Saturday, October 22, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 116

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 116

We begin Chapter 41 today and it is titled "The Helper Of Israel". This chapter is reminiscent of the beginning of the book of Isaiah, when the Lord sat on the bench as Judge and called His people into court. But in Chapter 41 it is not God's people who are commanded to give an account to Him: it is the nations and the idols of the nations. In the Bible I am not sure we ever find Israel included in "the nations" as these generally represent the Gentiles who, in Isaiah's day, were "excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world". (Ephesians 2:12) We learned earlier in Isaiah that the prophet was given a glimpse of the future salvation of the Gentile nations and this came true when, after the advent of Christ, a remarkable thing happened, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ". (Ephesians 2:13) 

In Chapter 41 we find the Lord promising to give the descendants of Abraham relief from the nations who have formerly been enemies of the people of God. We even find Him calling a helper out of the nations to assist His people. 

The Lord speaks, "Be silent before Me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment." (Isaiah 41:1) Have you ever been in a courtroom or watched a court case on TV? When the judge enters the room, everyone is silent out of respect and also out of fear, for he can have anyone unruly removed from the premises. When the Lord enters the courtroom, splendid in power and majesty, the nations stand in silence until He tells them to be seated and present their case. Another reason the nations are silent before God is that they have come to the realization that it is He, not they, who determines the fate of kingdoms. Even the mightiest kingdom on earth cannot stand if God decides to allow it to fall. And something is happening in the world in this vision of Isaiah's: a new ruler has come to power and nations are falling before him, just as they once fell before Sennacherib of Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Something is happening which proves to the ancient world that nothing is permanent but God and His powerful word.

We must keep in mind that Isaiah is seeing something that is yet quite far in the future. Judah is still about a hundred years away from being taken captive to Babylon where her citizens will languish for seventy years. But at the end of that seventy years a deliverer will come, someone who will set them free to return to their own land. The Lord wants the people to understand He has personally called this man out of the Gentile nations to help His people. God has orchestrated these events and He's telling the people about it almost two centuries before it happens. "Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to His service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. He pursues them and moves on unscathed, by a path his feet have not traveled before." (Isaiah 41:2-3) 

Isaiah will not call this man by name until Chapter 44. It could be that his name hasn't yet been revealed to Isaiah in our present chapter, but we know he is Cyrus of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great. And the Lord will say of him, "He is My shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, 'Let it be rebuilt,' and of the temple, 'Let its foundations be laid.'" (Isaiah 44:28) The prophet Ezra tells us that as soon as Cyrus took control of Babylon, in the very first year of his reign, the Lord moved his heart to issue a proclamation allowing the people of Judah to return to their land and rebuild. Cyrus, though a Gentile, believed in religious freedom and in no way wanted to hinder the descendants of Abraham from worshiping the God of Israel. He even recognized that God had chosen him to set the people free, for he said, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build a temple for Him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of His people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them." (2 Chronicles 36;23)

God has already revealed to the people through the prophet Isaiah that Babylon, currently friendly with the nation of Judah, will come someday and conquer them. Isaiah told King Hezekiah that all the riches of the kingdom and all the articles of the temple will be carried away to a foreign land, along with Judah's citizens and even the members of the royal family. But there is hope after the fall. The people will spend close to two centuries in exile but the Lord has already called a man by name, a man who will be born many generations later, and he will be a helper to God's people. They will see the promised land again. They will rebuild. They will again worship at a temple in Jerusalem. All is not lost. And God is telling the people these things far ahead of time so that, when they take place, they will know God has ordained it. 

The Lord will ask the people in that day, "Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord---with the first of them and with the last---I am He." (Isaiah 41:4) The fulfillment of the prophecies given here in Chapter 41 will testify to the fact that God is in control of all things. He decides who rules the nations. He decides which kingdoms stand and which kingdoms fall. From this standpoint the Lord will later move from questioning the nations to questioning the idols. Have any of the idols predicted these things? Has an idol ever chosen and named a deliverer many generations before he was even born? Has an idol ever saved a nation from being conquered? Has an idol ever called anyone out of the darkness of sin into the light of righteous living? These questions are intended to lead the people into the truth, to the fact that God alone is sovereign over the earth. God alone is able to save. The One who calls Himself the first and the last, the beginning and the end, is the One who delivers and redeems us from the power of sin and death. 

Below is a link to a worship song that I think I may have used before in our study of the kings, but it goes so wonderfully with our study this morning that I'm reposting it today.

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