God hates hypocrisy.
In this first chapter of Isaiah, God reveals Himself as someone who has little interest in religious traditions: “‘The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.’” (vs 11-14)
Whenever I read that passage, I always chuckle, because when God says, “Who has asked this of you?” I always think, Duh. You did. God asked them to bring all those sacrifices to the temple . . . or did He? Was it the sacrifice He was after or the people? Well, this chapter leaves little doubt that God has never been after blood and burnt offerings. He is after us.
And what He has to offer us now is the same thing He had to offer to Israel of old—a relationship with Himself: “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (vs 18) God wants to reason with us, but that can only happen when we are willing to drop the religious tradition and pretense and get real with Him.
You see, God devised the sacrificial system as a way of helping His people bring their sin problem to Him. But, instead of coming to Him to get help and healing for their sin, they turned the sacrificial system into an idol and began using it as a way to manipulate and control God. God wanted to reason with His people, but all they wanted was a recipe for getting what they wanted out of God.
We may be familiar with the concept by now, but we ought to take a moment to consider how incredible it is that we serve a God who is more interested in what He can give to us than what He can get out of us. Instead of requiring His people to serve Him, God is desperate to have the opportunity to serve His people—an opportunity that can only be fruitful when His people approach Him in willingness, honesty, and humility.
In short, we have to be real.
Today, God still invites us to reason with Him. Though He is the almighty, everlasting God, what He offers us isn’t just offered because He is “bigger” than us and has the right to dictate whatever terms please Him. God’s plans for us and His requests of us are reasonable. His way of doing things represents the smartest and best way to live. Doing things His way leads to abundant life. Not doing things His way leads to . . . well, walk outside and take a look around.
The reason God hates hypocrisy is because it walls us off from Him. If we are saying and doing things just because we think they are the things God “wants” us to say or do, we are in no frame of mind to actually pay attention to God. If we’re too busy trying to manipulate Him, we won’t have much time to “reason together.”
God doesn’t want our religious traditions, our sacrifices, or our worship. He wants us!
God's peace starts now.
War and peace. No, not the book title; the two things people are constantly headed toward. Either we are moving toward war or we are moving toward peace. Sometimes, in this sinful world, it’s difficult to know when (or if) war is appropriate. Some people believe it is never needed; others believe certain situations warrant it. Certainly, the Bible presents situations in which God allowed or sent His people to war.
However, in the midst of this warring world, God has also given us glimpses of a time and place where there will be no more war, such as the picture painted in this chapter of Isaiah: “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (vs 3-4)
What a beautiful promise! How wonderful to imagine a time when the Lord will reign over the Earth and people will seek Him out for the solutions to their problems. How wonderful to imagine a time when fighting will no longer be what we resort to—even a last resort! I think there is a part of each of us that longs for that kind of peace.
But, I don’t think we need to wait. For Isaiah went on to say, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (vs 5) Yes, right now. We don’t have to wait until the Lord’s temple is established on the mountain. We don’t have to wait until God Himself is reigning on Earth in the flesh. We don’t have to wait until all peoples decide to get on board the peace train. We can choose to walk in the light of the Lord right now.
God’s peace starts now. It’s not something we have to wait for. Oh, that doesn’t mean we won’t still encounter war and conflict—especially from others who are not yet ready to walk in the light! But it means that we can choose to live our lives here and now believing that God is in control and that He will do all He says He’s going to do.
When we live our life with that mindset, it really doesn’t matter if we get caught up in the middle of a war. We can still experience the peace of God today as we walk in His light. Why would we want to spend today in any other way?
God has high standards.
There has been much emphasis of late put on the reality of God’s acceptance. God accepts you as you are. God loves you as you are. And He does. There is no doubt about it! There is nothing we can do to earn His love; we already have it. But it is a fallacy to believe that God wants to leave us the way He finds us. It is because He loves us that He wants to change our hearts and lives for the better. As Max Lucado wrote in the extended title of his 1998 book, “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be . . . just like Jesus.”
I think there is a great temptation to allow the knowledge of God’s acceptance of us to embolden us in our sin. I’m certainly not saying this is always the case, but it sure seemed to be a problem in Israel: “Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” (vs 8-9)
It is sometimes disheartening to look at the world around us and observe just how far we have fallen from God’s ideal. And in many cases, it’s not even about seeing others (or ourselves) struggling with sin. Often, it appears the struggle is over—that we have given in, and sin has won, and we now resort to demonizing as hypocrites and judgers those who would dare to articulate the ideals God has set forth in the Scriptures.
Bible commentator David Guzik wrote about that phenomenon: “One of the most destructive lies of our time is that it is wrong or hypocritical to have a standard that we don’t live up to. No one has always told the truth, yet it is right and good to teach our children, ‘Don’t lie.’ It would be wrong, and destructive, for someone to answer, ‘You can’t tell your child not to lie. You have lied in the past. You are a hypocrite.’ This attitude in our society translates into a certain result: a wholesale lowering of standards. Also, the charge of hypocrisy is false. It is not hypocritical to promote a standard you don’t perfectly meet. Hypocrisy is when you pretend to keep the standard when you do not, or think it is fine for you to not keep the standard, when you think others should.”
