Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 165

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 165

Today's passage contains a verse that's very special to me and I can't wait to get to it, but it's near the end so first we will pick up where we left off on Tuesday. Yesterday we ended with the Lord promising help for those faithful to Him but advising the idolaters to look to their idols for help. We know which group is going to receive a blessing, for those who look to the Lord find a refuge in Him, but the idolaters receive no answer from the images they pray to. 

Today the Lord promises comfort for those who honor Him and are sorry for their sins. "And it will be said: 'Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of My people." (Isaiah 57:14) The Lord Jesus had dreadful words for anyone who placed a stumbling block in the path of those making their way to Him. (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2) The Lord intends to make a clear path for His people, both literally and spiritually. They will return to Zion from Babylon and they will return to the Lord from idolatry.

In our study the past couple of days the Lord has been speaking against the leaders who have been such poor shepherds of the people. Their wickedness has hindered the faith of those who want to live for the Lord. The idolatry which began in high places such as the palace of the king spread through the nation like a virus, infecting many. So the Lord disciplined the people for their waywardness by sending them captive to a foreign land. But a day is coming when they will be released. The Lord has determined this and nothing can stop it. No roadblock will be put in the way of His people.

"For this is what the high and exalted One says---He who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." (Isaiah 57:15) They can count on His promise because of who He is: the high and exalted One who lives forever. And though He has the right to remain only in his high and holy place, He is willing to stoop down and live with us. This is akin to a king leaving his palace to come live in a hovel with poor and broken sinners. It's amazing to me that God would have this desire but He longs to be our Father. Just as none of us could stand to pass on by and leave a sick and dirty child lying in the gutter, the Lord cannot bear to leave us as we are. He wants to scoop us up in His arms and take us home, exchanging our filthy rags of sin for robes of righteousness, seating us at His table and filling our souls with good and wholesome things in place of the unsatisfying things of the world. He promises revival for all who repent and come to Him. New life is given to the one who finds in Him a Savior.

"I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of Me---the very people I have created." (Isaiah 57:16) We would cease to exist if God treated us as our sins deserve. He created us and He would be within His rights to be done with us. But this is not what He wants. He disciplined the people for a time because of their sins but if He continued the discipline they would waste away. God knows exactly how much discipline to apply and how long to apply it. It won't last one second longer than it needs to.

"I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid My face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways." (Isaiah 57:17) When parents see a child doing something wrong, usually the first thing they try is a warning. If the child obeys, no further action needs to be taken. God warned His people for decades through the prophets and if they had listened they would not have ended up in Babylon. As a child I often ended up in the "Babylon" of time-out or I suffered the loss of privileges because I would not listen. My parents didn't want to have to sit me in a corner or remove some of my privileges or give me a well-deserved spanking, but sometimes they had to. This is the position God was in. Softer measures did not work and He had to resort to harsher punishment. The people kept on in their willful ways, just as I as a child kept on in my willful ways, and like any good Father the Lord had to take steps to correct harmful behavior.

Now we come to a verse that means a great deal to me, and I'm going to quote it in the King James because that's the way I first encountered it, "I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners." (Isaiah 57:18) I carried this verse in my handbag for a long time so I could take it out daily and remind myself of the Lord's promise to me. And if you've got the time, I'll make a long story as short as I can. I was going through a terrible season in my life. I had troubles at home that it would shame both me and my husband to describe to you. It wouldn't bless you to know the details anyway. But back in 2007 my husband's personality changed so suddenly and shockingly he was like a stranger to me. A scary stranger. (I want to point out that he was not physically abusing me and I'm not advocating that anyone stay in a household where they are in danger.) But he became a person whose motivations I couldn't fathom and whose actions I couldn't possibly predict from one minute to the next. In my mind I kept thinking of that old movie Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, because when I looked into his eyes it was like he wasn't in there anymore but someone else was. I went through my days with a grief that's like the grief you feel when someone dies. I felt like he had died and the person who had taken his place was a poor substitute. This situation went on for about three and a half years before he was willing to listen to spiritual and medical counseling. He eventually received a medical diagnosis which three separate doctors firmly agreed upon and was able to begin treatment that got him to a place where he could more clearly and calmly heed the Lord's voice. 

But long before relief came, I was sitting in my allergist's waiting room one morning, and since the waiting room is a good place for catching viruses, about the only thing safe to touch is the Gideon Bible. If you think about it, do you really ever see anyone reading the Gideon Bible in the waiting room? You see people reading the newspapers and flipping through the magazines, but I can't recall a single time I've seen anyone with the Bible. I couldn't tell you now whether I happened to open straight to Isaiah 57 but what I can tell you is that verse 18 leaped off the page at me. It was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit sends a verse Special Delivery straight to the heart. The Lord spoke my spirit right then so strongly it was all I could do not to leap out of my seat and start shouting hallelujahs, for He used verse 18 to make me a promise about my husband, "I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners." 

I realize that in verse 18 the "him" that is spoken of is the nation of Israel, and we can't always pick a verse regarding Israel out of the Bible and apply it to our own particular circumstances, but in cases where the Holy Spirit says to us, "This is also for you!", we can take that promise to the bank. For one thing, it's not that common in the Scriptures for God to refer to Israel with a male pronoun, and especially in the book of Isaiah where Israel is depicted as an unfaithful wife. We will more often find Israel symbolized by a woman than by a man. And for another thing, I had been crying out to God from my bedroom floor that very morning about how He had seen what was happening in my life and had seen what had gone horribly wrong with my husband. I told Him we needed a miraculous work of healing that only He could do. I had spoken to the Lord of my grief, how I mourned over the loss of the person I once knew just as I'd mourn over a death. And when the Lord took verse 18 and aimed it right at me, I knew He'd heard my prayer and was going to come through. He said to me of my husband, "I have seen His ways. I am going to heal Him. I am going to lead him in My ways, the right ways, and when I do you will be released from your mourning." 

I believe it was about midway through my time of troubles when the Lord sent me His promise, but I clung to it for dear life. And God kept His word. He did what no one else could have done. He has done great things and He's going to do plenty more great things. Amazing things for you and for me. Things that will give us a testimony and a confidence nobody can ever take from us, not even the devil himself. Because when the devil whispers the ugly lie, "God isn't going to come through for you," we can stand on the firm foundation of what God has already done. He has moved mountains. He has parted seas. He has brought dead marriages back to life and He has led wayward children home. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord,' plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11)

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