February 27, 2015.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 40-44.
Background: Isaiah 34-39.
Concepts and Connections.
1. A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Comfort was coming for the people of Israel, which is likely an immediate reference to the Babylonians (who had taken Judah captive) being defeated by the Medes and Persians. As chapter 40 starts out with a comforting word for the people of Israel, this word would in turn give way to an unmistakable prophecy of John the baptizer who would come to prepare the way for the Christ, the Messiah. All for gospels point to this passage as a direct prophecy of John (see Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4 and John 1:23). The words in this passage paint a glorious coming of the Christ, who will come to redeem Israel, for they have suffered long enough, even double, for their sins. The Christ would indeed come, Jesus of Nazareth, and John would come just before to herald the good news. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” The world would never be the same.
2. The word of the Lord: In what seems to be the same oracle, Isaiah is told to cry again that the word of the Lord remains forever. This duration is contrasted with corruptible flesh, seen as grass that will soon wither and fade away. Peter applies this passage to the good news, the gospel of Christ, that had been preached to the Christians that he was writing to, ensuring that this word did surely come to pass and would remain forever (see I Peter 1:24-25). The word here is considered by Peter as not just the actually words themselves, but by extension Jesus, in whom we are born again (see John 3:1-15). Indeed, Jesus is called the physical manifestation of the word of God (see John 1:1, 14), and He will remain forever. There is nothing that man or demon can do to change this. God makes this clear though the oracle of Isaiah. The Lord has spoken, and so shall it ever be.
3. Behold your God: There is much to be said, much to be heard, for God is working out His plan to redeem all mankind. This is good news, and Isaiah is told to go tell it on a mountain, heralding the news far an wide. The people of Israel were going to bless the world through the Seed of Abraham, the friend of God. This section paints a beautiful picture of the coming of God. “Behold, your God!” “The Lord God comes with might!” There is none who measures up to Him, none that could show him counsel. God was not formed, as all creation has been, but simply is. This is why He tells Moses, “I am who I am.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’ (see Exodus 3:14).” God Is. And He has chosen the people of Israel to bless all nations. This was good news. If you are ever in need of hearing who God is, and the power that He displays, keep this chapter on that list. When we read through this chapter, we see a God who is not hindered by any force, a God who comes to save. We see a God who gives strength to His people, so that they will run and not grow weary. We can know that this is our God, and He indeed has sent His Son to save. We trust in Him, for there is no fear of anything else when compared to Him. All glory be to the King.
1. Fear not, the Lord is in control: Even when things are bad, the Lord is in control. During this time, the southern tribes of Judah had come into captivity by Babylon due to the fact that they had forsaken the Lord their God and turned away to vain idols. Though times were bad, the Lord was still in control, and He would not allow Babylon to oppress His people forever, thus it is said in these chapters that there was comfort coming to the people. The Lord had raised up his servant from the East, Cyrus, King of Persia, who would defeat Babylon and end their rule over Judah (see Ezra 1:1-4). The Lord is always in control, even when it is hard for us to see this. He did not want His people to think that He had been defeated by the Babylonian gods. The people had been given into captivity into Babylon because of their sins, not because God was unable to fight with gods who were no gods at all. But the time of their punishment was ending, and the Lord would visit His people. He was going to put springs of water and trees in the wilderness for the poor and the afflicted. This imagery makes more sense when we understand that the people of Israel were around deserts, instead of a grassy wilderness we might think of. The Holy One of Israel was coming to give life to the desert once again, in a figurative sense. We can read this oracle and be assured that the Lord is always in control. Let us take comfort in Him.
2. The worthlessness of idols: In the latter portion of this chapter, the Lord sends a challenge to the idols of the land. He asks the people for proof of their divinity. He challenges them head on, asking them to tell the wisdom of the past or the oracle of the future, for He knows they cannot do it. They are but mute crafts of man and deserve no worship. They cannot demand it, for they are lifeless, void. The people of Babylon served lifeless gods, gods who were no gods at all. The oracle of the Lord cries out against them here, proving their worthlessness. He asked, but they could not answer. Their works were nothing. They were a delusion to the people. How could such crafts have had thwarted the Holy One of Israel? No, it was His plan for HIs people to be here, it was by His hand that they were led into captivity. But that was soon ending, and the lifeless gods of the Babylonians could have nothing to say to the contrary.
1. The Lord’s servant: Though this passage likely had a primary fulfillment in the time just after the oracle (the identity of the servant has been discussed and debated by different people), it is clear that the disciples of Jesus saw their Lord as a fulfillment of this prophecy, as the first three verses are essentially quoted in Matthew 12:18-20, speaking of Jesus. Jesus was God’s chosen Servant who would indeed establish justice to the nations and bring salvation to the world. The Lord, who stretched out the heavens to show His glory, would give a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, giving His glory to no other. The people would no longer serve lifeless idols, but they would sing a new song to the Almighty, praising Him from the ends of the earth. We are given a picture of many different nations here praising the name of the Lord. Indeed, Christ would come to offer salvation to the Jews, but when they rejected Him, he would turn to the Gentiles, the nations of the world, and they would be grafted into the spiritual kingdom of Israel (see Matthew 21:42-44 and Romans 11:11-24). Let us glory in Him, and not turn back to the idols of this world that consume our time.