What happens when we, as a society, lower our standards? What happens when we ignore God’s ideals? Society will degenerate into evil and foolishness: “People will be against each other; everyone will be against his neighbor. Young people will not respect older people, and common people will not respect important people. At that time a man will grab one of his brothers from his own family and say, ‘You have a coat, so you will be our leader. These ruins will be under your control.’” (vs 5-6)
When we purposely and willfully deviate from the standards God has set for us, we will become so foolish that control over our society will be given to those who have no business being in power. You have a coat . . . hmmm, that would make you a great leader! Isaiah is painting a picture of people who have lost all common sense. This is the fate of those who recite “neither do I condemn you” without continuing on to the “go and sin no more.” The acceptance and the exhortation go hand in hand. To remove either one is to cripple the power of the Spirit in our lives.
God has high standards because He loves us. God has high standards because He wants to protect us from the consequences of throwing ourselves headlong into sin. God has high standards because His way of doing things brings peace and happiness in life. God has high standards because He wants the very best for us.
Jesus never turned up His nose, and He never lowered His standards. As we follow in His footsteps, we can also practice both disciplines.
God loves women.
It bothers me when people who say they have read the Bible claim that the God revealed there encourages slavery or polygamy or racism or abuse against women. Whenever I hear that, I think that the person either hasn’t really read the Bible, has only read selected passages, or has not read with an eye toward putting the whole picture together.
Let’s take God and women, for example. Today’s chapter began with this warning: “In that day seven women will take hold of one man and say, ‘We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!’” (vs 1) Talk about desperate housewives! The ladies Isaiah is describing here have sunk to such depths that they either can’t find any men who are willing to provide for them, or they no longer expect a man to care for his woman. They have given up all notions of love and romance; they simply need a marriage of societal convenience.
Please note that Isaiah depicts this as the result of abandoning God and His ways. These women aren’t in this desperate situation because they’ve submitted themselves to God’s wisdom, but because they have decided not to have anything to do with God. This isn’t how women expect to be treated in God’s kingdom; it’s how women are treated outside of God’s kingdom.
God has always intended for women to be cherished, honored, respected, adored, and taken care of—so much so that God calls Himself the husband to the widow (Ps 68; Isa 54). He declares that when there is no one left to look after a woman, He will take on the responsibility of caring for her. That’s how much God loves women.
Long before we got all enlightened about women’s rights, God cared about the rights of women. Long before we began to champion the cause of women in the world, God was working to better their position in society. Nobody cares about the plight of women more than the God who designed them as the unique, mysterious, and wonderful creatures they are.
Nobody loves women more than He does.
God is not responsible for sin.
It is one of the paradoxes of life that, while God takes total responsibility for dealing with the sin problem, He is in no way responsible for sin. It entered His universe through the free choice of Lucifer, one of His beloved creatures. He is not to blame for sin. It has infected His creation through no fault of His own.
In that sense, God is like a man who planted a vineyard:
“My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. ‘Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?” (vs 1-4)
Indeed, what more could have been done for this vineyard? The owner utilized fertile ground, tilled the soil, cleared the obstacles, used the best vines, protected it with a watchtower, and made sure it had state-of-the-art processing facilities. This vineyard had everything going for it. If any vineyard could have and should have produced fine fruit, it was this vineyard.
But the vineyard produced no fine fruit. In fact, the text says it produced bad, or wild, fruit. This doesn’t just mean that it was unfruitful—that would have been preferable by comparison. It means that the vineyard produced poisonous fruit. It wasn’t just an indifferent vineyard; it was toxic.
Obviously, a vineyard which had been cared for in such a way by its owner would produce huge crops of marvelous fruit. And that’s precisely the point! We are like a vineyard—in that our Owner has done every single thing He can to give us every possible advantage—yet we still have the option of rejecting all of it and going our own way. We have the option to yield bad fruit instead of good. Each of us is a vineyard, and God goes the extra mile in caring for us, but He stops short of forcing us to produce the results He wants.
Thus, the question of the owner regarding his vineyard definitely applies to God and His human vineyards: What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? This will be the question at the end of the age, and everyone will see that—in the life of each person—God has left no stone unturned in the quest for our salvation. We will realize how God has given us every opportunity and every advantage to bear good fruit.
I’m sure He will be incredibly sad about all those who choose to bear toxic fruit instead. I’m sure He will be incredibly sad that anyone would choose to reject the Owner who loves them so much. But it will be clear that God is not to blame for those who choose to go that route. Though He has always taken on the responsibility of dealing with our sin, He is not responsible for its existence. It is here against His will, but because of His great love for us, He has done, He is doing, and He will continue to do everything He can to redeem us from it.
God alleviates anxiety.
There is a short (but sweet) gem about God in this chapter. And even though it might seem like a little thing, to those of us who find ourselves in uncomfortable situations with God, it’s a huge thing: God alleviates anxiety. He is aware of our feelings and emotions. He knows when guilt or fear has overtaken us, and He acts to make us feel as comfortable as possible in His presence:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. . . . ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.' Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’” (vs 1, 5-7)
Even in a dream, God is interested in making sure we feel comfortable in His presence! Of course, this doesn’t surprise me, since throughout the Bible (almost universally), the first four words out of God’s mouth to a human being are almost always Do not be afraid. It seems God is forever trying to get us to stop shaking when He’s near.
But His efforts go well beyond words. In this incident, Isaiah laments that his lips are unclean, so God sends an angel to do something that will help Isaiah understand that he has been made clean. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve first sinned, they realized they were “naked” and were ashamed of it, so when God found them, He made clothes for them to wear (Gen 3:21). In the story Jesus told of the Prodigal Son, when the boy comes home dirty and ashamed, the first thing the Father does is to put the “best robe” in the house on him (Lk 15:22).
Where do your anxieties lie? Are you vulgar, naked, or unclean? Are you ashamed, guilty, or afraid? God knows exactly what your needs are. He is aware of all your feelings and emotions. And whenever He is near you, He will do everything He can to assure you of His love and address the very things that are making you uncomfortable.
You can trust Him with all your fears and insecurities. He will never expose you or mistreat you. On the contrary, He has a track record of alleviating anxiety.
God won't force you to believe.
At the beginning of this chapter, Syria and Israel join forces to go to war with Judah. Ahaz, the king of Judah, is obviously very nervous about this. More than nervous. He’s terrified. So much so that he’s willing to make an alliance with the king of Assyria to get the help he thinks he needs to defeat his enemies.
There’s just one problem. God wants Ahaz to trust Him instead of trusting in his own battle plan: “‘Be careful and quiet. Do not be afraid or weak in your heart . . . Do not be afraid of the burning anger of[those who] have made sinful plans against you’ . . . The Lord God says, ‘This plan will not work. It will not happen . . . If you will not believe, for sure you will not last.’” (vs 4-5, 7, 9)
How many of you would like a direct line to God? Especially when you’re facing a difficult and troubling situation in your life, do you think it would make everything better to hear God say, “Do not be afraid”? Do you think you would believe Him if He promised you that what you fear most wouldn’t ruin you?
I would think so.
But that sure isn’t what happened in the case of Ahaz. He had an encouraging message direct from God, promising him that all was going to be okay if he would put his trust in the Lord. In fact, God even promised to prove Himself to Ahaz: “The Lord spoke to Ahaz again. He said, ‘I am the Lord your God. Ask me to give you a miraculous sign. It can be anything in the deepest grave or in the highest heaven.’” (vs 10-11)
But Ahaz refused to even ask for a sign! God gave him a blank check, promising to give him whatever miraculous sign he asked for, but Ahaz wouldn’t do it. He went out of his way to avoid believing.
To me, that’s astounding. Ahaz decided he would rather throw in his lot with the king of an evil nation than trust the supernatural God who had come through for Israel time and time again. He decided he would rather take a chance on the devil than bank on the Lord. And the nation paid dearly for Ahaz’s choice.
This teaches us something incredible about God: He will not force us to believe. He can talk directly to us, giving us promises of His goodness until He’s blue in the face. He can agree to provide any and every evidence necessary for us to use as a basis for our faith in Him. But, at the end of the day, He won’t force us to believe. If we refuse to listen to Him, if we close our eyes to all the evidence for faith that Heaven provides, He will let us live in our blindness.
If we don’t stand firm in faith, we ultimately won’t be able to stand at all. But faith is our decision. God will provide everything we need to be able to make the decision to believe from an intelligent standpoint, but He won’t make us trust in Him. If we choose, we are free to go our own way. He will never force us to believe.
God is a rock.
In this chapter, Isaiah compares God to a rock: “‘Don’t think there is a plan against you just because the people say there is. Don’t be afraid of what they fear. Don’t let them frighten you!’ The LORD All-Powerful is the one you should fear. He is the one you should respect. He is the one who should frighten you. If you people would respect him, he would be a safe place for you. But you don’t respect him, so he is like a stone that you stumble over. He is a rock that makes both families of Israel fall.” (vs 12-14)
Does God reward the righteous and punish the wicked? Does He act in a loving way toward those He likes, while striking His enemies with a vengeful hand? Does God determine the dynamics of our relationship? Or do we?
This is but one example in the Bible of how people respond and react to God in different ways, even though God is not described as having treated those people differently. In this chapter, God is a rock. In Malachi 4, He is a fire. In John 13, He is a humble servant. In every case, as different people encounter the same God, they respond differently and experience different results.
To me, what this suggests is not a God who is two-faced, not a God who treats one child one way and another child another way. No, the difference is not in God, but in us. In this chapter, Isaiah says that God is a rock. But how we respond to this rock depends on us, not on Him. If we have respect for this rock, it will be like a safe, unshakable place for us. If we have respect for God, it will lead us to peace, comfort, and salvation. But if we don’t have respect for this rock, we will trip over it. If we don’t have respect for God, we will stumble over the very thing that is intended to help us!
It’s important for us to realize that God doesn’t treat us based upon our response to Him. He loves us and wants the best for us whether we accept Him or reject Him. But the way in which we respond to Him will determine the outcome of our interaction with Him.
God is a rock. And that rock can either be something you stand on or something you trip over. The choice is yours.
God will convict you.
No, I’m not talking about convicting you of a crime! I’m talking about convicting you of truth, helping you to see and understand when you’re on the wrong path. Could Isaiah have said it any more clearly? “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (vs 2)
Have you ever been outside at midnight when it’s cloudy and there is no moonlight? It’s hard to see. If you’re out in the country away from the “light pollution” of the city, sometimes it can be hard to see your hand in front of your face! It can be dangerous to walk in the dark—especially if you aren’t familiar with your surroundings. Tripping over the wrong thing can lead to great bodily harm.
This is also true in a spiritual sense. As the spiritual night of evil settled down on this world, man became depraved in his heart; relationships began to break down, families began to fall apart, and the knowledge of right and wrong grew dimmer and dimmer with each successive generation. Very quickly, humanity became a people walking in darkness.
