Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Zion's Liberator (Part VIII)

"But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O LORD? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?" (Isaiah 64:8-12)

The words rekindle the light of hope. God is the true father of both Jew and Gentile. He is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Provider and the Redeemer. Sin has broken the father-son relationship between God and man, and God has enabled the renewal of that relationship through faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Isaiah acknowledges the supremacy of God by referring to Him as the Potter. The clay can resist the hands of the Potter and suffer the consequences, but God is the Potter none the less. He can use the weakness and impurities of the clay, and He can reform the vessel or create a new one as He sees fit (Jeremiah 18:3-10).

The request to not regard iniquity forever is in direct keeping with the heart of God. The Lord does not delight in remembering men's sins but in forgiving them. If such were not the case, God would not have appointed the sacrifice of His Son "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:20)."

With another glimpse into the future, Isaiah sees the temple of Jerusalem burned to the ground and the city devastated by the armies of the Babylonians. The land has been ravaged by war. Cities are overthrown and crops and fields destroyed. What is worse, the spiritual desolation of Israel is reflected in the physical destruction. Perhaps somewhat confused, Isaiah asks why God does not come to the aid of His people. As the Lord's covenant people, will God permit Israel to undergo such punishment at the hands of the heathen? Why does He not spiritually revive the nation and forever deliver her from the oppression of the enemy? In the following chapter, the Holy Spirit gives some clues as to why God, on the surface, seems to have abandoned His people.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Zion's Liberator (Part VII)

"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities." (Isaiah 64:6-7)

Because of its weightiness and clarity, verse six is likely the most popular verse concerning the uselessness of man's righteousness. In his depravity and self-deception, man is convinced that he is capable of obtaining eternal life through the righteousness of his actions; however, the sinless Creator has declared the best of man's works to be nothing better than a menstruous cloth for such is the literal rendering of the passage. No matter how upright a man might be, he is constantly plagued by faulty motives, moral failure and human inconsistency. No one but the Lord Jesus Christ has flawlessly kept the Law of God. Only He could say, "...I do always those things that please him (John 8:29)." The passage emphasizes the totality of human failure. The verse literally reads, "But we are as an unclean thing - all of us; and as filthy rags are all our righteousnesses; and we fade as a leaf - all of us; and our iniquities like the wind have carried us away." No one is exempt. King and peasant, the intellectual and the ignorant - all have failed to produce a meritorious righteousness. These words were in the face of Isaiah's self-righteous countrymen; and they are words which condemn every false religion.

Isaiah universally condemns every man. In his natural state, no man stirs himself to move toward God.

God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Psalm 53:2-3).

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Zion's Liberator (Part VI)

"When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved." (Isaiah 64:3-5)

In the context of Christ and His Spirit working in the believer's life, Paul quotes verse four in I Corinthians 2:9. Isaiah foresees a day when the mystery of God will be revealed in the finished work of Christ and every child of God will possess the Holy Spirit. The one who chooses to wait on God in faith cannot possibly conceive the full weight of the blessings that await him in Christ. By faith, Isaiah encourages the God-fearing reader to entrust his soul unto the God Who is able to do "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)." In his quotation of this passage, Paul equates the waiting on God with loving God. One will not wait on God's deliverance in the face of adversity unless he loves God more than what the world has to offer.

The Lord meets favorably with the one who rejoices in the Lord and demonstrates his conversion by the display of righteous works. With such a man or woman God is well pleased. But such was not the case with Israel. She had rejected faith in her God and Isaiah laments this fact. However, in the ways of God is permanence or continuance; and in the end, all Israel will be saved by the return of her Messiah.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Zion's Liberator (Part V)

"O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance. The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary. We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name." (Isaiah 63:17-19)

When the Pharaoh of Egypt hardened his heart against the God of the Hebrews, God hardened it even further. The Lord does not enjoy hardening anyone; however, the rejection of light brings greater darkness. Isaiah's brethren rebelled against God's light, and so darkness had settled in. With an eye toward the day of the Messiah's glorious return, Isaiah pleads for the Lord's return and His work of grace to be wrought in the hearts of the Israelites. Although the Jews had lived in the land from approximately 1406 BC to Isaiah's time, most of that history had been fraught with turmoil. The nation's spiritual health thrived under Joshua, David and part of Solomon's reign, but apart from these relatively brief periods, the majority of Israel's days had been plagued by sin and the resultant subjugation by the enemy. In his prayer, one can hear Isaiah's desire for a day when Israel will be inhabited by a people who have been made truly righteous by the righteousness of their Messiah.

