Friday, September 16, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 80

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 80

We begin Chapter 30 today and it takes place at a time when Judah was allying herself with Egypt for protection against Assyria. After besieging the northern kingdom of Israel for about three years, Assyria would overthrow the nation, taking most of her people captive. Judah, so much smaller than Israel, knew she could not stand against such a powerful force. Judah failed to look to her God for help against the enemy and instead joined a coalition of pagan nations for protection. 

"'Woe to the obstinate children,' declares the Lord, 'to those who carry out plans that are not Mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting Me; who look for help to Pharaoh's protection, to Egypt's shade for refuge.'" (Isaiah 30:1-2) After delivering the children of Israel from Egypt, the Lord sternly instructed them never to return there for any reason. "You are not to go back that way again." (Deuteronomy 17:16b) Why return to the land of slavery? God had given them freedom. Help was not to be found in the nation that once so severely oppressed them.

"But Pharaoh's protection will be to your shame, Egypt's shade will bring you disgrace. Though they have officials in Zoan, and their envoys have arrived in Hanes, everyone will be put to shame because of a people useless to them, who bring neither help nor advantage, but only shame and disgrace." (Isaiah 30:3-5) Egypt experienced a happy reversal of fortunes during the twenty-fifth dynasty when the Cushites were in power. She regained much of her former power and wealth. The Cushites sought to push back against the encroaching power of Assyria but met with failure at the outset. When Assyria's king Sargon was killed in battle, it seemed like a good time for Egypt and her allies to stage a revolt, and this is when Judah joined with them. Sargon's son Sennacherib was assumed to be an ineffective general because his father had never allowed him onto the battlefield, instead leaving him home as a government administrator, but everyone who underestimated Sennacherib was going to be sorry. When Sennacherib ascended to the the throne, Egypt attempted to make good on her promise to help her allies and put Assyria to shame but she was defeated in battle at Eltekah. Judah's hope in the armies of Egypt was in vain, for that nation would make no further attempts to come to Judah's aid. The power and influence of Assyria would continue to spread throughout the Negev.

"A prophecy concerning the animals of the Negev: Through a land of hardship and distress, of lions and lionesses, of adders and darting snakes, the envoys carry their riches on donkeys' backs, their treasures on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation, to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Therefore I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing." (Isaiah 30:6-7) Judah is sending rich gifts to Egypt for nothing. Isaiah feels sorry for the donkeys and camels who must make their way through the sands, as beasts of burden, carrying heavy loads that will accomplish no help for Judah. The Bible often uses the word "Rahab" interchangeably for "Egypt". Rahab is a Hebrew word which means "pride" and in the ancient world, at the height of her glory, what nation was as prideful as Egypt? Assyria and then later Babylon would become equally prideful, but in her heyday Egypt was on top of the world because of her power and wealth.

It was an especially repugnant sin for God's people to seek help from a prideful nation that the Lord had already delivered them from. God had long ago proven His sovereignty over Egypt and had warned His people never to return. As Barry G. Webb beautifully words it in his book The Message Of Isaiah, "Theologically speaking, to go down to Egypt for help was to commit apostasy." (pg 127) What was really taking place was that Judah was forsaking the help of the Lord in favor of seeking it from a cruel and pagan nation. 

To bring this lesson down to personal terms, what help did we ever receive from anything we were involved in before we came to Christ? Just imagine if, after coming to Him, we find ourselves facing hardship and instead of looking to our Redeemer for help we go back to our old ways of living. We become once again enslaved to things that oppressed us and beat us into the dust. The Apostle Paul recognized the lure of sin and worldly ways and warned the new converts to Christ, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1) When stressed or upset or in a panic, our minds might try to revert to old patterns and send us back to our old ways for comfort, but Christ has set us free from those things. We mustn't turn again to alcohol or drugs or inappropriate relationships or pornography or shopping addictions or any other harmful thing. Why be enslaved again and, symbolically, return to Egypt? We will all be tempted by certain circumstances to slide back into old habits. Satan knows how to push our buttons and he knows that, as humans, when in distress we are more likely to make bad decisions. 

There are times when I've resisted sin and times when I've foolishly walked straight into it. I've made mistakes and had to repent because of the occasions when I hardened my heart and insisted on having my own way, just as the people of Isaiah's day hardened their hearts against the Lord's message. They don't want to listen when Isaiah warns them not to make an alliance with Egypt. So the Lord instructs Isaiah to write His words down. The words themselves will be a witness against the people when brought into the Lord's court for their sins. "Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord's instruction. They say to the seers, 'See no more visions!' and to the prophets, 'Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!'" (Isaiah 30:8-11) 

When we are confronted with the Holy One, we are confronted with our own sins and waywardness. We are challenged to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. The people of Isaiah's day do not want to acknowledge their sins or deny themselves. They appeal to the prophets to only provide warm and fuzzy messages, things that make them feel comfortable, things that say to them, "You're okay. You're doing fine. You're good people." They ask for visions of peace and prosperity. They do not want to hear anyone say, "You are not okay! You've gotten off the right path. You need to repent and be healed." 

When we are confronted with the Holy One, we are compelled to make a choice. We can accept what He says and be made into new creatures, children of the living God, whole and renewed and fulfilled. Or we can be so bothered by Him and His message that we close our eyes, clap our hands over our ears, and say, "Stop! I don't want to hear this!" The choice is ours. But like the tablet that Isaiah inscribed, God's word will be a witness against us. We will not be able to use the defense of never having heard the message, just as the people of Judah could not claim they had not been told the truth. Having heard the gospel, we are responsible for our reaction to it. God is so gracious to us here in America, having freely provided the gospel to us in so many ways. We are free to read His word whenever and however we choose. We are free to carry a Bible and to pray over our meals in public and attend church openly. What a blessing! But this very blessing will testify against us if we don't take the message to heart. 

Even as Christians, we stumble sometimes on life's road. We may fall for a lie and make a mistake. Or we may walk straight into a sin, knowing it's a sin. Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross but our relationship with Him is an ongoing work of grace. We are ever being made new, ever being conformed to His image. He set us free from our lost condition and He continues to set us free from the snares of this world. When we have messed up, we can come to Him without fear of being turned away or condemned. We can confess our mistakes and be given the strength to leave them behind us. Our worship song today speaks of the wonderful privilege of daily being able to come into the presence of our Redeemer.

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