If you’re like me, you’ve certainly felt like you have walked in spiritual darkness! You may feel like that right now, but take heart! God always finds people who walk in darkness, but He never leaves them in darkness. Isaiah says He shines a “great light” on them. When God meets us in our darkness, He immediately brings us light that is like a sunrise.
Later in the chapter, Isaiah wrote: “The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel. All the people will know it.” (vs 8-9) This is why we should never fear deception. With God, deception (continually walking in darkness and not knowing it’s darkness) isn’t ultimately possible. He always illuminates the darkness.
But the astonishing thing is that some people prefer the darkness! Some people see the light, but even though they know it is light, they prefer to head right back into the cave and act like they never saw the light in the first place. That’s why the only thing we should worry about is not that we might be deceived, but that our pride would cause us to reject what we know is true.
So, are you wondering if you’re in darkness? God will let you know. Thinking you might be believing lies? God will convict you of the truth. To those who walk in darkness, He is and will always be a great light.
God dissolves pride.
Just in case you didn’t pay special attention to the first part of this chapter, let’s review it right off the bat: “‘Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.’ When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, ‘I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings.”‘” (vs 5-7, 12-13)
Don’t you just get the idea from this little monologue that God is “large and in charge”? He claims that He is using Assyria to carry out His discipline on Israel because of their pride and that when He has completed that task, He will carry out some discipline on Assyria for their pride, for thinking that they defeated Israel because of their superior military strength.
I thought there were a few interesting things to note about this passage:
- The Assyrians were used as a rod of discipline by God. God calls the Assyrians the “rod of my anger” and the “club of my wrath.” The rod and club (or staff, as it is translated in the KJV) were tools used by shepherds to guide and correct their sheep. So, when God says He is “punishing” Israel in “anger,” it means that He is going to use what the Assyrians are planning for evil as a means of disciplining Israel. He will turn what the Assyrians do into something redemptive for His people.
- God is not out to destroy us! The clue to understanding that God is trying to discipline, not destroy, Israel is in verse 7: “But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.” I don’t know about you, but before I got to that verse, it sounded like God’s purpose was to destroy, as He said He would send the Assyrians to loot, plunder, and trample them down like mud in the streets. That sounds like destruction! But God reveals that what may sound like or look like destruction to us may really be redemptive discipline.
- God dissolves pride. I think pride is the ugliest thing in the world to God. Because no matter where it is found, no matter the situation, it is always isolating. It puts up a wall between us and other people and, most importantly, between us and God. The Israelites were so proud, they thought they didn’t need God at all. The Assyrians were so proud, they thought they defeated Israel (and Israel’s God) because they were stronger.
Whenever God meets pride, pride loses. This is not to say that some people don’t hold stubbornly to their pride, but after an encounter with Almighty God, they are no longer saddled with the delusion of pride. When God turned His disciplining hand on Assyria, they were quickly disabused of the notion that they were strong and mighty and powerful.
Most of us deal with pride in some form, so be thankful that God hates it so much that He is willing to confront it in your life over and over again. He doesn’t want pride to isolate you from Him or anyone else. Thus, whenever He encounters it, He will work to dissolve it. This is not for destruction, but discipline; not for your harm, but for your best good. If you are mired in the delusion of pride, you won’t be there long!
God knows what is right.
Oh, we think we’re so smart. We think we’re so enlightened. We look back at what people did in other times and other places and other cultures, and we judge, judge, judge. We’ve come a long way, baby. We would never act so ignorant and unrefined. We are educated and enlightened and politically correct. We look at the world around us, and we know what’s going on. We’ve got the 411.
We see injustice, and we correct it! We hear abuse, and we stop it! We know what’s right! Or do we?
Isaiah would have us think twice. Of the Lord, he says, “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (vs 3-4)
If you live in America, you have heard about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. (Even if you don’t live in America, you may have heard of them!) From the very beginning, many media outlets reported on the story as if they knew exactly how things went down. Zimmerman was portrayed as a cold-blooded killer and Martin as an innocent victim who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The case is still pending trial, and by no means has all the evidence come out. Yet this has been an example of how many people make judgments based on the (very) little they have seen and heard. New facts in the case have recently come to light that appear to contradict the story first portrayed by the media, and we have seen once again (as Isaiah pointed out) that things are not always what they seem.
Sometimes, even our eyes and ears aren’t reliable! I have read that up to 50% of all eyewitness identifications are wrong! There are many examples of people who were convicted of crimes based on eyewitness testimony only to later be exonerated by DNA or fingerprint analysis. Sometimes, even our eyes and ears aren’t reliable.
To me, then, it’s comforting to know that the God we serve knows what is right. He knows what is right and just in every situation—whether it looks that way to our eyes or sounds that way to our ears. It was right for Jesus to tell the woman caught in adultery that He didn’t condemn her, and it was right for Him to tell Judas that it would be better for him if he’d never been born. It was right for Jesus to tell the rich, young ruler to give what he had to the poor, and it was right for Him to rebuke the disciples who wanted to sell the expensive perfume and give the money to the poor.
Sometimes, I wish I had that ability—to know what is the right and just and loving thing to do or say in any situation. Alas, for now, we’re stuck with our eyes and ears. Hopefully, the more we get to know God, the less we will have to rely on what we see and hear, for that’s not how He judges. He knows what is right.
God is worthy of praise.
The first verse of this chapter can take on different meanings, depending on which translation you read. I like this one: “At that time you will say, ‘I thank you, Lord! You were angry with me, but you stopped being angry and gave me comfort.’” (CEV) Many versions render the verse this way; the others add a word that isn’t in the original: though. In those translations, the worshiper says, God, I will praise you, because even though you were angry with me, you aren’t angry anymore.
