Sunday, December 11, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 162

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 162

Yesterday we concluded by speaking of the Shepherd who would not only grant redemption to Zion, but also to the Gentiles who would believe on Him, and they all would become one sheepfold. But today the Lord brings us back to the present realities of the nation in Isaiah's day. He has some harsh words for the leaders of His people who have not been good shepherds of the flock. 

"Come, all you beasts of the field, come and devour, all you beasts of the forest! Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep." (Isaiah 56:9-10) The Lord invites the beasts of the field to consume these wicked shepherds. The word "watchmen" and "shepherds" are interchangeable in this context and the Lord paints us the picture of a lazy shepherd, snoozing in the shade, while an enemy stalks the herd. The useless shepherd might as well be literally blind, for he's too spiritually blind to discern the condition of his flock. He is lacking in the knowledge of the Lord and of His word, so he cannot lead. He's worse than a dog that doesn't bark to alert his family of a predator; he doesn't even recognize a predator when he sees one.

"They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain." (Isaiah 56:11) All sorts of injustice abounds when the leadership becomes wicked. Greed is like a bottomless pit that never fills up. A person might do things for money they never thought they'd do. Instead of looking out for their fellow citizens, these leaders were corrupt, intent on doing whatever it took to get as much for themselves as they could.

They feel no shame for their actions and so they celebrate their deeds at night with friends who are just like them. "'Come,' each one cries, 'let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.'" (Isaiah 56:12) These good ole boys are slapping each other on the back as they swap the tales of the day's deeds, knocking back drinks and predicting an even better day tomorrow. But a reckoning is at hand. They have forgotten the Judge of Isaiah's vision, whom he saw on the day of his calling to be a prophet. This Judge was seated at the bench and about to call each person to account for his crimes.

Citizens suffer when the leadership is poor. Kings and presidents and dictators have been sending men to war ever since civilization born. They've made many widows and orphans. They've been unrighteous stewards of resources, bringing recessions and even economic collapse on their own nations. Leaders all over the world have, at times, ushered in programs or done away with programs that have made citizens go hungry or lack access to adequate medical care. When the leader of a nation makes bad choices, the citizens pay the price, and the poorest in the nation pay the highest price. Isaiah, his fellow prophets, and those still faithful to God burned in their hearts over such injustice. It hurt them to see innocent people suffer because of the greed and lack of spiritual discernment in the hearts of the leaders. But the Lord granted Isaiah a unique point of view regarding those who were passing out of this world during troubled times. The Lord gave him words of comfort to share with the people. "The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." (Isaiah 57:1-2) 

We've all heard this sentiment expressed after someone's passing, "Well, he's in a better place now", and we usually nod our heads in agreement without really feeling very comforted. But Isaiah says we should feel comforted. The person who is now with the Lord is suffering no more from illness or the troubles of this world. The Lord has spared them from evil. They find peace and rest in His presence forever. Yes, it hurt Isaiah's heart to see good people leaving this world because the shepherds of Israel had not been righteous men with their citizens' best interests at heart. But he was confident that the Lord had their best interests at heart. Those who went into His presence in the years leading up to the nation's downfall were spared siege conditions when Babylon came, along with the humiliation the enemy soldiers would heap upon them and the forced march through hundreds of miles of desert to a foreign land. Isaiah is saying that the fortunate ones are those who would already be in the presence of the Lord when the nation fell. This includes Isaiah himself, who is believed to have been martyred along with many other prophets during the reign of King Manasseh. 

We've all lost people we've dearly loved and we've all wondered why. Why did God take them so soon? Why did God let them get so sick? They were such godly people; why didn't the Lord leave them here in this world? The Lord rarely, if ever, answers this question. He said in our study earlier in the week that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. It could be that we, in our feeble human weakness, could not understand His answer if He gave us one. I used to try to comfort my dogs on the way to the vet by explaining to them that we were just going for a checkup, that nothing bad was going to happen there, but it was no use. They couldn't understand me. They shook in fear all the way to the clinic in spite of anything I said. My thoughts were not their thoughts and my ways were not their ways. We could not have a meeting of the minds. They were capable of understanding some words, such as "outside" or "treat" or "toy", but detailed explanations were beyond them. And maybe that's why God doesn't explain everything He's doing, because we wouldn't understand it. We are capable of understanding some of the things He does. We have the Holy Bible to instruct us in righteous living and to reveal the loving character of our God. But it's quite possible that intricately detailed explanations would be beyond us. God doesn't ask us to understand everything, but to trust Him. My pets couldn't understand everything I said to them but I hoped they knew I had their best interests at heart. And that's what God wants from us, the belief that He has our best interests at heart even when we don't understand. 

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