Vividly, the prophet describes the punishment which God would inflict through the Babylonians. Solomon's temple would be burned to the ground in spite of Israel's proud confidence in the sacredness of the edifice (Jeremiah 7:4). In the face of such tragedy, Israel comforts herself in the fact that God's name rests upon her and that He will not permanently abandon His people.

"Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, as when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!" (Isaiah 64:1-2)

This passage is filled with emotion as Isaiah begs God to return and to deliver his people from their enemies. The verses are heavy with apocalyptic meaning. This passage parallels the return of Jesus Christ as presented in Revelation 19:11. "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war." Isaiah's pleas remind the reader of John's words when he wrote, "...Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20)."

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Zion's Liberator (Part IV)

"Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting." (Isaiah 63:15-16)

Unable to contain himself, Isaiah pours out a plea to God on the part of Israel. Isaiah has heard of the Lord's promise to deliver; he has seen the wickedness and oppression of his people; he has witnessed the invasions of Gentile nations, and it is almost as though he can contain himself no longer. To the Almighty, Isaiah rightly ascribes the predominant trait of holiness. From the Lord's holiness (separateness from sin) flows His deep love. In the middle of such turmoil between Assyria and Judah and with Babylon's supremacy just over the horizon, Isaiah asks the Lord why it appears as though He has kept Himself from Israel's deliverance. In the center of deep trouble, it is easy to feel as though God has forgotten; however, nothing escapes the Lord's attention. Unknown to the prophets of old was God's plan concerning the ministry of the Church and the salvation of millions of Gentiles. Like Isaiah, the Christian may feel as though God sometimes forgets to reward the wicked or to come to the aid of the righteous, but the Lord's people need to remember that every promise of God will come to pass in His good time. The culture of Isaiah's day used the bowels as a symbol of compassion in much the same way that the heart is viewed in the present day by western culture. The question is rhetorical. Certainly, God's compassions have not failed; but circumstances and limited human insight can make it seem as though they have.

Isaiah acknowledges that God is the true Father of Israel. Although most of Isaiah's countrymen did not know God as their spiritual father because of unbelief, Isaiah applies the name to God in the sense that He raised up, guided and cared for the nation. In spite of rejection, God will not fail to be the Father of Israel until the day that He brings about the rebirth of the nation through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Abraham's fatherly abilities were limited but God's are not. Abraham's and Jacob's patriarchal ministries came to an end because of death, but God's patriarchal ministry is everlasting. The one who has found God to be his spiritual Father through faith in the Son has experienced the principles of these verses.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Zion's Liberator (Part III)

"But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name." (Isaiah 63:10-14)

Isaiah reminds his readers that the divine deliverance with which the chapter opened is not to be attributed to Israel's obedience and faithfulness. The context of Isaiah's reflections brings into focus Israel's rebellion in the wilderness, the evil days of the judges and the apostate times of the kings. Isaiah comments on the merciful heart of God toward His people by verbalizing God's thoughts. Israel's sins had separated them from their God (Isaiah 59:2) and so the Lord asks, "Where am I, the One Who brought Israel up out of the Red Sea through the leadership of Moses?" "Where am I, the One Who put in Moses My Holy Spirit?" "Where am I, the One Who brought Israel safely through the Red Sea and led him about with great care?" All of these questions demand the same answer, "I should be there for you Israel; but I've withdrawn because you have rejected Me." Thankfully, the entire last half of Isaiah's prophecies make it clear that the Lord is coming back to reclaim His people the Jews in spite of their failure. What encouragement these passages must have provided to Isaiah in view of the impending doom of the Babylonian invasion!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Zion's Liberator (Part II)

"I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old." (Isaiah 63:7-9)

Upon hearing the Lord's promise to overcome Israel's foes, Isaiah pours out praise to the Lord by recalling His mercy, love and deliverance in spite of Israel's rebellion.

The chastisement inflicted by the Assyrians, Babylonians and other nations to follow came because of Israel's refusal to believe God and not because the Lord cares nothing for His people. Verse eight recalls God's words concerning Abraham the father of the nation.

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him (Genesis 18:19).

The Hebrew text presents two choices (qere or kethib) for rendering the first part of verse nine. The Authorized Version follows the qere (that which is read) rendering. The kethib (that which is written) would translate something like this. In all their affliction, there was no affliction; or, In all their affliction, He was not an adversary. Both the qere and the kethib renderings portray the obvious idea that God does not delight in the torment of His people, but rather He feels their sorrow and empathizes with their pain. As the Lord told Moses at the burning bush, "...I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows (Exodus 3:7)."

The Angel of the Lord's presence is mentioned in Exodus 23:20-23.

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.

This holy Angel which seems to be the very presence of Christ Himself (I Corinthians 10:4), was responsible for delivering Israel in her earliest days; and He will come again for her final deliverance in the last days.