Saturday, 4 October 2014

(278) October 5: Isaiah 30-32 & Philippians 1

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

To discover:­
As you read note that God promises beyond judgement.

To ponder:
Here Judah are denounced for their obstinacy in not listening to the LORD (30v9) but forming a military alliance with Egypt that he had not led them to (30v1-2). He promises this will lead to disgrace as Egypt will prove useless, embarrassing Judah for her foolish decision (30v3-5). 30v4 may refer to Judean emissaries being accepted throughout Egypt. They risk danger to take riches to Egypt, no doubt to pay for their help. But Egypt, often described as the terrifying sea monster Rahab, will just sit there and do nothing (30v6-7). We should understand that trusting man or man-made religion rather than God for salvation, will always lead to shame as they prove impotent.
            Isaiah is then commissioned to write as an everlasting witness against Judah for rebelliously being unwilling to listen to God, like wayward children. Indeed, they tell their prophets not to speak, or at least not to confront them with their sin, but say only what is pleasant (30v8-11). How contemporary this sounds, as believers today complain of preaching being too serious or negative because of its realism about sin and judgement.
            God as the “Holy One” condemns Judah for rejecting God’s warning in order to rely on oppressive and deceptive rulers – whether its own, or Egypt. Either way, this sin will crack and break, implying Judah’s alliance will slowly begin to falter before suddenly failing. And so God affirms that salvation is found not in Egypt, but in repentance and quite trust in God. But Judah would have none of it, instead getting horses so that they can flee if necessary. In our foolishness, rather than trust God, we too can be tempted to assume we can escape judgement by our own effort. God declares that the people will flee, and their enemies by so terrible that a thousand will have to flee before just a few, until they are far away like a flag on a distant mountain (30v12-17).
            Yet, as before, Isaiah reminds the people that God still longs to be gracious, rising to take action in showing compassion. And this is based on his justice: He is not uncontrolled in his anger, but heeds those who wait for him, keeping his commitments to his promises (30v18). It is God’s just commitment to do what is right by the gospel that is our basis for hope.
            The promise that follows is of an end to weeping because of God’s speedy grace when Judah cries for his help. This is seen in the re-establishing of teachers to guide the people, so that they get rid of their means of idolatry (30v19-22). The establishing of teachers in the church is always a sign of grace. God also promises to give rain and sun to ensure fruitfulness to the land, as he heals the wounds the people suffered in their affliction (30v23-26). This accords with his covenant promises (Deut 28-30) and, no doubt, ultimately looks to the new creation.
            Next God is said to come in burning wrath and flood-like judgement, causing the nations to go astray and suffer destruction. Judah will then rejoice as at her festivals to see God’s kingly command (majestic voice) bring about the destruction of Assyria, pictured by the dramatic power of the elements (30v27-32). So God’s anger will light a prepared funeral pyre for Assyria’s king in the valley outside Jerusalem (30v33). This may be simply metaphorical for his defeat and eventual death (see 37v37-38), or refer to the king’s army suffering the plague outside Jerusalem (see 37v36). Because it is just and means people being delivered from all evil and oppression, God’s judgement is something to rejoice in (Rev 19v1-3).
            Chapter 31 continues the “woe” at those who trust on the military might of Egypt rather than God (31v1): He is also wise and able to bring disaster, and, unlike Egypt, he doesn’t draw back from his promises. Moreover, the Egyptians are mere men. So God will rise up in judgement, causing both the helper (Egypt) and the helped (Judah) to fall (31v2-3). Indeed, he will be like a lion with its prey, unperturbed by a whole band of shepherds seeking to fight it off. Yet, although Judah will suffer, God promises to protect Jerusalem like a mother bird hovering in protection over her nest (31v4-5, fulfilled in 36v1 and 37v35-36). Here, he calls Israel to repentance, promising that in “that day” they will reject their idols (see 2 Kgs 22-23). Repentance is the right response to God acting in judgement and salvation.
            The oracle continues affirming that Assyria will fall by God’s sword, with their young men enslaved, their fortresses taken, and their commanders panicking, all because of God’s burning anger from his dwelling place in Zion’s temple (31v8-9). At this point, he speaks of a righteous king reigning who ensures his rulers rule justly, sheltering the people from oppression. Then people will hear, understand and speak God’s word, so that fools who speak error about God, who are ungodly and oppress the poor, will no longer be esteemed as rulers in Judah (32v1-8). No doubt this initially looked to the reign of Josiah, soon after Jerusalem’s deliverance (2 Kgs 23v25). But this is surely a paradigm for the reign of David’s greatest son. 
             Isaiah goes on to tell Judah’s women in their false security that within a year they will be trembling at a failing harvest – perhaps, symbolic for the invasion of Assyria like thorns amongst the vineyard of Israel. So they are urged to mourn in repentance for the land, and the homes and city in its complacent revelry, as fortresses and cities will be abandoned and become wastelands for animals forever – until, that is, God pours out his Spirit, causing the land to become a field and then towering forest (32v9-15). This further suggests the language is metaphorical, speaking of the fruitfulness (ie. righteousness) of the people, or at least including this in any literal fruitfulness of the land. So it is then said justice and righteousness will dwell in the land, bringing quietness and confidence forever – presumably, peace between the people, but also security in knowing they are not subject to God’s judgement (32v17-18). Although the people must face their pride and cities being flattened, they can therefore be sure that they will be blessed in the end, thriving with great fruitfulness in the land because they will then live righteously before God (32v19-20). This exalted language certainly wouldn’t describe the restoration under Josiah, and so looks us to the kingdom of Christ.
Praying it home:       
Praise God for renewing people’s hearts so that they know him. Pray that you would better esteem teaching in the church.

Thinking further:
None today.

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