Thursday, June 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 9

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 9

Isaiah continues today with his list of woes. In case you are becoming weary with all the bad news, I promise you better days are coming in the book of Isaiah. As far as I can tell, Isaiah made more prophecies about the Messiah than any other prophet. The Lord Jesus frequently quoted from this book and even began His ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah. This is why we have chosen "comfort my people" as our key verse for this study, because for every tale of coming woe there is a vision of a glorious future. 

Yesterday Isaiah warned the people that God is going to humble them. They have refused to accept His lordship over their lives and have rejected the One who made them into a nation. For their own good He has to show them He is Lord and is not to be disrespected. But the people mock Isaiah and they mock God, so Isaiah says, "Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, 'Let God hurry; let Him hasten His work so we may see it. The plan of the Holy One of Israel---let it approach, let it come into view, so we may know it.'" (Isaiah 5:18-19) The people don't believe what Isaiah is telling them. The prophets have been predicting disaster for a while now and it hasn't happened yet. Instead of realizing this is the mercy of God, that He is giving them time to repent, they challenge the Lord, "So You're going to judge us? Get on with it then!"

We've probably all felt like justice was a long time coming. We've looked around us at wickedness and wondered why God hasn't done anything about it yet. We've seen godly people pass on in the prime of their lives while those who spit in the face of God keep on going. According to the Bible, both these situations are the mercy of God. About the righteous who often seem to leave the world too soon, Isaiah says, "The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil." (Isaiah 57:1) About those who live in rebellion toward God, the Apostle Peter said of God's promise of coming judgment, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) My mother died of cancer when I was only twenty-six. That feels like an awfully young age to lose your mother. She was a fine Christian woman and it seemed unfair that the Lord took her so soon while leaving wicked people here to live on. I felt confused and hurt and angry toward the Lord. I still can't tell you what His purpose was in taking her so soon but in her case maybe it's as Isaiah said, the Lord took her away to spare her from evil. Maybe she's been spared from something she would have thought was worse than cancer. I don't know the answer but I've come to a place where I feel at peace with it. 

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight." (Isaiah 5:20-21) We need the word of the Lord to guide our lives. Otherwise we might start seeing moral issues in a shade of gray rather than in black or white, right or wrong. King Solomon, a man who made many mistakes and learned things the hard way, wrote the book of Proverbs late in his life. He said, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12) We need to be able to judge situations and opportunities in the light of God's word. Things in this life can look pretty good to us, just as the fruit looked good to Eve in the garden, but the result is death. That fruit needed to be judged in the light of God's word and He had said, "You must not eat of it." Things that come our way look good to us on the outside but sometimes the light of God's word shines on them and says, "This is the wrong path. This goes against what I've commanded." That's why Solomon spoke these very wise and familiar words, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Isaiah now attacks their excessive lifestyle and their greed. "Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent." (Isaiah 5:22-23) Things had gotten to the point that a man was considered heroic if he won the drinking contents, if he could hold his liquor better than his companions. We see why, several days ago, Isaiah pointed out that there were no heroes left in the nation. Where are the mighty men like King David and his best friend Jonathan? Where are the godly kings who cast down all the idols and restored the house of God? These were the true heroes of Israel and Judah! Isaiah is a hero. Jeremiah is a hero. All the prophets who dared to stand up in wicked times and hold up the word of God are heroes. The average citizens going about their lives while honoring God are heroes. It takes heroism to swim against the stream, to say of the Lord, "Though no one join me, still I will follow." I believe in our times, as the Lord looks down on this earth from His throne, He sees and blesses the ordinary heroes, the people who are swimming against the cultural stream, those who intend to live their lives by His word no matter what. 

"Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the Lord's anger burns against His people; His hand is raised and He strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised." (Isaiah 5:24-25) Isaiah speaks of the future fall of the nation as if it has already happened. He sees it in his mind. Men will fall in battle but that won't be the end of it. It's not simply that they will be conquered and forced to live under the rule of a foreign king. They will be conquered and taken forcibly to a foreign land.

"He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, He whistles for those at the end of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!" (Isaiah 5:26) I picture God waving a sign over the nation, a sign that invites enemies to invade, as He whistles to get the attention of Assyria and Babylon. Assyria is a huge world power in Isaiah's day and she will soon turn her attention to the northern kingdom of Israel to conquer it. In time, Babylon will rise against Assyria, will rise against Judah's ally Egypt, and will then come and conquer Jerusalem.

The armies of the enemy are strong and well-equipped. Israel and Judah will not be able to stand against them. "Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal strap is broken. Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses' hooves seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. Their roar is like that of a lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds." (Isaiah 5:27-30) I believe the Lord uses the imagery of lions here for a reason. If we look back at the ancient culture of Assyria we find a great deal of lion imagery. Kings who wanted to prove their heroism went on big-game hunts to kill a lion. A lot of archaeological artwork remains as evidence of these lion hunts. So we see that the symbol of a growling lion would be familiar to the people of Isaiah's day and they would have understood the connection between a lion and the king of Assyria. The roaring lion of Assyria will conquer Israel and drag her citizens off to his lair. Likewise, ancient Babylon used the image of a lion as a symbol of her king and his power. The kings of Babylon also participated in lion hunts to display their vitality and strength. In Isaiah's prophecy the king of Babylon is a mighty conqueror who roars over his prey and then grabs it in his jaws to drag it back to his own land. He will conquer Judah and roar over her in victory, then will take her captive to Babylon, where one captive by the name of Daniel will actually end up in a literal lion's den. 

The Lord never promised Israel and Judah a life completely free of trouble if they obeyed Him but He promised to be their Defender. He never promised any of His children a life free of trouble. But He did promise to those who obey Him a life of "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8), a life of "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). He did promise us a life in which we are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). When the Lord looks for heroes on the earth, He finds them in those faithful to Christ, those who take up their cross every day and follow Him. Most of us will never be what the world considers heroes just as we wouldn't have been considered heroes in Isaiah's day, when the nation honored those who excelled at excessive living and in cutting dishonest deals. But in God's eyes, His children are the true heroes, the ones who are more than conquerors, for He says, "These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word." (Isaiah 66:2b) 

The link below is to a song about the promises of God. He didn't promise us a trouble-free life, but He did promise us something the world can't give.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 8

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah 
Day 8

Isaiah's song yesterday was a parable about a man who lovingly planted and tended a vineyard but it yielded only bad grapes. After singing the song, Isaiah revealed that the vineyard symbolized the nation of Israel and the plants were the nation of Judah. Now that the people know the song is about them, Isaiah makes a list of their bad behaviors and the discipline that is going to result from them.

"Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field til no space is left and you live alone in the land." (Isaiah 5:8) The more they got, the more they wanted. I don't think the Lord is telling us it's wrong to own property but in this case the people were greedy and covetous. In the book of Isaiah the Lord has already stated that the poor were being oppressed. The cases of the widow and the orphan weren't being heard because the rulers took bribes from the wealthy. A lot of this land was probably gained by dishonest means.

"The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: 'Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine; a homer of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.'" (Isaiah 5:9-10) The land is going to be unproductive. Their labor will go to waste. Because they have been an unfruitful vineyard for the Lord, He will make their vineyards unfruitful.

"Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night until they are inflamed with wine." (Isaiah 5:11) The people no longer know how to do anything in moderation. All their habits are excessive. They start drinking as soon as they get up in the morning and continue til they fall asleep sometime in the night.

"They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of His hands." (Isaiah 5:12) They like a good party. At night they sing and carouse as they celebrate the work of their own hands. I picture the men bragging about shady business deals, laughing and slapping each other on the back. I picture the women just as Isaiah described them a few days ago, decked out in the finest that money can buy, "flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips". (Isaiah 3:16) They are using their sex appeal to urge their husbands on to even more dishonest exploits, while at the same time making eyes at the other men in the room. 

Because of all these things, the Lord has decided what to do. Like the vineyard owner of yesterday's passage, He is going to stop tending these vines. "Therefore My people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched of thirst." (Isaiah 5:13) These are siege conditions. The Assyrians will lay siege to Samaria, the capitol city of the northern kingdom of Israel, for three years. The Babylonians will lay siege to Jerusalem, the capitol city of the southern kingdom of Judah, for ten months. The sole purpose of siege is that the people become so hungry and thirsty they surrender. Why batter walls down and engage in hand-to-hand combat, suffering the loss of lives, if you can simply starve people to the point of surrender?

Despite being told by the prophets to surrender and live, the kings of Israel and Judah hold out against their enemies. The nobles and officials of the land refuse to bow to anyone, not even God Himself. "Therefore Death expands its jaws, opening wide its mouth; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. So people will be brought low, and everyone humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled." (Isaiah 5:14-15) Some versions of the Bible translate the word "death" here as "hell", but the accurate translation is "death" because the original word is the Hebrew "sheol" which simply means the abode of the dead. The Lord is predicting much death will result when the enemies of Israel and Judah come against them. Death will come to those who have made wealth their gods, who brag without shame of how they cheated the poor widow, who heap up treasures for themselves at the expense of those they wronged. The Lord Jesus spoke against this type of greed and said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21) If our heart is in heaven with our Lord, we are free to enjoy any material blessings He gives us. We can enjoy them in the right way because God is the Lord of our lives, not our money or possessions. But when we refuse to give our hearts to the Lord, no amount of worldly goods will satisfy us. Our greed can never be filled up. We have a hole in our hearts that was meant for God but if we reject Him we will find ourselves falling into many obsessions and addictions. We will be overcome by covetousness and will do anything we have to do in order to get more earthly treasure.

The prideful will be brought low, "But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by His justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by His righteous acts. Then sheep will graze in their own pasture; lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich." (Isaiah 5:16-17) The Lord wouldn't be holy if He didn't judge right from wrong. His righteous character is proven by His judgment. 

We can bow voluntarily at the feet of our Maker and Reedemer. We can willingly humble ourselves before an almighty Creator who loves us. Or we can be made to bow. "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'" (Romans 14:11) It's because of His great love that He urges us to surrender all to Him. He knows we need someone bigger than us to count on. He knows we need a Redeemer to make us right, a Helper to instruct us, and a Father to protect us. God loves us. God wants what's best for us. And what's best for us is Him.

Here is our worship song link for today.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 7

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 7

The song we are going to begin studying today was probably composed by Isaiah during the grape harvest, a time of merriment and celebration. The people were in a relaxed mood and ready to enjoy some entertainment and Isaiah uses this method to get their attention. It's both a parable and a love song, but a song about love gone wrong. 

The nation of Israel is often represented in the Scriptures as a vineyard. Isaiah's song today is about Israel but even more specifically about Jerusalem and Judah. "I will sing for the one I love, a song about his vineyard:" (Isaiah 5:1a) The Lord is the one Isaiah loves in this song and the vineyard belongs to Him.

I like to picture this scene with the people sitting attentively on the ground, having already shared a meal after a long day of harvesting grapes. This is the time of evening when they expect to be entertained by musicians and storytellers. They have their eyes expectantly fixed on Isaiah as he gets up to sing his song. He continues, "My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside." (Isaiah 5:1b) This refers to the mountain of the Lord at Jerusalem, often called Zion or Mount Zion. The Lord planted His vineyard in fertile soil. He wasn't careless with His vineyard; He gave the young plants the best start possible.

"He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines." (Isaiah 5:2a) The Lord prepared the ground for His vineyard. He cleared all the stones out of the way, removing the pagan tribes of Canaan from the promised land so His people could be planted there. 

"He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well." (Isaiah 5:2b) Zion was a fortress city. David captured it and built his palace there along with heavily fortified walls and watchtowers. The Lord did something similar when making the area of Zion His capitol, surrounding His people with a massive wall of divine protection, building a watchtower so He could see the approach of enemies while they were still a long way off. The Lord Himself was the mighty wall around His people. He was their watchtower. Enemies would have liked to break in but He has kept them out.

After doing all that could possibly be done to ensure a valuable crop, the Lord came to the vineyard at harvest time and found nothing but bad grapes. "Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit." (Isaiah 5:2b) Up til now we have mostly seen Isaiah presenting the people with a list of their sins. It has had no effect on them so he's using a different tactic today. He tells the story from the viewpoint of a man who did everything right for his vineyard but was betrayed by it. In this story the owner of the vineyard is the sympathetic character whom the listeners feel sorry for. He has been good and faithful. He has done everything that can be expected of him and the vineyard has had the very best of everything. But something has gone horribly wrong.

After presenting this sad story, Isaiah asks the people to judge what should be done to such an unprofitable vineyard, and he asks it in the first person, in the voice of the vineyard's owner, "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?" It's my opinion that the listeners don't yet realize the song is about them. They are entranced by the story, feeling righteously indignant on behalf pf the owner of the vineyard who has been so horribly disappointed. When Isaiah asks them to make a judgment I believe they agree with him that the vineyard owner couldn't have done anything more than he has done. The vines are just bad. They've gone wild. They are inedible and useless.