This subtly shifts the focus of the praise. In this second version, the worshiper is praising God for the fact that His anger has subsided. In the first version, the worshiper simply praises God, acknowledging both that He has been angry and that now He is not.
If you think I’m parsing words, hang in here with me for a moment. I think there’s an important distinction to be made. In the versions that use the word though, the message is, “God, you are worthy of my praise in spite of your anger.” But in the version which I believe to be most true to the original, the message is, “God, you are worthy of my praise because of your anger.”
Have you ever thought of God as being worthy of praise because He gets angry with us? If you stop to think about it for a moment, I hope you’ll agree with me that the fact that God can indeed be furious with us is great evidence for His praiseworthiness! For, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. If someone can get so angry with you that they can’t see straight, it’s because they care. And the fact that God can get so angry with His people as to threaten all manner of harsh discipline is evidence of the vastness—the limitless height and depth—of His love.
Mind you, this anger isn’t the sort of punitive, vengeful anger we may associate with irrational lovers or abusive parents. In the very next verse, Isaiah conveys the results of experiencing this anger: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” (vs 2) God’s anger doesn’t produce fear; it is designed to produce a change in our attitude toward Him. While it may be manifested in consequences that are unpleasant in the moment (think: disciplining a young child), it leads to lifelong rewards that the mature worshiper appreciates and admires.
So, the next time you’re thinking of a good reason to praise God, praise Him for His anger. Say thank you to Him for His wrath. Tell Him that you delight in His discipline and that you’re thankful He loves you so much to not let you run blindly over a cliff without throwing some serious obstacles in your way as you speed toward the edge.
When it comes to God’s anger, He is worthy of praise—not in spite of it, but because of it!
God knows the future.
If there’s one thing I’ve become accustomed to in the last nine months, it is driving around in the car with my daughter strapped into her car seat behind me—facing backwards. Since I often drive with no other adults in the car, I wasn’t crazy about the requirement of a rear-facing seat for babies since it meant I wouldn’t be able to see Caroline at all while I was behind the wheel. A thousand wild ideas of what could “happen” to her while I couldn’t see her went through my head. So, my husband bought a mirror that attaches to the seat she’s facing so I can see her. Problem solved.
But as I read this chapter of Isaiah today, it occurred to me that I had never considered what car rides must be like from my daughter’s point of view. There she sits, facing the back of the car, relegated to seeing only where we’ve been, not where we’re going. If she gets fussy or restless, she can certainly hear my voice, but she can’t see my face. Though she often rides peacefully, she never knows where we’re headed.
Come to think of it, isn’t this what most of our life is like? Do you ever get the feeling that someone other than you is “driving” your car? Do you ever feel like you’re only able to see where you’ve been, not where you’re going? Do you ever think that, while it’s sure nice to hear God’s voice, you’d really like to see His face? I guess that about sums it up for me. Sometimes I feel like a nine-month-old kid in a rear-facing car seat.
And then I read something in the Bible like Isaiah 13, where Isaiah predicts the desolation of Babylon, that great superpower . . . oh, except Babylon wasn’t a superpower when he delivered this prophecy. In fact, when Isaiah uttered these words, it was a good one hundred years before Babylon would even rise to power, let alone be conquered. Isaiah spoke this prophecy about the desolation of Babylon when it was just an obscure place with no indication of its coming greatness.
And if Babylon hadn’t risen to greatness yet, the Medes that Isaiah mentioned in verse 17 hadn’t even been considered! Their conquest against Babylon was even further down the line. Yet, this prophecy came true. Babylon conquered Assyria and rose to power. And then, the Medes came along and conquered the Babylonians, contributing to the eventual demise of the great empire.
Do you get the feeling that Someone Else is “driving” the car? Now, every analogy has its limits, of course. I wouldn’t want to suggest that God is “driving” the car in the sense of making all the decisions and treating us like pawns or puppets. But when it comes down to the question of knowing where this world is headed, it seems like God has a pretty clear view out the front windshield!
I don’t know about you, but that is a very comforting thought to me—especially when it looks like the world is falling apart no matter which way you turn. God doesn’t look at our world and wonder what’s going to happen next. God doesn’t look at our world and wonder how it’s all going to turn out. No, God knows the future. When we can only see where we’ve been, He can see (quite clearly!) where we’re going. Nothing is a surprise to Him.
So, relax. Enjoy the ride. These seats won’t be rear-facing forever.
God is life.
In this chapter of Isaiah, we get a glimpse of Lucifer and the insane road he traveled which led him to total destruction: “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.” (vs 12-15)
The essence of sin is insanity. And it is summed up so well in this description of the created being who decided that he was going to rise above his Creator. This is the height of pride (and insanity), for a being who is created to suppose that he could become the Being who is uncreated.
If we take any lesson from this, let’s take this one: We cannot be gods. Ever. We are created beings who are dependent upon our Creator for life. We have nothing within us that can create or sustain life. If it is not given to us, we’re doomed. Thus, to entertain the selfish notion in our hearts that we could rise above our Creator, overthrow our Creator’s government, or force our Creator to submit to our authority is nothing short of suicide. If we cut ourselves off from our Source of Life, we’re finished. If we destroy our Creator, we destroy ourselves.
