Saturday, April 10, 2010

Isaiah 24-31: Present Suffering, Future Glory

I took my advice and found a book to help me understand the stuff I'm reading a little better, and it's been very, well, helpful.  The book is called Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible and it's a 1992 edition so I don't know how accessible it is today, but I really like it because it gives a lot of background historical information and, at least in what I've read so far (just Isaiah), it summarizes the verses without trying to add a slant to them like some commentaries do.

So we left off in chapter 24.  Chapter 24 is about the final judgment of the earth and everything basically being completely destroyed in in.  One of the things it says that I have a question about is in verse 21, where it says "the LORD will punish the host of heaven on high."  That refers to the angels, right?  I don't think it's a reference to heavenly bodies, because of course they're amoral, and because the next line refers to judging the kings on earth.  So maybe this is when Satan and his angels are thrown into the lake of fire.

But then in chapter 25 there is a song of praise to God, which kind of seems weird after a chapter of death and destruction, but it's because the judgment makes way for restoration, healing, and everlasting peace.  I think it's like what Isaiah said about Egypt, that the LORD strikes, "striking but healing."  It's as if the two go hand in hand, like you can't get healed unless you first clean up the mess - like if you break a bone, you have to get it set for it to heal properly.  For some reason, this is the way God likes to work.

One of my favorite passages is in chapter 26, which continues praising God for His preservation, providence, goodness, and majesty.  It goes like this (I memorized it in KJV): "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.  Trust thee in the LORD forever, for in the LORD Jehovah is everlasting strength" (26:3-4).  This is one of those "anchor" type verses for me.  What I mean is, it's one of those things that just reminds me to trust in God and anchors me to Him, so to speak, because not only is He the source of my strength, but He is also the source of my peace.  And that's very important, as I've been discovering lately.

It says in this chapter that God's hand is clearly at work in the world, but some people just don't see it.  It says that our own efforts are futile when we try to do things ourselves, but God can make even the dead live - it's God who makes all our efforts and actions produce something real.

Next it talks about Israel being delivered and restored, that through their suffering they'll turn to God and be forgiven, and they'll return to the land and worship God.

Chapter 28 goes back to the bad news.  After dwelling on the wonderful result, Isaiah focuses for a while on the events that must happen to produce the result - the conquer and captivity of Israel.  This was written just before the fall of Samaria, but not very much before.  And at the time, the people of Judah are continually following the example of Israel, so Isaiah's message is really for them, telling them what's going to happen to Israel and warning them that they're next if they continue on that path.  Judah is acting like a teenager right now - teenagers think they're indestructible.  They can't imagine ever getting in a car accident, or becoming deathly ill, or anything like that.  Judah is thinking that whatever bad stuff comes their way, it won't really hit them, but there's absolutely no reason for them to have that security because they're not hiding in God, and they know it.  The warning continues through chapter 29.  It sounds like the people of Judah are following God on a superficial level - claiming YHWH as their God, following the traditions God established way back in Exodus, etc., but there is nothing behind them.  It says "their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote" (v.13).  It reminds me of a line in Romeo and Juliet, in which Father Lawrence criticizes Romeo's "love" for Rosaline, saying "thou didst read by rote that could not spell" - somebody who pretends to read something that they actually have memorized, because they can't even spell.  In other words, there's no mental process, no comprehension, no analyzing or even thinking about what is being done; it's just a routine, like washing your hands.  That's all God is to them.  But God knows that a day will come when these spiritually blind and deaf people will see and hear and worship God from their hearts.

Chapter 30 describes a current event.  Judah has made an alliance with Egypt during the Assyrian invasion of Samaria, and they think that means they're safe.  This chapter starts off with something I think is very important - it says, "woe to the rebellious children . . . who execute a plan, but not Mine: (v.1).  Sometimes we - and I'm talking about Christians now - make a plan that we think is very sound and reasonable (Egypt was still a major world power, probably a good ally), but just because you are a Christian and you made a plan, doesn't mean it's God's plan.  Just because you're a Christian and you're doing something, doesn't mean you're acting on God's behalf.  Like, all this talk about judgment and vengeance and the wrath of God?  If you act in those ways, and you're a Christian, it doesn't mean you're executing God's justice and vengeance and wrath.  It says that Judah went to Egypt without even consulting God.  Do we really take time to seek God's will before making a decision, or do we simply make a decision based on what we've already decided we believe about what God wants?  This is a very relevant warning, I think, and I mean that for myself too.

So basically, God says the alliance will fail and Judah will be humiliated.  But then there's great news.  Verse 18 says, "Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.  For the LORD is a god of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him."

That verse is like a breath of fresh air to me.  It tells me two things about God: first, that God is patient with us.  I know I've mentioned this before, but one of my favorite parts in the Bible is 2 Peter 4:9, where it says God "is patient with you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to be brought to salvation."  God is waiting on us.  Just like in My Fair Lady where the dad says "I'm willing to tell you; I'm wanting to tell you; I'm waiting to tell you!"  God is willing, wanting, waiting to lavish His grace and compassion on us.  Why is He waiting?  Because He wants us to want it, I think.

The second thing this verse tells me is that compassion is just.  People make a big deal out of the supposed dichotomy between justice and mercy (or grace, or love).  In God's reality, they are the same thing.  God isn't 1/2 Justice and 1/2 Mercy, or mostly mercy with a little bit of justice, or something like that. This verse says that God is gracious and compassionate because He is a God of justice.  Isn't that amazing?

So once the people wise up and realize this, then things will be just fine.  God Himself will be the teacher of the people and all those idols are going to be thrown away forever, and even the land and the animals will be blessed, and the light - the light!  The moon will be as bright as the sun, and the sun will be seven times brighter than it is right now.  Why?  Because God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  It sounds glorious to me.

But then Isaiah reminds us of what else is going to happen -  judgment against the wicked and the proud.  Listen to this - "burning is His anger and dense is His smoke" (v.27, I thought it sounded cool) - fire, overflowing torrent, consuming fire, cloudburst, downpour, hailstones.  And God says Assyria will be terrified - they better be!

Finally, God condemns the Jews for trusting in Egypt and not in Him, because Egypt itself is going to fall, and it's God who will be the deliverer in the end.  The chapter (and this passage) ends with a call: "return to Him from whom you have deeply defected," because when the rubber hits the road, every other defense is going to fall.

No comments: