Sunday, January 1, 2017

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 180

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 180

Yesterday the Lord rebuked those who believed they were better than others. They had no basis upon which to stake this claim. For one thing, many of them were committing the same sins as the pagan Gentiles that they looked down upon. For another, even if they could claim not to have committed the specific sins of the Gentiles, they were committing other sins and this made them lawbreakers in God's eyes. Because they knew better, their sins were even worse than those of the pagans. They knew God's commandments and laws. They possessed the books of Moses and the psalms of David and the words of the prophets. When confronted with their sins, they couldn't plead ignorance of God's requirements. A heathen Gentile in some far-off country who had never even heard the name of the God of Israel could in all sincerity plead for mercy by saying what the Apostle Paul once said, "I acted in ignorance and unbelief". (1 Timothy 1:13) But God's covenant people had no such excuse.

God in His mercy gave the people many generations in which to repent. During that time He appealed to them through the prophets. Time and again He sent men to speak for Him and they were harshly treated. Prophets were the most persecuted of citizens in the nation and even Isaiah himself ended up being martyred during the reign of the wicked King Manasseh who ordered the slaughter of the prophets in Jerusalem. God gave the people generations to repent, but this does not mean He wasn't keeping a record of their sins. It was nothing but God's mercy and patience that held back His wrath but instead of being thankful for the reprieve, the Lord found in them this attitude, "When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you. But I now arraign you and set My accusations before you." (Psalm 50:21) 

Because God had not yet brought down the full force of His discipline upon them, the people assumed He didn't care how they lived. They even dared to suggest His character might be like theirs. In their hearts they said, "We've done all these things that the Book of the Law says we must not do, and God has not punished us, so this must mean He does not care. If He did, He would have destroyed us long before now. His laws should be regarded more as suggestions for how to live, but nothing happens if we ignore them."

We don't want to ever forget that there were faithful, godly people in the nation. There were men like Isaiah and women like his wife who was known as "the prophetess". In every generation since the beginning of time God has had those who love and honor Him. But to those who refused to pray a humble prayer of repentance and do what was right in His eyes, God had this message, "'See, it stands written before Me: I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps---both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,' says the Lord. 'Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains and defied Me on the hills, I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds.'" (Isaiah 65:6-7) God was keeping a record of the wrongs done by those who refused to turn from sin, the ones we found blaspheming His character in Psalm 50, the ones of whom He said, "What right have you to recite My laws or take My covenant on your lips? You hate My instruction and cast My words behind you. When you see a thief, you join with him; you throw in your lot with adulterers. You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You sit and testify against your brother and slander your own mother's son." (Psalm 50:16-20)

But because there were those in the land still faithful to God, He has a word of comfort. "This is what the Lord says: 'As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes and people say, 'Don't destroy it, there is still a blessing in it,' so will I do in behalf of My servants; I will not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess My mountains; My chosen people will inherit them, and there will My servants live. Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for My people who seek Me.'" (Isaiah 65:8-10) Suppose a man had a vineyard and he noted one of his grapevines was almost completely dead, but there was one fresh and vibrant shoot left on it producing good grapes. For the sake of the one good shoot, he would not destroy the whole vine. He would prune away the dead and unproductive shoots so the good one could thrive. And this is what God is saying to His people. They have not all gone astray and become dead in their trespasses and sins. For the sake of those who still have the juice of godliness in them, He will not destroy the entire vine that is their nation. He will need to prune away the dead and unproductive shoots, but the good ones will be allowed to remain and flourish.

"But as for you who forsake the Lord and forget My holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will fall in the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in My sight and chose what displeases Me." (Isaiah 65:11-12) The Canaanite false gods of Fortune and Destiny had never called to these people, but they answered anyway. The one true God who had been their Helper and Defender through ages past had called to them, but they did not answer. The useless idols who stared mutely with unseeing eyes upon the offerings brought to them would not be able to lift a hand to defend the people against their destiny of God's wrath.

Just as in our own nation today, there were those in Isaiah's day who honored and loved the Lord and there were those who blasphemed and mocked His name. There were believers and unbelievers. There were those who strove to do what is right as much as is humanly possible and there were those who had no regard for the laws of either God or man. We conclude our study today with the contrast between the reward of the righteous and the reward of the wicked, "Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'My servants will eat, but you will go hungry; My servants will drink, but you will go thirsty; My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame. My servants will sing out of the joy of their hearts, but you will cry out from anguish of heart and wail in brokenness of spirit. You will leave your name for My chosen ones to use in their curses; the Sovereign Lord will put you to death, but to His servants He will give another name. Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the one true God; whoever takes an oath in the land will swear by the one true God. For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from My eyes." (Isaiah 65:13-16) 

With only the good grapes remaining in God's vineyard, God is able to move on tomorrow to reveal His plans for those who will inherit His blessings. The faithful of God will live in a fruitful world of plenty. They will live in peace. Trouble and pain and suffering and death will be no more. Like a bad dream that is forgotten by morning's light, these awful things will be remembered no more. God is going to make all things new. 

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