Sunday, September 18, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 82

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 82

For several days we've been in a chapter that deals with the foolishness of Judah looking to Egypt for help. Isaiah (through the Lord) has had some harsh words about this. But he ended yesterday by reminding the people that the Lord longs to be gracious to them. Today Isaiah looks far ahead to a day when the Lord will be able to be as gracious as He wants to be, because the hearts of the people will be firmly fixed on Him. 

"People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you." (Isaiah 30:19) In Isaiah's day, the Lord longed to be gracious to the people and to help them, but they were not seeking Him. They were scorning His help. It's very difficult to help a person who does not want to be helped. Have you ever tried to help someone who didn't want help? It's pretty much impossible, no matter how much we long to be gracious to them. Isaiah was living in a time when idolatry was growing and people were going through the motions of worship at the temple while their hearts were someplace else. The Lord longed to be gracious to them but they were making it pretty much impossible. But even in such troubled times, Isaiah foresees a day when this will no longer be the case. The people will turn back to the one true God and then He will be able to help them the way He wants to help them.

"Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them." (Isaiah 30:20) This verse reminds me of Psalm 42 whose author is going through some troubled times. He says, "My tears have been my food day and night." (v 3a) A time of adversity had to come upon the people before they would repent and turn back to the Lord. This is true of many men and women, including myself. I didn't respond properly to blessings just as the ancient tribes of Israel didn't respond properly to blessings. Sometimes blessings make us so comfortable that we forget the One who gave them to us. Or worse yet, we may start to believe we deserve our blessings, feeling entitled to them. If God cannot get our attention any other way, He allows adversity into our lives. That has a tendency to snap us to attention very quickly. 

J. Alec Motyer, one of the foremost commentators on the book of Isaiah, believes the second half of verse 20 should be translated like this, "Your Teacher will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see Him." He says the word could easily be singular (teacher) rather than plural (teachers). I believe he is onto something here because in Isaiah's day the teachers certainly weren't hidden. God's prophets and teachers were publicly crying out for the people to turn to the Lord for help, to get back to their roots, to forsake their idols and call upon the living God. Plus, the singular Teacher better fits the remainder of the chapter, for Isaiah is speaking of the kingdom of the Lord on earth, when the King of David's line sits on the throne, when war and oppression and troubles will be no more. 

Israel's Teacher was not hiding Himself from them. He was daily pleading with them through the prophets but the people had covered their eyes. They were begging the prophets not to prophesy. They were crying out for comfortable messages, messages that made them feel good about themselves, false messages of peace. The Lord had not hidden Himself from the people; the people simply preferred not to see Him. But this will not always be the case. A day is coming when they will seek Him and find Him. And a day is coming when He will literally be present on the earth for all eyes to see.

The Teacher will be their guide in all things. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:21) They will no longer cover their ears to the message of the Lord. Their ears will be open and attentive to His leading. This is the day Isaiah spoke of in Chapter 2, "Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.' The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Isaiah 2:3)

Idols will mean nothing compared to the living God. The people will cast their idols away like the garbage they are. "Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, 'Away with you!'" (Isaiah 30:22) This might seem like a crude comparison but the law said that anything contaminated with blood was unclean and to be discarded. The people will at last see their idols for what they truly are: something vile and unclean, something unwholesome, something impure that was contaminating their lives. When we get a glimpse of our mighty Redeemer, everything else pales in comparison to Him. All the things we once clung to when we lived in sin suddenly appear as they really are: vile and unclean and abominable. In the light of His holiness our sins look especially ugly. Idols that were so pretty on the outside are exposed for the lies they truly are underneath. So it will be with the idols of Judah and Israel. Their idols were carved blocks of wood plated with silver and gold, which looked pretty impressive, but underneath they were still just blocks of wood, unable to hear or help anyone. They were a lie. A lie covered with beautiful silver or gold is still a lie. Satan wraps all his lies in attractive coverings but underneath they are still lies.

The earth will no longer bear the curse of sin or the scars of the fall of man. "He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel." (Isaiah 30:23-24) Man and the animals will enjoy the fruit of their labors. No more will drought kill the crops or locusts swallow them up. There will be plenty for humans and animals to eat: the finest of foods. In Isaiah's day the prophets were foretelling a time of thirst and hunger because of the sins of the people. The capitol city of Israel fell after being besieged for three years by Assyria, during which time they suffered deprivations. They became so hungry they ate the dead, turning to cannibalism to survive. Although Assyria won't be able to follow through on her plans to besiege Jerusalem the same way, Babylon will rise and will become powerful enough to carry out such a plan. People will thirst for water and hunger for food. But Isaiah looks past all this and sees a day when no human or animal will ever suffer from lack of water or food. When Christ reigns from the throne of David, all will be well. The curse of sin will be gone and the earth restored to its original condition.

"In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of His people and heals the wounds He inflicted." (Isaiah 30:25-26) I believe this passage is speaking of the final battle on earth, the battle of Armageddon, when the Lord will fight victoriously against all enemies and then establish His kingdom on the earth. Verses 25 and 26 appear to match up with a passage from the book of Zechariah, The prophet Zechariah spoke of a day when armies would be gathered to fight against Jerusalem but the Lord Himself would come and fight for His people. "Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights on a day of battle. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by My mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him. On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day---a day known only to the Lord---with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter." (Zechariah 14:3-8)

As always, in the midst of woeful predictions, the Lord gives Isaiah a message of hope for the people. Dark days are ahead for them because of their sins, but all is not lost. God will never break His promise about preserving the nation of Israel. He will never break His promise about preserving the kingly line of Judah. The Savior is coming, who will remake and redeem everyone who trusts in Him. The King is coming, who will remake and redeem the earth. Wars and rumors of wars will persist to the end. Earthquakes and famines will befall the earth. But it's so much easier to keep hanging on when we know things are going to turn out alright, so the Lord bestows upon His people a message of hope. A brighter day is coming. Our God will overcome. Our King will reign forever. 

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