Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 127

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 127

The Lord has been promising to defeat Babylon, the nation that is going to conquer Judah. Now He reminds the people of how He brought them out of Egypt, "This is what the Lord says---He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, snuffed out like a wick." (Isaiah 43:16-17) We find this account in Exodus 14, when the children of Israel were crossing the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army gave chase. The Egyptians pursued them and, as the last of God's people achieved safety, the walls of water flowed back over the soldiers and their chariots. "That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant." (Exodus 14:30-31)

Can the God who defeated Egypt not defeat Babylon? He urges the people to think back and remember all He has done for them. This will give them the strength to survive the Babylonian captivity. The people are to remember God's great works of the past but they are not to get stuck in the past. God is always calling us on to bigger and better things. We aren't to let ourselves be bogged down in shame and regret over things the Lord has already forgiven us for; this cripples our Christian lives and hinders our ability to lead others to Christ. Our God is a forward-looking God who has cast our sins behind His back. (Isaiah 38:17) If God has left our mistakes in the past, giving us new opportunities to do good, the least we can do is follow His example. We also aren't to live the rest of our lives drawing strength from one great act of deliverance God has performed for us; He intends to perform many more. God is always thinking ahead, looking confidently toward the future, and He calls us to live in this same confidence. Like the godly woman of Proverbs 31 who trusts in the Lord at all times, we are not to live in fear but to look with anticipation toward the future, "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." (Proverbs 31:25) 

So now God moves the people's attention to the future, to the new and wonderful things He intends to do for them. "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen, the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise." (Isaiah 43:18-21) The journey from Babylon back to their homeland will be hundreds of miles and most of those returning have never been that way before. The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years, which means the vast majority of the travelers were born in a foreign land. They don't know the way or what they will face but the Lord promises to provide water in the desert for them. He will give them what is needed to keep their physical bodies going and He will give them what they need spiritually to keep their hope alive. 

The Lord now speaks of the generation that went into captivity, the corrupt generation that had lost interest in Him, with many of them turning to idols. "Yet you have not called on Me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for Me, Israel." (Isaiah 43:22) When we studied the kings we noted the very short reigns of the final series of kings, with nothing good being said about them. The nation was falling apart from the inside out. It began at its heart, in the spirits of the people and in the religious practices, and it spread outward until it invaded every corner of the kingdom. 

"You have not brought Me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense. You have not bought any fragrant calamus for Me, or lavished on Me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened Me with your sins and wearied Me with your offences." (Isaiah 43:23-24) In Isaiah's day, King Hezekiah of Judah was a godly leader who reopened the temple doors that had been shut. He reinstated worship services in God's house which had been abandoned. But by the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would come against them, attendance at the temple was a matter of going through the motions for the people who still went at all. The heart had gone out of their worship. Others had abandoned the Lord completely in favor of pagan idols, sacrificing and bringing offerings to false gods. The people were weary, burned out, and tired of worshiping God in spirit and in truth because their hearts weren't right with him. So He says they have made Him feel weary and burned out and tired.

"I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for Me, let us argue the matter together; state the cause for your innocence. Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against Me. So I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn." (Isaiah 43:25-28) The Lord reminds the people that redemption can only be found in Him. He is the One who blots out transgressions, not the false idols of the nations. He is the One who casts our sins behind His back, not gods who do not exist and have no power to save. Furthermore, we cannot trust in ourselves for redemption, for we are saved by faith and not by works. Even at our best, and even when we try our hardest, we fall short of perfection. There is nothing Scriptural about the idea that when we stand before God someday He will weigh our good works against our bad works. Instead we are told by the Lord Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) By the time of the Babylonian captivity, the people had scorned the only One capable of making them whole, so God determined to send them into a dark land where they will learn to trust in Him again. They will learn that the One who rescued them from Egypt and from Babylon is the One who rescues their souls from death. They will learn that the Lord is faithful and true and that, with His help, they can leave the past behind and move into the glorious future He has planned for them. 

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