Sunday, December 18, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 169

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 169

The Lord has been explaining to the people why their prayers aren't being answered. They behave like those who don't know Him. They live as if God will not see their sins. And as a result, Isaiah says, "So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away." (Isaiah 59:9-11) 

What a sad statement this is! Isaiah makes it about himself, as well as everyone else. As he said in Chapter 53, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray." (v 6) We too can say that we all have gone astray and that we all have been held captive by sin. Before we knew Christ we all stumbled about in the darkness, groping our way like a blind man. 

Within about a hundred years of Isaiah's prophecies, the people of Judah will lose their nation to Babylon, just as the northern kingdom of Israel lost their nation to Assyria. The Lord warned King Solomon, after the dedication of the temple at Jerusalem, what would happen if the people went astray, "But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from My land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for My name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule for all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, 'Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?' People will answer, 'Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them---that is why He brought all this disaster on them.'" (2 Chronicles 7:19-22)

Things are looking pretty hopeless for the nation at this point, but a day is coming when they will repent of their sins. They will understand that they have brought tragedy upon themselves and that God is not to blame for their circumstances. They will cry out to God in prayer, confessing their sins, and their words will echo those of King David when he acknowledged his heavy guilt by saying, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." (Psalm 51:3) "For our offenses are many in Your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey." (Isaiah 59:12-15a) 

Justice, righteousness, truth, and honesty still exist, but God cannot bless the people with these things while they withhold justice, righteousness, truth, and honesty from each other. Sin is so ugly that God can't look upon it, therefore righteousness must stand at a distance until the people admit their guilt. God wants to bring His righteousness close to them but they have refused His overtures of peace and His offers of mercy. As Isaiah formerly told the people in Chapter 30, "The Lord longs to be gracious to you." (v 18) He longed to be gracious but could not as long as they rejected Him. 

It will take discipline from the hand of a loving Father to get the people to face their sins and to admit their guilt, but once they have their hearts right with God again, there is still no one strong enough to lead the people out of captivity. There is no mediator like Moses. There is no warrior king like David. There is no judge and prophet like Samuel. How are the people going to make it back to Zion? "The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm achieved salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him." (Isaiah 59:15b-16) God Himself is going to orchestrate world events to set His people free. In the book of Isaiah we have already learned that, many decades before his birth, the Lord called Cyrus of Persia by name to conquer Babylon and let His people go. The Lord Himself will lead the people back to Zion. They will be His people and He will be their God. No man among them stood up and volunteered to take the job, but that's alright, because God has never needed the help of man. He created the universe and everything in it without mankind's help and He is fully capable of handling all other tasks without mankind's help. It's nothing but His grace that He allows us to have a role in His marvelous works and that He invites us to participate in doing good deeds in His name. 

When we were lost in sin, there was no one who could lead us out. There was no one holy enough to be our mediator. So the Lord's own arm achieved salvation. He came Himself, in person, to do a job no one else could do. We can never make the claim that we were saved by works, because it's already been established that we all have gone astray. We have all sinned and fallen short. And as Isaiah will point out in Chapter 64, even at our best "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags". (v 6) To our own eyes, our good deeds make us look pretty nice on the outside. We look in the mirror believing we are clothed in beautiful robes, but to the eyes of a holy God we are standing there dressed in filthy rags. Nobody can clean us up but Him and, praise be to His holy name, He never shrank back from doing the job.

"He put on righteousness as His breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak." (Isaiah 59:17) When His people repented in a foreign land, God got into His battle gear. He is going to defeat the enemy who dragged them away in chains. In the same manner, God put on His battle gear to defeat the enemy who dragged us away in chains to the foreign land of sin. The Lord Jesus Christ fought an unseen battle while His body lay in the tomb. He conquered the grave. He defeated Satan and the power of sin, rising with the keys of death and hell in His hand. 

"According to what they have done, so will He repay wrath to His enemies and retribution to His foes; He will repay the islands their due. From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere His glory. For He will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along." (Isaiah 59:18-19) Deliverance is coming, in a very near sense and in a very far-off sense. After seventy years in captivity, the people will return to Zion and rebuild. They will once again be a nation, a nation out of which the true Deliverer will come. And someday this Deliverer will reign over the whole earth and all people, from every corner of the world, will know and honor His name.

"'The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,' declares the Lord." (Isaiah 59:20) The word used here for "Redeemer" is "goel" which means "kinsman-redeemer". A kinsman redeemer was a close relative who had the privilege and ability to buy someone out of slavery by paying their debts. He had the right to avenge the innocent blood of a kinsman who had been set upon by enemies. As in the book of Ruth, a kinsman-redeemer could buy back land that a family member had lost or could not afford to maintain. And He could marry the childless widow of his kinsman in order to keep the family name of his kinsman going. This is what the Lord promises to do for Zion. He will buy them back out of slavery, avenging the blood that their enemies spilled, returning them to their own land, and ensuring the continuance of their family lines. 

"'As for Me, this is My covenant with them,' says the Lord. 'My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and My words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants---from this time on and forever,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 59:21) The Lord will not break His covenant with Israel and He will not break His covenant with the church. He will be faithful to those who are faithful to Him. The kinsman-redeemer did not force his help on anyone but responded only to the call of those who sought him, who acknowledged their need and asked him to step in. This is how our Kinsman-Redeemer worked out our salvation. We called and He answered, therefore He will never forsake us. He is ours and we are His forever.

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