Isaiah – Day 992

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 21 and 22 (NIV):  “Therefore hear this, you afflicted one, made drunk, but not with wine.  This is what your Sovereign LORD says, your God, who defends his people:  ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again.’ ”

Thought:  To me, God may afflict His children in judgment, but He also relieves them in mercy.

Question:  Am I staggering under God’s appointed affliction?

Today’s verse 21 begins with a connector word, “therefore,” which should cause us to focus once again on the previous verses for the fully accurate meaning of what is written.  Previously we have seen God’s earnest desire to rouse Israel from their “sleep”; that is, from their deadness to God.  But as they continue in their chosen darkness, God has brought calamities to jar them awake.  Today’s verses give a bit of closure to this season of judgment.  God’s “cup of wrath” has a fullness that finally comes to an end.

“Therefore hear this,”

Because of sin and idolatry, because of judgment, and because God’s wrath has been poured out, now a new word comes from God.  All of this is a spiritual process God oversees and utilizes.

“…you afflicted one,”

God is always compassionate.  Even when He is exercising judgment upon us He is loving and caring.  God is the model of what a perfect parent should be:  always loving but never backing down on principles.  (We parents know from experience how difficult it is to maintain this balance; hence the expression, “tough love.”)  Now, had Israel never rebelled, “tough love”, via affliction, would not have been necessary.  But this was not the case.  There was rebellion.  The Father is all too aware of how badly afflicted His Jews must be because of their rebellion.

“…made drunk, but not with wine.”

Drunks fall down or often end up prostrate in bed and asleep.  Instead of alcohol producing these symptoms in Israel, God made them drunk with His wrath:  He made them fall down and go prostrate—He brought collapse to their nation and a loss of their own self-control.  They were shifted into helplessness.

I believe another way to put this is to decide what “spirit” is influencing a person:  alcoholic drinks are called “spirits” because they overshadow a person’s temperament.  God’s Spirit can do the same but in love, righteousness and holy power.  (See Ephesians 5:18).  In our context here, however, God’s wrath has overshadowed Israel.  His wrath is a very different “spirit” from His redemptive qualities!  Habakkuk 2:16:  “You will be filled with shame instead of glory.  Now it is your turn!  Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!  The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.”

“This is what your Sovereign LORD says,”

In all these actions God has been sovereign.  He is in full control, always.  Out through His overall control of the situation there now comes a new statement.

“…your God, who defends his people:”

God turns the tide.  Where once God enlisted Babylon as an instrument of judgment He now shifts and begins to offer protection to Israel FROM Babylon.  I find this very interesting.  God uses everything.  And He is able to use the same things in different ways.  He has created everything, and He will utilize whatever He can to accomplish His purposes.  Behind each of His purposes lies righteousness.  Though judgments are difficult, God achieves things through them that could not be achieved any other way.

I like this possessive pronoun, “your.”  God loves Israel, and they belong to Him.  He love is everlasting.  He will never forsake them.  It is this covenant commitment that shines forth now, moving God to turn and “defend his people.”  Whether judged or protected, God loves them the same.

“ ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger;’ ”

The cup spoken of here is God’s “cup of wrath” (Isaiah 51:17).  God was responsible for bringing it to Israel, putting it in their hands, and for pouring it down their throats.  But as I have pointed out in a previous blog, there is always an end in sight to a vessel or cup—it truly has its limit—its “bottom.”  It can only hold so much.  Apparently now, God has elected for Israel’s affliction to end.

They will no longer “stagger.”  Their reeling back and forth will come to an end.  This implies they may be able to start a balanced walk.

“…from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again.”

What a relief this must have brought to Israel!  God’s Word is dependable—it is as golden and good as The One proclaiming it.  His promises are completely reliable—(unlike the weak “promises” of men.)  Here God promises that Israel “will never…again” have to swallow this kind of wrath from God.

What does this mean literally?  I believe it means that Israel will never again be led captive out of their homeland by this particular enemy:  Babylon.  It could also be interpreted to mean that this specific generation of Israelites would never again experience this kind of oppressive, exilic suffering in their life time.

Certainly history has proven that the Jews, sadly, went on to experience many more “waves” of suffering and persecution at the hands of many more enemies.  But of Babylon, God is here promising no more new oppression.  Isaiah 49:25:  “ ‘Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save.’ ”

Hallelujah!

Prayer:  Righteous Father, You are over us all.  Your will and righteousness are the standard of rule, determining whether or not we deserve judgment and correction.  Help me to accept your judgments!  Thank You that when judgment is completed, Your mercy takes its place.  You are a just God!  Thank You for relief from suffering!  I pray in Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

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Isaiah – Day 991

Scripture:  Isaiah 51:20 (NIV):  “Your sons have fainted; they lie at the head of every street, like antelope caught in a net.  They are filled with the wrath of the LORD and the rebuke of your God.”

Thought:  To me, when God sends judgment through His wrath and rebuke, even the best and strongest of men becomes weak and subjected before Him.

Question:  Will I be filled with God’s wrath or with God’s blessings?

As we continue to study the negative consequences of Israel’s idolatry, we have seen much calamity allowed to befall them.  Today’s verse is another description, illustrating how even the young and strong of the Jews are affected.  God’s wrath upon them is overwhelming.

“Your sons have fainted;”

As we age, we look to the younger generations to carry on with strength.  But Israel’s sons are not strong.  They “faint” in weakness, probably in large part due to famine associated with the long siege of war.  Lamentations 2:11 and 12:  “My [Jeremiah’s] eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city.  They cry to their mothers, ‘Where is bread and wine?’ as they faint like a wounded man in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out on their mother’s bosom.”

War and the conquering oppression of Babylon paints an awful picture in our minds.  God’s precious people, His chosen ones, the children of Zion, are being destroyed left and right.  And the “sons”, normally called into conscription to serve as soldiers against such an attack, fail and faint.  Why?

“they lie at the head of every street,”

Looking at several different translations, many interpret the term “lie” as an indicator that the young men are “asleep.”  This fits with the context certainly as we look back to verse 17:  “Awake, awake!”  From what should they awaken?  They need to awaken from the seductive illusions of their own idolatrous sins.