When Isaiah tells the people what the vineyard owner plans to do, they will be in agreement. They are an agricultural society and know the value of good land. Why waste good ground on bad vines? "Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it." (Isaiah 5:5-6) The man who owns the vineyard is rejecting it as it has rejected him. No more will he waste hours hoeing around the plants and fertilizing them. No more will he bother keeping the hedge around it repaired. No more will he defend it against wild animals or thieves. No more will he water it. The land will lie there unused until such a time as the owner decides to plant again. The bad grapes have sucked all the nutrients out of the good ground and have yielded a bad crop, so the owner is going to let the land lie for a time while it regains its fertility.

The captivity in Babylon is going to last for seventy years, during which time the soil of Zion will regain its fertility. It will rest, not being tilled or planted, until the Lord brings the people back to the land. The Chronicler says, "The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah." (2 Chronicles 36:21) At the end of seventy years, Cyrus the Great of Persia will conquer Babylon and set the captives free. He won't be a man who worships the God of Israel but he will be a man who believes in freedom of religion. He will give the people of Judah permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

I think by now the listeners are nodding their heads in agreement with what the vineyard's owner plans to do. They would do the same thing. They are incensed on behalf of the man who has worked so hard to reap nothing. They are in the same state King David was in when the prophet Nathan came to confront him with his sins in the form of a parable. Instead of pointing his finger at the king and denouncing his sins of adultery and murder outright, Nathan chose to beguile him with a story. He intended to make David sympathetic toward the man who had been wronged. After telling David the story about the rich man with many lambs who took the one little lamb the poor man owned, David rose up in a rage. "David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, 'As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!'" (2 Samuel 12:5) One of the most dramatic moments of the Bible occurred then when Nathan exclaimed, "You are the man!" 

Isaiah's song is about to conclude in the same way. The people's hearts go out to the man who has expended so much time and effort on a worthless crop of grapes. They enjoy the thought of how he is going to behave toward his wayward vineyard. They are caught in the skillful trap of Isaiah's song and he's about to spring it. "The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines He delighted in. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress." (Isaiah 5:7) Isaiah declares, "You are the vineyard!" 

It's so easy to see the sins of others while not recognizing our own sins. Have you ever been listening to a sermon and thought to yourself, "That sounds just like so-and-so! I wish she was here to hear this!" Well, as the saying goes, when we point a finger at somebody else there are four fingers pointing back at ourselves. It's a sobering thought for me to wonder if anyone has ever heard a renunciation of certain sins in a sermon and thought, "That sounds just like Kim! She has that very same attitude. I sure wish she was hear to here this!" 

It's easy for us to condemn the faults of others while giving ourselves a pass. We are more merciful toward our own sins. This is why Nathan's parable and Isaiah's song were so brilliant. David wanted the man dead who stole the little lamb but he was blind to the fact that he, a great king with a huge harem, stole the one wife another man had. The people of Judah wanted the bad vineyard ruined and laid waste for the sake of the good vineyard owner, while remaining blind to the fact that the Lord had planted and tended them exactly as the man in the parable planted and tended his vineyard.

It hurts when we are confronted with our sins, especially if we've been living in denial. We are cut to the quick when at last the word of the Lord gets through. When the Holy Spirit says to us, "You are the man!", we are grief-stricken to the core. But what a mercy this is! What grace! Sin is like a malignant tumor growing in our hearts and the Lord, our Great Physician, knows the only cure is to get it out. 

Suppose we got some test results back that revealed a huge, ever-growing tumor of the heart and the doctor said, "There's only one physician in the country who can do this type of operation, but if you go to him he can get it all, and you will be healed." We'd make an appointment immediately! The word of God is like those test results; it reveals what's in our hearts but it also points us to the only Physician who can make us well. Many times His word has pointed straight at me and declared, "You are the woman!" And it cuts to the quick but not for the purpose of condemnation. It's for the purpose of healing. "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

Our worship song link is below.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 6

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 6

Today we will have a welcome and much-needed break from the charges that are being read against the tribes of Israel. Isaiah has been predicting terrible defeats as a result of their sins. The ten northern tribes will fall to Assyria; the two southern tribes will fall to Babylon. Centuries later the nation will fall to Rome. And then on some future date in the end times those who remain in rebellion and godlessness will face the day of the Lord.

In yesterday's passage we found the men living lives of greed and covetousness, perverting justice to gain riches. Their wives were delighted with them, walking around decked out in the finest apparel and jewelry, each of them trying to outdo her neighbor. But Isaiah warned them that the days would come when the beautifully styled hair of the women would be replaced by the baldness of a captive. The jewels and gorgeous clothing would be replaced by the ropes of a slave. The men who have toiled so tirelessly for dishonest gain will fall by the sword. They haven't cared for the plight of the widow and the orphan, so their own families will be widowed and orphaned. 

"In that day seven women will take hold of one man and say, 'We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!'" (Isaiah 4:1) This is an example of how decimated the population of eligible men will be following the calamities that fall on the nation several times over the centuries. Women will outnumber men seven to one. They will be spinsters and childless unless they agree among themselves to share the men. Having a husband will also add a small measure of safety to these women's lives, because following war there is a tendency of soldiers with low morals to seize and rape lone women. The man won't even have to provide for his seven wives or any children who come along. The women offer to provide for themselves as long as they can live under the protection of his roof and will not have to die single and childless. They appeal to the man's compassion by saying, "Take away our disgrace!" In the times of Isaiah it was a disgrace for a woman to never be a wife and mother. That was considered the highest goal of a woman's life. Even in peacetime a single woman faced the very real threat of being treated unjustly by the law and by her creditors, ending up begging on a street corner, or worse yet having to turn to prostitution to put bread on the table. In times of war and during the unstable aftermath of war, a single woman living alone faced the threat of being abducted by enemy soldiers and being sexually abused by them. This was a disgrace upon her dignity, upon her very person. So when seven women take hold of one man because of the scarcity of bachelors, they are asking for more than to be able to say no man ever wanted them. They are asking him to restore their sense of safety, to defend their honor, and to protect their virtue.

