Sunday, October 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 124

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 124

The Lord has been describing for us His perfect Servant, One who will come to make us healed and whole. Now He contrasts this faithful Servant with His faithless servant Israel. We concluded yesterday with God once again pointing out the futility of trusting in idols, and today's passage picks up from there to describe Israel as disobedient children.

There have been scholars who have attempted to equate the Faithful Servant of Isaiah 42 and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 with the nation of Israel, but this won't hold up under scrutiny. This Servant can only be Christ. This Servant accomplishes things only Christ can accomplish. Israel is indeed a servant of the Lord (with a lower-case "s") because God made an unbreakable covenant with that nation. We too, as followers of Christ, are servants of God and a party to His unbreakable covenant. But none of us is "the Servant". If we had any doubts about that, the following words should dispel them, for the next section is titled "Israel Blind And Deaf".

"Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but My servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with Me, blind like the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen." (Isaiah 42:18-20) God is so merciful to the weakness of mankind! He has just finished calling His covenant people willfully blind and deaf, but yet He has already promised to send them One who will "open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness". (Isaiah 42:7) He could have left them in their sins, just as He could have left any of us in our sins. God would have been within His rights to  have said, "You have chosen to turn a blind eye to Me. Therefore, remain blind." Or He might have said, "You have refused to listen even though I have given you ears to hear with. So remain deaf, if that's what you want." God's people had ignored the words of Moses and the prophets, but He didn't give up on them. He saved the best for last. "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2a)

"It pleased the Lord for the sake of His righteousness to make His law great and glorious. But this is a people plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden away in prisons. They have become plunder, with no one to rescue them; they have been made loot, with no one to say, 'Send them back.'" (Isaiah 42:21-22) In Egypt and on the way to the promised land, God made His awesome power and glory known to the people. His righteousness was revealed to them both by His actions and by the laws He gave them to follow. But because in later centuries many had ceased to revere Him or respect His commandments, and because idolatry was rampant, instead of a victorious mighty nation they became a plundered people. Lest anyone think I am being critical of Israel, I want to point out we've all been in that condition at one time or another. I've been a lawbreaker, wandering lost in sins, without hope and without God in the world. I've been a captive to my own foolishness, sitting in darkness. It's grace alone that helped me and it's grace alone that we find God extending to Israel.

"Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come? Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned?" (Isaiah 42:23-24a) God, like any good Father, knows there are times when we disobey so heartily that consequences must be imposed for our own good. God had the power to hold Israel and keep her safe, but He handed her over to the plunderers, "For they would not follow His ways; they did not obey His law." (Isaiah 42:24b) How would we learn to respect the authority of our Creator if He just shrugged His shoulders at our disobedience? Would we have respected our parents or school officials if they had never given us discipline as children? 

My parents were fairly lenient with me. I was their third child, so nothing much sent them into a panic anymore. This also meant I was the spoiled baby, an unexpected "gift" my parents received in their forties after they'd already raised two children. I got away with a lot of things I shouldn't have gotten away with, but I knew there were certain lines that couldn't be crossed. My father, for instance, wouldn't tolerate being spoken to in disrespect. That would earn me a spanking quicker than anything. My mother didn't like to spank but she was a firm believer in time-outs long before that term was ever coined, and I received time-outs on pretty much a daily basis. I was headstrong enough as it was; just imagine what an unlikable child I'd have been if my parents never drew the line and never imposed consequences. I wouldn't have respected them or anyone else. I would have thought I could live any way I pleased and treat others any way I pleased. But because I sometimes had to endure the unpleasant consequences of my actions, I learned to respect those in authority over me. And this is what the Lord is doing with Israel in today's passage. They kept going in the wrong direction despite knowing the commandments of a holy God and despite the preaching of the prophets over the centuries. So God took their freedom away from them by allowing them to be conquered and taken captive. He gave them a time-out. 

"So He poured out on them His burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart." (Isaiah 42:25) These children have not yet gotten to the place, spiritually, where the Father is leading them. They are willful and headstrong, stubborn and independent. But God isn't giving up on them and casting them aside. He loves them. He will keep His covenant with them. That is why the next chapter opens with words that take us in a completely different direction. At this point we might expect words of condemnation and rejection, but instead we find a promise of help. "But now, this is what the Lord says---He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine." (Isaiah 43:1) 

Forty-odd years ago when I sat sulkily in time-out, I was still my mother's child. The consequences I chafed under in no way indicated I was cast off. I might have been pouting in a corner but she could still say to me, "You are mine." When I exasperated my father beyond measure and he spanked me for my impertinence, I was still just as much his child as ever. He could still say to me, "You are mine." This is what God, who is a Father to Israel, is saying to them. He has had to take them to the woodshed a few times. He has had to put them in time-out. But He never stopped loving them or wanting the best for them. God, in a mercy so infinite we can never comprehend it, looks at them in their disobedience and sin and shame and still claims them as His own, "You are Mine!"

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