Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Man's Fast

"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God." (Isaiah 58:1-2)

In this chapter, the Lord strips away the religious mask of His people and reveals the true heart behind their religion. Isaiah is commanded to preach with his full strength. A show of religion is a serious matter, and the insincere worshiper must be made to understand his condition, for it is serious.

On the outside, the Israelites sought God. Isaiah 1:11-15 demonstrates that there was no lack of religion in Israel; but there was a lack of relationship. Daily, the Israelites sought God externally. They approached His alter and inquired of Him. The sentence, they ask of me the ordinances of justice, seems to imply that the Israelites were asking God to bring retribution upon Israel's enemies. Outwardly, the people approached God, but their motives were impure. The same insincere heart is evident in the Israelites when, after the destruction of Jerusalem, they asked Jeremiah to inquire of God's will for them and promised to do whatever He said (Jeremiah 42).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Lord's Peace (Part II)

"For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." (Isaiah 57:17-21)

In calling out Judah's covetousness, it is almost as though God is using this particular sin to characterize generally the heart of His people. This sin had led the people to oppress one another in an attempt to gain property and personal possessions. As time went on, the problem only grew worse as evidenced by God's utterances to Jeremiah. "For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely (Jeremiah 6:13)." It is a dangerous thing to be dissatisfied with what God has provided. Ingratitude toward God and an insatiable desire for more had replaced a heart of thanksgiving and contentment in God's people. No one is immuned to the sin of covetousness.

God's tender mercies immediately follow His words of judgment. Because the second half of Isaiah's prophecies are focused primarily on redemption, words of comfort are never scarce in the latter half of the book. The Lord has seen all that has come upon Israel, and He knows also the tribulation for which they are destined after the removal of the Church. Yet, He promises to heal them. Ultimately, the Lord's chastisement of the nation will result in righteous mourning and a heart that is ripe for belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The words find a partial fulfillment in the changed attitude of the nation upon her return from the Babylonian captivity; however, as is so often the case, the full maturity of these promises will be seen in the Millennial Kingdom.

God creates the righteous fruit of the lips. Someday, the mouth of each Jew will be filled with praise to God and such may be attributed to the Lord's faithfulness in saving and restoring His people. These words of comfort and peace are not reserved strictly for the Jew. Every person of every nation is invited to find peace with God through repentant faith in Israel's Messiah. The Jew that lives in a foreign nation, the one that is near to his homeland and the Gentile are all welcome to seek God and to find peace through faith. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1)." Such wording has brought the chapter full circle from verses 1 and 2. God's peaceful and merciful nature guarantees restoration to the humble soul.

With much the same wording as Jude, Isaiah pictures those outside of God's righteousness as raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame (Jude 13)." To such, true peace is an impossibility, because they have chosen human pride rather than that genuine humility which makes way for a man to dwell with "the high and lofty One (verse 15)." Content to remain stubbornly outside of God's righteousness, the wicked spew out the filth which characterizes their unregenerate condition until they are consigned to "the blackness of darkness for ever (Jude13)."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Lord's Peace

"When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain; And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made." (Isaiah 57:13-16)

Companies likely refers to Israel's multiplicity of false gods. According to II Chronicles 33:3, Manasseh "built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them." Companies may also refer to the heathen nations upon whose arms Israel leaned for assistance. Faith in national alliances was a sin which plagued Israel even in the days of Hezekiah (Isaiah 30:1-7). Both Israel's gods and allies would be destroyed by the slightest wind. The language emphasizes the fragility of a life which does not make God its Master. In opposition to the lost man stands the God-fearing man whose trust is in the works of God. "For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands (Psalm 92:4)." In rejection of the world's ways and in acceptance of the Messiah's lordship (Romans 10:9), any individual may gain a part in the inheritance of God.

The phrase cast up speaks of a highway's construction. In Jeremiah 18:15, God's people departed from the well-constructed pathway of God and chose a path that was not cast up. According to Isaiah 62:10, the world will witness the casting up or the construction of a millennial highway upon which will travel the redeemed of Israel as each Jew returns to the holy palaces of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the following verse will show, this highway is not restricted to the man of Jewish descent but is open to anyone who will humble himself.

