Thursday, 2 October 2014

(276) October 3: Isaiah 26-27 & Ephesians 5

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

To discover:­
As you read note the main things Isaiah predicts.

To ponder:
Chapter 26 records a song that will be sung on the “day” the earth is judged, death is defeated and God’s people enjoy the promised banquet (as chapters 24-25). It celebrates the strength of the new Jerusalem – a strength that flows not from bricks and mortar, but God’s saving act of destroying all who are evil so that his people can be secure. The gates are open to the righteous of the nation who keep faith, and who are promised perfect peace. So the people are exhorted to trust God forever as their rock of strength, the one who humbles the proud, and who enables the oppressed to trample down their cities – implying they are therefore those of faith who end up exalted (26v1-6).
God is then affirmed as the one who enables the righteous to walk in his laws without stumbling. The people also state that they will wait with patience for God’s action rather than take matters into their own hands, that they desire his glory above all else, and yearn to be with him day and night (26v7-9). Most likely the new Jerusalem remains in mind. So these things describe those there. What follows is acknowledgement that it is God’s judgements that teach people righteousness, just as the previous oracles have revealed what provokes him. And this is necessary, for although grace is shown to the wicked in the many goods God patiently gives them, they learn nothing from it, even in an upright land. Yet now judgement has come, it is prayed that such people (ie. the wicked) would see God’s zeal for his people, as he consumes them in his anger just as has been predicted (26v10-11). We are therefore urged to learn from the judgement oracles, so that we would join those of faith.
The singer goes on to acknowledge that it is the LORD alone who has enabled his people to accomplish anything, and who they honour, even though ruled at times by other kings. And this is wise, because these kings died under God’s punishment, whilst God has enlarged the nation. 26v16-18 clarifies that this enlargement is through peoples from the world coming to join Israel in fulfilment to God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12v1-3). And it was certainly not achieved through Israel’s doing, as she metaphorically gave birth to wind – failing in her calling (26v17-18). Rather, peoples who could barely even pray came to the LORD because he disciplined them (26v16). This may refer to his judgements causing people to turn to him as they experience hardship (26v9). The point is, the gathering of those who are the new Jerusalem is a work that God has performed, and performed even through his judgements in this world. Again, we should ensure we share in this.
As for those God has gathered: they will be resurrected from death with joy, springing from the earth for a new dawn like plants covered in dew on a new day. Yet, alluding to the Passover, they are urged to hide themselves behind their doors while God’s wrath passes over as he comes to punish the people of the earth, calling then to account for their sin – here, bloodshed (26v19-21). “In the day” ends the first section with a focus on the slaying of the Leviathan (27v1). Most probably, this fictional monster is a symbol for evil and the chaos it brings, perhaps even for Satan (see Rev 12v9, 20v2). The sense is that all that evil will then be destroyed.
What follows is a call to sing of Israel as a fruitful vineyard that God watches over, waters, and guards without anger. No doubt this is his justified anger at her previous failure to bear the fruit of righteousness and so attract the nations to join her. Now he states a readiness to attack any who might hinder the vineyard’s fruitfulness like thorns, whilst calling them instead to escape that by coming to him themselves for peace and refuge (27v2-5). This suggests that, as in previous oracles, the “day” in mind throughout these two chapters spans the two comings of Christ. So it is predicted that Jacob (ie. Israel, representing God’s people) will be established and bear good fruit throughout the world as people from all nations choose to join him, escaping God’s judgement (27v6).
This picture is obviously far removed from Israel’s state under Isaiah. 27v7-9 addresses this by noting that God has not punished Jacob to the extent of other nations. Rather, through war and exile he will atone for his (Jacob’s) sin – ie. count it sufficient punishment to put the nation at one with him again. And the result will be that he brings the nation to a point of repentance, seen in bearing fruit by destroying the means of idolatry. This time of righteousness in which the nations come to join Israel therefore lies beyond the exile Isaiah is predicting.
27v10-11 may describe the whole world, throughout which God’s people have destroyed the means of idolatry. But the context suggests it refers to the land of Israel after the exiles return, as the settlements are “abandoned” because the people were taken away. It is a picture of Israel’s strength (fortresses) in ruins, with animals grazing in the towns, and the people left dwelling in the land lacking knowledge of God, and so lacking his favour. It is from this low point, that the LORD promises to bring in a harvest of Israelites from the land stretching from Assyria (by the Euphrates) to Egypt, calling them with a trumpet to worship him in Jerusalem (27v12-13). In the light of 26v19, the fact that some are described as “perishing” may hint to this being fulfilled ultimately in the resurrection, as all who are God’s people through faith will come to worship him forever as part of the new Jerusalem.
What is clear in both chapters is that through the coming trial of exile, Israel has a glorious future in which her people will be brought to repentance, gathered to worship God, bear good fruit, be joined by people from all nations, and after the judgement of the entire earth in which all evil is destroyed, be raised from death and live forever in righteousness and peace within a new Jerusalem. This is the “day” Isaiah sees in his vision 700 years before Christ.
Praying it home:       
Praise God for the different elements of this glorious future. Pray that you would learn from the judgement oracles and so place your trust in him.

Thinking further:
None today.

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