Sunday, September 24, 2017

Messiah the Servant (Part II)

"Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." (Isaiah 42:5-7)

The Almighty first declares Himself to be the Creator of all, then, under the structure of this authority, He presents the Messiah. The Lord Jesus came in the righteousness of God, because He is God. He had no need for the Pharisaism of His day; and the self-righteousness of the modern-day man is equally distasteful to Him. His own arm brought salvation (Isaiah 63:5). The Father protected every aspect of the Son's ministry. Through every last detail of the Lord's work, God exercised supreme authority and "held" the Son's hand (John 10:18).

The New Covenant sealed by the blood of Christ is that mentioned in the text. The Old Covenant with Israel pointed the way to the Lamb of the New. This is the same covenant mentioned by Jeremiah and the other prophets (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The complete work of this covenant upon the nation of Israel will be realized at the Lord's return. Through the blood of Christ's salvation covenant all peoples of the world have access to redemption. Obviously, the world-wide worship of Jesus Christ in the millennium is the ultimate focus of this light which comes from God and peels away the spiritual blindness of man's heart.

"I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands." (Isaiah 42:8-12)

As the text focuses on Messiah as the supreme and unfailing Servant Whose work brings salvation to mankind, God reminds His audience that He alone is JEHOVAH. No other is like Him (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the Person of the Lord Jesus is found the deity of JEHOVAH God and such glory cannot be shared with any other. Israel's idolatry is denounced along with that of the world; however, the deeper principle is that of God receiving all glory. In the end, He alone will be justified and not mankind. Whether physical idols or spiritual, all that detracts from the glory of God will not stand because His glory cannot be shared or stolen. The life of the redeemed must be centered in giving glory to God and not man.

The Lord reminds Israel of His omniscience. Before Jesus Christ was born, God told Israel and the world of His coming. Before Calvary ever came about, the Lord had predicted such things, and the text is clearly teaching of Israel's redemption even though this event has not been fulfilled. The ability to tell beforehand what will come stands as a witness to God's supremacy.

With an eye toward the world-wide worship of Jesus Christ, the earth's nations are invited to sing praise to the Lord. This language is similar to that found in the millennial song of chapter twelve. Kedar refers to Arabia, and the inhabitants of the rock is possibly a reference to Edom. People who were once bitter enemies of Israel and of the true God will join the worship and praise of the Messiah. "...Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11)."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Messiah the Servant

"Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law." (Isaiah 42:1-4)

In Matthew's gospel, the Holy Spirit declares that Jesus Christ is the Servant presented here.

Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust (Matthew 12:18-21).

The Lord's first coming was a near fulfillment of this prophecy, and His return will bring its consummation. As the Servant Who does not fail or turn aside from truth, the Lord Jesus is the only One in Whom the Father has true delight. God's soul cannot truly delight in the individual who is outside of Christ, because for the believer Jesus "is made ... wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (I Corinthians 1:30)."

When Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leadership, he did not pursue arguments on their level. He simply withdrew and finished the ministry which had been entrusted to Him. As God, the Lord was not threatened by the rejection of men; therefore, there was no need to do battle with the unregenerate leadership which resembled crushed reeds and piles of smoldering flax. The Jews lifted up their voices against Christ. They cried against the Lord, but such were not the Lord's ways. Unlike evil men, Christ is not hateful and oppressive. The finished work of Calvary ushered in the redemptive judgment of mankind and brought to both Jew and Gentile the merciful salvation of God.

As with His first coming, the second will not witness Christ engaging in petty arguments against His opponents. His judgment will be swift and effective. The isles, or coasts and regions, will wait upon His righteous Law that will proceed, without apology, from the millennial Mount Zion (Micah 4:2).

In the Hebrew text, there seems to be a play on words. The verb for fail shares the same root for the noun smoking. The idea is to be dim, smoldering or failing. The verb behind discouraged shares the same root as the noun translated bruised. The idea behind both is to be crushed. The Lord's enemies fail and pine away as piles of smoldering flax. As reeds whose internal walls have been crushed and rendered ineffective, unregenerate men will not stand in God's judgment. However, such is not the case with the Lord Jesus. He will not fail as the smoldering flax, and He will not be crushed under the discouragement of His opponents. At His second coming, He will execute the full judgment of the Father, and the world's nations will witness a time of men turning to faith in Christ such as has never been seen.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Description of the New Jerusalem (Part III)

"And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." (Revelation 21:22-27)

As a structure that represents the ministry and character of the Lord Jesus Christ, the temple will not be needed in the eternal state. The patterns of the things in the heavens will be replaced by the real and eternal things. As representations of God's light, the sun and the moon will also not be needed. They will be replaced by the eternal light that is emitted from God's holy character. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples caught a small glimpse of the radiant glory which was masked when Jesus came to earth. In eternity, all of His glory will shine forth unrestrained. No created light could ever compare to the purity of the Savior.

It would appear that the new earth will have nations. The text speaks of kings bringing the nation's glory and honor to the new Jerusalem. Eternity will witness a structure not unlike what exists today; however, the future structure will be completely untainted by sin. Only the redeemed will make up the citizens of the nations. Rather than using the wealth of creation for selfish and prideful purposes, the saints of the countries will use it to honor the Almighty.

Because darkness will be banished (for it cannot exist alongside the brightness of God's character), the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem will never be shut. Human frailty will not exist. There will be no need for sleep and recovery. The service of the "Dayspring from on high (Luke 1:78)" will continue uninterrupted by the absence of night. The text is emphatic; the presence of the unregenerate will not, in any way, be permitted. The lake of fire will receive all who are outside of Christ; they will be banished from His presence forever. The plight of the saved and the plight of the lost could not be more different. One is assigned to unimaginable splendor and glory in the sinless presence of God; and the other is assigned to an eternity of unimaginable sorry, pain and torment. Such a contrast of futures is made possible not by man's righteousness but by faith in the righteousness of the Lamb. Everyone deserves a chance to hear the gospel while time remains. "...The night cometh, when no man can work (John 9:4)."

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Lord's Intentions (Part IV)

"Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you. I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter, and as the potter treadeth clay. Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words." (Isaiah 41:24-26)

Still condemning the lifeless idols, the Lord considers the man who chooses them to be an abomination. Man was created to worship only God. He was designed to bring glory to God; and to choose someone or something over the Creator is to live contrary to the very purpose for which man was created.

Verse 25 is difficult to interpret. God may be speaking of raising up Nebuchadnezzar who was said to come from the north upon Judah (Jeremiah 4:6); but this seems unlikely since the individual is described as calling upon God's name. More probably, this is a reference to the Messiah Who will subject God's enemies and eliminate idolatry upon His return. His appearance from the north pictures a position of power and dominance. Some see in this prophecy Cyrus' rise to power. Again, this may be true but seems unlikely based upon the wording and context. Idolatry's judgment seems to be in view, and only Christ can bring such judgment. The Jewish migration to Jerusalem under the hand of Cyrus may have been a token of God's future intentions to judge idolatry and to bring about the salvation of His people, but it was not the full fulfillment.

God challenges man's idols to predict and to guide the future as He has. If they could do such things, God would declare them to be righteous. Of course, they cannot. Neither man nor his images can take the place of God. Righteous is a title reserved for none but the Lord, and He will justify the man who chooses to trust in the righteousness of God.

"The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings. For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counsellor, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word. Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion." (Isaiah 41:27-29)

The verses are reminiscent of Israel's millennial redemption. The Lord Jesus brought good tidings upon His first coming. The nation rejected these, but the future promises to bring more good tidings when Israel's blindness is lifted and faith in Jesus Christ is realized.

God surveyed Israel's leadership, and He could not find a righteous counselor among them. The nation's idolatry up to the point of her captivity had left her void of scriptural wisdom. Jesus' day witnessed the same state of spiritual barrenness. Open idolatry had been replaced by self-righteous pride. Israel's faithlessness followed her into the New Testament era. Spiritually speaking, the nation is full of wind and confusion. Were it not for the Lord's merciful intentions of redeeming her, she (as all men) would be forever lost.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Description of the New Jerusalem (Part II)

"And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass." (Revelation 21:15-21)

The dimensions are impressive. A furlong is about 600 feet; therefore, the city will be approximately 1,370 miles long, wide and high. Such a proportion staggers the imagination; yet with God "all things are possible (Mark 10:27)." Some commentators believe that the city is in the shape of a pyramid. All is mere speculation beyond what the text discloses. The city's wall (likely measured from the base) is some 215 feet thick.

Representing the purity of God, the entire city is made of transparent gold, being purer than any metal found on earth. What a beautiful reminder of the purity which has been imparted to the saint through belief in Jesus Christ! In fleeing to Jesus' blood, the Christian is made a "[partaker] of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4)." As already mentioned, a jasper can be red, yellow, brown or green and sometimes blue. A sapphire is a deep, rich blue color. A chalcedony is likely blue, but its exact color here remains somewhat uncertain. An emerald appears as a darker green gem. A sardonyx is a form of agate with swirls of brown, red, gray and white. A sardius is a reddish stone, while the chrysolite is a goldish-green color. The sardius is thought by some to be in reference to a ruby. A beryl is a beautiful sea-green stone. A topaz is typically yellow but can be other colors. The chrysoprasus is an apple-green colored quartz; a jacinth is an orange-red stone, and an amethyst is deep purple. Some colors are approximations because the exact identity of certain stones mentioned in the Greek text is uncertain. Despite the inability to describe with confidence the exact color of every gem mentioned, the reader is left with a overwhelming picture of colorful beauty and variation - all of which stands as a witness to the purity, beauty, and sanctity of God's character.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Lord's Intentions (Part III)

"Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together: That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it." (Isaiah 41:14-20)

Jacob's unflattering title reminds every man how depraved he is in God's eyes. Outside of Christ's righteous blood, a man has nothing to offer God. Over and over again, Israel had proven to be rebellious; and they are not alone. Mankind is basically wicked (Romans 3:23). He needs the Lord's imparted righteousness. Man's desire to boost his self-esteem has caused him to sneer at the title of worm. Pride has blinded every man to his true spiritual condition. Only repentance and faith in Christ's sufficient blood can bring acceptance before God at the day of judgment. Outside of a relationship with God, man is as helpless and dirty as a worm.

At the return of Christ, God has promised to make Israel victorious over her enemies. History has yet to witness such a Jewish victory, but one day they will conquer their enemies under the headship of the Messiah. A threshing instrument was used to harvest grain. As a well-sharpened harvesting tool, Israel will beat down the enemies of the Lord upon His return (Zechariah 14:14).