The young men are congregated “at the head of every street.”  What this conveys to me is that the conquest has totally invaded all the living areas of Jerusalem.  No city street is left out.  The young sons have come out of their homes into the streets, supposedly to face the evil foe, Babylon,  but to no avail.  They are helpless against the enemy because God’s wrath is upon them.  As we discussed in verse 17, the judgment permitted by God, full of His anger (righteous indignation), pours out and has so much influence that the recipients act like drunkards.  They become intoxicated with God’s wrath.

Sometimes our use of the word “intoxicated” conveys a positive sensation such as this idea:  “I was intoxicated by the smell of the roses.”  But Israel’s intoxication is anything but pleasant.  Revelation 14:10:  “…they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.  They will be tormented…”

“…like antelope caught in a net.”

The King James Version has “as a wild bull in a net.”  A bull is a stronger animal than an antelope!  Regardless of which animal was intended in Isaiah’s writing, the word picture is clear:  the animal is trapped—no matter how strong an animal it is.  It flails, wild-eyed to gain freedom, but the ones in control of the net have prevailed.  The animal is helpless and unable to escape.  He is held tight in this confinement.

So it is when people are subjected to God’s wrath.  No matter the strength of young, strapping “sons”, the righteous anger of God traps them.  Though they may object, shake their fists or cry out for freedom, God has control over them.  Helplessly, they must endure the outpouring of God’s anger.  Revelation 16:9:  “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.”  Ezekiel 17:20:  “I [the LORD] will spread my net for him [the King of Israel], and he will be caught in my snare.  I will bring him to Babylon and execute judgment on him there because he was unfaithful to me.”

“they are filled with the wrath of the LORD”

When a winebibber is full of drink, the effect is obvious to all.  The fullness of the alcohol eliminates the person’s self-control.  Isaiah, and, as we’ve seen in Scripture, other prophets (Jeremiah and Ezekiel), and even an apostle (John), have used this state of affairs allegorically.  God’s wrath “fills” the rebelling soul, stripping him of his own self-control.  He is “under the influence” of God’s anger.

The wrath of God is unbelievably over-powering and devastating.  Hebrews 10:31:  “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  This portion in Hebrews outlines clearly why God may resort to His sheer wrath:  Hebrews 10:26, 27 and 30:  “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God…For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ ”

“…and the rebuke of your God.”

This is the second thing the Israelites are “filled with”, the first being God’s wrath.  A close look at the word “rebuke” affirms that all these calamities (Isaiah 51:19) are rebukes straight from God.  They are not scientifically produced or politically produced elements.  No, they are produced by God and by His intention to judge.

“Rebuke” is defined by Merriam-Webster this way:  “to criticize sharply.”  One who criticizes another does it intentionally with the desire to correct their reasoning.  God had sent plenty of pre-warnings, warnings, recommendations, teachings and corrections already to Israel.  Just read the prophets and you’ll see this is true.  Finally, after no messages had been heeded, God is ready to rebuke—“criticize sharply.”

It seems to me that when God is pushed to this degree, He responds with a super-strong out-pouring of rage.  In Revelation, set at the end of the ages, after centuries and even millennia of warnings, God’s wrath is collected in bowls and literally dumped or poured out on the planet.  Nahum 1:6:  “Who can withstand his indignation?  Who can endure his fierce anger?  His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.”  It is mighty power indeed that can shatter rocks!

I for one do not wish to become the object of God’s wrath or rebuke.  How about you?

Prayer:  Oh jealous Father, I bow before You!  I understand Your capacity for wrath and judgment.  Help me never to forget this side of Who You are so that my view of You is clear and balanced.  In this way, LORD, strengthen me to heed all Your warnings.  Cause me to obey Your commandments, that Your blessings—not curses—may characterize my life.  I ask these things in Christ’s Name, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 990

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 19 (NIV):  “These double calamities have come upon you—who can comfort you?—ruin and destruction, famine and sword—who can console you?”

Thought:  To me, for double calamities God redoubles His comforts and consolations.

Question:  Who brings calamity:  God or me?

This text has featured Israel’s stupor and insensibility to God (verse 17), and the similar traits seen in her irresponsible and immature sons (verse 18).  These are both symptoms of a nation having rebelled against God, His Words, His ways and His commandments.  Today’s verse reveals the next step in Israel’s downward spiral.

“These double calamites…”

“Calamity” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss; a disastrous event marked by great loss and lasting distress and suffering.”  One calamity would be enough, certainly; but God allows “double calamities” to come.

Or perhaps you may say God has not “allowed” this at all.  Perhaps you would say that evil has befallen Israel outside of God.  Well, if this were the case, then the next question becomes “why hasn’t God done anything to stop the horrible haphazard evils descending on Israel?”  Much of our society “makes camp” in this erroneous kind of thinking—the thought that God is completely detached from such events:  both their origin and follow-up.  When there is no counter action to the calamity they say this proves God is “dead” or not there, or doesn’t care.  There are two things wrong with this idea:  God is made out to be lacking in power to 1) oversee all of history, and, 2) crush evil outcomes.  The real truth is this:  God IS in charge and has FULL control, yet He may opt out of neutralizing “calamites” if the situation warrants it.  In His own wisdom God determines, for each instance, exactly what is just, righteous, good and perfect.  How can calamity ever be “just, righteous, good and perfect?” you may ask.  The answer is simple:  when the sinful behaviors of mankind warrant judgment, then calamity becomes the most efficient correction possible.  God’s judgments, (in which calamity has free reign), bring an outcome of justice, righteousness, goodness and perfection in the speediest way.

God has clearly decided that Israel’s vicious rebellion, filled with spiritual adultery and idolatry, betrayal and treachery, deserves to be punished.  And the fact that God allows “double” calamities is double proof that Israel needs a hard lesson.  It’s as though God knows only one trial would not be enough.