Verse 15 combines some amazing truths. God is high and holy. No earthly temple could house Him (II Chronicles 6:18, Isaiah 66:1). The Lord is flawless (I John 1:5) and superior to any created being, for God is not the created but the Creator. Man, on the other hand, is base and wicked. He cannot approach unto God because his sin has separated him from his flawless Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2). Yet, in spite of this chasm between the two, God has made a way for man to approach. Through the channel of humility, not pride, man finds a path to God. The finished work of Jesus the Messiah, which was yet future to Isaiah and his people, has made it possible for the repentant sinner to gain access to God. The word behind contrite means crushed (to powder). In Psalm 90:3, the same Hebrew word has been rendered destruction. God is not looking for a relationship with the self-focused man whose pride restricts him from recognizing what he truly is. God's very name is Holy, and He is perfectly capable of seeing through man's pride. God does not accept the man who acknowledges some fault yet sees within himself some "spark" of human goodness. No. The Lord is delighted by the man, woman and or child who admits what he or she is and who seeks the righteousness of God by faith - a righteousness which has been revealed in the Person and work of Jesus the Messiah. Years later, Christ, though sinless, would live out this very principle of humility presented by Isaiah. The invitation of the Lord Jesus would echo the heart of Isaiah's message as Christ proclaimed, "...Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17)." The man who chose to heed Isaiah's words could have found life then, and the one who heeds these words can find life now. Through Isaiah, God comforts the repentant sinner by promising him an eternal relationship in reward of his humble faith.

God's chastisement has a time and a place; yet, it does not continue forever. He dealt harshly with Israel and will yet do more because of her rejection of Christ; yet, at the Lord's return, Christ will restore Israel unto Himself. If it were not so, none could bear indefinitely the weight of His holy anger. God delights in the restitution and not in the destruction of mankind. He punishes sin and measures out the necessary judgment, but through it all His mercy is unfailing and His work of salvation free for all who will accept it.

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust (Psalm 103:12-14).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Idolaters Perversion (Part III)

"And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell. Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved. And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not? I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee." 
(Isaiah 57:9-12)

It is impossible to give the exact identify of this "king." The Scriptures do not speak of Manasseh seeking an alliance with a king. The language certainly seems to indicate that Judah had sought some alliance which further angered God. The word for messengers is elsewhere translated ambassadors (Isaiah 18:2, Jeremiah 49:14). Perhaps Hezekiah had pursued a pact with Merodach-Baladan after he had sent his envoy to Jerusalem. Manasseh may have attempted to make ties with Assyria in an attempt to secure his kingdom against the surrounding enemies. While the particular identity of the king mentioned in the text remains a mystery, God's displeasure with the situation is quite clear. By forsaking the Lord and looking for security in idolatry and human alliances, Judah had stooped to the lowest possible level.

Amidst it all, repentance was absent. God's people would not confess that their path was hopeless. Every day when the sun rose upon the idols of Moloch, the Israelites felt a revived sense of security in their position. Each new alliance served to cement their godless way of thinking, not rebuke it. They had found a temporary and deceptive measure of strength in their hands; therefore, they stubbornly persisted in their ways. To this flawed thinking, God gives His answer. For many years the Lord had held His peace and spared His people from full judgment; yet, the time was approaching when God's hand would repay these evils.

The last verse is rich in timeless principle. God promised to expose the so-called righteousness of His people and to show their works for what they truly were. God does this with every man. Israel's worship of Moloch and her heathen confederations were appalling; however, it must be remembered that every individual's righteousness and works serve only to condemn him and not to deliver him - regardless of how moral or immoral he may be. The imparted righteousness of God is the only thing that will justify a man in the day of judgment. The tendency to follow after anything but God quickly reveals how every man is an idolater at heart. People like Manasseh simply took to the extreme that which is alive in every human being. Even the believer, though bought, justified and secure, is not always guiltless of idolatry in his motives and actions. If it were not so, John would not have written, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen (I John 5:22)."

