Wednesday, 15 October 2014

(289) October 16: Isaiah 59-61 & 1 Thessalonians 4

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

To discover:­
As you read consider what God promises those who repent of their sin.

To ponder:
We begin acknowledging how able God is to hear our call and save us (59v1). The only conceivable hindrance is our sin. Israel’s had separated them from him so he would not hear them. This is outlined vividly as violence, lying, injustice, conceiving deeds that harm others, rushing into wickedness, bringing ruin and destruction, and never knowing peace (59v2-8). Because of this God had not executed his justice against Israel’s enemies, nor displayed his righteous commitment to his promises in coming to their aid. The people therefore look for light (ie. hope) but everything is dark (hopeless). Indeed, they are spiritually blind: Lacking knowledge of God, they are unable to find their own way out of their predicament (59v9-11). This is because of the degree of their sin and rebellion, which means that they themselves don’t display the sort of justice or righteousness they long for God to display. These virtues are pictured unable to enter the city with God’s truth stumbling in its streets and honesty absent, meaning that those who avoid evil are the one’s preyed on (59v12-15). We see this in every unbelieving culture.
            Yet as the LORD looked on, he was displeased, but also appalled that there was no-one to intervene and help. This is the tension as he looks on sin and the penalty it deserves. And it moves him to work salvation himself. 59v17 pictures the LORD dressed in his own godly character to do battle for Israel. Paul urges us to put on these same things as “God’s armour” when we battle our spiritual enemies (Eph 6v10-20). The point is that only God can give the victory. Isaiah therefore promises he will act in wrath against his people’s enemies in proportion to their deeds, and this will cause people across the world to fear and revere him in his glory. Indeed, against these enemies, he will “come” like a rushing and destructive flood driven by a roaring wind. But he will also “come” to Zion with redemption for those who repent (59v18-20). And to this repentant people and their descendents (presumably, raised to share their repentance) he promises a covenant through which they will have his Spirit rest on them, and be enabled to speak his word. Strikingly, these are the marks of the Messiah (61v1-2). The inference is that they are received through allegiance to him. And this looks to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and his equipping the church to speak of Christ (Acts 2).
            At this point a glorious picture of God’s repentant people is painted. They are told to arise from their darkness and despair, because the light of hope they longed for has come in the form of God’s glory - ie. God himself (see 59v20), like the rising of the sun that heralds a new dawn. In a world of darkness, God’s glory will therefore be seen over and shining on his people, so that they themselves are lit up – ie. displaying that glory in a righteous character. And seeing this, nations and kings will be drawn to them, not only bringing Israel’s sons and daughters to Zion, but bringing their wealth to be used by God’s people in worship, the adorning of his temple, and the honour of God. Astonishingly then, God will extend Israel’s rule to the nations not with force, but by making them so attractive that people will willingly come to join with them. So having shown his people his anger, God will show them compassion, causing foreigners and kings to serve them and rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Moreover, he promises that the city’s gates will then be forever open so that the nations and kings might come in this way, whilst those who don’t will perish. Even the sons of Israel’s oppressors and her despisers will bow before her and acknowledge Zion is the city of the LORD. In context this probably refers not to a reluctant submission at the final judgement, but an acknowledgement of God with the other foreigners who seek to serve his people (60v1-14).
God therefore promises that after his people had been so forsaken and hated, they will be the pride and joy of all generations forever. Pride here refers to the people being exalted before the world. They will receive or “drink” the best from nations and kings, and be governed in peace and righteousness. Violence and destruction will be gone. Indeed, the walls (of protection) will be called “salvation” as God will keep the city safe from its enemies; and the gates called “praise” because that is the sentiment of those who enter. Furthermore, God’s glory will be Zion’s light, giving all the life that is needed, so there will be no need for the sun or moon. Sorrow will also pass, the wider land be possessed, the people become a fruitful shoot which displays God’s glory in their righteousness, and from a small remnant, a great multitude come result. Moreover, all this will happen quite suddenly (60v15-22).
            Once more we see this cannot refer simply to the return from exile, but has something else in mind. The rising light of God’s glory and the nations bringing gold and frankincense give us hints (60v1, 6). These events span the two comings of Christ. Jesus represents the people, in whom God’s glory is fully manifest, and to whose birth the nations come with their gifts. And it is in him that the new Jerusalem comprising God’s repentant people is formed from faithful Jews, and those from kings and nations who put their faith in him. Moreover, as they come, they bring their wealth to serve the new Jerusalem (the church) and so honour God. This entire people will then be established in the new creation just as Isaiah predicts (Rev 21-22).
            With all this in mind, Isaiah can declare that in his own day he fulfils 59v21 by being anointed with the Spirit to proclaim this good news to those who the exile has made poor, broken and captive. It’s a message of God’s favour and comfort in salvation, and vengeance against Israel’s enemies. It’s one that turns the grief (signified by ashes on the head) to joy (signified by oil on the face), and promises not just that the people will be dressed in royal robes of praise, but that they will become like oaks of righteousness, displaying the splendour of God’s character to the world (61v1-3). This is why our personal godliness really matters. By declaring these words are fulfilled in him (Lk 4v18-21), Jesus is not only saying that he fulfils Isaiah’s calling, but also his message, as the end of all the exile signified comes through responding to his gospel. Not only would those who repent be saved through death from the oppression of Rome, but from the oppression of Satan, sin and all suffering that stems from the fall.
            As before, the concepts of Isaiah’s day are used to describe this distant spiritual renewal. So he says the repentant people will restore Israel’s ruined cities, have foreigners care for their livestock, receive their wealth to feed on, and all be called priests – ie. those who are closest to God in their service. Their disgrace will be replaced by a double portion (ie. abundance) of the land, and all because God loves justice and hates sin. The sense is that in justice the LORD rewards repentance. So he promises an everlasting covenant guaranteeing that his people’s descendents will be known and acknowledged as blessed amongst the nations – just as Christians often are (61v4-9).
            In 61v1-11 Isaiah seems to speak as Zion, delighting in God having clothed the city in the splendour of this salvation and righteousness of life, recognizing that just as in the growth of plants, God has causes the city’s righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations. One cannot but think of this fulfilled in the parable of the sower (see also 55v10-13).

Praying it home:
Praise God for including you in this great and certain hope. Pray that you and Christians you know would rejoice more deeply in it.

Thinking further:
None today.

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