“…have come upon you—“

This wording inclines me to believe that God is permitting a natural course.  This biblical principle comes to mind:  “what we sow, we reap.”  God is not sending calamity, nor creating it like some fiendish, sadistic despot; no!  He is merely letting the reaping of what Israel has sown to come back upon them.

“who can comfort you?”

This phrase also affirms the same idea.  There really is no normal or natural comfort for someone who is reaping what they’ve sown.  No human can comfort others in the midst of calamity.  They may try, but their efforts are feeble.  Because they brought it on themselves it becomes part of a cycle that really won’t be broken.  If you throw a rock, a window most probably will get broken!  The natural consequences must and will play out.

And yet this very interesting truth becomes apparent:  God Himself chooses to “comfort” Israel!  Isaiah 51:12a (just seven verses prior):  “I, even I, am he who comforts you.”  How does He comfort?  We will see this in future passages.

God allows calamity, yes; He permits it as a disciplinary judgment.  But He also may choose to intercede when the judgment is enacted.  He may intercede, or He may not—that is up to Him.  In Israel’s case He chose to comfort.

“ruin and destruction, famine and sword—“

God’s comfort came, but only when God chose the right time for it.  He definitely delayed His comforts!  For seventy years Israel was judged!  As history reveals, Jerusalem and Judah were besieged, the city walls were broken down, and Babylon conquered Israel.  King Nebuchadnezzar took slaves and prisoners and most of the population was exiled into Babylon.

All four of these calamites (double the double!) took place at that time:  1) ruin—Jerusalem’s walls became ruins, 2) destruction—the city was ransacked, 3) famine—under siege, the citizens were cut off from supplies, and, 4) sword—the battle was severe and bloody.  Isaiah 40:2:  “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”

Lest we disbelieve that God did indeed “comfort” Israel after these things, let us also read Isaiah 51:3:  “The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.  Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”

“…who can console you?”

God can.  For most of us, as for Israel in this case, ONLY God can.  And He did.  He is able to comfort and console all of us as well—no matter what the “calamity.”

Prayer:  Just Father, thank You for all Your judgments, even those that are truly heard to bear because I know that, even in the midst of Your disciplines, You comfort me.  Help me to learn how to obey You so that judgmental calamities can be avoided.  But if calamity is unavoidable, Lord, I thank You, even now, for all Your comforts!  I pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 989

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 18 (NIV):  “Of all the sons she bore there was none to guide her; of all the sons she reared there was none to take her by the hand.”

Thought:  To me, America, like Jerusalem, has estranged God, reaping family tragedies as a result.

Question:  Am I contributing toward good leadership?

Verse 17 is a wake-up call to Jerusalem, Israel’s central city, called “Zion” by God.  God is dismayed at Jerusalem’s dullness and apathy.  Today’s verse adds another deficiency to the list:  Jerusalem has not produced any decent leaders.

“O all the sons she bore…”

“She,” of course, refers to Jerusalem.  If we look back to Isaiah 1:1 we are reminded that Isaiah’s entire book is directed to “Judah and Jerusalem.”  Judah is the “state,” as it were, or “district”; Jerusalem the “county seat” or, better yet, the “capital city.”  Government for the entire area of Judah would be centralized in Jerusalem.

This phrase implies Jerusalem was not lacking in fruitfulness—she apparently had a good supply of “sons.”  The problem, however, is that the quality of these “sons” is less than desirable.

“…there was none to guide her;”

Isaiah 3:1 through 3:  “See now, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support:  all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the soothsayer and elder, the captain of fifty and man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter.”

From the above verses we see that God Himself stripped Jerusalem of leading men.  He did this in judgment:  permitting the consequences of her own sins to return upon her.  The stripping was accomplished through Babylon’s invasion.  Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the potential young, strong leaders to absorb them into his own kingdom and keep them under his own control.  Daniel and his three companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are an example of this.  (See Daniel 1:3 and 4)

But perhaps even before this purge, many of the existing “sons” were weak and ill-equipped to lead; especially ill-equipped in the ways of God.  Jeremiah 5:1:  “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares.  If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”  Ezekiel 22:30:  “I [God Almighty] looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”  Isaiah 59:15b and 16:  “…the LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.”

“…of all the sons she reared there was none to take her by the hand.”

Having mothered 5 sons, I feel the heart of God here in this statement!  You invest your life-tears, substance, sweat and strength—into these children.  How tragic when the end result produces wayward rebels, especially as you, humanly speaking, approach a stage of need for help and support in your own later life.  (God, of course, has no need of support, as illustrated in the above verses from Isaiah 59).

God is pointing out the immensity of moral slippage when a people does not walk with Him.  When the adults sin with idols, demonstrating their fickle hearts toward God, not to mention their deep betrayal of Him, the children take note.  Then they too, in turn, exercise their own free wills, and walk away into selfishness, carelessly leaving their saddened parents behind.

America has definitely participated in this kind of ethical decay.  Offspring quickly and easily abandon their elderly parents, depositing them in nursing homes and care facilities instead of keeping Mom and/or Dad with them in their home.  This phrase, “none to take her by the hand,” captures, in my opinion, the element of needed compassion.  Mom or Dad need their hand held!  They need a personal, caring touch!  They need to have the tender treatment they gave their young ones reciprocated in their old age.  It’s only right and fair.

But Jerusalem has sold out to the mores of the world.  People are too busy, too important, too preoccupied to be bothered with the possibly unpleasant task of assisting their parents in the simple acts of eating and walking.  They should!  Those parents spoon-fed them and held their little hands when they were helpless and needy.  This neglect of elders is a strong symptom of the undercurrent of rebellion against God.

Take this to a more sophisticated platform—the political or spiritual stage—and you can see how the immaturity of the so-called leaders totally undermines their ability to lead a people.  1 Timothy 1:4 and 5:  “He [an overseer, deacon, church leader] must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”  One could also add:  “…how can he take care of government?”

