Thursday, 16 October 2014

(290) October 17: Isaiah 62-64 & 1 Thessalonians 5

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

To discover:­
As you read note God’s commitment to his promises.

To ponder:
God declares that he will continually refrain from silence until all he has predicted comes to pass, and Jerusalem shines with the glory of his righteousness and is seen by kings (62v1-2). The point may be that he will continually issue sovereign commands to ensure his promises are fulfilled (see 63v1b). The new character to the glorifed city is signalled by God giving her a new name, and her being like a crown of splendour that God holds. The sense may be that the city demonstrates God’s rule over all things, and is being held up to the world so people can see. So the watching world will call Zion by names reflecting God’s delight in her as his bride, and her binding “marriage” not only to God, but to her descendents and her land (62v3-5). God also declares that he has posted “watchmen” (possibly leaders) who will call on him to act until he does as he promised (62v6-7). This reminds us that although God has promised Christ will build his church and then return, we are still called to persistently pray that God would act to that end.
            In terms of Jerusalem, we then read that God had sworn by his right hand of power that he would never again give Israel’s harvests to foreign oppressors. Rather, these things would be enjoyed in the context of the feasts that celebrate harvest (62v8-9). Again, the call is given to prepare the way for the people to come from the nations and through the gates of Zion. And it is said a worldwide proclamation has been made, telling the nations to declare to Zion that her Saviour is coming with his reward (62v10-11). The people will then be called “holy” and “redeemed” and “sought after” and “no longer deserted:” More names to reflect their change of status (62v12).
63v1 then pictures someone looking from Zion’s battlements, asking who it is that strides with great strength towards Jerusalem from Edom and its capital, in glorious robes that are stained red. God himself answers with confidence not only that he is mighty to save, but that he is speaking in righteousness – ie. that what he has just done is right in terms of his commitment to justice and to his promises. Asked why his garments are red, he then explains that it is the blood of the nations: It seems that having called the nations to release his people to return to Zion, he could find none who would do this and so help him fulfil his promise. So he worked his salvation by his own arm, destroying them in vengeance at their treatment of Israel, and so redeeming (freeing) his people from their grasp. His wrath therefore sustained him in the sense that it kept him going until they were destroyed and his people freed. (63v1-6). This was fulfilled in the destruction of Babylon which led to the return from exile, but looks to the final judgement when those who oppress God’s people are destroyed. God will let nothing keep him from his promises.
Isaiah then commits to telling of God’s contrasting kindness to Israel, according to his compassion. He relates Israel’s history: God became their Saviour because they were his people, and he assumed they would not be false to him. He was distressed at their distress, no doubt in Egypt, and so saved them by his angel (presumably referring to the Passover, and his leading them through the desert). These were the “days of old.” Yet despite such love and mercy, the people rebelled and grieved God’s Holy Spirit (possibly referring to the “angel of his presence,” see v11, 14) so that God fought against them. This seems to refer not to Israel’s rebellion in the desert, but her much later unfaithfulness under her kings. At this point we’re told the people remembered the old days of the Exodus when God’s Holy Spirit was amongst them and with Moses, who he gave to shepherd them. And so they asked where is God, who had previously parted the sea and guided them for the sake of his name (63v7-14)? Here Isaiah picks up this same sentiment, pleading with God to look down from his throne and see Israel in her need, asking where his zeal and might are, and stating that his tenderness and compassion are withheld. Affirming God is their father and redeemer from of old, he asks why God made them wander from his ways and harden their hearts, and asks him to return to Zion for Israel’s sake, and rule over them so they are called by his name – which is presumably a prayer that he would make them the holy and righteous people they should always have been (63v15-19).
This all acknowledges God’s utter sovereignty in purposing even Israel’s apostasy. Moreover, it fulfils 62v6-7 providing a model for what the people should pray. So Isaiah calls God to descend from heaven with earthquake and fire as in the past, to make his name (ie. authority and character) known to his enemies, causing the nations to quake (64v1-3). He affirms that none have ever heard or seen any God except the LORD who acts for those who wait on him. He acknowledges God helps the righteous, but that it was Israel’s sin that provoked him to anger. He then confesses the people’s sins which caused them to be swept away – presumably a reference to the exile. He states none call on God because God has hidden his face so they waste away in punishment for their sins. Yet affirming God is their father and creator, he prays God would not be angry or remember their sins forever, but act for them as his people. He reminds the LORD of the desolation of Judah, Jerusalem and the temple by Babylon, asking if God will still hold himself back and punish the people beyond measure (64v4-12).
We should remember Isaiah lived long before the exile. So if he gave these prophecies in their entirety, by wording them as if during the exile, he would provide later generations with hope and help in prayer when they themselves were exiled. Having said this, it is possible that what we have in this part of the book are Isaiah’s original predictions, but with inspired additions made during the exile to proclaim and apply them to that context.

Praying it home:
Praise God for acting so powerfully in Christ to ensure our salvation. Pray that you pray more for the fulfilment of his purposes in the church.

Thinking further:
None today.

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