Saturday, September 10, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 74

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 74

Yesterday we finished with the people being charged of having forsaken the Lord. They are trusting in a lie, looking to anyone and everything but the Lord to rescue them. Therefore the Lord said they had made a covenant with death. They spurned His help and looked to a pagan nation for relief. They thought Egypt would help them against Assyria and I don't know of any other ancient culture more preoccupied with death than Egypt. In that sense too, the people of Israel and Judah were making a covenant with death. The people believed death would pass them by, that judgment wouldn't fall on them, if they allied themselves with Egypt. Egypt was experiencing a reversal of fortunes and had regained a great deal of her former glory, so she had invited surrounding nations to join her in an effort to rid the region of Assyrian oppression. But this coalition would not be successful. 

"So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.'" (Isaiah 28:16) The Apostle Peter quoted this passage from Isaiah in 1 Peter 2, applying it to the Lord Jesus. Christ is the cornerstone of our faith. He is our Rock who can never be moved. And He is our only hope. 

Peter said of this cornerstone, "Now to you who believe, this stone is precious." (1 Peter 2:7a) Peter was speaking to first century Christians. But Isaiah is speaking to an unfaithful nation. They have not listened to the words of the Lord in times past and they are not listening in Isaiah's day. The message about a coming Redeemer is currently falling upon deaf ears because the nation is looking to her allies for help against the enemy, when all along her Helper was at hand. Because she has rejected Him, "I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through." (Isaiah 28:17-19a) The people had built their house upon the sand and the storm was about to sweep the house away.

"The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror. The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you." (Isaiah 28:19b-20) Barry G. Webb, in his book The Message of Isaiah, interprets it like this, "Having made their bed they will have to lie on it, but they will find that it is too short; it will not give them any comfort or protection." (pg 121) When we who are believers get out of God's will, we cannot get comfortable. There have been times when I "made my bed" by making bad choices. I tried to lie in it but spiritually speaking I could do nothing but toss and turn through sleepless nights. Being a believer yet living in opposition to God's word is a terribly uncomfortable position to be in. We won't feel satisfied at any time of the day or night. Nothing makes us comfortable again except going to the Lord and confessing our sins and forsaking them, thus having our closeness with Him restored. 

"The Lord will rise up as He did at Mount Perazim, He will rouse Himself as in the Valley of Gibeon---to do His work, His strange work, and perform His task, His alien task." (Isaiah 28:20-21) God fought on the side of Israel at Mount Perazim and in the Valley of Gibeon. But now the people have arrayed themselves in battle formation against Him. They have made themselves His enemies by scorning His help and His redemption. So now He must fight against them and this is a "strange work" and an "alien task". It is strange and alien because the Lord and the people with whom He made a covenant are supposed to be on the same side. God, in His heart, would much prefer to be fighting on the side of Israel but He cannot because they have strayed from Him and have bowed to false idols. Bringing discipline on them is distasteful to Him but it must be done for their own good, just as a father disciplines a son for his own good. How can we be said to love our children if we never teach them the right way? How can God be said to love Israel if He does not teach them the right way? We've probably all heard the parental expression, "This hurts me more than it hurts you." In the case of the Lord, this is certainly true. It hurts Him to correct His people. It feels strange and alien to discipline His wayward children, but it must be done.

King Solomon said this about the Lord's discipline, "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:11-12) The author of the book of Hebrews, who is thought to be the Apostle Paul, quoted Solomon's words and then went on to say, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?...God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. 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 12:7, 10b-11) There are two types of discipline: the type used for correction and the type used for training. Isaiah speaks of the type used for correction because the people had fallen so far from God. But there is a type of discipline that is intended for training. Troubles may come even when we are walking in the will of God, and in those cases the troubles are for our spiritual development. The Lord's brother James said of this type, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." (James 1:2-3) Just as an athlete must discipline himself to train every day, so the Lord trains us for perseverance. We don't turn into marathon runners from couch potatoes overnight, either physically or spiritually. It takes training and discipline.

When troubles come, the first thing we ought to do is prayerfully examine our hearts to see whether we are caught up in a sin. Taking this problem to the Lord will allow Him to reveal to us anything we need to repent of. Repenting and turning from the sin may well shorten our time of discipline. But if, in our time with the Lord, we feel satisfied our troubles are not the result of waywardness, then we know God is training us for something. He is working on our spiritual development. He intends for us to learn something and to grow in our relationship with Him. The Apostle Paul said it well when he told us no discipline is pleasant at the time. I've certainly never enjoyed it. I've experienced the discipline that was a result of my sins and I've experienced the training that was intended to help me grow in the faith. Neither were pleasant. But in both types of cases, God was working something out for my good because He loves me. 

In the book of Isaiah, God is working things out for the good of His people. They have strayed from Him and must be disciplined, but He does not intend the discipline to destroy them. He is doing what the Apostle Paul said He was doing, disciplining for good so that they could share in His holiness. God, like any loving Father, wants the best for His children. 

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