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Only One risen Saviuor

Only One risen Saviuor
There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved - Jesus

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Isaiah Days 1 through 5


Isaiah Day 1 - Introduction



1:1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Too many people don't understand the unfolding historical story of the Old Testament. It is partly understandable because the books of the Old Testament are not arranged in chronological order but rather in sections based on the type of book. To complicate matters more many of the writings are not in any kind of "story" form. Therefore if a person determined to begin at Genesis and read the entire Old Testament they would actually be jumping through different kinds of documents and back and forth through time.

All that being the case let's get some historical context for the writings of Isaiah, a "book" which is itself a collection of writings, not one continuous "story". 

Isaiah lived in the 700's before the birth of Jesus. He lived through reigns of four Old Testament kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. These kings ruled the kingdom of Judah which was the smaller southern kingdom of Israel. You may or may not know that the kingdom of Israel was one kingdom in the beginning divided into "provinces" between the twelve tribes. However during the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam the kingdom split over an issue of taxation. Ten tribes stayed together and formed the northern kingdom. Two tribes in the south became the kingdom of Judah. This is where Isaiah lived.

Also, just so you know, the northern kingdom had already been taken over by the Assyrians in the time of Isaiah leaving only the kingdom of Judah. It was the Assyrian captured northern kingdom that was known in the time of Jesus as the Samaritans or half-breeds because they had been Israel but intermarried with their captors and came to be even more hated by Judah.

The kingdom of Judah was the home of Jerusalem and the temple Solomon built. They had been far more faithful to God than Israel but that has deteriorated significantly and the core message of Isaiah is that if things don't change destruction is coming but it need not come because if they let Him, Yahweh can save/rescue them from the mighty warring empires of Assyria and Babylon. Isaiah's name literally means Yahweh saves.

So we are about to embark on a journey of warnings to a wayward nation who have forgotten their God mixed with incredible promises and encouragement for those who remain faithful. One of the questions addressed in the book is whether or not the faithful will "go down with the ship".



Isaiah Day 2 - The Lord Speaks



1:2  Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken:

“I have nourished and brought up children,

And they have rebelled against Me;


The ox knows its owner

And the donkey its master’s crib;

But Israel does not know,

My people do not consider.”


Alas, sinful nation,

A people laden with iniquity,

A brood of evildoers,

Children who are corrupters!

They have forsaken the Lord,

They have provoked to anger

The Holy One of Israel,

They have turned away backward.


Why should you be stricken again?

You will revolt more and more.

The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints.


From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores;

They have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.


Your country is desolate,

Your cities are burned with fire;

Strangers devour your land in your presence;

And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.


So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard,

As a hut in a garden of cucumbers,

As a besieged city.


Unless the Lord of hosts

Had left to us a very small remnant,

We would have become like Sodom,

We would have been made like Gomorrah.

10 

Hear the word of the Lord,

You rulers of Sodom;

Give ear to the law of our God,

You people of Gomorrah:

11 

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”

Says the Lord.

“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

And the fat of fed cattle.

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

Or of lambs or goats.

12 

“When you come to appear before Me,

Who has required this from your hand,

To trample My courts?

13 

Bring no more futile sacrifices;

Incense is an abomination to Me.

The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—

I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.

14 

Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates;

They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.

15 

When you spread out your hands,

I will hide My eyes from you;

Even though you make many prayers,

I will not hear.

Your hands are full of blood.

16 

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil,

17 

Learn to do good; Seek justice,

Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

18 

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson,

They shall be as wool.

19 

If you are willing and obedient,

You shall eat the good of the land;

20 

But if you refuse and rebel,

You shall be devoured by the sword”;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.



It's not often I tackle twenty verses in a day but it would be unfair to read only part of God's message and not get the entire picture. First what struck me is the audience. It would be natural to assume by the content of the message that the nation of Judah was the audience but God begins, "Hear O heavens and give ear O earth!" Why? Is not the condition of Judah between them and God? 

In Matthew 18 Jesus teaches us how to deal with the sin of another person. First you talk to them one on one. If that doesn't solve anything you bring in one or two trusted witnesses to hear both sides and help find a resolution. If that still solves nothing the matter is taken to the whole church. 

Clearly the situation in Judah has gotten so bad that it must be considered and dealt with on a wide open scale. As we read the words of the Lord it becomes obvious that He has already tried several times and ways to reach them in their rebellion. In verse 5 He asks "Why should you be stricken again?" Clearly they have already been suffering attacks and defeats from the nations around them. Already their behaviour has forced God to withdraw His protection from them. 

