Monday, 13 October 2014

(287) October 14: Isaiah 53-55 & 1 Thessalonians 2

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

To discover:­
As you read consider the different things achieved by the servant.

To ponder:
We’re starting at 52v13 where we see “the servant” idea developed beyond a reference to Israel or Isaiah. Its past tense emphasizes its certain fulfilment, and perhaps that what follows was seen by Isaiah in a vision: The servant will act wisely, and be highly exalted - language that refers to the LORD himself (see 6v1)! What follows explains that he will be so honoured because of his willingness to suffer in order that God’s people might be saved.
First we learn that the world and its rulers will be shocked and silenced to witness this suffering, but on seeing it “understand” (ie. grasp) why it was necessary (52v14-15). Paul applies this to the preaching of the gospel (Rom 15v20-21). The reason that only then will people understand is because Isaiah’s message won’t have been previously believed, nor God’s way of salvation fully revealed (53v1). In context this may mean that until Christ God wouldn’t enable people to understand what Isaiah is now declaring.
Describing the servant as a “root” implies he is David’s descendent who would bear fruit in a way the vine of Israel hadn’t (see 11v1). Yet, it is noted that there was nothing in his appearance to attract people to him (unlike the handsome Saul). Rather he was despised and rejected. But in this, he somehow carried the people’s sickness and sorrow to the point that they presumed he must have been struck by God (53v1-4). As the sorrow in mind in Isaiah is that of the exile, this implies he bore the people’s sin and its punishment. This is then declared explicitly (53v5-7): As a substitute, this Davidic servant took the servant Israel’s place, bearing her waywardness and its penalty so she could be “healed” - presumably of the sickness of sin. And he was not coerced, but did this willingly, identifying with an animal sacrifice. Yet it was at the hands of human injustice that he was put to death for his people’s sins. And despite his innocence, he was buried with the wicked and rich (which probably implies they were oppressive). In every sense then, the servant received the fate that would be right for the sinner. What follows explains why: God was crushing him – making his life a guilt offering for Israel’s sins. And because of this, moving to the future tense, we are told God will raise him from death too, so that he sees his offspring, prospers, and is satisfied at what his sufferings have achieved. As we’ve heard he had no descendents (53v8), “offspring” here must refer to those who receive life through his death. And it is his knowledge of this that will bring him satisfaction (53v10-11). By bearing their sin, the servant will justify them - ie. God will count them as if they had lived a fully righteous life (see also Rom 3v21-26). 53v12 may refer to the servant being given those he justified as his portion and the strong who opposed him as his spoils. But it could refer to him receiving great honour and the new creation as his inheritance, which he then shares with those who are made strong by him. Whatever the case, it is because of his willingness to suffer so acutely in order to deal with Israel’s sin that the servant will be exalted (as 52v13). Obviously this can’t be read without seeing it as an astonishing accurate prediction of the death, resurrection and work of Christ (see Phil 2v5-11).
What follows is an outline of what will result (54v1-10): Zion is pictured as a barren woman without children, who can now sing because as one currently without the LORD as her husband, she will end up with far more children than cities that have their gods. Indeed, her descendents will settle in others’ cities, which probably refers to the faithful inheriting the earth. So Zion need not be afraid or disgraced, as she will forget the shame of her exile when she was without the LORD. He is still her husband and he will call her back. Having abandoned her in anger, he will have compassion on her, and swear, as he did with Noah, never to abandon her again, but in unfailing love keep his covenant of peace with her forever. The return from exile and the coming to Christ in faith is being compacted here. The promise is that the true people of God, who are those justified in Christ, will never be abandoned as they were in the exile. Rather, God promises Jerusalem will be built with jewels, picturing its Eden-like glory and preciousness (54v11-12, see Rev 21-22). It’s sons will be taught by God himself (54v13) so they truly know him – a work Jesus described as the inner work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 6v45, 63). They will enjoy peace, righteousness and security in the knowledge that God will not bring anyone against them again in judgement, and if people do attack them, they will surrender (54v14-15). What follows suggests this idea of being attacked is a metaphorical way of describing the believer’s ultimate security in Christ, and the fact that because justified, none can condemn them (54v16-17, see Rom 8v32-39). This is the inheritance that Israel should receive by embracing Jesus, and by which they are vindicated as the LORD’s.
Chapter 55 calls people to the LORD so they will share in all this. The life he offers is described as water, food, celebratory wine, and nourishing milk. It will satisfy and bring delight. And, astonishingly, it is free. All that is necessary is to hear Isaiah’s message and come (55v1-3). And God gives encouragement. Whereas the people broke the Mosaic covenant, God promises an everlasting one on the basis of his promise that one of David’s descendents would always rule. And it is this descendent (ie. Christ) who God has made as witness (of God’s truth) and leader of all the peoples of the world. He will therefore summon nations who don’t know him, and they will come because God has endowed him with splendour, presumably the excellence of who he is (55v3-5, see 2 Cor 4v6). 55v6-7 are probably therefore intended to call the world to turn from wickedness and seek God. This is to seek his presence in one’s life specifically by calling for mercy. And those who do are promised free pardon, explaining how the life God gives can also be free.
Such repentance is to embrace God’s ways and thoughts rather than one’s own. And they are as distinct from those of sinners, as heaven is to earth (55v8-9). But, in case those called feel they are unattainable, what follows affirms that help comes from heaven to enable them to embrace them. So just as rain comes from heaven bringing a crop, so God’s word will achieve his purposes in bringing spiritual life by moving people to seek the LORD, and also, no doubt, in teaching them his thoughts and ways. This suggests the going out “in joy” (55v12-13) is not primarily about leaving Babylon, but coming in peace to God. It is of such significance that the very creation celebrates it. And what it leads to is a godliness of life, symbolised by the absence of thorns and briers (which stemmed from the fall, Gen 3v18), and the growth of pine and myrtle. Moreover, this renewed people, comprising Jews and Gentiles, will be an everlasting sign that brings honour to God.

Praying it home:
Praise God for giving his own Son to suffer such horrors so we could be saved. Pray that throughout the world, God’s word would fulfil its purpose in bringing people to Christ and to the life he gives.

Thinking further:
None today.

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