Walking close to God, He is able, through His precious Word, to remind us continually and day by day, what is important.  God has always honored even the very young children:  this was modeled by His Son, Jesus Christ.  God’s compassion is grounded in strong commitments that are clearly seen in the Ten Commandments, to begin with, and on down through all His biblical laws, precepts, statutes, commandments and ways.  Take away these Divine instructions and society erodes terribly.  With selfishness and rebellion becoming the order of the day, chaos soon ensues.  Jerusalem was there!

Prayer:  Loving Father, thank You for being our Father!  Thank You for inventing true love—the kind that covers every human relationship with compassion, care and grace.  Forgive me for those times I have longed to throw off Your disciplines in selfish rebellion—it only leads to familial and societal decay.  Strengthen me to not only continue to raise children and grandchildren that honor You, but also to inspire them to exercise loving kindness to their elders and leaders in return.  I ask these things in Christ’s Name, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 988

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 17 (NIV):  “Awake, awake!  Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.”

Thought:  To me, our jealous God exhibits righteous indignation when our rebellion is so full-blown we are unaware of His presence and love.

Question:  Am I asleep to God?

In the verses prior, God has reemphasized who He is, what power He possesses, how He is able to rescue Israel, how much He cares for them and how close He is to the Jews.  Today’s verse, however, indicates all this sincere language is falling on deaf ears.  And so, God’s tone changes.

“Awake, awake!  Rise up, O Jerusalem,”

Like a frustrated parent who can’t get their lazy child out of bed in the morning, God resorts to shouting.  Israel is in a dream-world, or, worse yet, a zone of velvet darkness.  Reality and truth are not even noticed.  Their eyes are closed in “sleep.”

Israel is laying down.  They are therefore vulnerable to attack instead of being alert and on their feet, vigilant to potential enemies.  The onus is squarely placed on “Jerusalem”—the Jews’ capital city.  This brings out the sad truth that laziness and failure has permeated to the very center of Judah—the hub where her leaders, officials and elders reside.  Isaiah 1:21:  “See how the faithful city has become a harlot!  She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her—but now murderers!”

God calls them to “rise up” and get back on their feet—back to the self-discipline of a “good soldier” who is aware of his surroundings and the nearness of his enemies.

“…you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath,”

Just last verse (51:16) God’s hand shaded and protected Israel.  But now His hand is holding out a cup of “wrath.”  We may criticize God for this, or worse yet, call this a contradiction in scripture which becomes an excuse to disregard the whole passage, if not more.  But this is no contradiction.  This is just as understandable as a human father or mother who, one moment, comforts and caresses his/her child, while the next, may use his/her hand to discipline.  God would be foolishly untrustworthy if He let His “child” get away with “murder”!  Besides, who is responsible for the occasion of wrath in the first place?  It is Israel!  They have, through idolatry and rebellion, “fallen asleep” to God’s truths.  They are to blame for God’s wrath.

Just what is “the cup of his [God’s] wrath”?  For Israel’s heinous sins of spiritual adultery and idolatry, there will be consequences.  God is jealous.  He is not loved or worshipped any longer.  Nothing is more painful in a love relationship than the exercise of indifference and rejection.  Even hate would be better!  At least hate displays passion.  But Israel has dropped God like a hot potato.  They have turned their backs on God and chosen to ignore Him.  The result is God’s vessel full of “righteous indignation”:  a “cup of wrath.”

The consequence for Israel’s behavior is judgment from God.  He has chosen to let the people whose gods they have preferred, oppress them, capture them, kill them and imprison them.  The Assyrians and Babylonians, therefore, became tools in God’s hand to punish Israel.

The enemy persecution is the “cup of wrath.”  God fills the cup full and permits Israel to drink it all down; so much so, they become fully inebriated.  (But there is one good thing:  a “cup” has a limited amount of capacity.  There is an end in sight.  The wrath will not go on forever.)

“…you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.”

Though the cup has a limit, its contents pack a wallop.  This allusion to an alcoholic oblivion portrays Israel as having gone unconscious toward God and the things of God.  God’s judgments have beaten against Israel until the effect overwhelms her.  She has “escaped” into the inebriation of her sufferings and staggered, that is, become unable to walk in god’s ways.  In the place of the straight paths of righteousness, Israel walks crookedly, reeling like a drunkard, and unsteady in all her ways.  Israel has taken this wrong line out to its fullest degree, “draining” the cup of wrath “to its dregs.”  She is soundly asleep, unconscious to God, blind and unrestored.

Have I found myself staggering like this under the weight of sin and its judgments?

Prayer:  Jealous Father, forgive me for my times of idol-worship!  Whether I have set You aside to love pleasure more, or ignored Your Word, or put some other value above You, please correct me and cleanse my heart today.  Continue to awaken me, Lord, if and when I become duped and unable to see the full truth of who You are.  Father, keep me to the “straight and narrow way”—I pray in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 987

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 16 (NIV):  “ ‘I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand—I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’ ’ ”

Thought:  To me, God Almighty doesn’t delegate salvation; He accomplishes it personally and intimately.

Question:  Am I one of God’s people?

God is the reason Israel will be able to escape their Babylonian oppression.  He will rescue them.  He is capable; fully Almighty.  Today’s verse amplifies why He is willing to exercise His capabilities on Israel’s behalf.

“ ‘I have put my words in your mouth…’ ”

God has entered into a covenant relationship with Israel.  God never enters lightly into something as serious as a covenant (which basically means agreement or promise).  He is deeply committed to His people.  His love for them moves Him to enhance His bond with them so that it includes open and full communication.

Communication is a cornerstone to any quality relationship.  God does not merely know this; He was the first to create and implement both relationship AND communication.  He instituted marriage early in the book of Genesis:  the original and most holy relationship ever designed.  Within Eden God also initialized the first communication:  a communion with Adam and Eve in which He spoke with them on a daily basis.  (See Genesis 2:20 through 3:19)

Israel is often referred to, by God, as His bride or betrothed one.  (And so are we, the modern church/Bride of Christ).  The bond is deep, strong and holy.  Part of God’s relationship with His espoused Israel involved gifting them with His “words.”  They received The Law through Moses.  God then entrusted those words to the Jews for safekeeping.  Romans 3:1 and 2:  “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew…?  Much in every say!  First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.”

