Saturday, December 17, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 168

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 168

For the past couple of days the Lord has been explaining to people why He has not honored the fasts they have held in His name. They thought God would reward their outward behavior while their hearts were far from Him, as if He didn't know what was in their hearts. Their behavior during their fasts was inappropriate for children of God, therefore He said He wouldn't answer the prayers they prayed while in the wrong spirit. Today He mentions even more things that are coming between them and Himself.

"Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear." (Isaiah 59:1) I think maybe the Lord begins Chapter 59 with this statement because there were those who were beginning to believe His arm was too short to save and that He had become hard of hearing. They may have been saying things like, "If there is a God, why doesn't He help us? If He is all-powerful, why doesn't He deliver us from our enemies?" They were putting the blame on the Lord instead of examining their own lives. 

I want to stop here and point out that not all our problems are a result of our own personal sin. But sometimes they are, which is why the first thing we should do when hard times come is figure out whether there is "sin in the camp", just as the children of Israel had to do during the wilderness years. In the case of the people of Isaiah's day, there was sin in the camp, and this was the reason for God's refusal to act on their behalf until they faced their sins and repented of them. "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2) We spoke earlier in the week about God being a good Father, too good of a Father to reward and reinforce wrong behavior. His refusal to act on their behalf is for the purpose of gaining their attention. Nothing gets our attention any quicker than having an unmet need. Nothing bring us to our knees faster, and nothing sends us running back to the Lord sooner. When He does not answer, we are compelled to ask why, and the question is intended to lead us to examine our own hearts and ask, "Do I have sin in my life that needs to be dealt with?"

"For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things." (Isaiah 59:3) Here we learn they are breaking at least two of the ten commandments: "thou shalt not kill" and "thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor".

"No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil." (Isaiah 59:4) They are perverting justice, taking bribes, and failing to stand up for those who have no defender. It's every man for himself. King Solomon would be appalled at the depths to which the justice system (and the character of the nation) has fallen, for he said, "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community." (Proverbs 6:16-19) 

Because they are the covenant people of God, the people believe His blessings should automatically fall upon them despite their sinful ways. This is not true for them and it's not true for the Christian either. If we belong to Christ and are children of God, then our Father will apply discipline when needed. As our Father, He has the right to withhold rewards when we rebel against Him. He has the right to expect us to admit our wrongdoing before He performs further acts on our behalf. Have you ever said something like this to your child, "We aren't going out for ice-cream until you apologize to your sister for hitting her."? Or, "We are going to clean up this mess before you can watch TV."? Well, God often has to say to us, "I won't reward sinful behavior. Let's get this worked out now. Confess and repent and I will be faithful to forgive you. Then we can get on with things."

Isaiah points out that his people look pretty good on the outside. To the foreigner passing through, who did not know them personally, they must have seemed an especially devout nation. They fasted, they brought offerings and sacrifices, and they observed various feasts and festivals and Sabbaths. But because they had unconfessed sin in their hearts, Isaiah says their outward appearance is nothing but an illusion. Underneath they are as awful as a poisonous spider or snake. "They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider's web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make." (Isaiah 59:5-6a) The nation fancied itself an example for others to follow, but as Jesus said of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, they had become blind leaders of the blind. And when the blind leads the blind, they both fall into the ditch. (Matthew 15:14) No one who followed their advice was going to be any better off. Their counsel was unsound because they had drifted from the Lord. 

"Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; their is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace." (Isaiah 59:6b-8) When one is on the wrong path, the only place he can lead others is down the wrong path with him. It's vitally important that anyone we approach for counseling is really living a godly life. If we need mental health counseling, I believe as Christians we should go to someone who shares our beliefs and principles, who holds fast to the word of God, and who will guide us according to the Scriptures. We can also find a great deal of help and encouragement from pastors, teachers, and close Christian friends: people whom we know well enough to be confident their faith is sincere and that they seek to live lives that honor the Lord. 

Chapter 59 is quite long and we must leave the second half for tomorrow, keeping in mind that if the Lord left us where we are now in this passage, things would look pretty hopeless for Israel and for ourselves as well. The Lord has just completed a long list of man's sins and misdeeds. He has had to turn His face away from such ugliness. He cannot bless sin and He cannot redeem where there is no repentance. Mankind has fallen too far from grace to dig himself out of the pit he's in. So what is the solution? Is there a solution? Tomorrow the Lord will tell us that, because there was no one who could save himself, and because there was no deliverer, He will become the Deliverer.

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