In the midst of all this misery, Isaiah suddenly delivers a message of hope. Conditions will be so dire in the end times that people will give up if they have no hope to cling to, so Isaiah pours these words out like water for a thirsty soul. "In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and all the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel." (Isaiah 4:2) The Branch is Christ, the King of the royal line of Judah, coming to sit on David's throne. We know the Branch is Christ because in Isaiah 11 we find, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." (Isaiah 11:1) Jesse is the father of King David, and at times it may look like the vine of Israel is cut down so low it will never rise again. But a shoot will come up from the stump of the bloodline of the kings and the title to the throne will be His and He will redeem the nation.

"Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; He will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire." (Isaiah 4:4) We will find later in Isaiah that the Lord calls Himself Israel's husband. He is the one who is able to take away her disgrace. Her will clothe her in His righteousness and defend her with His holiness.

Israel's faithful Husband will take her into His home and provide a roof of protection over her head. "Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain." (Isaiah 4:5-6) The word used here for "canopy" is the same as the Bible uses to indicate a bridal canopy in other passages. It's the canopy under which the man and woman stand to pledge their love and faithfulness to each other. 

It's important we keep in mind when in history this will take place. It will be after Lord has taken the church to heaven and after the Great Tribulation has concluded. When the Bible says "those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem", it is speaking of those who have endured by faith. During the darkest days that will ever come upon the earth, there will be both Jews and Gentiles who come to the Lord. This is why these people are dressed in righteousness like a woman dressed in white. This is why they are called holy. Israel was once compared to a vain and prideful woman, a woman who was willing to settle for a loveless marriage. But now she trusts in her King and not in the gods of money or status. Never again will she settle for anything less than true love.

We can take this national example and bring it right down into our own personal lives. Why settle for anything less than the true love of Christ? No amount of money or status will ever fill the empty place in our hearts. No amount of cheap flings or tawdry affairs or pornography websites will satisfy our need for real love. No amount of drugs or alcohol will numb the pain of rejecting the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. But when we make Christ the Lord of our lives and everything revolves around Him, all our other blessings are like the icing on the cake. With Christ at the center of our lives, everything else looks a little bit brighter. We will no longer try to find our security or our identity in anyone or anything else. We will be stable at the core, firm and unmovable, no matter what comes our way. King David was a man who made many mistakes, just as we all have made many mistakes. He was a man who faced the same type of troubles we all face: marital problems, family problems, work problems. Yet because he set his feet on the Lord's path and never stopped loving Him, he was able to confidently write these words about his beloved Redeemer:
"Keep me safe, my God,
for in You I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from You I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, You alone are my portion and my cup;
You make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will You let Your faithful[b] one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand."
Psalm 16

Below is our worship song link for today.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 5

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 5

The prophet has been explaining what's wrong with the men of ancient Jerusalem and Judah. He talked about how weak they were and said none of them were heroes. Today he talks about the women and they don't fare any better.

"Youths oppress My people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path." (Isaiah 3:12) The wise and aged men are not in power. As we saw yesterday, Isaiah said the younger generation had risen up against the elders. These young men who had taken things over wanted nothing to do with the old ways or with the laws of God. As a result they are immoral, oppressing the people they rule over. Scholars appear divided in their opinion of what it means here that "women rule over them". We know of no female rulers in the days of the kings but Isaiah could be saying that women are ruling the roost and that their husbands are driven to oppression and thievery because the women covet riches. Later in today's passage we will find the women decked out like queens, so this could be the case. 

The guides mentioned are probably the false prophets, the ones who kept denying the words of men like Isaiah and Jeremiah. The false prophets were promising victory for the people instead of the coming disaster. And the people were listening because the false prophets didn't tell them to repent. "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of My people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:13-14) The people have wounded themselves with their sins, and these wounds are deep and serious, but instead of telling them how to be healed the false prophets are covering up the wounds. Is there anything worse than a wicked spiritual leader? The citizens have fallen so far from God that they have lost spiritual discernment; they can't tell that these men are lying to them, and so they are led even farther astray by men who pervert the word of God. The true prophets were urgently crying out the same words John the Baptist will still be crying out when the New Testament opens, "Repent! Repent!" Repenting in humility of spirit was the cure for their wounds. A deep cut that isn't cleaned and stitched and dressed with ointment isn't going to heal very well if we just slap a bandage over it. It will continue to ooze and fester. It will become so ugly we won't even want to peel up an edge of the bandage to peer under it. That's what hidden sin looks like: a nasty infected wound. Every time I've had stitches the doctor told me not to cover them with a band-aid; he said they needed to heal in the open air. That's the same thing the Lord says about our sins. We are to confess them to Him, get them out in the open, and let them heal. 

The book of Isaiah began with the Lord, the Judge, being seated at the bench to hear the charges against the people. The prophet continues with that metaphor. "The Lord takes His place in court; He rises to judge the people. The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of His people: 'It is you who have ruined My vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor?' declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 3:13-15) Israel is often referred to as a vineyard or a vine in the Scriptures. This gives us the impression of her as a choice and special type of plant. The Lord uprooted the inferior vines that were in the land before her (the wicked tribes of Canaan with their idols, their sex cults, and their heinous practice of child sacrifice). The people of Israel have brought some of their ruin on themselves of course but the religious leaders are guiltier than the ordinary citizens, for their job was to set a godly example. Their job was to make God's laws known to the people and to govern the land according to those laws. But instead even the priesthood is overcome by greed. They are running after ill-gotten gains instead of running for God's word. Instead of caring for the poor and the widows and the orphans, the Lord says these men have ground their faces into the dust. The priests were still going about their duties at the temple but their hearts were far from the Lord and so He rejects their service. The service He requires from them looks more like this, "Religion that our God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

Next the Lord talks about how far the women have fallen into greed and covetousness. They are worshiping the things of the world and not the things of God. I wish I could remember who said this, but I once heard an evangelist say we can judge how far a society has fallen by the way the women conduct themselves. The presence of women is usually a civilizing force. Women were brought over to the New World to help the men and that is when the men began to be very successful in building the nation. Things weren't advancing very far until the ladies showed up and then the men were inspired to do great things, to marry and be good providers, to make a home for their wives and children. Women tend to bring order to things. We value the reading of the Scriptures, we value education, we value the home and the family, we value productivity and hard work. But in today's passage we find the women of Judah and Jerusalem living only for themselves and for what they can get. They enjoy the fine things their men get for them by oppressing others. They don't care that their finery was gotten by injustice. A vicious cycle has come about because the men began oppressing others out of greed, then the women began to enjoy the finer lifestyle this gave them and so they praised their husbands for their wrongdoing. In turn, this led to the men going out and committing bigger and bigger crimes against their fellow citizens. "The Lord says, 'The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald." (Isaiah 3:16-17) When Babylon comes and conquers Jerusalem, thousands of people will be taken captive, and a common practice of captors is to shave the heads of their prisoners. The women who are spending scads of money at the beauty shops of Jerusalem will have no hair to dress in those days.