If God loves Israel (or you and me) enough to “marry” them (or us), that is huge.  But if His love goes further (as it always does!), and He longs to commune and discuss and reason with us (see Isaiah 1:18), then this blessed communication is even more huge!  What an immeasurable privilege—this conversation with God!  What an eye-opening education His Word can give us:  special insight into Who He is and what He expects from each of us—His creatures.

Not only are God’s words given to Israel; they are also placed “in” their “mouth(s)”.  To me, this is a reminder of how intimate our God is with us.  He gives us Himself, and He is as close as our “mouth.”  It also reminds me that God’s Word ought to go way beyond the printed page; it ought to become our daily vocabulary.

“ ‘…and covered you with the shadow of my hand–’ ”

God thinks of everything.  He made us.  He knows what we need.  He realizes our weaknesses and frailties.  This “shadow” is a protective shading; a layer of insulation between Israel and the hot cruelties of oppressive Babylon.  What I find special about this phrase is the nearness of God’s hand.  Again His intimacy toward us is apparent.  He is never far away—He is ever ready to give us His personal touch.

Under this “shade” we are “covered.”  Like a supernatural umbrella, God interposes Himself over us and between the evil threat (whatever it may be) and our vulnerability.  We need never deal with the enemy by ourselves.  God will do it for us.

In today’s world we hear the question “are you covered by insurance?”  An agency that will stand behind us should some disaster threaten our home, vehicle or health is very much desired in today’s society.  There are thousands of different kinds of insurance policies.  For the Christian, the best “policy” we could acquire is the “coverage” God gives us from His own hand.

These two acts of God, 1) entrusting us with His Word, and, 2) covering us with His hand, are the foundational reasons God is willing to rescue Israel from trouble.  His own reputation as Savior is at stake.  He has not begun a good work only to abandon it during troublesome times.  He will stand with Israel through their sin and disobedience (which led to their captivity and oppression.)  He is betrothed to them.  He loves them with an everlasting love.  He is committed to Israel’s well-being.

“ ‘I who set the heavens in place,’ ”

To validate His commitment, God reminds Israel, once again, of Who He is.  Israel is not dealing with some moody, unpredictable god such as was worshiped in Assyria and Babylon.  No!  Israel is dealing with The One True God Almighty Who created all things, including “the heavens.”  (“Heavens” would include both our breathable atmosphere and all of outer space, or put another way, the entire universe, full of galaxies, stars, moons, planets, planetoids, anomalies, black holes, etc., etc.)

If God can put “the heavens in place”, He certainly can rescue the Jews.

“ ‘…who laid the foundations of the earth.’ ”

This second validation communicates very well the total sovereignty of God over, not only the Jewish people, but also ALL peoples.  If you set your foot anywhere on this planet you are walking on “God’s territory.”  He made everything on earth.  (The wording of this phrase also says that God, in His own wisdom, knew how to make our world solid, livable, with magnetic poles, gravity, seasons, weather patterns, and the stored magma contained for future use in the center of our planet.)

If God “laid the foundations” of our home planet, earth, He certainly can bring justice to the Jews.

“ ‘…and who says to Zion, ‘You are my people.’ ’ ”

And finally, here is God’s third validation:  the final proof that He is well able to free them from bondage and their vile enemies; He has named and possessed the Jews as His own “people.”

Once again I am struck with God’s intimacy.  He thoroughly possesses Israel.  It is not a casual acquaintance or a once-spoken, insincere coupling; no, it is a rock-solid commitment that God reaffirms over and over again and again.  The Jews have emanated out from God—they have their origin in Him (as we all do)—and whoever finds his source in God is never forgotten by Him.

“Zion” is God’s affectionate term for the city, Jerusalem.  The Hebrew means “fortress” or “place of dryness” (literally) making understandable the fact that Zion is a hill elevated above waters.  Mount Zion is mentioned by Isaiah as Yahweh’s dwelling place (see Isaiah 8:18).  It grew to become a synonymous name for the (capital) city of Judah—Jerusalem—where Israelites would dwell in the heart of their community.

All of these elements together clearly expose God’s heart for His people, the Jews.  He has given them His whole Being and He will remain true to them forever.  Such personal attachment from God is beautiful to behold and becomes a challenging model for us all to imitate.

Prayer:  Committed Father, thank You for Your great faithfulness!  Your solidarity is inspiring!  You have taken the vulnerable risk of entrusting Your precious Word to human beings and then promised to stand with them and protect them, no matter what.  Thank You for being so capable!  Help me, as one of Your chosen people, to respond to such intimate interaction with my belief, trust and obedience.  Help me to be a loyal citizen of Zion.  I ask it in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 986

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 15 (NIV):  “ ‘For I am the LORD Your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD Almighty is his name.’ ”

Thought:  To me, we need no other reason to believe in God than the simple, yet enormous, truth of Who He is.

Question:  Have I made the LORD God Almighty my own?

The previous verse assured an escape from prison and nourishment for those who are set free.  Today’s verse affirms Who accomplishes this and how it can be done.

“ ‘For…’ ”

This little connector is here to support the good events of verse 14:  the Israelites will be rescued from the “dungeon” of oppression created by their enemies, Assyria and Babylon.  The latter enemy is particularly cruel, having carried the Jews away captive to the foreign, unfriendly, and idol-worshipping land of Babylon where they would be forced to live in exile for 70 years.

But the promise of freedom has been given.  The guarantee of no lack of food is also given.  It is The LORD God Almighty Who promises these things.

He is able to promise “for” He is Who He is.  The promises rest on Him and His nature.  Their fulfillment depends on His character.  The Jews are invited to trust in His character and good reputation again:  they had once followed God but had since turned away to worship other gods.  God calls them back.  He loves them with an everlasting love.

