Saturday, November 19, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 144

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 144

Yesterday we concluded with the Lord promising comfort on those who have been afflicted. But the people, because of their captivity, reject this idea and doubt that God is still with them. "But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.'" (Isaiah 49:14) Have you ever feared the Lord was going to leave you in your troubling circumstances? Have you ever been so disheartened you believed He had deserted you? In our pain and dismay we often fall back on the very human belief that only what we can feel is real. In our distress we cannot always feel His presence, but the Lord never told us we could go by our feelings. We are to stand on His perfect, holy, and unshakable promises. I've gone through experiences where, if I went by my feelings, God seemed as far from me as if He were on the other side of the universe. Fear found me in the wee hours of the night and I doubted any relief was coming. Panic clutched at my throat and left me gasping miserably in an overwhelming sense of aloneness. All I could do was quote the promises of Scripture out loud even though in my heart I felt no comfort. I could only repeat the promises of the One who gave His life for me, for He is the One who said, "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday." (Psalm 91:5-6) He is with us even when we cannot feel Him! His promises still stand even when it seems like our world is falling down around us! It was hard for God's people to feel His presence in a foreign land, under the heavy yoke of captivity, but He was with them just the same.

The Lord calmly reasons with the people in their doubts. "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15) The reason we hear stories of motherly atrocities in the news is because this type of behavior is the exception to the rule. It's not normal for a parent to have no compassion on their child. It goes against human nature to harm our own offspring. And yet, though the rare parent visits cruelty upon a child, the Lord will never behave this way toward His children. As the old song goes, "He sought me and He bought me". We are chosen! He came after us when we were at our worst and paid a high price for us, the ultimate price, a price that cost Him more than our mortal minds can comprehend. Could He then forget us? He was willing to do anything it took to adopt us into His family and, though in ancient times a father could disown a natural son, he could never disown an adopted son. That relationship was irrevocable. In order to adopt us into His own family, God had to turn His back on His own natural Son as He hung on the cross. After paying such an indescribable price for us, how could He ever reject us? How could He ever count us unworthy of help when His own Son's sacrifice makes us worthy? 

"See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me." (Isaiah 49:16) The Lord can no more forget us than He can forget the nail scars in His hands! It's quite notable that the resurrected and glorified and immortal body of our Lord still bears the scars He endured for us. When He appeared to the disciples in the locked room, "He showed them His hands and His side." (John 20:20a) This proved to them that He was the same Jesus, now risen from the dead. When the disciple known as Doubting Thomas scoffed at the idea that the Lord was risen, Jesus appeared to him and offered him the proof he sought, "Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe." (John 20:27) I don't believe our own resurrected bodies will bear scars but, throughout all eternity, our Redeemer will proudly wear the stripes that healed us and the scars that made us whole. The Lord, about seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, promised His people through the prophet Isaiah that they would be engraved on the palms of His hands. The walls of Jerusalem, even while they were broken down, stood tall and proud in the Lord's sight, because He accomplishes everything He says He will. If He says walls will be rebuilt, they will be rebuilt. If He says captives will go free, they will go free. If He promises to engrave us on the palms of His hands for all eternity, it's as good as done.

"Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you. Lift up your eyes and look around; all your children gather and come to you. 'As surely as I live,' declares the Lord, 'you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.'" (Isaiah 49:17-18) The Lord asks the people to look ahead, not with their natural eyes, but with eyes of faith. He will restore the fortunes of His people both in the near future and in the far future. This prophecy involves not only their release from captivity but the eventual restoration of Israel in the kingdom of Christ and the return of every exile from every corner of the world. There are no lost tribes in the Lord's eyes. He knows the precise location of every descendant of every tribe.

"Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away. The children born during your bereavement will yet say in your hearing, 'This place is too small for us; give us more space to live in.' Then you will say in your heart, 'Who bore me these? I was bereaved and barren; I was exiled and rejected. Who brought these up? I was left all alone, but these---where have they come from?'" (Isaiah 49:19-21) The Lord was going to increase their numbers in captivity, just as He increased their numbers in Egypt. This also looks far into the future to the eventual ingathering of all Israel, when the citizens of the nation will be astonished by the return of those scattered throughout the earth

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up My banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their hips. Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in Me will not be disappointed.'" (Isaiah 49:22-23) Somehow the Gentiles are going to play a huge part in the restoration of Israel. In Christ, the Lord has made us into one family, and we who are Gentiles by birth and children of God by adoption will help the scattered tribes of Israel return to their homeland.

"Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce? But this is what the Lord says: 'Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine. Then all mankind will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob." (Isaiah 49:24-26) The Lord promised Abraham He would, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3a) The nations who have oppressed Israel over the centuries and who have visited atrocities upon her have suffered at the Lord's hands for their crimes. The imagery here is crude and off-putting, but cannibalism of the dead is a thing that occurs under prolonged siege conditions. Those who surrounded Israel and Judah in times past, causing them severe hunger and thirst, would eventually have these same conditions boomerang back on them. Bible scholar David Guzik extends the interpretation of the prophecy of taking plunder from warriors farther than I thought to take it by saying, "This was true for Zion when freed from the Babylonian captivity; it is even more true for those set free from the captivity of Satan. Jesus spoke of spoiling Satan in Luke 11:21-22: 'When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides the spoils.'" 

The Lord stormed the castle walls when He came to our rescue. He sawed through bars of iron and broke down gates of bronze to pull us out. And our enemy, that serpent of old called the devil and Satan, is a vanquished foe today. Someday the boot of our Redeemer will be firmly planted upon his neck and his face will be ground into the dust before he is cast forever into eternal punishment. Not only that, but Jesus is going to give us our own turn at planting our boot onto the neck of our defeated enemy, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a)

Amen, Lord! All glory and praise and honor to Your name forever, for You have set us free and have engraved our names on the palms of Your hands! You will be forever with us and can never forget us!

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