Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 176

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 176

We ended Chapter 62 yesterday with the Lord saying to His covenant people Israel, "See, your Savior comes!" And in Chapter 63 they do see Him. They see Him coming to establish His kingdom on earth, after His every enemy has been vanquished. Even more importantly to Zion, her own personal enemies have been vanquished by this One striding toward her in victory. Here is her kinsman-redeemer, meaning the closest male relative who possesses a number of rights on her behalf, and who in today's passage is acting upon His right to avenge blood. Zion's Savior has come and as her kinsman-redeemer He will avenge all the wrongs done to her.

As Chapter 63 opens I believe we are glimpsing what is known in the Scriptures as "the day of the Lord". We don't know how Zion pictured her Savior but His appearance in Chapter 63 startles her and fills her with awe, causing her to ask, "Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with His garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of His strength?" (Isaiah 63:1a) His garments are red because they are stained with blood. When the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, He wore His own blood, shed for us. He was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. But when He returns as the King of kings and Lord of lords, the blood He wears will not be His own, but that of His enemies. And these enemies are those who have persecuted Zion and the church. Any enemy of His faithful ones is an enemy of His. When Saul of Tarsus zealously prowled the land, persecuting Christians, the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and asked, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4) Saul's attack on the church was the same as a direct attack on the Lord Himself. 

Although Zion is startled at the sudden appearance of this One whose robes are dipped in blood, she recognizes He is acting in His role as kinsman-redeemer. He is her closest male relative and has the right to avenge all the wrongs done to her, and He appears to her still wearing the blood of her enemies so she will know He has kept His word. Through long centuries of oppression and persecution Zion felt deserted and desolate, as we learned in Chapter 62. The nations around her viewed her this way as well, believing God would not stand up for her, feeling that He had abandoned her forever. They did not understand that God was being a Father to her and disciplining her in love. But a good father does not destroy the child. A good father does not abandon the child by the side of the road. A good father does not stop loving the child when the child disobeys. And a good father is angry when his child is mistreated; he will take action.

Most of the background materials I studied suggest that the use of the words "Edom" and Bozrah" is meant to be taken figuratively. "Edom" means "red" and "Bozrah" means "grape-gathering" or "wine vintage". We will see as we continue that the Lord likens the blood on His robes to the juice that stains the garments of one who treads grapes. Bible scholar J. Alec Motyer takes the imagery a step further by likening the return of this victorious King to the return of King David from conquering the Edomites in 2 Samuel 8:13-14, "And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went." Edom, founded by Isaac's son Esau, had long been an enemy of Israel, founded by Isaac's son Jacob. These twins who wrestled in the womb continued to wrestle as nations. While David was king he manged to gain victory over the Edomites for a time, but this descendant of David will gain victory over Israel's enemies forever. The people who view their kinsman-redeemer in His bloodstained robes seem to understand He is a king like David, a king mighty in power who subdues enemies and unites the twelve tribes of Israel, who returns in victory from the battle.

The people asked, "Who is this?" not because they didn't know, in my opinion. I think they asked it in the same tone of voice the disciples used when they said in awe, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!" (Matthew 8:27) The words and the miracles of Jesus amazed the people. And the works He accomplishes on His day of vengeance will amaze the people. They will know who He is but will be so overwhelmed by His power and majesty they can't help but ask the rhetorical question, "Who is this? Who can do such mighty works? Who else can this be but our Savior?"

The Lord answers their question, "It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save." (Isaiah 63:1b) He is the Righteous One, the only One who brings salvation.

The people want to be sure they understand the meaning of His bloodstained garments. Has He really conquered their enemies? Has He come to reign in righteousness? Is deliverance at hand? "Why are Your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?" (Isaiah 63:2)

His answer is, "I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with Me. I trampled them in My anger and trod them down in My wrath; their blood spattered My garments, and I stained all My clothing. It was for Me the day of vengeance; the year for Me to redeem had come. I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so My own arm achieved salvation for Me, and My own wrath sustained Me. I trampled the nations in My anger; in My wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground." (Isaiah 63:3-6) We find similar imagery in the Apostle John's vision of the day of the Lord in Revelation 19, when Christ in justice and faithfulness judges and wages war, wearing a robe dipped in blood because He has trod the winepress of the fury of Almighty God. 

To us the passage above may sound gruesome and brutal, but to a persecuted people these are welcome words. Their kinsman-redeemer is claiming His right to avenge them. He has come to set them free. In addition, the church ought to view these as welcome words, for in Revelation we find the Lord treading upon every enemy who has persecuted the church. He has come to do this work alone because no one else can do it. No one else has the right to do it. He is the kinsman-redeemer of Israel and the kinsman-redeemer of the church, our closest male relative who will avenge every wrong done to us. No cruelty that has ever been perpetrated against you or me has gone unnoticed by the Righteous One. In sinning against us, our enemies have sinned even more against Him: the One whose laws and commandments they have broken. This is why the Lord says, "It is Mine to avenge; I will repay." (Deuteronomy 32:35) When we repay our enemies we aren't able to do it with justice and righteousness because we, as feeble and sinful humans ourselves, cannot mete out punishment without becoming a little bit like our enemies. When we repay we dirty our hands. But the Lord, because He is perfect and holy and righteous, can repay without any change of His character whatsoever. He is the lawgiver. It is His laws that have been broken, therefore He has the right to judge and to pass sentence. 

The prophet Isaiah and his people view the events of the passage today as something to celebrate. As we continue on in Chapter 63 tomorrow we find a song a praise breaking out, a song about the Lord's love. God is love but He is also righteous and holy. His love and His vengeance are two sides of the same coin. His love and His vengeance are both parts of His character and cannot be separated. If we celebrate His love we must also celebrate His vengeance. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and loving Him makes us His children, whom He will avenge. Our enemies are His enemies. The battle is His and He alone can fight it, just as He alone wrought salvation for us on the cross. It is His to repay because He can do it correctly. Our responsibility is simply to rest confidently in His love, knowing our Father is watching over us, caring for us, and preparing Himself to make right for us everything that is wrong.

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