Friday, 10 October 2014

(284) October 11: Isaiah 45-47 & Colossians 3

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

To discover:­
As you read note how God deals with those who might question the justice of what he is doing.

To ponder:
The LORD now addresses Cyrus, the future King of the Persian Empire. He calls him “anointed,” implying he bears an authority from God – here, in God using him to subdue nations. Indeed, God promises to pave the way for him and grant him riches in plunder, all so that Cyrus himself “knows” he is summoned by the God of Israel, even if not truly converted (45v1-3, see Ez 1v2-4). We’re told God’s summoning of this most powerful king is all for the sake of Israel, who he had chosen. Moreover, it is so that in witnessing the LORD ensure the return of the Jews, men throughout the world might “know” that he alone is God, and that he brings both prosperity and disaster (45v4-7). So God has a missionary purpose too. No doubt, many in the lands around Israel were astounded to see the Jews return and may have heard the prophecies that they would. Moreover, through Christ, God is glorified not just for these acts, but for rescuing people from all oppression by granting them eternal life through the death and resurrection of Christ.
            45v8 affirms that although God’s action will entail much disaster and destruction, it is right and just, and will result in salvation and a harvest of righteousness too, no doubt in the faithful Israelites who would return. So God challenges those who would argue that what he is doing is wrong. He likens them to a mere broken piece of pottery (potsherd), highlighting the presumption of the clay questioning what the potter does with it, when it is the potter’s right to do as he pleases. Here the question “he has no hands” may be to suggest that the potter shouldn’t use his hands to shape the clay. Yet he declares a “woe” over those who query what he conceives (45v9-10), responds simply that he is the creator. The point is that we have no right to question what he does. So in his righteousness, God will raise up Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem and free the exiles, and without reward – no doubt stressing that he should do this simply because his creator requires it of him (45v11-13). There is much God continues to do that tests our faith, and to which we must submit, trusting that all he does is righteous and wise.
            45v14 may refer to the nations submitting to Israel (through Christ), but more probably to Cyrus, meaning that although he doesn’t act for reward, he will gain from what he does. Key, however, is the nations’ acknowledgement of God. He is the one who felt hidden to them, but who they now see acting, shaming all idols in showing their impotence, and working an everlasting salvation for Israel. This obviously looks to how the return leads to the birth of Christ, and the ultimate salvation from all hardships that is found in him (45v15-17). This is confirmed when God then declares that he intends the earth to be inhabited, and so for a remnant of humanity to be saved; and that he can be found by people as he hasn’t spoken in secret. He therefore calls escapees from all nations to assemble, challenging those who look to idols to acknowledge it was he who foretold these things, recognise that he is a righteous Saviour, and so turn to him and be saved. At this point God promises that every knee will eventually bow to him, even those who have raged against him, acknowledging he has acted righteously and in strength. Moreover, those from Israel will be found righteous and so faithful, and praise him. Of course, we see all this fulfilled as the nations assemble in the church and look to the day when every knee will bow to Christ (Phil 2v5-11).
            46v1-2 pictures two of Babylon’s gods that are carried in a festival, carried into captivity as burdens. It’s a vivid way of stressing their impotence. And so God declares again to Israel’s survivors that as the one who conceived and carried them like a child, he will sustain and rescue them from their exile, and that he is incomparable as the one true God, whereas idols cannot answer prayers or save (46v5-7). He urges them in their rebelliousness to remember what he has done and what he predicted he would do, and so know that he alone is God and there is no other. He does what he pleases, even summoning Cyrus like a bird of prey to bring his righteousness close as he acts in faithfulness to save them from their captivity (46v8-13).
            Chapter 47 is against Babylon, picturing her like a tender and delicate royal virgin, who is humiliated in having to sit in the dust, do manual work and suffer the indignity of exposing her skin like a slave. The point is simply that in vengeance for the merciless way Babylon treated Israel, despite God giving Israel into her hand in anger at their sin, he will send Babylon into darkness (47v1-7). God may use the evil acts of men in judgement of others, but it doesn’t excuse their acts, for which he will hold them account.
In arrogance, Babylon thought herself like God, assuming she would continue forever as an eternal queen and thinking none were like her. Yet her sense of security was false. In one day she will loose her children (people) and become a widow (probably referring to the destruction of the gods she was married to, as 46v1). And the magic for which she was famed will not be able to prevent this. She trusted in her wickedness, assuming no-one (ie. God) saw. Yet her wisdom misled her, as there is someone beside her and greater than her – the LORD. A sudden disaster she cannot ward off will therefore befall her (47v8-11). Yet God mockingly urges her to continue her sorcery in causing terror, and bring out her astrologers to predict the future, challenging them to save her. Of course he declares they can’t as are in error. Indeed, they’ll be burnt up in the coming catastrophe too (47v12-14). This section reflects the arrogance of humanity in general, in assuming they will continue without ever being judged for their sins. It also notes that we can do nothing to escape justice for our sins – except, of course, embrace the Lord Jesus.
Praying it home:
Praise God for drawing close in righteousness in the person of Jesus, to work salvation for us. Pray that you and others would be mindful that we are not secure, and so turn from idols to trust him along for salvation.

Thinking further:
None today.

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