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Idolater's Perversion (Part II)

"Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these? Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice. Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it." (Isaiah 57:6-8)

The Israelites had forsaken the living Rock and placed their confidence in the objects of God's creation. When the Almighty should have been the eternal portion of every Israelite (Psalm 16:5, 142:6), lifeless stones had become the nation's portion or inheritance. God asks a rhetorical question, "Should I receive comfort in these?" Should God be comforted in the idolatry of His people? Should He be silent and continue to bless such a lifestyle while each man went his own way?

The use of second person singular feminine words pictures the nation of Israel as an unfaithful wife (Hosea). The bed is illustrative of the spiritual adultery which was committed by the people in the numerous high places of cultic shrines. The doorposts of the Hebrew homes had been intended to bear the words of God (Deuteronomy 11:20) but instead were being used to display charms and tokens of false religions. Despising her marital relationship with God (Isaiah 54:5), Israel bared herself to another and committed spiritual adultery of which the physical was merely a manifestation.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Idolater's Perversion

"But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood, Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?" (Isaiah 57:3-5)

After comforting the few righteous in Israel, the Lord turns to the idolater with a word of intense rebuke. The command to draw near rings out a tone of judgment, not comfort. The sorceress may refer to the many women who engaged in witchcraft and soothsaying. Hezekiah applied himself to the purging of idolatry; but upon his death, false religion soon returned. Even during his reign, idolatry was something with which the people struggled (Isaiah 31:6-7). Pictorially speaking, Judah as a nation was a sorceress who had left the Law of her God and led her children into the death of the world's religion.

The religious rites of heathen worship involved interaction with cult prostitutes which left many in Israel defiled. On every side, the men and women of Israel were both spiritually and physically unclean through the rejection of God's ways. By means of these unholy unions, children were born. Following the path of their parents, these offspring cursed and mocked the servants of God and thus mocked the Lord Himself. The adulterer and the whore may also speak of the spiritual state of those whose lineage may have been pure but whose hearts were defiled by their departure from the truth.

Enflaming refers to making one's self hot. In this context, it describes a purely negative emotional and spiritual intensity. False religion preys upon the fleshly emotions of people, and it turns them from a state of repentance toward God to a state of self-gratification. The father of Hezekiah had burned his offspring in sacrifice to false gods (II Kings 16:3), and Manasseh followed in his steps (II Kings 21:6). After Hezekiah's departure, the king and his people quickly returned to that of which God said, "...I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind (Jeremiah 19:5)." During the ministry of Jeremiah, these evil practices were a particular entrapment for the people of Judah who would sacrifice their babies to false deities and then make their way to the temple to "worship" the Lord (Jeremiah 7:31).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Righteous' Perishing

"The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness." (Isaiah 57:1-2)

With all probability, Isaiah's ministry overlapped with the godless reign of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah. Manasseh's wicked lifestyle corrupted Judah and grieved those who feared and served the Lord. In merciful preparation for the coming judgment upon Judah, God began to remove His own. The righteous man's body may be destroyed by a premature death; however, his soul is eternally safe. Death's sting has been taken away through faith in the righteousness of God's Messiah. The text identifies these righteous as merciful men. Chesed is the Hebrew word behind merciful, and it is often used to describe the longsuffering and charitable nature of God. In the midst of idolatry, immorality, violence and oppression, these souls stood out for their monotheistic lifestyle and peaceful ways. They were characterized by the love of God. One by one, the Lord gathered them up. This is the thought behind taken away. The farmer gathers up the good fruit of his harvest and discards the bad. In the very same way, God gathered up those whose faith toward Him was evident. Instead of pondering the depletion of Godfearing people, the Israelites persisted in their wickedness. Sin had blinded their eyes to this divine clue.

Isaiah sees the righteous man die a physical death, yet his eyes are quickly drawn to the afterlife of that same man. He is pictured in a state of peace. No longer vexed by the overwhelming evils of his society, he is taken to the grave where he awaits the resurrection of life (John 5:28-29). As King Josiah (II Kings 22:20), the upright man would not be placed side by side with the wicked to experience the same punishment. Many would consider a premature death to be a tragedy or perhaps even the judgment of God; however, there are times when such things are a testimony and a warning to others. The glorification of God, not a long life, is the end goal of the believer. God's child, old or young, is destined for ultimate peace.