“ ‘…I am the LORD Your God,’ ”

Everything vital about our faith rests on Who God is.  As Moses was told, God calls Himself the great “I Am.”  It is crucial that we realize our faith can be strong because of Who we trust—not what we trust.  We are held safe from “prisons” and “hunger” not because we believe in a bundle of precepts, but because we have realized we have a connection to The Source—to God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  That is why the personal, possessive pronoun “Your” is used here.  God Almighty becomes owned by us:  His actual person becomes ours!  This is only made possible through Jesus Christ, our one mediator between us and the Father.  (1 Timothy 2:5:  “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”)  Christianity is a warmly relational faith.  We are made one with God through Jesus Christ.  It is supremely intimate.  We take possession of God Almighty.  He becomes our very own.

“ ‘…who churns up the sea so that its waves roar–’ ”

This is either 1) a hailing back to verse 10 of this chapter in which a written description of the crossing of The Red Sea is given, or, 2) a simple reminder of the power inherent in the waves of the sea in its everyday confluence—a power no man can duplicate, let alone begin to completely harness.  Either way, the sea is a truly strong example of the power of God.

Modern man would love to belittle the idea that God’s “hand of power” is in the sea.  Scientists would replace the glory of what God has done in creating tides and waves by analyzing and measuring currents, drag, troughs and crests until man’s many words make him sound like an authority on the subject.  The truth is that no man can create the system we are talking about.  God has synced the waters of the seas with the phases of the moon.  Can man do that?  Psalm 95:5:  “the sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”  Jeremiah 5:22b:  “…I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.  The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.”

“ ‘…the LORD Almighty is his name.’ ”

This term “Almighty” contains, in the Hebrew, the meaning of our word “army.”  In other words, this LORD is LORD of all beings.  Under His power are all the “armies”, or “hosts”, of heaven—the angels.  And so we have the term “LORD of Hosts” also found in scripture.  If He rules these myriads of angels, He also rules mankind and the earth.  Why do I say this?  He rules men because they are made “a little lower than the angels”, (see Hebrews 2:6 through 8).  These Hebrews verses state that God “made” men with this distinction:  what God makes, He rules over.

Israel is being reminded at every turn, by the prophet Isaiah, that God is powerful, He is LORD, He is Creator, He is their Savior, He is their Provider and He is owned by them.  For all these reasons, Israel ought to obey, love, serve and follow God Almighty.  And so should we.

Prayer:  Great God, I have read of, and believed in, Your power.  I have experienced Your saving strength.  I have been an eyewitness to Your creation in the world around me.  I have, through the blood of Jesus Christ, become Your child:  oh, Lord, prevent me from falling away into sin as did these disobedient Israelites!  Keep me close to Yourself, dear Father!  I as this in Christ’s Name, and for His sake, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 985

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 14 (NIV):  “ ‘The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.’ ”

Thought:  To me, only in God can we experience full freedom and satisfying feeding.

Question:  Am I cowering under the oppression of my enemy?

Israel needs comforting.  Their enemies surround them on all sides.  But God reminds the Jews: 1) they need not fear men (51:12), 2) they ought not forget God (51:13), 3) they need not live in terror (51:13), and, looking at today’s verse, 4) they need to remember that freedom, life and nourishment will flow to them from the hand of their God.

“ ‘The cowering prisoners…’ ”

Who are these fearful inmates?  They are, by context, the Jewish people of Isaiah’s day who were experiencing the oppression of Babylon and Assyria.  But they are also us.

To “cower” means to “cringe, shrink, crouch, recoil, flinch, pull back, draw back, tremble, shake, quake, quail or grovel” in response to a threat.  There certainly is no confidence or courage in such a reaction.  This cowering reveals a lack of trust in a Being greater than those who cower.

A “prisoner” is one held in bonds, and unable to move about freely.  Prisoners are trapped in small environments, such as cells, where their existence is reduced to the lowest elements.  Prisoners live like caged animals, horribly confined and cut off from their former lifestyle.  Prisoners experience deprivation, humiliation, loneliness and perhaps hunger, illness, fright and confusion.

If we, like Israel, turn away from Our Source of light and life, we, too, will become a “cowering prisoner.”  The enemy may laugh in triumph at his ability to oppress us completely.  Israel was there!  And so may we be as well.

“ ‘…will soon be set free;’ ”

But here we see a glorious intervention!  God is The Only Source of all that is desirable to us:  peace, joy, love, gentleness, goodness and life everlasting, to name only a few of the cravings we all experience.  God is The Only One Who can set the prisoners free.  He is The Only One Who rescues our souls.

Isaiah 51:14:  “He who is bowed down shall speedily be released; he shall not die and go down to the pit, neither shall his bread be lacking.”  Zechariah 9:11:  “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”  Isaiah 52:2:  “Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”  Ephesians 4:8 (KJV):  “Wherefore he saith, when he [Jesus Christ] ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”

“Soon” is an exciting word to be sure; it arouses our anticipation for good to come as “soon” as the next moment!  It is a word overflowing with hope.  But what time frame are we talking about here exactly?  70 years of exile is the scriptural prophetic time table in which the Jews were held captive away from their homeland.  Jeremiah 29:10:  “This is what the LORD says:  ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place [Jerusalem and Judah].’ ”

Jeremiah 30:1 through 3:  “this is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.  The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess,’ says the LORD.’ ”

“Soon”, therefore, is a relative term.  God’s “soon” does not at all resemble our “soon”!  2 Peter 3:8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”  We may not, therefore, know exactly how soon “soon” is in any given context.  But we do know that the 70 years of exile was for the Jews a “judgment” due to their sin, and from beginning to end, was perfect in length according to God’s timing and purposes.  It was, apparently, a necessary “learning curve.”

I cannot help but think of this number 70 in two ways:  1) it is the “span of a man’s life” as mentioned in Psalm 90:10: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;…”, and, 2) 70 is a multiple of 7 and 10; 7 being the number of “completeness” as shown initially in Genesis during creation; and 10, used in scripture to describe the fullness of testing or trial, such as in Revelation 2:10:  “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.”  Thus the judgment for Israel’s spiritual adultery and ongoing idolatry is a kind of “life sentence” of God’s idea of completed judging that tests endurance.  After this testing/judgment period, God is satisfied as to the requirement of judgment, and very “soon” initiates another phase in Israel’s course.  That “other phase” is their freedom and restoration.