He wants the watching universe, the surrounding nations, and even we who come generations after to be able to see what happened and why. This is a critical point. God hides nothing when it comes to His own behaviour. He tries very hard to conceal our sins and deal with them discreetly but when that can no longer be done He wants His own actions and decisions to be completely transparent. 

Judah is on the verge of facing the full consequences of her decisions. It will be easy for those watching but not truly paying attention to conclude that Judah has no God at all or that He is not as powerful as claimed, or worse that He is a merciless tyrant. However for their own sakes and for the sake of all those watching God throws the whole situation wide open to be seen and understood by everyone. 

The summary of the message is this: "I have done and am doing everything I can to avoid your self-destruction. I am more than willing to forgive. I want to wash you as white as snow but it requires your permission and cooperation. If you return to Me all will be well but if not I can't help you. The swords of your enemies will devour you."

Tomorrow we will examine more closely what was happening in Judah that was making it nearly impossible for God to help them and see if any of it applies to us...

Here is why Isaiah matters for us. We live at a time when those considered Christian nations are forgetting their God. Like Judah we are teetering on the edge of trouble. 

Consider the words of Ecclesiastes 1:9 as an introduction to Isaiah:

"What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun."



Isaiah Day 3 - A Donkey Knows More Than My People



1:2 

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!

For the Lord has spoken:

“I have nourished and brought up children,

And they have rebelled against Me;


The ox knows its owner

And the donkey its master’s crib;

But Israel does not know,

My people do not consider/discern/understand.”



Yesterday we looked at God's message in its entirety. Today let's start to take it piece by piece. Solomon was a lot more blunt than God. God said they didn't know Him or understand/consider Him. God called them children. We need to explore what He meant by that. 

When Jesus was here He had a special place for children. Society didn't value them but He did. My dad said when he was a child they were to be seen but not heard. Jesus invited children to sit on his lap. Jesus even said that unless the adults became like the children they would never enter the kingdom of God. 

What was God getting at when He said He nourished and brought up children? Was He not referring to the children of Israel that He rescued from Egypt? He didn't choose the nation of Israel. There was no nation to choose, there was only a band of slaves who had been immersed in the pagan culture of Egypt for so long they barely knew Him. Moses, when met by God at the "burning" bush, asked Him "If they ask me what Your name is what will I tell them?"

Moses knew almost nothing. God had to introduce Himself as the God of his great great great great grandfather Abraham. That's a far cry from the relationship Abraham had where they spoke together as friends. In fact Moses first reaction to Him was fear, the terrified kind of fear. 

From there God took Moses almost literally by the hand and by extension all the people. He freed them from slavery by mighty, undeniable miracles. He took them across the Red Sea on dry land. He literally nourished them daily with manna. The history of what God did with those rescued slaves is incredible. Their behaviour and relationship with Him went up and down like the waves of the sea but eventually under David and Solomon they became a legitimate nation that drew the attention of the surrounding nations in a positive way. However they never really embraced their purpose. They never reached out to those nations in the way God designed. They turned inward. They built walls. They saw God as their own national possession. They became selfish. They became so selfish that they weren't even taking care of their own orphans and widows.

"My people don't know..."

We only know what we seek to learn. If we study how to get instead of give we come to know getting but not giving. That's why culture is like a mob. One generation believes one thing and then two or three generations they believe something entirely different. It's not because both are true. Maybe neither are true. They believe it because it was repeated and they came to "know" it. Take for example the repeated message from the dairy industry "Milk, it does your body good" even though hard science knows it is the opposite. People believe the milk message rather than the truth.

Judah was a culture heading full steam away from God. We think our cultural shift away from faith in God is some new thing, that we are enlightened, that we know better than our religion dependent ancestors. 

Time will show we are not only forgetting what we had, but that what we had was an incomplete picture to begin with. If you choose to consider/discern/understand Him, you will find He is even better than Abraham knew, better than Moses or David, or Solomon knew. He is better than religion has declared and better than I can express. Judah was on the right track but turned away. We have the same opportunity they had. What will we do with it?

See you tomorrow.



Isaiah Day 4 - Past the Point of Discipline



1:3      Alas, sinful nation,

A people laden with iniquity,

A brood of evildoers,

Children who are corrupters!

They have forsaken the Lord,

They have provoked to anger

The Holy One of Israel,

They have turned away backward.


