Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Isaiah 52-66: Restoration for the Transgressors

Okay, I know I dropped the ball again for a while on this blogging thing.  It's difficult to blog about these prophetic books because they kind of say the same thing over and over and while that's not a bad thing, it makes it difficult to feel like I'm saying anything new.  So my next several posts may be a bit shorter and cover larger passages, because I'm really trying to just point out what sticks out to me.

Anyway, so in chapter 52 Isaiah starts talking about the exalted servant of God.  And then in chapter 53 he talks about the suffering servant.  Jews believe these are two different people, whereas Christians believe both passages are referring to the same person: Jesus the Messiah.  I have always wondered what the Jews think about chapter 53, because the language is that of sacrificial atonement - that our sins, sorrows, transgressions, etc., are placed on this person, that he is a guilt offering, that somehow this bearing of our iniquities justifies us.  For Jews who believe that justification comes through keeping the Law and making animal sacrifices, what does this passage mean to them?

Recently, the thing that has struck me about Isaiah 53 is that it's not just our wickedness that Jesus atoned for.  Verse 4 says "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried."  In the margin of my Bible I wrote this:  "Not just our sins, but our sorrows - not just our wrongs, but also our hurts.  Jesus knows what all of our pains, griefs, shame, trauma, feel like, because He carried it.  It, too, was nailed to the cross, which means it, too, will be redeemed."  To me, that is a very comforting thought.

The next three chapters are pretty positive: God's lovingkindness and covenant of peace can never be shaken, God offers mercy freely, God's boundless mercy is incomprehensible because God Himself is incomprehensible, being obedient to God will yield blessing, etc.

Following this are three chapters of warnings and judgments and stuff like that.  There's an indictment of rulers who don't acknowledge God as higher than them, and there's a call to fasting so that God will hear.  But as it is, the text says, God doesn't hear because the people's sins have created a barrier between themselves and Him.  I find the juxtaposition of these two verses very telling: 59:1 says, "Behold, the LORD's hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear."  Then the very next verse says, "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear."  So it's not that God can't hear, but that He doesn't - I think He's waiting for repentance - He's waiting for us to turn from our wickedness in order to truly seek Him.  Because the thing is, people would cry out to God and stuff, but at the same time they were holding on to these idols and sinful practices and stuff, so it wasn't really God that they wanted; they just wanted a bailout.  And I think this is what I do too.  What I pray for the most is help when I'm in trouble.  I think I need to seek God for His own sake, not just to be my cleanup crew.

Chapters 60-66 cover a few different ideas, but I think they all are built around the central theme of the Day of the Lord, the restoration of Zion, and the redemption of man.  Someof the language is very messianic (or at least was used by Handel in writing Messiah): "Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."  Some of the language sounds like the book of Revelation: "No longer will you have the sun for light by day; Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory," and, "the days of your mourning will be over," and (chapter 65) "behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind."  Chapter 61 opens with the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue when He began His ministry: "The Spiri of the Lord God is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted . . ."

But at the same time that all this happy glorious stuff is going on, God also says that at this time He will judge the nations and will pour our His wrath on those who are wicked.  But to those who follow God, God will show mercy and compassion and will save them.

Chapter 65 reminds me of the book of Romans (actually it's quoted in the book of Romans), because it talks about God being found by people who didn't seek Him, while at the same time He is pursuing people who want nothing to do with them.  Paul says that this is referring to the Gentiles compared to the Jews.  All this time, God has been making appeal after appeal to the Jews, and they really couldn't care less what He has to say.  But when the gospel is brought to the Gentiles, they accept this brand new God that they didn't even know before.  But in this future time that Isaiah keeps referring to, the time when God makes a new heaven and earth, everyone will acknowledge God and everything will be great.  Even lambs will be safe in the company of animals that used to be their predators.  It just now struck me that this is the context of the verse, "Before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear."  Does that mean that this verse doesn't apply to right now?  Because it seems to me that God does and has answered prayers before they were prayed or even at the same time.  So if God is already doing that now, I wonder what this verse will mean about what things will be like in the future.

