volunteers to prove Himself to us. He's saying to King Ahaz, "What does it take for Me to prove I love you? Ask Me anything." 

I can't be certain of Ahaz's motivations in rejecting the Lord's offer but I tend to think it's because he has already made up his mind to ally himself with the king of Assyria. Assyria is the enemy of Judah's enemies. By joining himself with a powerful nation, Ahaz hopes to rid himself of the threat of invasion by Israel and Aram. Instead of trusting in Almighty God for deliverance, Ahaz has already decided to trust in a pagan king. 

I picture Ahaz standing tall and proud, putting on a front of respect for God, while in his mind he has no intention of asking for a sign which might change his intended course of action. The Lord sees right through it. "Then Isaiah said, 'Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of God also?" (Isaiah 7:13) Like an exasperated father whose child continually rebels and refuses to listen to instruction, God says, "I'm tired of arguing with you." 

Ahaz has refused to ask for a sign but God is going to give him one anyway: the sign of Immanuel, which means "God with us". In tomorrow's study we find a message of hope in the middle of this sad passage, the promise of a Son born of a virgin, the promise of God with us. A child will be born of the tribe of Judah upon whose shoulders the entire government of the world will one day rest. He will be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel". (Luke 2:32) He will be the ultimate proof of God's love for us.

Our song link today is about all the ways God has proven His love for us.

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