Tuesday, 23 September 2014

(267) September 24: Isaiah 1-3 & Galatians 2

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

To discover:­
As you read consider what God condemns.

To ponder:
Isaiah is writing to the southern kingdom of Judah, centered on Jerusalem, during the reigns of four kings spanning 791-687BC (1v1, see 2 Kgs 15-20. Uzziah is also called Azariah). It includes numerous oracles given from God at separate times during that period. The first calls heaven and earth to witness God declare judgement against the northern kingdom, known as “Israel,” as opposed to “Judah.” Despite God rearing Israel as his child, she has rejected him, which is worse than the action of animals who at least know their master. The size and seriousness of their sin is stressed, and its irony in spurning the one who is “holy” and so pure (1v2-4). God, like the reluctant parent in discipline, asks why Israel persists meaning that she must be beaten. He takes no delight in having to punish. Her head is injured – no doubt referring to her oppression by enemies, and heart afflicted, perhaps in grief and pain at what she is suffering. In every part she is wounded, meaning that the whole country is filled with burning cities and plundered fields (1v5-7).
            Here the focus changes. Zion was the hill on which Jerusalem was built. So “the daughter of Zion” refers to the city itself (see 1v21), perhaps including the surrounding area of Judah, the southern kingdom. For now, she is safe, like a shelter in the wider field that is being stripped, or a city under siege. And this is only by God’s grace, else she would be totally destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. But this safety doesn’t mean all is well. God declares his word to Jerusalem’s rulers: They must obey him. Indeed, because of their evil their sacrifices, offerings, incense, festivals and assemblies bring him no pleasure. Rather he hates and is wearied by them, and wants the people out of the courts of his temple. He won’t even listen to their prayers. This is a strong affirmation that Jewish rituals were always to be an expression of faith and love toward God. He didn’t need them. Indeed, he detests worship conducted without obedience because of the hypocrisy of it all (1v11-15). God therefore called the people wash and turn. In other words, to repent, learning to do right, seek justice, and care for the needy, all with the promise that in doing so, he would totally forgive them so that they would be “white.” They are therefore reminded of the terms of his covenant: Obedience will mean blessing from the land. But rebellion will mean destruction (1v16-20, see Deut 28-30).
            There is much here: It is easy to look on the decline of the church in certain quarters whilst assuming our worship is acceptable. But we must still ensure we repent when we sin, mindful we could go the same way.
            The change in Jerusalem from faithfulness to prostitution with false gods, from justice and righteousness to murder and more is then outlined, and the rulers condemned for taking bribes and ignoring the oppressed (1v21-23). This is a reoccurring theme, stressing God’s concern that the Christian stands up for the needy. Astonishingly, he describes Judah as the foe he will be relived of and enemy he will avenge himself against. But he promises not only judgement, but a refining that will result in a people who are free from impurity, governed by new rulers as when the nation initially thrived. And so the city will be righteous and called faithful (1v24-26). This is probably the meaning of Zion being redeemed by justice (1v27). It is through God’s justice against his people that he will set them free from sin by destroying those who are rebellious like dry wood in unquenchable fire, shaming them for their idol worship that took place at sacred trees and gardens (1v24-31). This looks not only to Judah’s exile and the return of those of faith, but to the final judgement which will leave God’s people as the new Jerusalem in glory.
            An oracle more specifically about Judah and Jerusalem is now included (2v1). It pictures all nations streaming to God’s temple in the last days, wanting to hear God’s word and walk in his ways. Jerusalem will therefore be the centre from which the knowledge of God flows, and from which he will settle disputes between nations bringing peace (2v2-4). This takes place now as the world hears God’s word from the church (God’s temple, Eph 2v21). And although this will only end in complete peace at Christ’s return, this is foretasted as nations enjoy peace with each other because they are influenced by his teaching. The section ends with God calling Jacob (ie. Israel) to do as the nations do, by walking in God’s light (2v5).
            God’s abandonment of Jacob is then outlined, for sharing in the idolatry of the nations, with the suggestion that the desire for wealth and armaments turned them from the LORD, no doubt because they felt they didn’t need him. Isaiah declares all mankind will be humbled because of this, praying God would not forgive, perhaps because of a right concern that justice is done (2v6-9). He then urges mankind to hide from God’s judgement on the proud and the symbols of their arrogance, symbolised by the tall trees and mountains (2v10-18). He goes on to twice predict people will hide “from the dread of the LORD and the splendour of his majesty,” throwing their idols away in fear. And he urges them to strop trusting mortal man, because he is of no account (2v19-22). The NT sees this as referring to the final judgement, in the light of which people are called to turn from idols to the true and living God (1 Thess 1v9-10, Rev 6v15-17).
            Isaiah returns to his original context, predicting the LORD is about to remove supplies from Jerusalem and Judah, replace her leaders with those unfit to lead, and cause the people to rise up against one-another, with no-one able to help them (3v1-7). He pictures Jerusalem as staggering and about to fall under judgement, because the people defy his presence at the temple by their words and deeds, parading their sin. He promises the righteous wellbeing, but destruction to the wicked. They are ruled by oppressive youths and unqualified women (rather than the wisdom of the elderly), being led astray (3v8-12). So the LORD takes his place as judge, condemning the leaders for ruining his vineyard (the people) and plundering the poor. Women are taken as a case study, perhaps as an illustration of what Zion, pictured as a woman (3v26), will experience. So those who flaunt their looks immorally will receive skin diseases and lose their finery, and Jerusalem’s great warriors will fall. The point is that all the people boast of will be lost (3v13-26). This is a prediction of the eventual exile of Judah by Babylon, but a paradigm of final judgement when all humanity trusts and exalts in will be stripped away.

Praying it home:       
Praise God that his purposes do not end in judgement, but in the establishment of his people in righteousness. Pray that you would live a life of worship that truly obeys God.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Isaiah, click here.

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