Like every nation, Israel is a proud people. To this day she has not given God the glory through Jesus Christ. In the millennial kingdom she will honor the Lord rather than honoring man. To Isaiah's audience, this would have been particularly significant since Israel was so often infatuated with the aid of other nations. The need to give God the glory is not limited to Israel. Every believer needs to be certain that God gets the credit and not man.

The transformation of the wilderness into a garden should be taken literally. Isaiah has already prophesied of such things (35:1, 7). The earth will be renewed at the Lord's return. All of this beautiful greenery and life will stand as a testimony to the life-giving nature of God. Everything about the Lord exudes life. John said, "In him was life; and the life was the light of men (John 1:4)." Earth's change for the better will stand as a testimony to God's regenerating nature. Death and bareness are products of sin, not God's original handiwork.

God's purpose in transforming the earth is so that Israel and all people will be brought to the realization of God's power and goodness. The word for understand can mean to prosper. It is a prosperous thing to humbly consider the power and goodness of the Lord. Gratitude does wonders for delivering a person from wrong attitudes and actions. The word behind create is that used in Genesis 1:1. It means to make something out of nothing. God does not need to make something out of that which already exists. He can form anything He wants out of nothing at all. The changes of the millennial kingdom will not be brought on by natural phenomenon; and it is pointless to spend hours conjecturing how God will change the earth. His power is limitless.

"Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together." (Isaiah 41:21-23)

The Lord now addresses the false gods which had so often plagued the nation. God commands both them and their worshipers to come near to Him. The Lord wants to ask some questions. If Israel's false gods are the true God, then let them provide accurate prophecy of future events. Such ability is the ultimate proof as to who is truly omniscient. The accuracy of the Bible's prophecies bears witness to its divine nature.

The Lord wants people to use reason. He gave man the gift of common sense. The Lord is merciful in that He encourages people to compare His works with the works of pseudo-gods. As the Creator of all, He is not obligated to give man such an audience. The tenor of Elijah's words may be heard in these verses.

Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked (I Kings 18:27).

Temptation exists to believe that one is spiritually well because he is not involved in actual idolatry. However, Israel's open idolatry was eventually replaced by the abominable god of self-righteousness, and the end state of the nation was worse than the former (Matthew 12:45). Self-righteousness is an idol which every man is tempted to worship.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Description of the New Jerusalem

"Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:11-14)

The New Jerusalem is the heavenly city for which every true believer waits. She is, as Paul put it, "the mother of us all;" and the principles of redemption for which she stands are in direct opposition to the flesh-based religions of mankind (Galatians 4:25-26).

John now begins to describe with some detail the physical beauty of the city. Every aspect of her grandeur reflects the purity and splendor of Israel's Holy One. A jasper stone can be red, yellow, brown or green and, in some instances, blue. The city emitted beams of light which, to John, resembled the colors of a transparent jasper. Such an image of God's glory would be dazzling. Quite likely, John's description falls far short of the actual reality. Comparisons help, but they are not complete substitutes.

Like the millennial Jerusalem (Ezekiel 48:31-34), the city's gates stand in memorial of Israel's twelve tribes. Dan was excluded from having a place among the 144,000 witnesses; but here he is likely reinstated since his name is definitely found on the gates of the millennial Jerusalem. God's grace is that which reinstates a man when he deserves to be excluded.

The gates bring to remembrance the old covenant while the foundations of the city, being laid in memorial of the Lord's twelve apostles, call to remembrance the new. In this construction, the inseparability of the Old and New Testaments is seen. God's dealings with Israel and His workings through the Church are not mutually exclusive. The entire Bible is cohesive. Israel is not the Church, and the Church should never replace Israel; but God's holiness, love and redemption have not changed between Covenants.

For I am the LORD, I change not...(Malachi 3:6).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Lord's Intentions (Part II)

"The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came. They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage. So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved." (Isaiah 41:5-7)

In contrast to Abraham's rejection of idolatry, the Lord presents man's acceptance of it. The context seems to indicate that Abraham's victories over Chedorlaomer struck fear into the hearts of the surrounding nations. However, this fear did not move them to faith in Jehovah God. It only encouraged them to beautify and to strengthen their idols. Each idolater encouraged his neighbor to trust in his god. The carpenter is the engraver or the artificer. This man was responsible for carving out or forming the idol's shape. The goldsmith would overlay the idol, and the man with the hammer and anvil would form the various parts and appendages. Blinded by faithlessness, each man trusted in his idolatry while rejecting a relationship with God through faith.

"But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought. For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee." (Isaiah 41:6-13)

How foolish to pine away in idolatry when God had called Israel's father out of such things. The word for friend is literally beloved. Abraham was beloved of God not for some intrinsic self-righteousness but for faith in his Creator. In turn, this faith manifested itself in a life that was noticeably different from the world. James quoted both Genesis 15:6 and this passage here in Isaiah when he wrote, "And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God (James 2:23)."

God's covenant of faith with Abraham cannot be broken, and so the Lord commands Israel not to fear. Although Israel would undergo intense judgment because of her rebellion, she will one day be delivered. Such deliverance will not come through her goodness but through the goodness of God. The emphasis is on God's ability and not man's as He says I will strengthen, I will help and I will uphold. All of these actions come through the strong hand of God's righteousness. Man's righteousness brings death, but faith in God's righteousness brings life. With great clarity, God makes it evident that "The just shall live by faith (Galatians 3:11)."