I don't feel the Lord finds anything wrong with a woman looking her best in a godly way. You should do whatever your beliefs and your conscience tell you is right for you in the matters of how you dress your hair and whether or not you wear makeup. I grew up in a church culture that felt a modest amount of makeup was fine so I do wear a light amount of neutral makeup. If we begin to look like "ladies of the evening" then we are doing too much, but personally I have nothing against a woman wearing a modest amount of makeup or coloring her hair or wearing pretty clothes. The problem with the women in the book of Isaiah is that their lives revolve around serving themselves. They are flaunting their wealth because wealth has become their god. Each of them is trying to outdo the other. They have become shallow and heartless. It's not their clothing or their jewelry or their makeup that has ruined them; it's the condition of their hearts.

The Lord speaks of the coming disaster and the loss of the things they put such value on, "In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls." (Isaiah 3:18-23) That's a lot of stuff to be wearing all at once! I would say they were definitely overdressed. Many women, myself included, enjoy shopping. It's a form of recreation and entertainment. I've been guilty of using shopping to raise my spirits instead of going to the One who gives me the Holy Spirit. I've bought things because I was feeling down or neglected or unappreciated. If we aren't careful this can become an addiction and some years back I realized I was heading down that path. I wasn't buying expensive items or running up debt but I could see it was becoming a pattern of me saying to myself, "I feel depressed so I'll buy a new lipstick or nail polish or pair of earrings." The women in today's passage were filling their lives with things because they felt so empty inside. They believed getting more and more things would fill the emptiness. But we are created with a hole in our hearts that only the Lord can fill and nothing else will ever satisfy us. If we have Him at the center of our lives, then all our other blessings can be enjoyed in a godly way. But if we don't have Him then no amount of worldly goods will make us feel better.

"Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding. Your men will fall by the sword, your warriors in battle. The gates of Zion will lament and mourn; destitute, she will sit on the ground." (Isaiah 3:24-26) The gorgeous embroidered and bejeweled sashes will be replaced with a rope in the day they are carried away captive. They will be tied together in a chain as slaves of a foreign nation. The men who have taken things from others to give it to their wives will fall in battle. These providers will be gone. The wealthy women who were once so proud will be exactly like the poor widows whom their husbands treated unjustly.

Jerusalem will fall under Babylon and then, centuries later, she will fall again under Rome. The Romans cast a medal that depicts the downfall of Jerusalem and in it a Jewish woman is sitting sadly on the ground with a soldier looming over her. She is destitute, sitting on the ground, just as Isaiah said she would be in verse 26.

There's nothing we have today that can't be taken from us tomorrow except our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from Him. But what had happened in Isaiah's day was that the people had pushed God out of their lives and were trusting in things that don't last. How will their bracelets and tiaras help them when a mighty army pours in? Their enemy won't be interested in accepting bribes but will be intent on carrying them away captive. The gold and silver the men have heaped up won't be able to buy their way out of trouble. The false prophets who promise peace will be exposed as liars. The pagan household idols won't speak a word when soldiers break down the door, they won't hear the cries of distress, they won't come to the rescue. If only the nation had repented at the words of Isaiah and turned back to the Lord, He would have fought for them. He would have been their sword and shield. He would have overcome the enemy. This is why, time and again, we find the Lord fighting for the nation in the times of the godly kings. Whenever a revival took place and an enemy came against them, the Lord took up His sword. He was their Deliverer. And we can have that in our own lives in our daily battles. If God is the Lord of our lives, He will be the same sword and shield for us. Enemies may come against us but we will know our God is behind us. Far better to face the enemy in the power of God than in our own power. We are nothing on our own.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 4

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 4

After providing a beautiful vision of the future of Jerusalem when her King will reign forever, Isaiah moves back into the present time to predict the coming downfall of Jerusalem and Judah.

Isaiah makes this prophecy while the nation is threatened by Assyria but it won't be Assyria who accomplishes her downfall; it will be Babylon. Babylon isn't yet the superpower it will later become. In Isaiah's time there is friendship between Judah and Babylon; Assyria is the one they both fear. When the Lord hands down the frightful prophecy in today's passage, the people of the land likely think the danger is from the current enemy. "See now, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support; all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and the warrior, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter." (Isaiah 3:1-3) 

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will make three campaigns against Judah during the last years of the kings. He will take two of the final kings back to Babylon with him. He will also take everyone from Judah who possesses any skills that are useful, leaving only the very poorest people in the land to till the soil and tend the vineyards. Before the downfall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian forces will lay siege to the city for about ten months, during which time the people run out of food. The Lord is being merciful to give this prophecy in a time when the people assume disaster is imminent at the hands of Assyria. Giving the prophecy now makes it seem urgent that they repent right away. It will actually be more than a hundred years before Babylon conquers Judah. The prophecy is given far enough in advance for the people to repent and turn back to the Lord. Had they done so, I believe Babylon would not have been able to conquer them. 

The Lord says this will happen in Judah's last years, "'I will make youths their officials; children will rule over them.'" (Isaiah 3:4) After the death of the last good king, King Josiah, the kings who succeeded him were young and inexperienced and reigned for only a short time. Josiah's son Jehoahaz reigned for just three months before he was taken prisoner by Pharaoh Necho of Egypt. Pharaoh put Jehoahaz's brother Jehoiakim on the throne in his place, and though he managed to reign for eleven years, during that time he had no real power because he was subject to Egypt. His son Jehoiachin succeeded him but only reigned three months before Nebuchadnezzar came and took him and all his family captive, along with about ten thousand citizens. Nebuchadnezzar placed Jehoiachin's uncle Zedekiah on the throne for the next eleven years but he too had no power and was under the authority of Babylon. He decided to ally himself with Egypt and rebel against Babylon and it was during his reign that the ten-month siege occurred and Jerusalem fell. The leadership during those years was weak and ineffective, so the Lord refers to the officials as children.

"People will oppress each other---man against man, neighbor against neighbor. The young will rise up against the old, the nobody against the honored." (Isaiah 3:5) The young people will have no regard for their elders. The wise and godly men will be ridiculed, the prophets scorned and persecuted. I believe we're seeing a similar trend in our own times, with Christianity being mocked as outdated and irrelevant. When I was a kid in the 1970's people still respected Christians. Even unbelievers admired people who strove to live godly lives. As my pastor said Wednesday night, there once was a time when even the most degenerate thief wouldn't dare steal from the house of God, but now we have security guards at our church because churches are being broken into and robbed. Regard for Christians and for Christian institutions has broken down because regard for Christ has broken down. 

