Monday, December 12, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 163

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 163

The Lord begins our passage today by taking to task those who mock the ones still faithful to God. We are seeing a great deal of this in our own country today. It's open season when it comes to making hate speech against Christians. But God points out today that scorning His faithful ones is the same as scorning Him. He calls the mockers to stand before Him, "But you---come here, you children of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes! Who are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not a brood of rebels, the offspring of liars?" (Isaiah 57:3-4)

The Lord often equates idolatry with adultery, for those involved in idolatry had left their first love (the Lord) to run after others. Yet they reveled in making fun of those who remained faithful to their Maker. The Lord says something like, "How dare you persecute My children? They are My little ones and I am their Father, but you even know who your father is? Do you even know what it is that you worship? An idol itself is nothing, but hidden behind the idol is the one who was a murderer from the beginning and is the father of lies." 

Anyone who loves God will love His people and want to do them good. But to those who cling to wickedness the Lord Jesus said, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

Now the Lord moves on into a scathing rebuke of the cult practices of the mockers. "You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags." (Isaiah 57:5) Lest we ever feel too sorry for the people of Canaan, whom the Lord instructed Israel to drive from the land, we must keep in mind that the abominable act of child sacrifice was practiced by them. Not only did they indulge in orgies under the hilltop oaks as part of their fertility cults, they brought the resulting fruit of the womb to the contemptible false god Molech (behind whom was hidden the one who is a murderer from the beginning) and burned their children in the fire. Yet the ones who indulged in such unthinkable things dared to laugh in the face of the children of the Most High God.

All their feverish couplings under the trees, their many atrocious sacrifices, and their countless hours of chanting to gods who do not exist, will earn them nothing. "The idols among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion; indeed, they are your lot. Yes, to them you have poured out drink offerings and offered grain offerings. In view of all this, should I relent? You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices." (Isaiah 57:6-7) We've all heard the expression, "You've made your bed, now you have to lie in it." This is what the Lord is saying to those who have rejected Him time and again, running after other gods like a wayward spouse running after illicit love. 

They are also guilty of hypocrisy. "Behind your doors and your doorposts you have put your pagan symbols." (Isaiah 57:8a) The commandments the Lord gave the people in Deuteronomy were to be written "on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates". (Deuteronomy 6:9) And it's possible these words were still written on the outside of houses of the idolaters, but inside were symbols of pagan religions. They thought they could hide their sins and perhaps they could...from their neighbors. But not from God. 

"Forsaking Me, you uncovered your bed, you climbed into it and opened it wide; you made a pact with those whose beds you love, and you looked with lust on their naked bodies." (Isaiah 57:8b) On the surface this appears to be a somewhat graphic description of a straying spouse running to the bed of another, flinging the covers back to gaze in lust on the one who is desired, but from my background study this verse seems to be symbolic of the favor Israel gained from nations around her. Claiming allegiance to the same religion opened the door to military alliances, peace treaties, and financial help from the pagan cultures of the area. J. Alec Motyer, whose commentaries on the Bible I deeply respect, says that a more literal translation for seeing nakedness is "I saw a hand", which he feels symbolizes financial resources and the sealing of deals with handshakes. Israel had forsaken her husband (the Lord) and had crawled into bed with others for financial and political gain. As the old saying goes, "Politics makes strange bedfellows". 

"You went to Molech with olive oil and increased your perfumes. You sent your ambassadors far away; you descended to the very realm of the dead!" (Isaiah 57:9) The people violated their principles in sending ambassadors and costly gifts to wicked kings in order to secure their help. After bringing the people out of Egypt, the Lord had commanded them never to return for anything, yet in their desire to throw off the yoke of Assyria they sent ambassadors to Egypt and donkeys and camels loaded down with treasures. King Hezekiah even made the mistake of being so flattered by the arrival of Babylonian envoys that he showed them all the wealth of the palace, the temple, and the whole land of Judah, which only served in later generations to remind Babylon that Judah was worth conquering. The Lord is saying, "You sold yourself for nothing. It was all smoke and mirrors. There was no substance behind the promises of the father of lies."

Is there anything that feels worse than knowing we have made monumental efforts to acquire something that will never satisfy us? That we have wasted time and money and energy on something that was a lie? "You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, 'It is hopeless'. You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint." (Isaiah 57:10) What a weary burden it would be if we tried to gain salvation by works! Just imagine the unending activity, the constant doubts, the anxiety. Christianity stands out against all other religions in that it promises us salvation based on the works of Someone else! In contrast to the perpetual rituals and offerings and obligatory chants and repetitive actions of the idolatrous religions, Christ says, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) Christ bore our shame and sin and disgrace so He could also bear our burdens. We don't earn salvation by good works. Christ earned it for us by His own perfect work. This is why He gives us a place of rest, a peace in our souls, a quiet unshakable confidence in His presence. Did Molech ever supply anyone with rest? Did any of the Canaanite gods bear anyone's burdens? Do the gods of this world ever do anything but keep piling on a load of despair until we can barely put one foot in front of the other? Does denying the existence of God to serve ourselves accomplish anything but making us feel inadequate and fearful? 

Our faith hangs not on what we can do but on the One who did all things for us. In Him we find what our hearts long for, a relationship that fulfills the deepest needs of our souls.

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