Thursday, September 8, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 72

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 72

This morning we begin Isaiah 28 and in it the Lord pronounces woe upon the leaders of the nation.

"Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley---to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine!" (Isaiah 28:1) Isaiah uses "Ephraim" interchangeably with "Israel" because Ephraim was the largest tribe in those days. Israel has given herself over to indulgence. She lives for pleasure. She is both physically and spiritually drunk, caught up in carnal excess. Her leaders have fallen so far from the Lord that they have become numb to the word of the Lord and the pleading of the Holy Spirit.

Samaria, the capitol city of the northern kingdom, was once a glorious city. But because of its spiritual decay, it is like a fading flower whose petals will soon drop to the earth. 

"See, the Lord has one who is powerful and strong. Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, he will throw it forcefully to the ground." (Isaiah 28:2) Isaiah does not call Assyria by name, but this is the nation who will overthrow Israel like a destructive storm.

"That wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, will be trampled underfoot. That fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley, will be like figs ripe before harvest---as soon as people see them and take them in hand, they swallow them." (Isaiah 28:3-4) The people wear their pride like a wreath (a victory crown) on their heads. It's true they've fallen into excessive pleasures, but pride is at the heart of their sins. Pride is likely at the heart of every sin. Pride is what says, "I will do what I want to do. I will have what I want to have. I can run my life better than God can. I can take care of all my own needs in my own way; I don't need to wait for Him or follow His laws."

In the days of Isaiah's ministry, it wouldn't be long before Israel was swallowed up by Assyria. The Lord compares the nation to figs that are ripe before the time of harvest. Anyone who comes upon unexpectedly ripe figs will immediately pluck and eat them. A person traveling along the roadway would be delighted to come upon the figs and would swallow them up, just as Assyria will be delighted to swallow up Israel.

The idea of "swallowing up" is associated with total destruction, but Isaiah pauses here in his woeful message to insert a word of hope. "In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of His people. He will be a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate." (Isaiah 28:5-6) Isaiah says "in that day", indicating the coming kingdom of the Lord. The day in which Isaiah is living seems quite dark. Israel is wearing a crown of pride. But a day is coming when the Lord will bestow upon her a glorious crown, the crown that belongs to those who honor Him. In that day they will be His people and He will be their God. 

In contrast to the righteous judgment in the kingdom of God, Isaiah gives us a description of the deplorable lack of judgment among the nation's spiritual leaders. "And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth." (Isaiah 28:7-8) The revelry has extended all the way to the priesthood and to the company of prophets. We are not very surprised when we see a celebrity or politician arrested for drunk driving or drug possession, but we feel a special kind of disapproval when a spiritual leader is caught in such a sin. We expect more of them. We look to them to set an example of godly living. I remember back in the 80s when several television evangelists were caught up in various scandals and my mother said, "Well, if I ever hear anything like this about Billy Graham, I guess I'll never watch a TV preacher again." Mom was disappointed in the example the well-known spiritual leaders had set. She thought a great deal of Billy Graham; had she ever heard anything lascivious about him, it would have destroyed her confidence in all the well-known leaders. In Isaiah's day the people could not have confidence even in those who should have set an example for godly living. They too were overcome with excess. The Lord paints a graphic picture here of long drunken parties in which the participants end up vomiting on the tables. The priests and prophets are not simply intoxicated from having misjudged how much they have drunk; they have imbibed to the point of becoming filthy and revolting. They are no different than the wino passed out in the alley.

A nation has fallen very far into the gutter when its spiritual leaders cannot be distinguished from its unbelievers. Had we been invited into a home for a feast in Isaiah's day, we would not have been able to tell the difference between the priests and the bad boys. They all looked alike. 

When the church begins to look like the world, the nation is in serious danger of falling. The word of God gives this sober instruction to believers, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God---this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is---His good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:1-2) The priests and prophets of Israel could no longer interpret God's will and give godly counsel to the people. They had conformed to the pattern of this world. Rather than living in a way that honored the Lord, they had given themselves over to the pleasures of the flesh, which honors and serves the creature rather than the Creator. Our worship of the Lord is not just our church attendance on Sunday. It is the self-control over our bodies as we live in such a way that even unbelievers recognize we belong to Christ. This honors Him. And because we honor Him, staying connected to Him at all times, we are able to discern His will for our lives and we can give godly advice to those in need. 

Most of us, at least in the free world, will probably never be called upon to be martyred for the faith. But the Bible calls for us to die to self and live for Christ, to become a living sacrifice. This means we are to do what is right in God's eyes even when our carnal minds want to do the opposite. If the church begins to look like the world, to whom will the hurting go for help? How will the lost hear the gospel? The gospel is not just the spoken message but also includes all our attitudes and behaviors. The world watches the lives of Christians. If they cannot tell us apart from unbelievers, what influence will we have? If Christians do not live honorable lives, why would anyone seek to join with us? If we are lying in our own vomit like the priests and prophets of Isaiah's day, how can we show anyone the way to be made clean? 

I have disappointed myself at times and have probably disappointed others. There have been situations where I've become so weary or so annoyed that I've reacted in ways that don't reflect who I am in Christ. The Lord knew there would be times we'd stumble and this is why it's a daily walk with Him, "Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me." (Luke 9:23) It's a daily walk with our Lord, which is why the Apostle Paul said, "I die daily." (1 Corinthians 15:31) Paul had to get up every morning and strive to die to self and live for Christ. He was not a perfect man but he refused to give up. Every day he was challenged to be a better man than he was yesterday. We might have messed up yesterday but Christ doesn't disqualify us as disciples. We can still get up this morning, take up our cross, and follow Him. 

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