In the days after defeat, the people of Judah will be confused and disorganized, unable to think what to do next, with no clear line of leadership. "A man will seize one of his brothers in his father's house, and say, 'You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!' But in that day he will cry out, 'I have no remedy. I have no food or clothing in my house; do not make me the leader of the people.'" (Isaiah 3:6-7) Suffering from the blows of being attacked and defeated in battle three times in a row by Babylon, a man who still possesses a cloak will be looked up to. He has managed to hang on to an item of his personal belongings; perhaps he will be strong enough to lead the family or even the citizens who remain. But he has retained his outer cloak because he was looking out for himself. He has no interest in leading the people and looking out for them. It's all he can do to provide for his family and that's all he is concerned with. This example is given to show us that in Judah's final days there will be no man of courage, no man with the national pride to try and make something out of what remains. There will be no mighty men like David who, when still a youth, said of the giant Goliath, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (1 Samuel 17:26b) 

The Lord now compares the people of Jerusalem and Judah to a drunken man staggering blearily down the road, blurry-eyed and confused. "Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the Lord, defying His glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves." (Isaiah 3:8-9) We see the same attitudes in our day as Isaiah saw in his. It used to be that sins were concealed if at all possible. People didn't want it known they were associated with this or that scandal or habit. But in our day we see the attitude of, "Yes, I do (this or that) all the time! So what? What are you going to do about it?" Before Judah's downfall the Lord observed the smirk of pride on the faces of those breaking His commandments. He heard the citizens boasting of how they cheated somebody in business or how they slept with their neighbor's wife or how they stole food from the poor widow down the road. They had been living far from God for so long that their consciences never spoke up anymore. They had tamped down the uncomfortable awareness of sin for so long that, instead of feeling shame, they actually took pride in their debauchery and injustice. 

The people are staggering like a drunken man who can't find his way home. They have lost their sense of direction, their moral compass, and so they grope blindly in the darkness. This is a sharp contrast to the life of David, who wrote of his clearly marked path and the sturdiness of the trail under his feet. "It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make Your saving help my shield, and Your right hand sustains me; Your help has made me great. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way." (Psalm 18:32-36) In Isaiah's time the people of Judah have forgotten the One who made them great; they believe they made themselves great. This is why, when Babylon swoops down on them with a mighty army, they will not be able to say as David said, "I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for battle; You humbled my adversaries before me. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes." (Psalm 18:37-40)

Isaiah's prophecy of the coming disaster may not have frightened those who had turned their backs on God but it surely frightened those who had remained faithful to Him. The Lord has comforting words for those who love Him, "Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds." (Isaiah 3:10) These words comfort me all these thousands of years later. I fear the time will come when the Lord will judge America for how far she has fallen from Him. I don't know what form that judgment may take. Our economy might collapse. Terrorist attacks may increase. A nation might declare war on us. America may even fall and be subject to a foreign country. But I take heart in these words, "Tell the righteous it will be well with them." It comforts me to know the eyes of God are on those who belong to Him in Christ and He will look out for us.

"Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done." (Isaiah 3:11) The wicked are the ones who have rejected the Lord's authority over them. The nation is neck-deep in idolatry in the days of Isaiah. Not only have they spurned the God who led them out of Egypt and made them into a great nation, but they have adopted abominable pagan deities in His place.

The Apostle Paul clearly outlined the principle we are seeing in today's passage when he said, "Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7) When Jerusalem falls, the godly will reap what they have sown. It will go well with them. But the ungodly will reap what they have sown. Disaster will be upon them. 

These are sobering words for any time in history. It's so important in our day to pray for America, to pray for our government leaders and for our religious leaders, to show the love of Christ to our fellow man and to get the gospel out to our nation and to the whole world. I don't believe it's too late to avoid disaster but I do believe our continued success depends on honoring the Lord. We can be like David who was quick to acknowledge his mistakes and repent of them. We can be like David who was always willing to bow his knees to God. Then we too can say, "It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure." 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 3

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 3

For the past two days the prophet Isaiah has been talking about the current conditions in the nation. Israel and Judah have gone astray and have spurned their God. Jerusalem, once known for the justice of its courts, has become full of oppression and lawlessness. These are severe and sobering words but today Isaiah has words of comfort concerning a far-off vision of the future.

"This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it." (Isaiah 2:1-2) Before the kingdom split, Jerusalem was the capitol of all Israel. In Isaiah's time it was the capitol of Judah. But someday it will be the capitol of the whole world. This is because the Lord Jesus Christ will rule from there on David's throne and everything will center around Him.

"Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob." (Isaiah 2:3a) Isaiah predicts something that most people of his day found it hard to envision: the calling of the Gentiles into God's kingdom. The ancient Jews had a tendency to think of themselves as the only ones to whom an eternal kingdom was promised. Any of you who have studied the book of Acts will know that at first the Jewish Christians were astonished at the idea that the Lord intended to extend His offer of salvation to the Gentiles and not just to the Jews. The call of the Apostle Paul to Gentile ministry was a surprise to them. Gentiles were allowed to worship at the temple but they had to remain in the outer courtyard. These people were treated like second-class citizens; pious Jews would not even enter the house of a Gentile. This is one of the things for which Jesus was so hotly criticized, because He ate with anyone who invited Him and He taught anyone who wanted to listen. In speaking of the future ingathering of Gentiles to the kingdom of God, Isaiah was ahead of the times.

The people of the last days will say of the Messiah and King, "'He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.' The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord." (Isaiah 2:3b-5) This passage ought to make us shout hallelujah! There will be no more wars!  We will never turn on the morning news to hear that our soldiers in a foreign land have been blown up by a suicide bomber. No parent will have to mourn a son of daughter who died in the line of duty. The main story of the day won't be a terrorist attack or a mass shooting. There will be no more gun debates because in the kingdom of the Messiah nobody will need or want a gun. Violence will end and men and women will live at peace with each other.

The vision above was given during a time of crisis in the land. Assyria had already conquered several of her neighboring nations. The northern kingdom of Israel was about to fall to Sargon II, the king of Assyria. The threat of Assyria to the southern kingdom of Judah was very real. During the reign of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib the successor to Sargon sent his soldiers to stand outside the very gates of Jerusalem to urge the people to surrender before a siege commenced. The idea of a future time when a righteous King would reign and war would be no more must have been like balm on an open wound. It tells the people that their current troubles won't result in the end of them as a people. The vision is for a far-off time, and perhaps doesn't give them much relief in their present circumstances, but it does banish the notion that God has cast them off forever.

