Friday, 3 October 2014

(277) October 4: Isaiah 28-29 & Ephesians 6

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 attitude to all Isaiah has said that is being commended.

To ponder:
Chapter 28 begins with a woe against a city described like the garland of flowers worn by revellers, which fades and diminishes as the night goes on. Most likely this is Samaria, the key city of the northern kingdom, described after its major tribe “Ephraim.” Isaiah predicts its sacking by Assyria, being brought by the Lord like a destructive storm. So Samaria will be like a beautiful wreath now trampled and faded, or a ripe fig that is swallowed and so disappears (28v1-4). And whereas Ephraim took pride in the glorious beauty of Samaria, then the remnant of faithful Israelites will regard the Lord as their glorious crown or wreath – granting a spirit of justice to those who judge and strength to warriors, and so enabling his people to live uprightly before him (28v5-6).
            The key sin Isaiah denounces is drunkenness, which in context implies a disregard of responsibility amongst rulers who are supposed to execute justice. He adds that even priests and prophets live as drunks, and mock his teaching, arrogantly saying they are not children just off the breast to be told to do this and do that (28v7-10). In response, Isaiah states God will therefore speak to them through the Assyrian foreigners that he will grant rest in their land, and who will bring rules Israel must live by, until the people end up injured, ensnared and captured by them. The picture here is perhaps of them like children who refuse to listen and have to learn the hard way by stumbling (28v11-13).
There’s strong warning, here, against scoffing at the warnings of scripture regarding our impending judgement. And in the light of that, Isaiah turns to Jerusalem in the south, wanting them to learn from Samaria. He parodies the rulers in Jerusalem who have made an agreement (with Egypt, 31v1) to protect them against harm: They scoff at Isaiah’s warnings, boasting that this covenant means that any disaster won’t affect them. In this sense it is an agreement with death, that death will not take them. But, Isaiah declares, they are seeking safety in a lie, as this is a false confidence (28v14-15). Yet, there is hope: God is laying a stone in Zion (Jerusalem), that will uphold and keep it together like the cornerstone of a building and its foundation. Moreover, he will measure and lay out the structure of Zion not with a tape measure but with justice and righteousness. In other words, he is promising spiritual renewal for the people, not something literally structural for the city. And in the light of that he promises that those who trust in him will never be dismayed at what is to come. Nevertheless, he does promise that Jerusalem’s false refuge in their alliance will be swept away, their covenant annulled so that they will suffer the coming disaster, and be carried away – presumably in being taken captive (28v16-19). In applying the language of cornerstone to Christ (1 Pet 2v6), Peter teaches that he is the means of spiritual renewal for God’s people and of salvation from the greater judgement to come.
            Isaiah declares this message will bring terror, and can’t be escaped by dulling oneself with sleep or a false alliance. Yet, the coming disaster God brings will be his “strange work” in the sense that judgement against his people is unusual, as he leans by nature towards grace and mercy. Indeed, he calls the people to stop mocking so that their captivity doesn’t have to be worse (28v19-22). The point of 28v23-29 is unclear. It may be saying that just as God instructs the farmer with wisdom, so that he doesn’t continually plow, but plants, so God will not continue the ploughing of Judah by Babylon forever, but plant his people to bear the fruit of righteousness. Again, just as the farmer protects his grain in the way he treats it, so that it will fulfil the purpose he has for it, so the LORD will be careful in the judgement he brings, so that his people eventually fulfil his purpose for them. All this, we’re told displays God’s magnificent wisdom. Even in the impending disaster, as in the trials we face, he knows what he is doing, working out his purposes.
            Jerusalem now receives its own “woe.” It is unclear why it is called “Ariel,” but this may refer to it being the place of God’s “altar hearth” (29v2) which sounds similar. Despite the continuance of her festivals, God declares that he will besiege her and bring her down to the dust. Yet he continues, her many enemies will become dust to as the LORD comes against them in all his awesome power, illustrated by the elements, so that they disappear like a dream that seems real at the time, but when gone, leaves everything as it was (29v3-8). This is no doubt a prediction of Assyria besieging Jerusalem before God put the army to death, causing them to withdraw and disappear (37v26-28). Yet the metaphor also suggests that Jerusalem were currently asleep to the truth of what was going on, because God had kept her prophets from seeing it themselves. So, Isaiah’s vision is effectively like a scroll that can’t be opened or read. He therefore says, “be stunned at what I am saying, be blind and like a drunk in not grasping it’s meaning” (29v9-12).
            Here the LORD declares the problem: The people honour him in what they say, but have hearts that are actually far from him, worshipping only according to their own rules. So God will astound them, by causing this so called wisdom of man-made religion to perish, and punishing those who think their wicked plans are hidden from him, and who effectively deny God made them or that they are subject to him (29v13-16). Jesus faced the same problem (Mk 7v6-23).
            29v17 refers to the great cedars of Lebanon becoming like a field, and a field like the cedars. It is probably saying that the proud amongst God’s will be humbled, whilst the humble will be exalted. That will come as those previously deaf and blind to what Isaiah has declared will understand and so come to rejoice in God, whilst the ruthless, mocking, wicked and unjust will be “cut down” in judgement. So God, who redeemed (freed) Abraham from sin and its consequences, in order to build a people from his descendents, will bring about a time when his people will see God causing Jerusalem to flourish with people he describes as children of Jacob. At that time, rather than be dismayed at the destruction Jerusalem has undergone, the people will acknowledge God’s holiness with awe, and those who have been like wayward children, will receive instruction from him as their heavenly parent – no doubt, by accepting the truths Isaiah has taught (29v22-24). We see all this fulfilled as Christ opens spiritually blind eyes to understand his word.
Praying it home:       
Praise God for opening your blind eyes. Pray that you would accept the truths you’ve been learning.

Thinking further:
None today.

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