I once knew a man who broke both of his ankles when he fell off a ladder whilst trimming a tree. And the reason he fell off his ladder was because he cut off the tree branch that his ladder had been resting on. I wonder what went through his mind on his way down to the ground. He’s probably lucky that he only broke his ankles!
This is exactly what happens to us spiritually when we allow the selfishness and pride of sin to take over our hearts. We become so focused on exalting ourselves that we may not realize that the Branch we’re trying to cut down is the only thing that’s supporting us. Cutting it out of our lives is the first and last stop on the way down to “the depths of the pit.”
This isn’t because God decides to destroy us for trying to destroy Him. It’s a natural consequence of our actions—just as the man’s ladder falling down was the natural consequence of removing the branch it had been resting on. God is life, and His way of doing things (love) is the very foundation of life. Thus, when we reject love and embrace selfishness, we are embracing destruction and death.
Bible commentator Geoffrey Grogan summed it up this way: “It is a strange paradox that nothing makes a being less like God than the urge to be his equal, for he who was God stepped down from the throne of his glory to display to the wondering eyes of men the humility of God.” God is love, and His love is the foundation of life. When we depart from that, the only direction for us to go is down.
God doesn't gloat.
I have been reading a book on Job, and it recently reminded me of something Elihu said to Job during his ordeal: “If you sin, how does that affect [God]? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness only affects humans like yourself, and your righteousness only other people.” (Job 35:6-8)
In other words, Elihu was trying to argue that God couldn’t care less about what we do. And nothing could be further from the truth. God cares deeply about what we do! There was a little glimpse of that in today’s chapter: “My heart cries out over Moab; her fugitives flee as far as Zoar, as far as Eglath Shelishiyah. They go up the hill to Luhith, weeping as they go; on the road to Horonaim they lament their destruction.” (vs 5)
The Moabites had long been enemies of Israel. You might remember that it was Balak, king of Moab, who tried to incite Balaam into cursing the Israelites, but God turned the blessing into a curse.
In the end, it turns out it was the Moabites who were cursed. Their idolatrous and prideful ways led them right to the place God had warned them about—a dead end. But once they were reaping the ugly harvest of the evil they had sown, we discover something remarkable about God: He doesn’t gloat. He is heartsick about what is happening to Moab. Even though they have opposed Him and His people time and time again, He laments their demise.
He could have said, “I told you so.” He could have said, “Na na na na boo boo.” Instead, He cried and said, “I’m so sorry!” Elihu was totally wrong about God. He does care about what we do, and for that reason, He doesn’t gloat when we find out that He was right and we were wrong. He doesn’t gloat when we reap the consequences of our poor choices.
Even when His enemies suffer, He hurts right along with them.
What a God.
God wants to help you.
There is a special kind of ache in the heart that can only be felt by a parent with a hurting child—especially when it’s the sort of hurt that you can’t do anything about. Now, imagine how that ache would be magnified if you were in a position to ease the hurt, but your child refused your help. I think that could almost make you go crazy.
This is the kind of ache I sensed behind the words of today’s chapter: “Joy and gladness are taken away from the orchards; no one sings or shouts in the vineyards; no one treads out wine at the presses, for I have put an end to the shouting. My heart laments for Moab like a harp, my inmost being for Kir Hareseth. When Moab appears at her high place, she only wears herself out; when she goes to her shrine to pray, it is to no avail.” (vs 10-12) Especially at the end of that passage, you can sense God’s desperation at being ignored as the solution to His children’s problems, while He watches them “wearing themselves out” instead.
It reminds me a great deal of Jesus’s desperate cry as He wept over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matt 23:37)
I can’t imagine the ache it brings to the heart of God to watch us wearing ourselves out, running around in religious circles, and doing everything we can to avoid surrendering to Him—all the while knowing full well that He is the only one who is able to help us. We may try a hundred different avenues, but the only thing we will do is wear ourselves out.
God wants to help you. Whatever your problem, God has the solution. Whatever your predicament, God has the answer. You won’t find help at shrines in high places or with friends in low places. You will find it in the God who longs to gather you under His comforting wing.
He is longing to help you. Today. Right now.
Are you willing?
God is the path to everywhere.
Have you ever seen a hamster in a cage that has a little wheel in it? That hamster can spend all day long running, running, and running, and that wheel will go ’round and ’round, but when the day is over and the hamster is exhausted, he’s still in the cage. Poor little guy.
I glimpsed something in this chapter of Isaiah that made me realize that, as humans, we are in danger of ending up like the hamster: “You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain.” (vs 10-11)
It’s true. Forgetting God is just about the worst thing we can do. For when we try to live life without Him, we end up just spinning our wheels. Even when it looks like we’re getting somewhere, we’ll eventually discover that all of our “successes” don’t really amount to anything. We may think the plants are growing and budding, but we will end up waiting forever for a harvest that will never come.
There is only one path to everywhere, and it is God. All other roads lead nowhere. They may look like promising avenues, but if God is not in them, they will become dead-ends. His is the only road worth taking.
It really is that simple.
God is pursuing you.
There are some people who believe God plays favorites, that He keeps a list of who’s been naughty and nice and doles out blessings or curses accordingly. As evidence of this, some people point to the Israelites and claim that since God chose them to be “His” people, He plays favorites. This kind of thinking usually leads these folks to conclude that “they” are on God’s popular list and “others” (mainly those who do not think, talk, act, dress, or behave as they do) are not.