Why should you be stricken again?

You will revolt more and more...



Wrong choices produce negative outcomes. This is not something arbitrary that God decided or that religion invented. Evil is evil because of what it causes. If you have been the victim of theft you know stealing is evil regardless of your colour, race, country or origin, belief system etc... If someone broke a promise to you or lied about you, you don't need a book, judge, parent, pastor, or stone tablet to tell you it was evil. Evil that is left to run unchecked will destroy. That's the very nature of evil. Discipline or correction is when someone steps in to try and change the course a person who is making bad choices is on. The goal is to bring them to a position where they are making good choices again because they want to. That's why the Bible says "Those the Lord loves He rebukes and corrects." I have told my children several times that those who don't discipline don't care. 



Now have you noticed the situation in Judah? God has come to the place where He knows further correction will be pointless. "Why should you be "spanked" again? You will only revolt more and more."

Part of discipline is letting people feel enough of the consequences of their own actions to reconsider their choices before their choices destroy them. Part of wisdom is recognizing when that strategy has run it's course. 

God is saying Judah is passing the threshold where discipline has any effect. In fact when the heart gets hard enough discipline only accelerates rebellion. That's why Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything, a time for discipline and a time for releasing people to experience the unavoidable outcomes of their choices. 

The basic message of Isaiah is that Yahweh(God) saves but He can only save the willing and Judah is on a course toward oblivion because of her unwillingness. 

How about us? Do we accept correction? Do we humble ourselves in the face of rebuke? Are we willing/open to re-examining our choices? 

On three distinct occasions in our class of 5 and 6 year olds last week there were incidents of correction. One child had hurt another. In each case I took one child in one arm and the other in my other arm. With them facing each other I asked the accused if they were guilty. Each time they confessed they were. Then I asked the offended if they were willing to forgive. They were. Then we had a group hug and the laughter and play resumed as if the offense had never occurred. That could never have happened if the offense had not been acknowledged, confessed, and forgiven. Correction received in humility is a beautiful, healthy, restorative thing. 

Let's ask God to give us hearts willing and able to receive correction.



Isaiah Day 5 - Ouch



1:8 So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard,

As a hut in a garden of cucumbers,

As a besieged city.


Unless the Lord of hosts

Had left to us a very small remnant,

We would have become like Sodom,

We would have been made like Gomorrah.

10 

Hear the word of the Lord,

You rulers of Sodom;

Give ear to the law of our God,

You people of Gomorrah...



Judah is shrinking. Her enemies are biting off the edges of the country on every side. All around them others flourish while they are decaying. It's not a new scenario. Go back to the book of Judges and you find their ancestors living out the same story. Go back even further and you come to Sodom and Gomorrah. These were twin cities on the edge of the Dead Sea. It was to these cities that Lot was drawn because they were so prosperous. The roots of these cities went back to Noah through Canaan and Ham. They had a knowledge of the One True God but over time their selfishness and slavery to lust reduced them to worse than animals. They had opportunity to return to God. When the cities were defeated in war and Lot was taken captive along with many others, Abraham came to their rescue. They tried to pay him for it but he refused, instead pointing them to God as the Source of their regained freedom. However they immediately returned to their evil ways with renewed vigor. It was in these cities that the men of the town both young and old tried to gang rape two visitors to Lot's home. They even persisted in their evil after being struck with blindness. God announced the doom of the cities and provided a way out but they didn't listen and they died in the disaster.

Now generations later God refers back to that place and calls Judah by their name. 

Many years ago I was young, idealistic, and judgemental. I was quick to point out the sins of others and thought myself better than them. There was one particular guy I had said some unflattering things about. Then a mutual friend looked me in the eye and told me I was no better than him and she was right. She called me by his "name" and it was truth I couldn't deny. The very things I judged him for I was doing. Her words cut like a knife. If she had hit me physically with all her force it would have hurt much less and she wasn't weak. To this day when I think about it my stomach churns. 

She rebuked me and although in the moment I was angry and defensive she was right and it had a profound effect. 



God was trying to shake Judah awake. He was trying to help her see her true condition. Calling Judah Sodom would be like calling a US President Stahlin or Bin Laden yet worse because the pride of Judah was even greater than any national pride today. 

Is it ok to call people names? Demeaning names? Not usually but when the motive is love and the circumstances are desperate and the shoe fits like Cinderella's glass slipper God did what He had to do. 

Tomorrow we'll see what was so wrong in Judah and what God wanted them to change...

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