Sunday, September 11, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 75

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 75

This morning we are going to conclude Chapter 28 which is titled "Woe To The Leaders Of Ephraim And Judah". Isaiah finishes up this section with a parable and I love parables because our Lord often used them. 

"Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say. When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil?" (Isaiah 28:23-24) In Isaiah's parable, the Lord is the farmer. Isaiah is speaking to an agricultural society and they know the process of farming from beginning to end. A farmer has to break up his soil every spring but he doesn't keep on breaking it up all season. If he never gets to the planting he will never have a harvest.

The Lord had to break up the soil to plant Israel. The people of the land of Canaan had inhabited the land for centuries and their sins grew worse as time went on. We studied some of their religious practices when we looked at 1st and 2nd Kings. They even had the abominable practice of child sacrifice. The Lord plucked up the people of Canaan and planted the tribes of Israel in the soil there. "When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?" (Isaiah 28:25)

The farmer knows when to plow, when to sow, and when to reap because, "His God instructs him and teaches him the right way." (Isaiah 28:26) Just like a knowledgeable farmer, the Lord knows exactly what needs to be done at every point in history. There is a time to plow, a time to get the land ready to plant a people in it. There is a time to sow a nation and let it grow. 

There is a time to thresh a nation. God has dealt with many nations over the millenia and He has dealt with each in a different way. "Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a stick. Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it, but one does not use horses to grind grain." (Isaiah 28:27-28) The manner of threshing depends upon the type of grain the farmer is dealing with. Likewise, the manner of threshing depends upon the type of nation the Lord is dealing with. We can bring this on down to a very personal level because God individualizes His approach to every one of us according to our unique personalities. We all endure some threshing in this life. As we studied yesterday, God disciplines those He loves and He trains His children in the ways of godliness. The manner of threshing depends on our stubbornness and whether or not we cling to sin. For the one who is easily taught and eager to learn, the threshing is more gentle. For the one who is stubborn and willful, the threshing will likely take longer and be of a harsher nature. 

I have endured threshing in a variety of ways and will likely see more of it if I live long enough. When I was living in sin, the Lord had to let me hit bottom, knowing I would not look up to Him until there was no other place to look for help. That type of threshing is usually a lengthy process. Looking back now, I can't say why it took me so long to see the light, especially since I was brought up in the church and knew the word of God, but one of my failings has always been an independent stubborn streak. I have never liked being told what to do. I was a willful and wayward child and I grew into a willful and wayward adult. It took some intense threshing in my early twenties to get me onto the right path.

Even as Christians, we are threshed in various ways and for various reasons. Sometimes it's for discipline because we are holding onto a bad attitude, or onto a spirit of unforgiveness, or because we have fallen into sin. Other times it's simply for the purpose of training us, to make us more godly, to increase our faith and make us better Christians. Sometimes it's to prepare us for something in the future when we will need the skills we learned during the threshing. And sometimes it's so we can fulfill the motto of this blog, "so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God". 

When we've been through a particular season of threshing ourselves, doesn't it give us more compassion for those enduring the same type of hardship? There are particular situations I have special sympathy for because I've been through them. Because of my experiences the Lord expects me to minister to those going through the same problems. You have been through things that give you sympathy for those enduring them and you are able to minister to them in ways others can't. Wouldn't it be terrible if a trial came into our lives and we were the only person on the face of the earth it had ever happened to? Who would encourage us? Who would we look to for proof that these troubles can be survived? How would we know for sure we could not only survive but thrive again? Who could reassure us that God is with us and He is for us and He is working these things for our good? Counseling seems useless when it comes from someone who has no real idea what we're going through. They can pat us on the arm all day and tell us everything is going to be ok but we don't feel any better because they have never endured what we're enduring. But when someone comes alongside us who has been through the same thing, and they lovingly encourage and support us, and they tell us what the Lord did for them during the same type of threshing, we find comfort. We find the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And that is how the Lord intends the body of Christ to work together. 

Like a wise farmer, the Lord knows exactly how to deal with nations and individuals. He knows the right time to break up the soil or to sow the grain or to thresh the crops. He knows who must be dealt with gently and who is going to need some extra work. But all of this is done in love and in our best interests. I'll be honest with you and say I would prefer not to be threshed. I'd like to just grow where I am and not be bothered. I'd like to be comfortable and at ease all the time. Like a tall stalk of corn, I want to just stay in my little spot soaking up the sun, drinking in the morning dew, and simply exist. But God has not called us to that.

Thinking back over your life, when did you learn the most about the Lord? Was it in times of ease and comfort or in times of hardship? Certainly we are thankful in the good times and we praise His name for our blessings, but do we really learn in the easy times that His promises are true? There are things I wouldn't go through again for anything in this world. But if I were given the choice never to have gone through them at all, I'd have to say no because I learned things about my Lord in those dark times that I could never have learned any other way. When I think back on those days I can't help but agree with the psalmist, "Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and Your servant loves them." (Psalm 119:40) We don't know who wrote Psalm 119 but it's safe to assume the author was a man who had been through some difficult things. He speaks of affliction and of having gone astray. He speaks of knowing the word of God is true because He has tested it. How was it tested? In the furnace of affliction. The psalmist makes his declaration right in the middle of a passage about having enemies, about being lowly and despised, about being in trouble and distress. He learned that the promises of God are true because God was with him in his troubles, holding him up, bringing him through, giving him the hope to face another day. And maybe God even brought alongside him a godly friend who said, "Brother, I love you and have compassion for you. I once was in the same place you are but God was faithful to me and will be faithful to you. God loves you and is for you." 

We live in a dark and scary world. As children of God and members of the body of Christ, we have a duty to comfort those around us. We are to draw upon our past experiences to comfort those who are going through the same things. We can take what we learned from our own times of threshing and encourage those who are enduring the same type of threshing now. God has designed it so that we are all to work together to encourage each other in the faith. As Isaiah says in his conclusion today, "All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent." (Isaiah 28:29)

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