Saturday, September 17, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 81

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 81

Yesterday the Lord told Isaiah to write the words of prophecy down as a witness against the people who refused to believe it. Judah is looking to Egypt for help against Assyria, sending delegates and gifts to that country even though the Lord had charged them never to return to Egypt. Isaiah has been pleading with Judah's king and the citizens to call upon the Lord for help but so far they have rejected his words.

"Therefore this is what the Holy One of Israel says: 'Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression, and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.'" (Isaiah 30:12-13) Picture a tall city wall of stone that begins to crack and bulge. These things indicate it is unstable. It's foundation is sinking and the mortar between the stones is loosening. Judah is turning from the Lord, the solid Rock, who is her true foundation. And she is turning to an oppressive and idolatrous land, a deceitful land, for assistance. But Egypt will be like an unsure foundation unable to hold any weight. The alliance will bulge and collapse like an unstable wall. I believe we can compare the alliance between Judah and Egypt to the admonition not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14) The Bible is not telling us we can't be friends with unbelievers or that we can't work at our jobs with unbelievers. But it is telling us not to enter into intimate partnership with them, whether it be marriage or business or political alliance. The Lord delivered Israel from Egypt by His own hand and He is able to deliver Judah from Assyria by His own hand. 

King Sennacherib of Assyria will bring the full force of his military down on all the nations who conspire together to shake off the yoke of Assyria and who rebel against paying tribute to him. No one is coming to Judah's aid. When Sennacherib's troops arrive at the gates of Jerusalem, the people inside have heard of battles that have already been lost by their allies and they know no help is coming. The coalition of nations against Assyria has fallen apart. "It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern." (Isaiah 30:14) 

When we did our study of the kings, we studied in detail the interaction between Sennacherib's troops and the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah. We studied the interaction between Hezekiah and Isaiah. The book of Isaiah contains the same information, repeated for our study, and we will get to it before long. With Jerusalem surrounded by the terrifying enemy army, Hezekiah will abandon all hope of Egypt or any other nation coming to his rescue, and he will appeal to the God of Israel. Like many of us, he tries everything else before calling upon the Lord. Why do we try so hard to fix things ourselves? Why do we wait so long to ask the Lord to step in? Is it pride? Is it lack of faith? Is it because we trust what we see with our eyes more than the Holy One whom we cannot see? Do we believe because we got ourselves into a mess that we can't ask the Lord to get us out? Many of our troubles in life are things we have brought on ourselves but God is so gracious and merciful. I can't tell you how many times I've had to go to Him and say, "I did a foolish thing but I'm asking for Your forgiveness and grace anyway. I don't deserve it but I'm asking for it." Judah has done a foolish thing in trusting in anyone and everyone but the Lord and Hezekiah is going to realize it. But when he does, we will find him in the temple asking the Lord for His help and grace.

The answer to all of Judah's troubles has been right in front of her the whole time. The God who loves her and rescued her from slavery and set her up in the promised land eagerly desires to be her Helper. "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'" (Isaiah 30:15) Judah still has the temple and it is still a busy place, but earlier in our study the Lord declared that the people were going through the motions while their hearts were far from Him. They have not yet fallen to the depths of idolatry which Israel has fallen to, but they are on their way. The prophets have been crying out for some time now for the people to repent of their waywardness, to turn back wholeheartedly to the Lord, and to find the rest and confidence that can only be found in Him. Knowing they are right with their God would give them the ability to sit quietly in their land without fear of any enemy. With their trust firmly settled upon the Lord, there would be no panic, no hasty decisions, and no unequal yoking between Judah and an idolatrous nation. 

When we know all is right between the Lord and us, and we are daily trusting in Him and walking closely with Him, there is a firm foundation at our core. We are not like that bulging wall that's about to topple over. We are like a strong fortress wall whose lines are straight and true, with no cracks and bulges, with no weak spots. Whatever our circumstances, there is a quietness deep down inside us. Have you ever had an awesome sense of peace even when everything around you looked like it was falling apart? That's because you know that, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31) 

For many years the Lord has been reasoning with the people through the prophets to repent and turn back with their whole hearts. Their answer was not what it should have been. "You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore, you will flee! You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.' Therefore your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, til you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill." (Isaiah 30:16-17) If they do not repent, God is going to let them fall into circumstances of their own making. Because they have not obeyed and do not have the quiet confidence of knowing God is on their side, they will be panic stricken by even the smallest things. They will be demoralized by the threats of the enemy. 

This is not what the Lord wants for them. Earlier in the week we found Him referring to them as obstinate children, deceitful children. They are wayward and willful but they are still called God's "children". They are still His people, the nation He chose out of all the nations of the world because of their forefather Abraham who had the courage to leave a land of idolatry and put all his trust in the one true God. God does not want calamity to fall upon them but it will if they don't come to Him for grace, a grace they don't deserve but that they ask Him for anyway. "Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait on Him!" (Isaiah 30:18) God is going to come through for the people of Jerusalem when the soldiers of Assyria stand outside the gates. Realizing he has been foolish to trust in the Egyptian army rather than in the living God, King Hezekiah will make a leap of faith. He will go to the Lord and ask for grace. Although Hezekiah was a good king for Judah and he made religious reforms, when push came to shove his faith failed him. Knowing the Assyrian army had left nothing but destruction behind it, knowing the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen, Hezekiah turned to mankind for help. He made some unwise choices. He yoked Judah with nations who worshiped false gods. And when those nations let him down, Hezekiah realized that help had been at his right hand all along. He found himself in a mess only the Lord could get him out of. And so he appealed to God, who is a God of justice but also a God of grace.

God longs to be gracious. He wants to be our first choice, not our last. He wants to give us life more abundantly. He wants us to walk in victory and not in despair. He wants us to trust Him in the quiet confidence of a child who knows his daddy is taking care of everything. When we were little children, did we really worry about much of anything? Didn't we trust our parents to take care of us? This is the faith God asks us to have. Our Father is in control of all things. The One who spoke the entire universe into existence is more than capable of handling our problems. Like a little child, we can rest securely in quiet trust, knowing our Daddy is on the job.

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