The Lord promises to destroy Israel's persecutors. In 605 BC, what was left of Assyria's power was destroyed in the Battle of Carchemish. Babylon fell under Persian control in 539. Persia gave up her dominance to the Greeks at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331. The Roman Empire came and went. Down through the years, Israel's persecutors have been many and more will arise; however, they are all destined for the same end. God's hand will preserve His people. Christ's righteousness will someday cleanse His people, and in the millennial kingdom every enemy of God will be subservient to Christ.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Lord's Intentions

"Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment. Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow. He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet. Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; 
I am he." (Isaiah 41:1-4)

Always with an eye toward the millennial redemption of the Jews, the Lord commands the islands and coasts of the world's nations to be silent. God has a question and a plan for His people, and no one is to interfere with His ultimate will for the salvation of Israel.

The righteous man is in reference to Abraham. While he yet lived in Ur of the Chaldees, the Lord called him to leave his homeland and to traverse hundreds of miles to the unfamiliar land of Canaan (Acts 7:2-3). Ur of the Chaldees is the title given to the ancient Sumerian city of Ur where worship of the moon god was prevalent. A Sumerian ziggurat was the center of the city's worship. At the top of these tall structures resided the altar and inscriptions to the heathen god for which they were built. Although the Bible does not specifically say, it is highly unlikely that Abraham was not involved in the city's worship of the Sumerian moon god. Like every saint, Abraham's righteousness was found in God and not in his own works or ancestry.

In His mercy, the Lord called Abraham out of this vain idolatry and into a life of faith in the true Creator. In God-fearing faith, Abraham chose to believe the Lord's promises, and in this Abraham was declared to be righteous (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3). In bringing Israel back to its roots in Abraham, the Lord is reminding His people that justification and redemption are found not through religious ritual or genealogy but through faith in the Person and work of God - a work which would ultimately be fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. By inference, Paul called Abraham ungodly and proceeded to explain that a man's faith, not his works, is "counted for righteousness (Romans 4:5)." As any man, Abraham's flesh was fraught with problems; however, his rejection of idolatry and faith in the promises of God allowed him to pass from death unto life. Through all of this, God points the reader of the text back to the foundation of His righteousness and faithfulness. As every believer looks in faith for the day when God will fully redeem him even so should Israel look with eager expectation for the day when God will deliver all of Israel through faith in the Messiah.

Abraham's obedience to the Lord's call was greatly rewarded. His simple faith in the Lord's righteousness and ability was the guiding light of his success. The victories mentioned in the text undoubtedly refer to the defeat of Chedorlaomer and his allies (Genesis 14:1-2). Against incredible odds, Abraham and his three hundred and eighteen servants made war with these trained fighters and pursued them into unknown territory. Being incredibly outnumbered in the middle of unfamiliar geography, Abraham should have been defeated; but, as the account of Genesis declares, "he ... smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah which is on the left hand of Damascus (Genesis 14:15)." Through humble faith, Abraham accessed the delivering power of God, and by recalling this account, the Lord encourages Israel and all people to do the same.

Long before John would pen the familiar words I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the Lord declared through Isaiah that He is the chief and first of all things and that He is literally with the end. God encompasses everything from the beginning of creation to its end and on into the eternal state. What room exists for fear when one's faith is founded in Him Who was there at the beginning and Who is already there with the end?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability (Part V)

"It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth." (Isaiah 40:22-26)

Probably staring at the horizon's obviously circular nature, Isaiah pictures the Lord enthroned on the rim of the heavens. Below, the inhabitants are no more intimidating to God than a grasshopper is to a man. The illustration of the insect does not imply that God is unconcerned about mankind but that mankind has no manipulative power over God.

As the curtains of a tent enclose its inhabitants, the heavens enclose the earth. Beneath are found the rulers of society - the princes and the judges and the kings. Each has his false god made from a tree stock. The Lord promises that this false deity will not take root. Just as a tree trunk that has been hewn down will not suddenly grow into the earth when it is placed on the ground, the false gods of men will not suddenly gain redemptive powers, or powers of any kind, simply because they have been fashioned by the creative powers of men. Were it not for God's goodness, men would have no creative abilities at all. It is the Lord which has given humanity the ability to form and to build; and in his ingratitude, mankind has used such gifts for blasphemy. The presence of these things in Israel's society is likely to what Paul was referring when he wrote...

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things (Romans 1:21-23).

The Lord reminds mankind that He knows the stars by name. God told Job that it is He Who "maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south (Job 9:9)." Astronomers are bewildered at the immensity of the universe. Stars are being discovered everyday with no end of them in sight; yet God knows the names and numbers of the stars.

"Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not 
faint." (Isaiah 40:27-31)

God can do the impossible. "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)." Israel could not redeem herself from the Assyrians, nor would she be able to deliver herself from the Babylonians. She could not and cannot pardon her own sins, yet God can do all these things. The Lord encourages His people not to assume that they have been forgotten by God. They are not to discount His promises of redemption as though their future judgment and deliverance have been somehow overlooked. God's Spirit is able to bring conviction and understanding that life is found through belief in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. God can do the impossible. Israel's strength failed her in the past and it will continue to fail her, but God's strength does not fail. The one that comes to true faith in Jesus Christ will find the spiritual strength for which every man longs.