In Isaiah's day the Lord was lifting His protective hand off the people because of their sins. He intended to discipline them by other nations. He has, in a sense, temporarily abandoned her to hardship, but He has not abandoned her in his heart. I think this is why the Lord gave Isaiah the vision of the glorious future before He continued the litany of the nation's sins. When Isaiah says the Lord has abandoned His people, he knows it is not a permanent abandonment. "You, Lord have abandoned Your people, the descendants of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs. Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasuries. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. So people will be brought low and everyone humbled---do not forgive them." (Isaiah 2:6-9) Isaiah is affirming the Lord's righteousness in bringing His people into judgment. They have abandoned Him for false gods. They trust in their wealth and in their military might. They don't believe they need the mighty Defender of Israel anymore.

Isaiah tells the Lord, "Do not forgive them," and I don't believe he means for the Lord to make an end of them as a people. I don't think he wants the Lord to send their eternal souls to hell either; he's not asking the Lord to deny redemption. I believe he is saying, "Don't let them get away with these crimes. What they have done is an abomination in Your eyes and in the eyes of everyone who is faithful to You." Have you ever prayed for God to judge something? I hear things in the news that make my hair stand on end, things like the abuse of helpless children, of the elderly and handicapped, of innocent animals. I want our righteous Judge to take action against such crimes. I want to say to Him, just as Isaiah did, "Don't let them get away with this!" Do I hope those wicked people come to the Lord and have their lives changed and their eternal souls redeemed? Of course I do. I want the crime punished and, if at all possible, for the penalty to make them see the light. Isaiah is asking the Lord to sentence the people to hard time for their crimes but he hopes the punishment will result in their repentance.

In the next passage we once again find Isaiah moving forward in time, from the crimes of the current generation to the crimes of those who will be on the earth in the end times. "Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty! The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day." (Isaiah 2:10-11) Whenever we see the words "in that day" or "the day of the Lord" in prophetic Scripture, this is speaking of the end times, of the days of the Great Tribulation and of God's final judgment. These things will occur after the Lord has rescued His bride, the church, from the coming distress. The Apostle John saw the day of the Lord in the revelation he was given on Patmos, "Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?'" (Revelation 6:15-16)

There is a day reserved to judge all who have refused to bow the knee to God. There is a day when God will pass his verdict on those who preferred darkness over light, wickedness over righteousness. "The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear." (Isaiah 2:12-18) Salvation is from the Lord. It can't be found in wealth or commerce. It can't be found in the government. It can't be found at the hilltop altars of false gods. In the end, the Lord alone will be exalted and it is foolish to put our confidence in anything else. We can humble ourselves before the Lord or He will humble us. We can't stand before Him unless we have first bowed before Him. In ancient times anyone who wanted an audience with the king would come into the judgment hall and bow before the throne with forehead pressed to the floor. Then the king would tell the person to stand, or in other words, he would "raise them up". If a person dared come into the presence of the king without bowing, he would be forced to his knees. And it's hard to say how long the king would make him stay in that position to teach him a lesson. It might be a great deal of time before he would let the person stand to their feet. We can come humbly to the Lord in the full knowledge of our sinful state, bow in front of His throne, and have Him extend forgiveness and lift us up. Or we can live in our pride and stubbornness and, at the end, be forced to our knees in His presence. The Lord's brother James promised, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up." (James 4:10) The Apostle Peter said, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time." (1 Peter 5:6) There is a blessing on the humble spirit but only a dreadful expectation of judgment for the proud spirit.

"People will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to shake the earth. In that day people will throw away to the moles and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to shake the earth." (Isaiah 2:19-21) This dreadful vision is not for the bride of Christ. The day of the Lord will not come "like a thief in the night" to His beloved. As the Apostle Paul assured the believers, "But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness." (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5) As those of you who studied Revelation with me know, I believe the Scriptures support a pre-Tribulation rapture of the church. Christ will whisk His bride away for the wedding before the dreadful day of the Lord falls on the earth. Would Christ allow His bride to hide in a cave, trembling in fear? Would a man treat the woman he loves this way? Christ will come for the bride before the dark days fall. She will never cower in fear at the appearance of her Bridegroom but, like any woman in love, will rush joyfully into His arms.

In the days of Isaiah, Israel and Judah hoped for help from Egypt against Assyria, but Israel will fall to that enemy nation. Judah will later appeal to Egypt for help against Babylon, but Egypt will be ineffective against such a powerful army, and Judah too will fall. "Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?" (Isaiah 2:22) Man is not going to be able to help Israel and Judah. Only the living God, the Redeemer, can help, but they have not humbled themselves before Him.

Our help is in the Lord and in no other. We can't make ourselves righteous and nobody on the face of the earth can make us righteous. We can attend all the self-help seminars we want, read all the self-improvement books we want, but nobody can redeem us but Jesus. Our King is the lifter of our heads, the One who stands us on our feet, the One who makes our sins white as snow like a beautiful bride adorned in a wedding gown. He blesses the soul that humbles itself and He raises up the one who bows before Him. This is why we, as the bride, don't tremble in fear of the coming day of the Lord, but instead we long for the appearance of our Bridegroom, the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Below is our worship song link today, a wonderful song about the bride waiting for her Bridegroom. It goes perfectly with our passage today.
Even So Come

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 2

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 2

When we left off yesterday we found the twelve tribes of Israel called before the Judge. The Lord was spelling out the charges against them: their rebellion, their rejection of God their Savior, their idolatry. Today He continues to read the crimes they have committed but He also offers them a plea deal.

"Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of My sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the cause of the widow." (Isaiah 1:16-17) The people can admit their guilt and throw themselves on the mercy of the court. Their actions have broken the laws of a holy God but He is also a merciful God. In bringing these charges against the children of Israel, God's hope is that they will acknowledge their guilt and repent. He has no desire to pass a life sentence or render the death penalty for their sins. He's saying, "You don't have to keep going down this wrong road. It's not too late to get back on the right track. Confess your guilt and repent and be made clean. Do what is right in My eyes. Defend those who have no defender. Rescue those who are oppressed. Speak up for those who have no voice." 

