Saturday, 11 October 2014

(285) October 12: Isaiah 48-49 & Colossians 4

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

To discover:­
As you read note what God is going to do for his people and how.

To ponder:
God calls Judah to listen to him, charging them with taking oaths and invoking his name to help, but not in truth or righteousness  - presumably meaning without sincerity nor according to God’s law. So the LORD reminds them that the one whose city they are citizens of and who they rely on, is Almighty. And he repeatedly brought to pass what he first foretold because he knew how stubborn and reluctant to bow they were, and wanted to keep them from saying idols had done what he had actually done. Indeed, he calls them to admit this, and states he is going to tell them knew things that they don’t know too - again, so it is very obvious these things come about by God’s hand, and no-one can say they were already aware of them (48v1-7). As we have seen, this predicting of what is then fulfilled is a key proof of God’s reality.
            Once more, he states his people’s reluctance to listen to him, and their rebelliousness, explaining that the only reason they have not been cut off is because he has delayed his wrath so that he would be praised. He then stresses he has refined them into a degree of purity through the fire of affliction (ie. the exile). This suggests the praise coming to him is either from them after having been purified so that they appreciate him, or from others in seeing him do that work of purification. Perhaps it is both (48v8-11). The LORD is worthy of praise in how he uses hardship to deepen holiness in us too; not least, because it displays such patience and grace towards our sin.
            Once more, God affirms he is the first and last, the creator, calling Jacob (ie. the people of Israel) to listen. He asks which idol foretold Cyrus acting as God’s ally against Babylon, and promises he will succeed, noting that he did not announce this event in secret, so the people really can know it was his doing. He also says he will be there when it all happens. Presumably this is to stress he is the one bringing it to pass (48v14-15).      
Isaiah continues with a reminder of God’s personal relationship with Israel, which means that he teaches what is best for them. If only they had obeyed, they would have known continual peace (like a river) and abundant righteousness (like the sea), and their descendents would have been innumerable (as promised to Abraham), never being cut off and destroyed as they had now been in the exile (48v17-19). It’s a powerful reminder that one reason we obey God is because he knows what is best for us as his people, yet also because, if it displays genuine faith, it will result in the fulfilment of these things in glory.
            Yet having noted Israel’s failure, God now calls them to joyfully proclaim to the ends of the earth his call to flee Babylon, for he has redeemed them in the sense that he has commissioned Cyrus to free them. So he is caring for them just as he did when he miraculously gave them water from the rock. But he warns them too: There will be no peace for the wicked. He wants them to have learnt their lesson and so be repentant (48v20-22). How foolish to cry to God in distress, and then, if he delivers us, carry on in sin.
            Having commanded Jacob to “listen” the nations are now (49v1, see 48v1). What follows is a description of God calling a prophet before he was born, making his mouth like a sword in the sense that his words would have power to judge, and hiding him until the time was right to reveal him. The prophet then says that God declared he was his servant, naming him “Israel” and saying God’s splendour would be displayed in him somehow. The strange thing is that the prophet then says that he laboured for nothing, probably because those he spoke to wouldn’t listen, but was content to do so because his reward was with God. This is hard to relate to Israel. Moreover, God then says this servant was formed in the womb to bring Jacob back to God. So he is called Israel but cannot be Israel. He therefore seems to be someone who represents Israel, or who does what Israel should have done. So he can say he is “honoured” and strengthened by the LORD, and is being commissioned to be a light to the nations, as Israel should have been, bringing God’s salvation to the whole earth (49v1-6). From what we have heard elsewhere in the book, this means this servant is the Messianic king (see 42v6, 9v2-7). He is one who will be despised by Israel, who will serve rulers (no doubt by bringing them salvation), yet also be honoured by them - all because he has been chosen by Israel’s God (49v7). This reminds us why we should listen to and honour Christ.
            In the light of the servant’s cry at being rejected (49v4, 7) God declares that in the day of his grace and salvation he will help him, making him a covenant agreement with his people to restore the land and free captives. And in that day God will ensure his people will have all they need, guiding and enabling them to return without hindrance from all directions (49v8-12, Aswan marked the southern limit of the civilized world). So this return is not that from Babylon. It is that begun at Pentecost, in which, having been rejected, those from all nations started coming to Christ, in whom they are freed from the troubles of this world and brought into the abundance of the new creation. And this act of comfort and compassion from God is a reason for heaven and earth to rejoice (49v13).
At this point Zion (Jerusalem) says she has been forgotten. In response, God declares he can no more forget Zion than a mother the baby she bore. Indeed, it’s as if her name is engraved on his palms and her walls always before his eyes. This is how present to God’s mind we are as the new Jerusalem. God therefore declares that Jerusalem’s sons will return whilst those who destroyed her will depart, and she will somehow be beautified by them like jewellery, perhaps because they will then be righteous (49v13-18). Indeed, they will be so many she won’t be able to accommodate these children born during her bereavement (ie. born in exile, 49v19-21).
And how will these sons will return? As the sovereign LORD who governs all things, God will call the Gentile nations to bring them home, so that they are cared for by foreign kings and queens, who will bow before Zion, presumably in recognition of Zion’s God. And this astonishing feat will prove that the LORD is God and hope in him is well founded. This picture clearly moves beyond the return from Babylonian exile, showing it is a paradigm for the ultimate coming of people to Christ, in which kings and queens have played this part by promoting the gospel, and bowing before the church.
            The chapter ends affirming God is able to do this, bringing judgement on Israel’s oppressors and so saving his people from them – and all so humanity will know that the LORD is Israel’s Saviour, Redeemer and Mighty One. This was proved when Babylon fell; and it will be proved at the final judgement too.

Praying it home:
Praise God for how he governs even the most powerful to ensure those he is saving come to Christ. Pray that the government in our country would be willing to promote the gospel and bow in recognition of the church.

Thinking further:
None today.

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