Dependence upon one's own strength and wisdom is foolish because even the most youthful and energetic individual will find his strength exhausted. True strength is not found in physical health and wellbeing but in the spiritual security of making God one's own Savior. In the millennial kingdom, Israel will realize the full potential of this promise. Renewed by faith in the Messiah, the Jews will finally acknowledge the spiritual strength and peace of a faith founded in the righteousness of Jehovah.

The Lord has no comparison. He is the Creator of all things. The Babylonians were coming upon Judah and Jerusalem because of sin; yet, God's promises stand fast. The true believer in the LORD'S righteousness could be encouraged by these prophecies of Isaiah, and the Lord's incomparable power will bring full deliverance and renewal to the Israeli nation at the return of Jesus Christ the Lord.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Eternal State (Part III)

"And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God," (Revelation 21:9-10)

This passage is essential for understanding more fully the nature of Christ's bride. Most Christians refer to the New Testament church as the Lord's bride. While this is certainly not wrong, it is also not the entire picture. Ephesians 5:22-33 likens the relationship of a man and his wife to that of Christ and His church; therefore, the church may accurately be thought of as Christ's bride. Yet, there is more. The angel takes John to see Jesus' bride and proceeds to point out the new Jerusalem in which the saint of every age dwells. Based upon these facts, the saints of all time will comprise the Lord's bride in the eternal state.

In writing to the Hebrews, Paul groups the Old Testament and the New Testament saints together in the heavenly Jerusalem. The saints prior to the cross are given titles such as the general assembly and the spirits of just men made perfect. He calls the New Testament believers the church of the firstborn (Hebrews 12:23). Focused on the big picture, Paul saw a heavenly bride. He saw a city where believers dwell undivided by dispensations and united in their common faith in the righteousness of God.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability (Part IV)

"Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and 
vanity." (Isaiah 40:12-17)

The Lord begins a series of rhetorical questions designed to point the reader to the incomparable nature of God. The Lord cannot be replaced or represented by any idol, form or figure. There is none like Him. The questions which He asks sound much like those directed to Job when God sought to enlighten Job to the singular greatness of his Creator.

Two thirds of the earth is covered by water. The worlds oceans are unsearchable in their vastness. Below the depths lurk creatures of which the modern scientist knows little or nothing. Mankind is still discovering new species of oceanic life. Undoubtedly, the world's oceans are one of the earth's most intimidating and amazing displays of power; yet, God views them as the small amount of water which might be measured out in the palm of a man's hand.

The size of the Milky Way boggles the mind. Measuring some 100,000 light years in diameter, it dwarfs earth to the point of insignificance; however, the size of the Milky Way is little in comparison to galaxies far beyond it. Of these things, God thinks little. He is not impressed by the immensity of them because He is far greater. To Him, they have been measured out by a span, or a fixed measure. The vastness of space and its galaxies only represents, in a small way, the unsearchable depth of God's wisdom and power.

The world's dust may be thought of as some of creation's smallest objects, and God has placed each spec. Every molecule is accounted for. The power of the nations does not impress the Lord. As the insignificant drop of water is swallowed up in the bucket full of water, the nations are swallowed up in the grandeur of God's creation. They are not even vanity. They are less than vanity. With these vivid illustrations in mind, the Lord asks, Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD? Paul quotes some of these verses in his closing arguments concerning God's work of salvation among both Jews and Gentiles.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

"To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved. Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 40:18-21)

The Lord puts the stupidity and vanity of idolatry on display. God has no comparison. Israel had consistently struggled with idols, and so the Lord illustrates idolatry's uselessness. The workman is the metalworker. He forms an image out of metals from the ground, the same place from which man was made. He then covers it with an outer layer of gold to add beauty and makes silver ornaments to adorn it. To the human eye, it may be attractive and appear valuable; yet, it has been made from things created by God. Its golden layer is deceptive because underneath is its core of simple metal. The vanity progresses as God describes the idol of a man too poor to make such an elaborate image. Poverty does not stop the sin of man's idolatry. He simply chooses a less expensive material. The trunk of a tree is selected and carved out by the woodworker to form a false god whose image, again, represents that found in the creation of the true God. The image may be bare wood on the outside or covered over with precious metal as that described by Jeremiah (10:3-4); however, the end result is the same. These lifeless images bring no deliverance but incur the wrath of the one true God.

The last four questions illustrate the Lord's astonishment at such things. From the very beginning, God made it clear that He is the Creator of all. Have you never read the Scriptures, Oh Israel? Have you not been told, by godly people, of the Lord's creative powers? Since the earth was founded, has no one heard of or witnessed the Lord's authority over all things? The answer to these questions is obvious. Far removed from this time and culture, idolatry seems so silly to many people; but it can be practiced in many ways. Everyone is tempted to love something above God. If such were not so, John would not have said, "...This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen (I John 5:20-21)."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability (Part III)

"O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." (Isaiah 40:9-11)

As a herald would seek a high and prominent place from which to project good tidings for the ears of the villagers below, in a figurative sense, God commands the city of Jerusalem, the Zion from which Christ will someday reign, to pronounce the glorious news of His future redemption. One can hear the tenor of these words in the voices of those who worshiped Christ upon His triumphal entry. The work of Calvary completed the task of man's redemption, and now the Savior awaits His return. When He comes back, Judah and her cities will know a joy unlike any other. Israel's self-righteous outlook will be removed. Her unbelieving heart changed, and her lack of godly fear corrected forever.