"'Come now, let us settle the matter,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 1:18a) There is still time to show remorse and reduce their penalty, just as in our justice system today. When a person is accused of a serious crime, often the prosecutor and defense attorney will try to work out a deal before the case goes to court. Sometimes they manage to work out a plea bargain while the trial is in progress. Until the verdict is read and the judge bangs the gavel down, there is still an opportunity for the accused to change the course of his life. He can't undo what he has already done but in admitting guilt and showing remorse he may be handed a lighter sentence. The Lord is saying, "There's still time to settle this matter out of court. I haven't passed sentence yet. You and I both know you are guilty. Is there anything you would like to say to Me before I give My verdict?"

The Lord now offers a way out, a road to redemption, and that road leads to Him. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.' For the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 1:18-20) The Lord sets before the people a choice. We might compare this to a judge offering a guilty person the choice between jail time or community service. They can confess their sins and repent right here before the Judge's bench. They can kneel down before Him and receive forgiveness and mercy. Then they may go free, free to serve the Lord and walk in His ways. Peace will come to their nation if they are obedient. But if they refuse to repent and change their ways, they are refusing God's offer of mercy. They are saying no to peace and yes to hardships.

The Lord sets the same choice before us today. Be willing and obedient to follow Him and enjoy peace and fellowship with our Maker. Our God will be our defender, mighty to save. But if we resist and rebel, as King Solomon said, "The way of transgressors is hard." (Proverbs 13:15) 

The Lord speaks of how Jerusalem has rejected Him, "See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her---but now murderers!" (Isaiah 1:21) When King David established the capitol at Jerusalem, he ruled according to the laws of the Lord. It was all downhill from there. His son Solomon married many pagan women and he built shrines for them to their false gods. The spiritual condition of the nation began its slide into decay as king after king drifted farther away from the Lord. Judah had a few good kings but the vast majority of them were unfaithful to God. As a result, by the time of Isaiah dishonesty abounds. Injustice prevails. Capital crimes are not punished. The morals of their society have broken down. 

"Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them." (Isaiah 1:22-23) Silver full of impurities is useless. Wine mixed with water would taste disgusting. The sad spiritual condition prevails throughout the land until the entirety of it is contaminated. Justice is no longer served because the people no longer care about the law. Whoever has the most money can bribe an official to rule in their favor.

"Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: 'Ah! I will vent My wrath on My foes and avenge myself on my enemies. I will turn My hand against you;'" (Isaiah 1:24-25a) Later in our study of Isaiah the prophet will say, "Your sins have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2) When the people spurned the Lord who loved them and brought them out of slavery into a land of plenty, they made themselves His enemy. They ended the relationship. They broke the covenant. What do we call someone who rejects us, thinks nothing of our love and friendship, and walks away from us without looking back? We would consider that person an enemy, not by our own will, but by theirs. The Lord's brother James had this to say about those who turn from the Lord to cling to the pleasures of the world, "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4) We have to live in the world and there are many good things in the world that the Lord intends for us to enjoy. But these verses are talking about a spiritual condition in which people have forsaken the Lord in favor of other gods: they have become unfaithful to Him and are called adulterers and prostitutes. They are bowing their knees to gods they have not known.

We studied many of these false gods in 1st and 2nd Kings and we learned what unspeakable activities went on in their religious rituals. Some were fertility cults that involved all sorts of sexual practices between men and women who were not married to each other. Serving the goddess Asherah gave the people an excuse to indulge every carnal urge they felt. One idolatrous king even turned the temple into a brothel with male and female shrine prostitutes conducting business there. The people of Israel had adopted the Canaanite god Molech to whom children were sacrificed. Two of Judah's kings even sacrificed a son to this abominable false diety. They were running to any god they heard about, any god but the one true God, and that is why He calls them His enemies.

God has said He will turn His hand against the people, which is something we might expect a righteous Judge to say, but then things go in an unexpected direction. The turning of His hand against the people is not for the purpose of destroying them but for the purpose of regenerating them. "I will turn My hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your leaders as in days of old, your rulers as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City." (Isaiah 1:25-26) The Lord will wound them so He can heal them. Job, a man who knew sorrows we can't even begin to imagine, said, "For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal." (Job 5:18) The Lord will wound them so they will come to their senses and say, "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds." (Hosea 6:1)

If the Lord had never wounded me, I wouldn't be here studying His word with you this morning. I was walking in the ways of the world, an enemy of God, until He turned His hand against me. Even since coming to Christ, the Lord has had to purge the dross and will continue to do so. Precious metals like silver and gold have to be heated to high temperatures so the impurities can rise to the surface and be skimmed off. This is why we sometimes find ourselves walking through the fire of adversity when we have gone astray. "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey Your word." (Psalm 119:67) Every now and then we find ourselves in the heat of the fire even when we've been living in the will of the Lord. This is because He is in the business of continual improvement. As long as we live in the flesh, we are under construction. God wants the best for His children and there are some lessons we can learn in the good times but there are some we can only learn in the hard times.

There is a pattern we will find repeated throughout the book of Isaiah. It's a pattern of delivering bad news, then good news. God is telling the people they are guilty and that He is going to bring trouble on them. But the good news is that the trouble is for their redemption. It's going to lead them back to Him so He can restore them as they were in the beginning.

"Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish." (Isaiah 1:27-28) The sins the people have committed will bring hardship on them but there will be those who will learn from their troubles. They will see the connection between their sins and their afflictions. They will return to the Lord their Maker and be healed. These are the ones who do what King Solomon advised, "Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise." (Proverbs 19:20) But during the trials that are about to come upon Israel, there will be those who refuse to admit the Lord is righteous when He judges. They will refuse to listen to His advice and accept His discipline. They will have this attitude, "A person's own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord." (Proverbs 19:3) The Lord is promising restoration for the penitent but disaster for the stubborn.

Those who continue to cling to idolatry will be disgraced because of it. They have built groves on all the high hills and have placed altars to false gods there. They have cried out to graven images that lack the power to hear them or to help them. "You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen. You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water. The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, and no one will quench the fire." (Isaiah 1:29-31) It's far better to repent and look back on our past with shame than to refuse the word of the Lord and stand before Him someday in shame. This is the choice He is setting before Israel in today's passage and it's the choice He sets before all mankind. We can come to Him and leave our disgrace behind or we can continue in our sins and stand before our Judge without excuse, without defense. The choice is up to us. Our destiny is in our hands. If we make the correct choice we will stand before our holy Judge and the Lord Jesus Christ will stand beside us as our defense attorney, pleading our case, and God the Father will declare us "not guilty".