Tuesday, 14 October 2014

(288) October 15: Isaiah 56-58 & 1 Thessalonians 3

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 life God calls his people to.

To ponder:
We’ve learnt God’s salvation is received by repenting of sin. The LORD now outlines what that entails. Because salvation and its blessing is imminent, the people are to maintain justice, do what’s right, and keep the Sabbath, which was the key symbol of obedient faith in God. But what is new, is the promise that those previously excluded from the assembly of true worshippers can now be fully included. So if they display the same obedient faith and love for God, eunuchs, whose name could not be continued through descendents, will be given an everlasting name within the temple that they were previously forbidden from entering. In other words, they will forever exist there, implying the temple is shorthand for the heavenly city (Rev 21v22-23). Moreover, foreigners (who with eunuchs were uncircumcised) will rejoice at this temple, and have their sacrifices accepted (56v1-7). This all looks forward to the gathering of the nations with Israel (56v8) in Christ, but using concepts those in Isaiah’s day would have understood. The point is not that Christians must keep the Mosaic Sabbath or offer sacrifices, it is that they will display the response to God these things symbolised.
            At this point God moves from urging repentance to confronting sinners: Israel’s “watchmen” are described as “shepherds” meaning Isaiah is referring to the Jewish religious leaders who should lead and care for the people. They lack knowledge, dream, seek their own gain, and get drunk. So they are unable to ward of the beasts God is calling (ie. Babylon and her allies) as dogs should do in guarding sheep (56v9-12). They should understand the significance of contemporary events and call the people to repentance so they are saved from the coming conquest. But instead, although they witness God causing the righteous to die to save them from the coming evil, they don’t ponder what it means (57v1-2). And so God calls them to account (57v3-10). They show they’re descended from sorceresses, perhaps because they are engaging in the occult, and adulterers and prostitutes, because they are embracing false gods. So we read they mock God, whilst engaging sexually in the fertility worship of the surrounding religion, in pagan child sacrifice, and in idol worship (“high and lofty hill” refers to the high places idol worship was conducted). Moreover, instead of putting the law on their doorposts (Deut 6v9, 11v20) they put pagan symbols. And the note of them climbing into bed with lovers, probably refers to embracing the false Canaanite gods, whilst implying the sexual immorality that accompanied that. So the leaders are pictured like men who oil and perfume themselves as they go out to look for lovers; but here they are seeking out other gods to give themselves to - even considering the gods of the underworld. And although they exhaust themselves in their quest, and feel it hopeless as these gods fail to give the life and satisfaction they crave, they just renew their strength and carry on.
This all shows how far a nation can fall from faithfulness to God. But the point of the section is the utter unfaithfulness of those who should have been leading the people towards righteousness, and how fitting God’s judgement therefore is (57v6). Indeed, he asks who (ie. which god) the leaders were afraid of that they would do this, noting that they should have feared him, but did not because he had not spoken through prophecy for some time (57v11). He will therefore expose what they assume is righteous, but is actually false worship, and show it will not benefit them. And he will do this by bringing a judgement that will cause them to cry to their idols for help, only to find them unable to response and actually be carried off. Yet the LORD reassures too: Those who look to him for refuge will eventually inherit the land (57v11-13).
            With this in mind, people will be told at this time to remove obstacles, no doubt so the people could return from exile to the land, which signifies returning to the LORD. But it is God who is behind this work, as the one who revives the humble and repentant. Indeed, he promises that he won’t accuse and be angry forever out of concern that the spirits of men would faint (ie. be forever in fear). So, although his people keep on in their evil even after being punished, God promises to heal them (from their sin and its consequences), guide them (teach them his ways) and comfort them (with the salvation he gives). This will be evident in the fact that some end up mourning – presumably over Israel’s sin and its results in the exile. And it is they who will rejoice, and experience peace and healing. It could be this passage that leads Jesus to declare “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5v4). But the wicked who, like the sea, never cease their wickedness, will not experience peace (57v14-21).
In the light of this, Isaiah is urged to proclaim to the people how they have rebelled. They act as if righteous, in seeking God’s justice and being eager for his presence, wondering why he has not responded when they fast and pray. Yet as they fast, they oppress workers, quarrel and fight. So they can’t expect God to hear them, as if all he wants is for people to humble themselves with sackcloth for a day. Rather, the “fast” he has chosen is that which seeks do act justly, free the oppressed, care for the needy and for one’s relatives (58v1-6). If this is done, God promises their “light” (reflection of God’s glory) will break forth – presumably getting rid of the darkness in their souls and being seen by others. This is probably what is meant by their healing appearing too. It will become evident that God has healed them from their sin and the pain of its consequences. So like Israel leaving Egypt, God will be infront and behind them – infront, in the sense that by making them righteous they will experience his inner guidance as to what is right; and behind as his glory or excellence ensures their safety. And it is then, because they display an obedient faith, that the LORD will hear their cries for help, strengthening them, enabling them to flourish spiritually, and ultimately restore Jerusalem – whether literally, or metaphorically in the sense of being restored together as the people of God (58v7-12). This all applies equally to Christians. We cannot expect God to answer our prayers unless we seek to obey him with sincerity (Jam 4v1-10).
The chapter ends with a solemn promise that if the people delight in the Sabbath because keeping it pleases God; and if in doing so, they don’t do their own thing but remember the LORD, then they will rejoice in him, and in some sense reign with him and enjoy the best of the land (58v13-14). Again, this is stressed because Sabbath keeping sums up a right attitude to God, in putting aside one’s desires to take joy in pleasing him. And it is this denial of self, that eventually receives all things (see Mk 8v34-38).

Praying it home:
Praise God for his readiness to do what we can’t do ourselves, in transforming us into righteousness. Pray that he would ensure that you delight in obeying him from the heart.

Thinking further:
None today.

If you receive this post by email, visit bible2014.blogspot.co.uk and make a comment.


Post a Comment