The Lord knows the work of every man. He sees the righteous works of those who are covered by His blood; and He sees the unregenerate works of those who are outside of it. The Lord Jesus echoed these words in John's Revelation when He said, "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Revelation 22:12)."

Surrounded by shepherds and their herds, Jerusalem's citizens would have understood well the comparison of God's rule to the tender leading of a shepherd. The foolish sheep cannot help themselves. Left alone, they would perish through predators, starvation, disease and outright stupidity. But under the shepherd's care, they are safe. The Lord Jesus is that Shepherd of the soul ( I Peter 2:25) and the Great Shepherd of the Sheep (Hebrews 13:20). Millions have experienced his gentle shepherding, and Israel will soon experience it herself.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability (Part II)

"The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever." (Isaiah 40:6-8)

Isaiah heard God's voice saying, Cry. The prophet replied, What shall I cry? In other words, "What shall I proclaim?" The answer is simple yet profound. Man struggles to build his empires. He strives to find ways in which to add years to his life. He makes this world, its pleasures and its riches his constant occupation. He consistently seeks to push his own righteousness and to insist that he can work his own deliverance; yet, the end result is the same for every man, woman and child. Human flesh is as frail and as temporary as the tender green grass of the field of which Jesus said, " day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven...(Matthew 6:30)." In stark contrast to man's temporary nature stands God's eternal Words. That which He has promised never fails. The promise of salvation through faith in the finished work of Christ will stand for all who are willing to bow the knee in faith. Solomon's temple would be destroyed. The future temple of the tribulation for which the Jews so earnestly seek to this day will be completely done away; but Christ, the great High Priest and the Incarnate Word of God fails not.

In presenting the regenerating power and validity of God's Word, Peter quoted these verses.

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you (I Peter 1:24-25).

These few verses stand as a powerful testimony to the preservation of Scripture. To the Jews of Jeremiah's day, these words would have been a great comfort as they watched the beloved city and its temple be destroyed at the hands of the Gentiles. The man who builds his life upon the Word of God will never be disappointed in the end.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock (Matthew 7:24-25).

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability

"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, was one of Judah's most evil kings. Manasseh's idolatry, witchcraft and child sacrifice so angered the Lord that Judah's punishment through Babylon was irreversible. The Bible makes this clear when it speaks of Nebuchadnezzar's invasions during the reign of Jehoiakim.

Surely at the commandment of the LORD came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; And also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the LORD would not pardon (II Kings 24:3-4).

In view of the fact that Judah's fall could not be altered, the tone of Isaiah's prophecies changes. Israel's future redemption now becomes the primary focus. Throughout the remainder of the book, the Lord lifts the veil on Israel's coming restoration and clearly reveals the Messiah Who would accomplish redemption as well as the kingdom which He will someday establish. In that future kingdom will be found a redeemed Israel. No longer plagued by a spirit of prideful disbelief, the Jewish nation will experience the peace of being covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Through faith in His name, the sins of the Jews will be pardoned. The travesties of the Great Tribulation will be the final chastisement of the Lord designed to bring the nation to its knees in the fear of God.

Luke 3:3-6 declares the ministry of John the Baptist to be a fulfillment of this prophecy.

The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

In the barren desert of man's sin, failure and dry self-righteousness, God would bring forth the living waters of Jesus Christ of Whom John would say, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)." God's salvation places everything on a level plain. It makes the crooked things smooth. The pathway to God is straight, and it is found only through belief in the Son. "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6)."

Surely, these verses have a millennial context as well. Not only did human flesh behold the physical presence of God's salvation in Christ's first coming, but it will also behold it at the glorious second advent of the Messiah.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hezekiah's Test (Part II)

"Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days." (Isaiah 39:5-8)

The wealth in which Hezekiah gloried was to be short-lived. Through the various invasions of the Babylonians, Judah's wealth would be stripped from her. Many young princes such as Daniel and his three companions would be deported from their homeland and made eunuchs in the palaces of Babylon. In just a few short years, Hezekiah would lose much of his wealth to Sennacherib in an attempt to send the king of Assyria away.

Merodachbaladan did not reign long after he had sent his ambassadors. In 703, he was defeated by Sennacherib and died in exile sometime near 694 BC. This reality probably lessened the weight of Isaiah's prophecy in the eyes of some since Babylon's power would once again fall to the Assyrians; however, little did anyone know that the lion of Babylon would rise from the dust and birth one of the most capable rulers the world has ever seen - Nebuchadnezzar. Under his hand, Jerusalem would fall in 586 BC.

Hezekiah's answer is sad. He simply rejoices in the fact that he will not experience the full weight of his sin. One can almost sense in his answer a tone of prideful sarcasm. II Chronicles 32:25-26 says,

But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.

Does this passage refer to Hezekiah's answer to Isaiah? Most certainly it does to some degree. Hezekiah was likely humbled by the invasion of Sennacherib which would come in just a few short years. The Lord had graciously extended the life of Hezekiah, but the king failed to conduct himself in a way that exalted the goodness of God in the eyes of others. Should Hezekiah have been content to die at thirty-nine years of age? Perhaps. Yet, the king's true sin is found not in his plea for longer life but in his failure to express true gratitude to God, especially in the eyes of the lost. Somewhere along the way, Hezekiah forgot the importance of the words which he spoke in praise of God's miraculous healing.

The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth (Isaiah 38:19).