2. The blind eyes of Israel: The people of Israel had taken what was a gift of God, a blessing, His law and special revelation to a chosen people, and they had trampled it. They had counted it as nothing and turned away to other gods. They were blind and deaf to what the Lord had to say, and they had been given into the hand of their enemies because of it. This section recounts of why the children of Israel had gone into captivity. Not because of the gods of the Babylonians, but because of the Holy One of Israel, as He poured out His anger on His children who had committed spiritual adulatory by serving other gods, who were no gods at all. Let us take lesson from the children of Israel here not to do what they had done. They had squandered the gift of God and had rather turned aside to their own pleasures. It is a dangerous place to be, trading glory for delusion. May our own eyes be opened to our actual state.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you”: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” What a soothing thought. The children of Israel were special in the eyes of the Almighty, for He had redeemed them. He had taken them for HIs people. His eye was on them, His sheltering wing about them. They were a people for His own possession (compare with I Peter 2:9). Though this is a longer passage of scripture, there is one clear message that rings throughout: “I am the Lord. You are Mine. Do not fear.” When they would pass through trials and tribulation, whether through deep waters or burning flames, the Lord would go with them. He would be there for them. They were His people, and His steadfast love would endure forever. He would blot out their transgressions and remember their sins no more. His people had forsaken Him, but He would send His deliver, a Savior to save a remnant. A Savior who would offer salvation to the world. God is still the God of Israel, but Israel is now a spiritual kingdom, which the Gentiles who call on His name being grafted into the kingdom, as a wild olive bring being grafted into the tree of Israel (see Romans 11:11-24). This was the redemption plan from the beginning. Now that we know that the Lord is with us, for we are His people, His children, we can learn to put off all fear of anything that might come to harm us. We serve a God who is above all else, and He will show His steadfast love and mercy to us. Though we walk through trials, He will go with is so that we have nothing to fear. Life may not be easy, but it can be in step with the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-26).
1. The Spirit: Isaiah 44 is full of the glory of God and His chosen Servant who would come to deliver Israel. The language here is similar to that of Joel 2:28, which speaks of the Lord pouring out His Spirit on His people, which would come to pass after the establishment of His church, this outpouring cited in Acts 2:18 during the first recorded sermon, preached by Peter. Jesus Himself cites this passage to show that it was a direct reference to Him (see John 7:38). Jesus came to bring living water that whoever would drink of it would have everlasting life (see John 4). But the Spirit would not be given until Jesus was glorified (ref. John 7:39). Thus, this passage is in reference to the time after Jesus was glorified, being raised from the dead, and the Spirit of God was poured out on to man (see Acts 2). Now we are called by the Lord’s name and we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:38).
2. There is none like Him: As the common motif in this section continues, we see that there is none like God. He is the First and the Last (compare with Revelation 1:8), and there is no other god beside HIm. The Lord again sends forth the challenge that if any think they have a god or are a god to come forward and contend with the Lord God of Israel. They could not, for there are no other gods. The oracle goes into a lengthy section explaining the faulty logic that is put into idols. Craftsmen, ironsmiths, carpenters- all human beings- craft such gods out of materials they find here an there. They use their skill to carve the god’s face, to overlay it with precious metal, and then to fall down before it and worship. The point is made that even though it came from the same piece of wood, the carved idol is worshipped and the other half that was carved away is thrown into the fire! Half of the wood is made into an idol that is supposed to deliver the craftsman, while the other half is burned and counted as nothing. Yet the people couldn’t see their folly. They couldn’t see the irrationality of this. Rather, they fell down and worshiped the work of their very hands. It was a backwards religion. Man would make the god, and then worship it and pray for deliverance. However, it is God who made man, and He alone should be worshipped for who He is. There is none like Him, in heaven or in earth.
3. Redemption: Redemption was indeed coming for Israel. It was coming in the short term through Cyrus, king of Persia, who would come in and defeat the Babylonians and liberate the children of Israel in relation to their present captors. He would send the people of Israel back to rebuild the house of their God (see Ezra 1:1-4). His name would again be known among His people. However, redemption from the Lord would find its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who would come to die on the cross and be raised again, defeating both death and sin and offering salvation to the world. Redemption was coming, and it would come as good news to a fallen race. The Holy One of Israel has indeed offered to us redemption through the blood of Christ (see Hebrews 9:11-28). May we be washed clean in His blood (see Acts 22:16 and Romans 6:1-11).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Matthew 20-22.
Do not fear.