Similarly, we Christians today, due to our own foolish sins, must at times endure judgments; but there is always an end to this kind of “trial.”  God promises restoration and a time of release from the captivity of sin and its consequences.  It may not come as quickly, or as “soon” as we’d like; but it will come in God’s perfect and sovereign time table, ripe with both “completeness” and “endurance.”

“ ‘they will not die in their dungeon,…’ ”

I am reminded of a verse from the hymn “And Can It Be?”, text by Charles Wesley.  “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

Before this ever happened to me or anyone else, it was a promise, born in the heart of God.  His compassion for us, in captivity as we were, overcame the enemy’s bonds.  His Word is as trustworthy today as it was then.  He will do it!  His power is able!

The statement “will not” is a sure word to us.  It is God’s determined guarantee of security as we put our trust in Him.  God is life and The Source of our life as well; and in God death is banished forever.  This is God’s promise.

Dungeons are horrible places.  We need not dwell there as long as we run into the arms of God.

“ ‘nor will they lack bread.’ ”

I appreciate this “add-on.”  It proves God thinks of everything.  It shows He is in the business of practical care.  Not only does He free; He also feeds.  He knows that freedom from chains is no good if the one freed can barely walk due to weakness from lack of nourishment!  When God helps a person He helps on all levels.  When God heals a person He heals utterly.  When God saves a soul He saves to the uttermost.  The supply of bread is another of God’s promises—one of many.  (See again, Isaiah 51:14)

Why would anyone decide to resist or run away from a God like this?

Prayer:  Heavenly Provider, I thank You for Your golden promises.  Thank You for vowing to free me; thank You for pledging to feed me.  Thank You for wanting me out of the enemy’s dungeon!  Thank You for wanting me filled with Your sweet Word!  May the reading and reviewing of these promises draw me ever closer to You, Father.  I pray it in Christ’s Holy Name, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 984

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 13 (NIV):  “ ‘that you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction?  For where is the wrath of the oppressor?’ ”

Thought:  To me, if we forget God, we could lose His protection and end up living in constant terror every day.

Question:  Do I remember that Satan looks to destroy me daily?

This verse is attached to the previous verse.  The question in the previous verse was this:  “who are you that you fear…men?”  Today’s verse amplifies the question:  “who are you that you forget the LORD…?”  Because God is the true comforter of Israel, the Jews need to realize they need not fear men.  They also need to realize they need to remember God.  If only the Jews, and all humanity, could get these two concepts nailed down, life would be much happier!

“ ‘that you forget the LORD your Maker,…’ ”

In other words, “Who are you that you forget the LORD your Maker?”  Put this way it begins to dawn on us how perfectly idiotic it is to “forget” Who made us.  By implication, we are “nobodies” if we “forget the LORD” our “Maker.”  In comparison, what domesticated animal forgets who feeds him?  What modern-day pet forgets who feeds him?  Even the dumb animals know these things!  Yet we have chosen to push our Creator away.

Job 8:11 through 13:  “Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh?  Can reeds thrive without water?  While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass.  Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.”

Isaiah 17:10 and 11:  “You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.  Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain.”

It is pointless to live a life full of our own agendas if we do not remember, follow and obey our great Creator.  Without Him at our side and without Him present in every activity, we will function in vanity and fruitlessness.

“ ‘who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth,’ ”

It is furiously logical to join forces with The One Who is this powerful!  It is of the deepest ignorance to try to rebel against The One Who made the stars, galaxies, nebulae, black holes, comets, planets, moons and earth—the one planet we know of that sustains an abundance of life.  How did the Jews imagine they could oppose God Almighty?  How could they let Him slip away through their forgetfulness?

To “forget” God is to oppose Him.  By default, He deserves all our attention, respect and obedience.

Can we duplicate what God has made?  (Genesis 1:1:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”)  Oh, I know…many people now believe God doesn’t even exist.  Many believe the beautiful heavens and wonders of earth are an accident of science.  Those who turn in this direction of thinking are fools!  And that is not my choice of words:  it is God’s!:  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”  (Psalm 14:1)

“ ‘…that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor,’ ”

And here is the consequence of godlessness.  If you have once been “joined” to God, as had the Israelites, and then decide to turn away from Him, forgetting Him, discrediting His authority in having made you and the world you know, then you will suffer horrible consequences.

The first consequence mentioned here is “constant terror every day.”  This is like having a million anxiety attacks end to end for a very long time—going on for years and years.  There is no abatement, no let up, no relief.  Life becomes nothing more than a pressure cooker, and you’re the goose inside the cooker.

What on earth could cause such a disastrous condition?  Simply put, without God’s love and protection, you become exposed to the ruler of this planet:  the “prince of the power of the air” who is Satan.  (Ephesians 2:2)  You have no buffer any longer between you and this horrible, evil dragon whose prime motive and desire is to consume you.  1 Peter 5:8b:  “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Satan is the ultimate “oppressor.”  He is full of wrath.  He hates God Who threw him out of Heaven, and, because he cannot come near or oppress God, he turns to God’s creatures:  you and me.  He vents his anger on us.  Yet he is extremely clever.  He can transform himself into an angel of light.  He does this to deceive us.  We are very susceptible to his deceptions—we are easily misled.  But soon enough we begin to experience the void created by the absence of our Creator, and that is when we find ourselves living “in constant terror every day.”

“ ‘who is bent on destruction?’ ”

Yes, the goal of our enemy is our total destruction.  And we feel his hot breath on our necks constantly IF we refuse to ally ourselves with God.  All our lives we live in the fear of his destruction and his power of death.  (Hebrews 2:14 b and 15b:  “……him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil…who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”)

“ ‘For where is the wrath of the oppressor?’ ”

But now the prophet Isaiah says this horrible wrath of the enemy is not to be found!  Why not?