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Eternal State (Part II)

"And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Revelation 21:5-8)

As Daniel saw the Almighty seated upon His throne, even so He appears here. God's will is irreversible. Satan and his world fight tenaciously against God; yet, "vanity of vanities ... all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 12:8)." The statement, "It is done" contains an overwhelming quality of irreversibility. That which has been decided cannot be reversed, and men will forever feel its impact. God is not intimidated by man's faithless, perverse nature.

The Holy Spirit speaks emphatically when He says in the Greek text, "I, to the one who is thirsting, I will give... ." God Himself through the Person of Jesus the Son satisfies the thirst of the one who willingly comes to the fountain of life. Everyone is thirsty, but not everyone knows it; and neither will everyone come. Yet, to God's glory, there are many who humble themselves and come in the fear of God to drink of Christ's life-giving water. The Lord calls these people overcomers. They are not flawless individuals who have reached some zenith of self-righteousness. They are simply sinners saved by grace whose works reflect a change of authority. They have confessed with the mouth that Jesus is Lord, and they have believed in the heart that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10).

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 5:4-5)?

On the King's left hand are seen standing the goats (Matthew 25:33). These are they who have rejected the righteousness of Christ in favor of something else. Some motivated by fear, some persuaded by faithlessness, some corrupted by evil and all blinded by pride, they stand guilty before God. The confessions of their actions disclose the object of their authority. The spotless Lamb was not their hope; therefore, the lake of fire will be their end.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hezekiah's Test

"At that time Merodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not." (Isaiah 39:1-2)

Merodachbaladan was of Chaldean lineage. During the upheaval which surrounded the establishment of Sargon as king, Merodachbaladan marched into Babylon and seized the throne. He reigned from 721 to 710 BC in the presence of Assyria. Distracted by wars, Assyria did not recover Babylon during that time. In 710, Sargon campaigned against Babylon and Merodachbaladan fled the city. Sargon then established himself as king of Babylonia. After Sargon's death in 705, Merodachbaladan came out of exile and again seized the Babylonian throne, reigning for some nine months in the year 703 BC. It is generally believed that sometime during his second short reign he sent an embassy to Hezekiah.

This would have been prior to Sennacherib's invasion of Judah, and Hezekiah was likely respected as a prime candidate to lead a coalition against Assyria. The letters and presents sent by the king of Babylon were almost certainly given with the intentions of an alliance against Sennacherib.

Likely motivated by pride, Hezekiah foolishly displayed to them his treasures. He not only showed them his wealth, but he also showed them his armor which would indicate that he sought to impress the ambassadors with his military power. In light of the fact that these events occurred prior to Hezekiah giving his wealth to Sennacherib, the display must have been impressive. The Lord had blessed Hezekiah abundantly, but the king did not use discretion in his behavior. His primary motive was not the glory of God but the flaunting of his wealth and position.

"Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed 
them." (Isaiah 39:3-4)

Suspicious of the king's behavior, Isaiah inquired as to the nature of the visit. The prophet had spent much of his life warning the king against pride and alliances with the heathen, and his counsel here would be no different. Obviously Hezekiah's hospitality to the messengers had gone beyond what was appropriate; therefore, Isaiah's spirit was troubled. Hezekiah answered, "They are come from a far country." When Israel was about to conquer the land, the Lord permitted more lenient behavior toward the cities of far off nations. Perhaps Hezekiah was drawing upon this principle in an effort to lessen his offense in the eyes of Isaiah. It may also be that the king was seeking to impress the prophet with the fact that such a distant nation would seek an alliance with the king of Judah.

Regardless, Isaiah's focus remained firm. He inquired as to what the messengers had seen, and Hezekiah's response was one of foolish pride. Rather than make God's glory the center of the visit, the king had made his temporal wealth the focus. II Chronicles 32:31 makes it clear that God had drawn the men through the rumor of His power displayed in Hezekiah's life and that God used this event to test the heart and motives of the king. "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart." Some believe that the wonder refers to the miracle of the sun's shadow returning ten degrees. This is very possible. It is also possible that they came to see the deliverance and blessings that God had brought upon the land during the king's reign. Regardless, God's magnificence toward His people had attracted these lost souls, and Hezekiah had a responsibility to lift up God, not himself, before their eyes.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hezekiah's Sickness (Part II)

"The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness: I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said, I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living: I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world. Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent: I have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me. I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me. Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me." (Isaiah 38:9-14)

Simply stated, Hezekiah did not wish to die so young. The king expressed a desire to live and to see God's work in the lives of people. These are common human emotions with which anyone would struggle regardless of how closely he or she walked with God.

Being nomadic, shepherds frequently took down their tents in preparation for moving to new pastureland. Hezekiah compared the brevity of life with the unstable nature of a shepherd's tent. James spoke of human life in a similar fashion. "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:14)."

A weaver is something like a loom. It is an instrument upon which cloth is manufactured. When finished, the cloth is cut from the source, and Hezekiah likens his life to such. Job used similar language (Job 7:6). It is interesting to note that Hezekiah says, "I have cut off." Perhaps the king saw his premature death as a result of past sin.

The expression from day even to night expresses the thought of quickness. Before the sun could rise and usher in a new day, the king's life would be gone. As the ultimate Reliever of the oppressed, Hezekiah called upon God for healing. "The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9)."

"What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live. Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth. The LORD was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD." (Isaiah 38:15-20)

Hezekiah's dialogue changes to that of praise. The king's prayer has been answered. God has brought miraculous healing, and Hezekiah is overwhelmed with joy.

