Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 141

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 141

The second half of Chapter 48 regards the deliverance of the captives from Babylon, and also the deliverance of mankind from being captive to our sins. We see first a chosen servant, Cyrus the Great of Persia, who will set the people of Judah free. But we also get a hint of another chosen Servant, a Man of the line of Judah, who will set His own people and the people of the world free from bondage to sin and despair. Isaiah is preparing us for fuller revelations of the coming Redeemer.

"Listen to Me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am He; I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together." (Isaiah 48:12-13) The God who is speaking to them is worthy to be heard. He is the one and only God, the Creator, and their Helper. Because these are His credentials, everything He says can be trusted and counted on.

"Come together, all of you, and listen: Which of the idols foretold these things? The Lord's chosen ally will carry out his purpose against Babylon; his arm will be against the Babylonians. I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him. I will bring him, and he will succeed in his mission." (Isaiah 48:14-15) No idol or fortune teller or false prophet could possibly have predicted that God would choose a pagan king, a man not even born in the days of Isaiah, to set the people of Judah free. The Lord specifically called Cyrus to do a good work for His people at a particular time in history. Nothing was going to cause this man to fail, for God was the power behind him. 

But an even greater Deliverer is coming, a Man of their own tribe, a King descended from David, and this is who is in view here, "Come near me and listen to this: 'From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.' And now the Sovereign Lord has sent Me, endowed with his Spirit." (Isaiah 48:16) We will find this claim repeated again in Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Isaiah 61:1-2a) The Lord Jesus, when beginning His ministry, quoted the passage above and applied it to Himself, saying, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21)

"This is what the Lord says---your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be blotted out nor destroyed from before Me." (Isaiah 48:17-19) The Lord keeps calling the people to listen but they have not listened. They covered their ears and so were cast into a foreign land as prisoners of war for seventy years until the Lord's servant Cyrus set them free. But even then they will not listen when the Lord's Servant appears on the scene, proclaiming Himself by words and deeds to be the Messiah and King. 

Who is the Lord speaking of when He makes the dire pronouncement that some names will be blotted out of His book? He is speaking of all who, throughout history, reject the Lord Jesus Christ. In Psalm 69, a Messianic prophecy written by David, we find the Lord Jesus saying, "You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all My enemies are before You. Scorn has broken My heart and has left Me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in My food and gave me vinegar for My thirst...Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in Your salvation. May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous." (Psalm 69:19-20, 27-28) In the book of Exodus we learn that God has a book of life with names written in it. Some scholars believe this book contains the name of every person who has ever lived and, when a person leaves this world still rejecting Christ, his or her name is blotted out. The exact nature of this book and how it works isn't fully explained in the Scriptures but the Apostle Paul affirms in the book of Philippians that his name and the name of believers in Christ are written in the book of life. The Lord Jesus announced to those who have victory in Him that, "I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and His angels." (Revelation 3:5b) We also find in Revelation that only those whose names are not permanently installed in the book of life will follow after the beast and worship him in place of the Lord, so we see something in their hearts that longs to stray from godliness. This book is mentioned in Revelation 20 when the dead are judged by what is written of them, and those who are not in the book of life are cast out. Following this we see the eternal city of God where all who have followed Christ live in His presence forever, and of that holy city we are told, "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." (Revelation 21:27)

On the day of judgment, perhaps the Lord will repeat what He is saying today in our chapter of Isaiah, "If only you had paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river." I don't know about you, but when I was living in sin and far from God, there was never any sense of peace. Every day was filled with anxiety and indecision and uncertainty. Nights were spent tossing and turning in fear. But when we know we have repented and have been redeemed by the Lord Jesus, there is a peace in our hearts nothing can take away. The world may crumble around us. We may suffer various kinds of losses. There may be wars and rumors of wars, hardship and deprivation. But nobody, not even the devil himself, can wrench the peace of our salvation from us. This is the peace that flows through us like a river, a constant source of refreshment.

Now the Lord returns to matters at hand. He has announced the calling of a deliverer who will set Judah free nearly two hundred years after Isaiah gives this prophecy. Whatever God says is as good as done, whether it happens today or centuries in the future, so He gives the people a command to leave Babylon when they are given the offer of freedom. "Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, 'The Lord has redeemed His servant Jacob.' They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He made water flow for them from the rock; He split the rock and water gushed out." (Isaiah 48:20-21) The people must not stay in Babylon out of fear of traveling hundreds of miles back to Judah. Just as He provided for them on their way from Egypt to the promised land, God will provide for them on their way back to rebuild Jerusalem. God provided literal water for their physical needs and He provided living water for their spiritual needs. If they will just rely on Him and walk in His ways, this peace like a river will be theirs.

The Lord concludes Chapter 48 with this stern word of advice, "'There is no peace,' says the Lord, 'for the wicked.'" (Isaiah 48:22) I can add my "amen" to that! I had never known any kind of peace until I came to Christ. I had no rivers of living water to refresh my soul or revive me on my journey through this dark and often scary world. King Solomon, a man who disobeyed many commands of the Lord in his youth, said in later years when he wrote the book of Proverbs, "The way of transgressors is hard." (Proverbs 13:15) Living in rebellion is a long row to hoe, in country talk, and it's a weary, unproductive type of toil. It's labor without reward. But living in fellowship with our Lord is living with an unshakable confidence. No matter what comes against us in this world, we are His. No matter where we've been, we have a better destination ahead. Knowing our eternal destiny is certain, being assured Christ loved us more than His own life, standing clothed in His righteousness instead of the filthy rags of our own deeds, we take possession of the peace that passes all understanding. 

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)

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