Even though Israel is ripe with sin and idolatry, God still loves them.  His love and commitment to them is unparalleled in earth and heaven.  Even while they are still sinning, God works on their behalf:  Isaiah 9:4:  “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you [the LORD] have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”   Isaiah 7:4b through 7:   “ ‘…Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.  Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.  Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.’  Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:  ‘It will not take place, it will not happen.’ ”

God defends Israel.  He defends them well.  He always has and always will.  He has promised to do so.  He cannot break His promise.  He is committed to them.  He is faithful.  He remains true even when they do not.

It’s time for Israel, and for you and me, to realize the wide scope of God’s committed love.  It’s time to return to The One Who made us and give him our utmost loyalty.  It’s time to worship God for Who He is:  our Lover, our Defender, our Rescuer.  Without Him we are horribly exposed to the evils of an enemy we cannot equal in strength—an enemy bent on our destruction.

Prayer:  Loving Father, I do not want to forget You!  I do not want to become disloyal to You!  I am not equipped to bear the constant terror Satan is capable of dishing out; help me to shelter myself under Your wings always.  Thank You for Your undying and unfathomable love.  It goes beyond my understanding, yet I am so thankful You have “loved me with an everlasting love.”  Cause me, Lord, to love You back, even if it is only a little bit by comparison, by giving myself to You as a living sacrifice.  Remind me every day of how You loved me even when I was still stuck in sin, and give me grace to obey Your commandments today and every day.  I pray these things in Christ’s Name, Amen.

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Isaiah – Day 983

Scripture:  Isaiah 51: 12 (NIV):  “ ‘I, even I, am he who comforts you.  Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass’,”

Thought:  To me, it is to our detriment to seek comfort in the world and from people.  We ought to seek comfort only in our Maker, God.

Question:  Is Jesus Christ my best friend?

The verse just before this one describes the joy of the Israelites as they enter Zion after a long absence.  Not only away for a long time, the Jews were also captives, held away from their beloved capital city.  Today’s verse states Who is responsible for their freedom, their return and their joy:  it is the LORD.

“ ‘I, even I,…’ ”

Oh Israel, do not attribute your new-found freedom and deliverance to any other god!  It is only the LORD God Almighty, Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Who is responsible.  He is The Only One Who has the power to deliver in such a fashion:  parting The Red Sea and using the waters to also destroy Israel’s oppressor, Egypt.  (See Isaiah 51:10)

The LORD repeats the personal pronoun “I” to emphasize the truth of the matter.  No one else is able, only God Almighty.  And certainly the Israelites did not save themselves.

“ ‘…am he who comforts you.’ ”

God is the God of comfort by nature.  It is His most outstanding attribute:  He has tender mercies, new every morning, ready to give to those in need.  And with mercy He also offers peace:  the kind of peace that is not dependent on a “bed of roses” atmosphere, but runs deep through and under every hard experience.  God has many other comforts besides these:  among those most incomparable are His joy, even in the worst tragedy; His love, even when hatred rages; His gentleness, when all other comforters may seem gruff and careless; His goodness, when the world around seems overtaken in corruption; and His faithfulness, when all others may fall away from you—He remains steadfast and constant always.

Israel was in need of these kinds of comfort.  At this writing, Isaiah saw them approaching judgment at the hands of Assyria and Babylon.  The judgment would be harsh!  Isaiah 42:24 and 25:  “Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers?  Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned?  For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law.  So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war.  It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.”

But with every stroke of judgment The LORD sent, He also followed up with His comforts!

“ ‘Who are you that you fear mortal men,’ ”

If God is The One Who comforts, why should we ever “fear mortal men”?  Whose actions are stronger—mortal man’s or God’s?  If God employs the armies of Assyria as His “instrument” of judgment (see Isaiah 10:5 and 6), and if He uses Babylon to correct the Jews (see Ezekiel 21), He is still The One in control.  God is The One behind the armies.  It is as though Assyria and Babylon are merely puppets in God’s hand.  Why should we fear the puppets?  The “puppets” are mortals, just as Israel was, and just as we are.  Let us take our eyes off the mortal side of things and see God Who is deeper, higher, stronger than mere men.  Let us see God Who is behind all actions—working “underneath” and “behind the curtain”, unseen, yet so much more present than we give Him credit for being.

Let us not react with fear toward other people.  The “other people” are merely created beings, like us, whom God controls.  Let us, rather, fear God Who is Almighty, eternal, and at work behind every action.  Matthew 10:28:  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  If a man kills another man he has done all that is within his power to do; but God has more power.  He has the power beyond the physical death of that man, to send that man’s soul to heaven or to hell.  This ought to command the greater respect—and fear!

“ ‘…the sons of men, who are but grass,’ ”

Isaiah 2:22:  “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils.  Of what account is he?”  People are temporal.  They come and they go.  Let us rather discipline our focus toward God Almighty.  It is worth our investment of time to do so; He is eternal.  What we see in Him, what we enjoy receiving from Him, what we invest back to Him in service—these are what will last.

Israel needs a big dose of this kind of wisdom, as do we.  It is time to pull our noses up out of the mud and start smelling the Rose of Sharon, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who was sent by The Father for our salvation!  All other preoccupations are, and will be, a pure waste of time and effort.  Israel had looked too long and too hard at the people around them; comparing themselves with other nations, and longing to worship the gods of the world.  The psalmist knew to do differently:  Psalm 121: 1 and 2:  “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Who wouldn’t want to get to know The One Who made them?  Why would anyone want to look elsewhere for answers?  I think the best comforter, the best confidant, the best solution to all our various problems and issues, is The One Who made us.  He knows!

Prayer:  Great Creator, Maker of all men, and God of all comforts, thank You for this timely message!  You are The One with Whom I have to do.  Let me, therefore, always be drawn to seek You, and You alone, in every concern I face, in every burden I bear and in every pain I experience.  Bring me to Your comforts, dear Lord.  Move me away from my dependence upon earthly advice, other people’s opinions and ideas, and the false teachings of many who hold themselves up as great and wise.  May I rely only, and 100%, upon You!  Train me in how to do this, Father, because I am weak and easily led astray.  I ask these things in Christ’s Holy Name, Amen.

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