It is difficult to say just what the king meant when he said, "I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul." Perhaps Hezekiah determined not to forget this bitter experience but rather use it as a constant reminder of the need for humility.

Hezekiah paints a gloomy picture of death, but this is to be expected. The finished work of Christ had not yet been completed, and the Old Testament saint did not have the luxury of New Testament revelation as does the Christian of the church age. Besides, death is the result of sin, and it is not a pleasant thing but rather an enemy that awaits its final judgment (I Corinthians 15:26). The words for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back indicate further that Hezekiah may have viewed his deadly sickness as judgment of his sin.

Hushed by the grave, the dead cannot openly praise God before others; therefore, Hezekiah rejoiced in the opportunity to live and to praise the Lord. The king emphasized the need for the father to make his son aware of God's truth and mercy. The character of Manasseh would indicate that either the son rejected all that the father tried to teach him or that Hezekiah failed to follow through with his declarations.

The last verse declares that this prayer was put into the form of a song and sung in the temple.

"For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover. Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?" (Isaiah 38:21-22)

A lump or pressed cake of figs was the agent by which God chose to heal Hezekiah. Isaiah ordered his attendants to place, or literally rub, the figs over the boil or eruption on the king's body. Through this, the boil was healed. The word for boil is the same as that used to describe Job's afflictions (Job 2:7). The boil or eruption was likely quite painful which would have made Hezekiah that much more grateful.

As was common, the king asked Isaiah what would be the sign of his healing. Unlike Ahaz who refused to ask a sign, Hezekiah was eager to believe the prophet. The Lord was not angered by the king's request but instead offered either to raise or to lower the sun to a corresponding ten degrees on the sundial of the courtyard. As previously mentioned, Hezekiah chose to see the sun return ten degrees.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Eternal State

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)

The teaching of a new heaven and earth is not limited to the book of Revelation. The saints of both the Old and New Testaments were well aware of the fact that this sin-cursed universe is temporary. The Psalmist wrote...

Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed (Psalm 102:25-26).

Isaiah's prophecies provide some of the clearest Old Testament teaching on this concept.

For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy ... For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain (Isaiah 65:17-18, 66:22).

Peter would later echo these prophecies when he penned...

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up ... Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (II Peter 3:10, 13).

The unbelieving world is terrified by the fact that the world's resources are running out. They consider the slow deterioration of the worlds and are motivated to find a way to sustain life on a space station or to discover a new world on which man can live. In opposition to this hopeless view point, the Christian looks for the new creation - a world in which there is no sin or sorrow. The sentence there was no more sea is likely referring to the fact that trouble, conflict and uncertainty will not be present in the new creation since the sea is often viewed as symbolic of tribulation and unrest.

The full weight of the believer's hope is not found in the establishment of a millennial, earthly Jerusalem but in a heavenly Jerusalem where the saints of all ages will dwell with Christ. Once having passed from death unto life by belief in Jesus Christ, a man's citizenship changes from that of earth to heaven. Paul spoke of this heavenly city when he wrote...

But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all (Galatians 4:26).

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hezekiah's Sickness

"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, and said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken; Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down." (Isaiah 38:1-8)

The events of the next two chapters happened prior to Sennacherib's defeat in 701 BC. Isaiah's prophecy is divided into two major sections. The first section ends with chapter 39. This first part focuses mainly on coming judgment while the second part (40-66) focuses heavily on redemption. As the first division comes to a close, the focus is not so much chronological as it is topical. Judah's destruction at the hands of Babylon would soon be irreversible, and Hezekiah's failure as seen in chapter 39 would play an important role in the sealing of Judah's future.

II Kings 18:1-2 says that Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he inherited Judah's throne and that he reigned twenty-nine years. This means that Hezekiah was thirty-nine years old when he received the news from Isaiah that he would die. Naturally, the king was grieved to hear that he would die so young. One must be careful not to judge Hezekiah too harshly. Most people of that age would have a similar response. God does not condemn the king for requesting an extension of his life; therefore, the reader should not.

It is unlikely that Hezekiah was flaunting his righteousness before God. Rather, the language indicates that he was reminding the Lord of how he had sought to cleanse the land of idols and to reestablish the feasts of the Lord (II Kings 18:3-5). The Bible says of Hezekiah, "...He did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did." Few kings have received such a commendation. Grieved and confused by the news of Isaiah, the king pleaded his case before the Lord.

Before Isaiah could reach the middle court of the king's house, the Lord returned an answer to Hezekiah (II Kings 20:4). God cares about the feelings and needs of people. Had Hezekiah chosen to accept the news and die in peace, such would have been well and good. God's plans are perfect; yet, there are times when the Lord allows room for a change of direction when His attention is arrested by the prayers of His people.

The Lord is a God Who is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and He saw the king's heartache. The Lord mercifully extended Hezekiah's life by fifteen years. This would make Hezekiah fifty-four when he died sometime after Sennacherib's invasion. The Lord's promise to deliver the city out of Assyria's hand supports the conclusion that these things happened prior to 701 BC.

The parallel account found in the Book of the Kings says that Hezekiah was offered a choice by the Lord concerning the sign of the sundial. Isaiah had asked him, "...Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?" Convinced that a reversal of the sun's natural setting would be the greater miracle, Hezekiah answered, "It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees."