Sunday, 12 October 2014

(286) October 13: Isaiah 50-52 & 1 Thessalonians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider the ways God comforts his people.

To ponder:
God describes Judah’s experience as like divorce or the paying of creditors. The sense is that she has been sent away because of her unfaithfulness to God and his demand for justice. And he couldn’t be blamed for this. He could dry up the Red Sea and clothe the sky with darkness, so he was quite able to save her; but she didn’t answer his call – perhaps the prophets’ call to repent (50v1-3). Here Isaiah speaks as God’s servant: God’s sovereignty as the ruler of the nations is stressed. And it is he who Isaiah says instructs him as servant every morning with a word to sustain the weary, no doubt by proclaiming the glorious future God will bring about. The servant’s obedience is also emphasized, despite it meaning he was mocked and beaten – an obedience he can sustain with face like flint because God helps him, and in whom he knows he will be vindicated for what he proclaims. Indeed, in the light of this, the servant asks who will condemn him (50v4-9). And so Isaiah’s servant looks not only to Christ’s work and suffering, but that of God’s people who follow him (see especially Rom 8v33-39).
The oracle continues asking who will fear God and obey the servant’s message, urging those in the darkness of ignorance and evil to walk in the light and trust God – ie. to understand the servant’s message and live righteously through faith (50v10). 50v11 may be literal, referring to those attacking with torches, or metaphorical, referring to those seeking their own “light” – ie. their own knowledge and morality. Either way, they will experience torment under God’s judgement. This chapter therefore urges us not to blame God for the trials of life under the curse of Eden, but instead to fear and trust him, obeying his call through Christ and the church to repent.
            What follows is a promise to the righteous that just as God brought many from the one Abraham, so in compassion he will restore Zion to an Eden-like state, filled with joy (51v1-3). The people are referred to as God’s people and nation, and the sense is that as they live by God’s law, God’s justice will be seen as “light” by the nations as his salvation draws near in fulfilment of his righteous commitment to his promises. Judgement will follow, the creation will disappear, but this salvation will endure forever (51v4-6). This is the framework of the days spanning Christ’s return. But what is striking is the expectation that believers will be so godly as to attract those from all nations to their light. These people are said to have God’s law in their hearts (see Heb 8v10) and urged not to fear persecutors as they will be destroyed, whereas they as believers will experience everlasting salvation (51v7-8). There is much encouragement here.
            At this point God is called to awake and act as he did in the exodus, when he slayed Rahab (a monster that depicts Egypt), and brought the redeemed through the Red Sea. So, it is declared, the ransomed will return from exile and enter Jerusalem with everlasting joy that crowns them (perhaps as victorious in God), and with suffering fleeing away. The exalted language suggests that what is in mind is the ultimate salvation those of faith who return from exile would experience (51v9-11).
            Here God returns to the faithful fearing the “wrath of the oppressor.” He declares this unnecessary as he is the one comforting them and whereas men are transient like grass, he is the almighty creator. He therefore promises the prisoners will soon be freed and provided for (51v12-15). Moreover, turning to his servant, he declares that he has not only given him his words, but as creator, he protects him too. The sense is that what God does for his servant he will do for Zion, who he says are his people (51v16). We can be confident too, that he will protect us from the powers of evil, granting us freedom and all spiritual provision until bringing us to the heavenly Zion.
            Jerusalem is now the one called to “awake.” The LORD states how she drunk of his wrath in her various calamities with none to guide or comfort her because they shared in her punishment. But now he promises to take the cup from her hand and give it to those who walked over her (51v17-23). Moreover, he calls her (Zion) to awake and clothe herself with strength from God (to trust him to deliver), and with splendour (probably, that of being pure and holy). The reference that none who are uncircumcised or defiled will enter her again is shorthand for those who are not true worshippers. It’s a promise that was not fulfilled after the return, and so looks to the new Jerusalem that comprises only the faithful. But here Zion (the people of God) is vividly urged to shake off the dust of her humiliation in exile, and rise to sit enthroned, free from her chains (52v1-2). This is our destiny through our literal resurrection in Christ, as we come to reign with him in all godliness.
            God promises that whereas Israel chose to journey to Egypt and were oppressed by Assyria, her current trials are more directly God’s doing. Indeed, he readily gave them up without even requiring money. But because of that, he also needs none to redeem her (52v3-4). The point is that it is easy for him. Yet as he looks on his people, he finds their leaders mocking (52v5, or wailing, footnote). 52v6 suggests the references to God’s name being blasphemed refer to Judah’s ungodliness and unbelief (or how their exile makes God look unable to defend them): God will act in fulfilment of his word through Isaiah in such a way that his people will know his name, ie. his power, authority and his faithfulness to his promises. And it is his action through Christ that reveals this most fully.
            52v7-10 celebrates this: The feet of those crossing the mountains to Zion with news of God returning to the city are described as beautiful. Their message is of him bringing salvation, grounded in the fact that it is he who reigns over all, and who is therefore more than able to rescue the people from their exile. So the people of Zion hear the watchmen who guard the walls shout for joy, no doubt as the messenger shouts up with the news, and as they then eagerly look for the LORD who is bringing the people back. The very ruins of the city are then exhorted to burst into song for this great act of salvation which will be witnessed throughout the known world of the day. At this point the Jews in Babylon are called to depart. But something has made them clean and holy, so that they musn’t touch anything unclean, and so they can all be portrayed as fulfilling the levitical role of carrying the vessels for the sanctuary within the temple. The point is that they are now all purified, and returning without the fear of haste or flight, but with God guarding them and leading them home (52v11). Paul applies the message of salvation to that preached in the gospel (Rom 10v15). This speaks of redemption from the exile from Eden and the slavery of sin. And by it, God purifies his people, dwells amongst them by his Holy Spirit, and brings them to the heavenly city.

Praying it home:
Praise God that he himself leads us to our heavenly Zion. Pray that we would not fear this world, confident in him.

Thinking further:
None today.

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