Sunday, 5 October 2014

(279) October 6: Isaiah 33-35 & Philippians 2

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 different things that will mark the final state for God’s people.

To ponder:
In the context of the book, the destroyer and betrayer who will be destroyed and betrayed is probably Assyria (33v1). But this is a truth that stands for all who do evil in the light of final judgement. What follows is a prayer for God’s grace seen in daily giving strength and salvation in the face of threat. And it is said in confidence that at God’s word of command people scatter as he providentially brings other men to harvest the plunder of Israel’s enemies like locusts (33v2-4). And so Isaiah can declare God is exalted (most highly regarded) because he dwells in heaven and will bring his people in Zion to live in justice and righteousness. So he is Judah’s sure foundation that will keep her from falling, giving salvation, wisdom and knowledge as a treasure to those who fear him (33v5-6). Our confidence for all these things should therefore be in God.
            33v7-9 pictures Assyria breaking her agreement with Judah and attacking, so the warriors cry and envoys that agreed peace weep. Furthermore, the land is deserted and ashamed – probably at the Jews relying on their deals for deliverance, rather than on God. At this point God says he will arise and show his power so he is exalted (see 33v13). He will burn up the Assyrian peoples. By saying Assyria’s breath is fire, he implies her own actions will lead to her downfall. In the light of this, God calls people near and far to acknowledge him, stating how the sinners in Zion tremble in considering their own liability to his anger (everlasting burning). However, he affirms that those who are righteous, refusing to act unjustly or do evil, will be kept safe and well supplied so they survive (33v10-16).
This language suggests God’s treatment of Assyria is actually intended to cause us to contemplate the judgement to come and the grace we need from him. What follows, builds on this (33v17-24): A beautiful king will be seen ruling an expansive land. This language is too much for any merely human king ruling Judah, and is later seen to refer to God (33v22). But in being “seen” there is a hint of him being visible as Christ. At that time, faithful Jews will remember their trials under Assyria, recognizing that the Assyrian officials who counted Jerusalem’s towers and arranged a tribute to be paid accordingly will have gone. Moreover, they will witness Jerusalem as peaceful and secure forever, with God reigning there as judge, lawgiver, king and saviour. The wide rivers symbolise the abundance of the land, and the note that no ships will sail them, stresses its security, as no enemy will use them to attack. So although Judah is now in disarray like an unkept ship unable to attack her enemies; then, even the lame will share in the plunder from the nations. More than that, there will be no sickness, and those there will have experienced the forgiveness of their sins. In other words, these great blessings will be received because God will have dealt with the sin that provoked him in justice to bring Assyria against Judah in the first place. And because sin will have been dealt with, those in this new Jerusalem will experience freedom even from the curse of Eden that brought sickness and death.
            Following this picture of the final state, chapter 34 calls the world to be attentive to the fact that God is angry with all nations and their armies, and will utterly destroy them (34v1-4). There is suggestion too that the creation itself will unravel as it experiences what it is to be cut off from the source of life. But the removal of the stars may also speak of God’s judgement on evil angelic beings too. So God’s sword of judgement will punish those in the heavens, and then turn to the world. Whereas Israel was descended from Jacob, Edom was descended from his brother Esau. So Edom here may be symbolic of all who are not God’s people. Or Isaiah may be portraying its destruction soon after his prophecy as a paradigm for the ultimate destruction of all nations. Its destruction is said to be like a sacrifice, implying it satisfies the demands of God’s justice at sin (34v5-7). Yet, it is also a day of vengeance against those who have attacked his people. Sulphur on the land recalls God’s judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah, implying utter destruction. Moreover, the unquenchable fire and forever rising smoke stresses that this is an irreversible destruction, from which Edom and ultimately the world will never recover, as God’s anger against human sin will burn forever (see Rev 14v10-11). Just as measuring lines were used to build, here God is pictured using chaos and desolation to demolish. So important people will vanish, mighty fortresses will be overrun with brambles, and the land will be forever portioned out by God to animals that his Spirit will gather together to live with one-another in peace (34v8-17). This may be purely figurative language stressing how human beings have forfeited the gift of creation. But it does describe the reality in many parts of the world where great cities once stood before falling. This implies a literal fulfilment of this prophecy for Edom was probably intended, although as a paradigm of the final judgement. Indeed, the call to examine the scroll (34v16) may be a way of saying: “look and see how Isaiah’s words have been fulfilled for Edom as a warning that they will be fulfilled for all nations too.”
            Isaiah 35 takes up this theme by compacting a description of the new creation, that was foreshadowed in the miracles of Jesus’ ministry (35v5-6, Lk 7v21-23), and the final judgement he will bring at his second coming: The renewal of creation is pictured as desert wilderness blossoming and rejoicing, being as glorious as the most beautiful parts of the current world because it will see God’s glory, or excellence – which we know is to behold him in Christ. And so those living in fear of Assyria or any other evil are urged to encourage each other to be strong as they wait for God to arrive, confident he will come with vengeance for how they’ve been treated, saving them by destroying their oppressors. It is then that physical affliction will be gone and the land flourish in abundance, as the time of devastation throughout the earth passes (compare 35v7 with 34v13). And at this time, those God has redeemed (set free from oppression) and who are clean (and so acceptable to him), will return to Jerusalem with joy along a “highway of holiness,” without fear of being attacked and so being kept from their destination. Then in Zion, sorrow and sighing will flee away. With poetic language we therefore see the certain future those who lead holy lives of faith and worship will one day enjoy in comprising the new Jerusalem.
Praying it home:       
Praise God for the certain hope portrayed here. Pray that you be full of holiness and joy as you travel towards the heavenly Zion.

Thinking further:
None today.

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