Anyway, so the chapter ends basically with a comparison between the future state of the righteous and the future state of the wicked.  It's very clear that everybody ultimately will see and know who God is and will bow before Him, but only some will share in His glory and joy.  For those who persisted in transgression, there is only agony and death, which really sucks. 

I think the message is clear - the message of this whole book - that God extends mercy and forgiveness to everybody (because He makes intercession for the "transgressors," who are the wicked people - that's all of us), but not everybody is going to participate in that.  Ultimately, God is going to come down and give everybody what they really want, and it's either going to be Him, or it's going to be Not Him.  It's a message to take God seriously, to take repentance seriously, and not to be complacent about the thought of God's judgment, because it's real, and it's coming.  It's a sobering thought, but only if you're living outside God's mercy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Isaiah 40-51: God Is Great, God Is Good

This passage is one of my favorites in the whole Bible.  It contains verse after verse describing God's greatness, His power, His supremacy, His mercy, His love, his faithfulness, His constancy.  If you are ever in a dark place, I recommend you read these twelve chapters.

I think instead of offering commentary - because let's face it, the content of these chapters is essentially the same as the content of the last 39 - I'm going to quote the verses that stood out to me the most.  By the way, somebody at my small group pointed out that Hebrew literature is full of what is called chiastic structure, which is something I learned about in theology class.  It's a way of organizing topics symmetrically so that the first topic and last topic are the same.  For instance, if the writer had two topics to talk about, topic A and topic B, in a chiastic structure he would talk about A, then B, then B, then A.  If he had three topics he would order it ABCCBA, and so forth.  So that is why Isaiah is so back-and-forth all the time.

Now on to my verse highlights.  I'll organize them by topic.  All verses are from the NASB, all emphases mine.

God's Greatness

40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

40:10 Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.

40:12-13 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

40:25-26 "To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?" says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

40:28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.

41:4b I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last.  I am He.

42:8-9 I am the LORD, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
Now I declare new things;
Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.

43:10-13 "You are My witnesses," declares the LORD,
"And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
And there will be none after Me.
I, even I, am the LORD,
And there is no savior besides Me.
It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed,
And there was no strange god among you;
So you are My witnesses," declares the LORD,
"And I am God.
Even from eternity I am He,
And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?"

44:6-8 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
"I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no God besides Me.
Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it;
Yes, let him recount it to Me in order,
From the time that I established the ancient nation.
And let them declare to them the things that are coming
And the events that are going to take place.
Do not tremble and do not be afraid;
Have I not long since announced it to you and delcared it?
And you are My witnesses.
Is there any God besides Me,
Or is there any other Rock?
I know of none."

44:24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb,
"I, the LORD, amd the maker of all things,
Stretching out the heavens by Myself
And spreading out the earth all alone."

45:5-7 I am the LORD, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other,
THe One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the LORD who does all these.

46:9-10 Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
ANd from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, "My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure."

God's Love, Provision, and Care

40:11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes. 
40:28-31 He gives strength to the wear,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

41:10 Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

41:13 "For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you,'
Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel;
I will help you," declares the LORD, "and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel."

43:1b-5 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your place.
Since you are precious in My sight,
Since you are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
And gather you from the west.
44:21 Remember these things, O Jacob,
And Israel, for you are My servant;
I have formed you, you are My servant,
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.

46:4 Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you.
49:15-16 Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before me.

51:12-13 I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies
And of the son of man who is made like grass,
That you have forgotten the LORD your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth,
That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor,
As he makes ready to destroy?
But where is the oppressor?

God's Mercy and Forgiveness 
40:1-2 "Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.
"Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the LORD's hand
Double for all her sins."

44:22 I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud
And your sins like a heavy mist.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.

48:9 For the sake of My name I delay My wrat,
And for My praise I restrain it for you,
In order not to cut you off.

50:2b Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom?
Or have I no power to deliver?

God is truly amazing, and it is amazing to read all these declarations.  As you can see, some of the verses span many topics so it was kind of hard to categorize them, because the truth is that part of what makes God great His love and care for His people, His grace and forgiveness.  Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading all that if you made it this far. :)