Here’s the truth: God does not play favorites. Yes, He “chose” the Israelites, not to be His only people, but to do a special job. (Incidentally, it was a job they rejected—mainly because they thought God played favorites!) But God doesn’t play favorites. He loves each one of us as if we were the only one to love. He loves you just as if you were the only person on Earth. And because He loves you, He is pursuing you. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or where you’re going, God wants you.
In this chapter of Isaiah, God speaks to a nation of people who live in the “land of whirring wings.” (vs 1) Most Bible scholars and commentators agree that this is referring to the Ethiopians. They would have been considered a heathen, or Gentile, nation. Most of the Israelites from the Old Testament—and certainly those who lived in Jesus’s time!—would have believed that God didn’t want to have anything to do with them.
Au contraire. God addresses and describes them as “a people tall and smooth-skinned, a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers.” (vs 2) He then describes the way in which He will reveal His saving activity in events to come. First, He says He will stay aloof and silent (vs 4); then, He will act swiftly to discipline those who are ripe for pruning (vs 5-6).
The result? “At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers—the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty.” (vs 7)
God cared very much about those tall, smooth-skinned, feared, aggressive, strange-speaking people. He wanted them to also come to know Him and love Him. He wanted them to also be His people.
No matter who you are—Jew or Gentile, male or female, young or old, slave or free—God is pursuing you. He is the Hound of Heaven, on the trail, right behind you, waiting for just the right time to make Himself known to you. He will do this because He loves you. He will do this because He wants to capture your heart.
He will do this because you are His favorite.
(And so am I.)
God is inclusive.
This is one of those times when I’m sure that I don’t have adequate words to describe what is going through my head at the moment. The marvelous picture of God that presented itself to me at the end of this chapter of Isaiah is so immense in my mind that I’m sure I am incapable of relating the whole of it to anyone else.
Nevertheless, here goes.
Did you squeal when you got to the end of this chapter? I did. This was one of those Bible passages that, even though I know I’ve read before, made me do a double-take: “The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’” (vs 22-25)
Egypt . . . my people?!
Assyria . . . my handiwork?!
These are the nations God spends soooo much time railing against in the Old Testament. The big enemies of Israel. He hurls warnings and threats at them, promising plagues and destruction (although, don’t forget to also notice in this passage the purpose of those plagues!).
Yet, at the end of the day, none of this tough talk or action is punitive or retributive in nature. God doesn’t threaten these people because He’s planning to get revenge on them. He threatens them because He’s planning to get intimate with them! He’s longing to draw them into a relationship, one where He can freely call them “my people” and “my handiwork.”
Yesterday’s blog was about how God doesn’t play favorites. But it goes far beyond that. God is inclusive—and that’s even a very poor way to try to convey the utter expansiveness of God’s fold. God’s love is as high and deep and wide as necessary to take in absolutely anyone and everyone who will allow themselves to be taken in.
God is not in the business of keeping people out; He is in the business of drawing people in! He even fantasizes about calling His enemies “my handiwork.” And He will do anything and everything He can to help bring those people into a relationship with Him.
God doesn’t have an exclusive bone in His body. He is eager to welcome and accept anyone, anytime, anywhere. To those who have hated and reviled Him, He still extends the invitation to be His people and dreams of a future with them.
If you or I are “left out” of God’s circle, it won’t be because He put us out, but because we insisted on putting ourselves out. If we do not stubbornly resist the wooing power of the Holy Spirit, we will be drawn into the circle of God’s love—no matter who we are, no matter where we have come from, and no matter what we have done. God sees us in His future, and He wants us to decide to stay there with Him!
God embraces hardship (and so should His followers).
Do you want to serve the Lord?
Are you sure? Think carefully before you answer!
Make sure you noticed this from today’s chapter: “Then the Lord said, ‘Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame.’” (vs 3-4)
The modern equivalent of “stripped and barefoot” would be homelessness. Isaiah spent three years in complete poverty and humiliation at the Lord’s request. He was a walking, visual billboard of the coming humiliation of the Egyptians—and a warning for Israel to put their trust in God instead of Egypt!
Would you be willing to be homeless for the Lord for three years?
If not, what are you willing to do? What would your “terms and conditions” be? Where would you draw the line? What does it mean to you when you say you want to serve Him?
Now, I’m not saying that if you have decided to serve the Lord, He’s going to ask you to be homeless. But in this case, He certainly asked His servant Isaiah to embrace a time of hardship in order to advance His cause. And Isaiah wasn’t an isolated case. Hosea endured a trying marriage as part of his ministry to Israel (Hos 1-2), and Ezekiel’s wife died as an illustration for the nation (Ez 24:16-24).
Jesus Himself said that God’s servants should not only expect, but embrace!, suffering and hardship: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)
So, how about that hardship that’s recently come your way? How about that crisis you’re dealing with? How about that storm you’re trying to weather? Have you stopped to consider that this calamity will be used by God for good? Have you ever thought that your witness in this situation is an important part of God’s plan for your life and the lives of those around you?
Throughout history, God has called His servants to hardship in many ways and at many times, and I’m convinced that, at times, He still calls us to hardship today. For those who want to live in closer relationship with God, hardship is a given, for God Himself embraces hardship. Thus, getting to know Him better and becoming more like Him must include becoming more acquainted with suffering.
By determining to create intelligent beings with freedom, God has fully embraced hardship. First, He embraced the possibility of it by allowing us the freedom to choose, and second, He embraced the reality of it by taking on the responsibility of dealing with the sin that entered the universe through our choices. God could have easily avoided suffering by not creating us free, but He chose the way of love instead.
God has never run away from suffering, and while following God doesn’t mean running after suffering or seeking it out, it does mean being willing to embrace it when it comes to us. This may not be the easy way, but it is the way of love.
God will take care of you.
And the prophecies of doom continue: “Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: ‘Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!’” (vs 9)
And Babylon wouldn’t be the only one to fall to the Assyrians. Isaiah predicted that Edom and Arabia would fall, too, and he was right. In fact, everyone in the region fell to the formidable Assyrian army . . . except, that is, the inhabitants of Jerusalem who lived under faithful King Hezekiah.
Rather interesting, isn’t it? Not even Babylon could withstand the might and power of the Assyrian army, yet King Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem managed to stop the Assyrians (read about it in 2 Kings 19), and the city was saved. Okay, actually it was God who defeated the Assyrians at Jerusalem. He said, “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.” (2 Kgs 19:34)
Whenever you are tempted to fight your own battles, please remember that you don’t have to. God will take care of you. If He can defeat an army of 185,000 soldiers that have a lone city surrounded, He can do anything.
As King Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem discovered, you don’t have to be strong, resourceful, or lucky. All you have to do is trust in God. When we depend on Him to take care of us, we will see Him come through for us time and time again.
Give Him a chance to come through for you. He will!
God opens and shuts doors.
In the last part of this chapter, Isaiah wrote about Eliakim, who was going to become the chief royal steward: “I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (vs 21-22)
These words immediately rang in my mind, and I remembered that this very thing was written of Jesus in the book of Revelation: “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Rev 3:7)
This made me think about all the doors God has open and shut in my life. I have experienced both ends of the spectrum—open doors that I would have rather had shut and shut doors that I would have rather had opened. And as I faced each one of those doors in its time, it was hard to surrender my will and my plans to the reality I saw before me.
Yet, as I think back over my life and I ponder how I would have open and shut the doors differently at the time (had I been in control of God), I sometimes shudder to think where I would be now. I can look back over my life and, in many cases, see the then-unfathomable wisdom of God in both the open and shut doors.
I like this image of God as the doorkeeper, and I like the fact that nobody else can change the position of a door He has set. If He has opened it, it is open, and nobody can shut it. If He has shut it, it is shut, and nobody can open it. Ultimately, nobody else can take you out of God’s will for you.
The passage in Revelation I quoted above goes on in the next verse to say this: “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev 3:8) Do you know where this door is? John gives its location in the very next chapter: “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.” (Rev 4:1)
In this world, God opens and shuts doors in our lives according to His will for us. And His ultimate will for us is that we would come to the place where we choose to walk through the door—His door!—that always stands open in heaven. In helping to bring us to that point (if possible), He will open and shut doors as necessary in our lives. True happiness in this world comes in accepting the doors as they are.
I want to close today with Bible commentator F.B. Meyer’s glorious little statement on this verse: “Down a long corridor of closed doors we may sometimes have to pass. It seems heartbreaking to see doors labeled Friendship, Love, and Home shut against us; but beyond them there is the one unclosed door through which we shall enter into our true life. Oh, do not lose heart and hope in useless weeping over the closed doors of the past! Follow Him, who has the keys.”
God speaks your language.
And now, to the laundry list of nations that will fall at the command of God, Isaiah adds Canaan—specifically the port cities of Tyre and Sidon: “Who was it that planned to bring all this on Tyre, that imperial city, whose merchant princes were the most honored men on earth? The Lord Almighty planned it. He planned it in order to put an end to their pride in what they had done and to humiliate their honored ones.” (vs 8-9)
Doesn’t it seem, thus far in Isaiah, like God’s in a really bad mood? It seems that any nation who doesn’t serve Him and Him alone is put on the waiting list for destruction. And that seems to be an altogether different picture of God than the one Jesus presented when He walked the Earth.
As I thought about this today, I realized that, first, it might be helpful to understand the mindset of the ancient world. Each nation had a god (and usually, it was more like hundreds of gods) that they worshiped. There were no a-theistic nations; rather, most were poly-theistic. (God attempted to make Israel into a mono-theistic nation, with limited success.)
Since all these different nations served all these different gods, the prevailing wisdom of the time was that a nation prospered or suffered in direct proportion to the power of their particular gods. Thus, if a nation was financially prosperous and successful on the battlefield, the conclusion was that their gods were powerful. If a nation suffered from poverty and losses on the battlefield, it could only be because their gods were weak and useless.
So, once a nation was convinced of the power of any given god, they would begin to worship that god. This doesn’t mean that they would abandon their previous gods, but that they would simply add the worship of this new god. I guess they figured they would cover all their bases—sort of like deity insurance.
Strength, might, power—this was the prevailing language of the day. Every nation understood it, and every nation spoke it. The heathen nations (and even the Israelites) would not have understood a message from heaven that said, Hey guys, it’s Me, God. The only true God. Baal doesn’t exist. Dagon doesn’t exist. None of those gods are real, and I don’t really like all this fighting. Just listen to Me, and we can all learn how to get along.
Not only would the heathen nations have not understood that message, they would never have even heard it! Remember Pharaoh and the plagues? At the time, the only thing those nations could “hear” was physical might and strength, and if the God of the Israelites couldn’t defeat other armies on the battlefield or “take down” the nations who put their trust in other gods, then He wasn’t worth getting too worked up about.
I know, this sort of battle talk offends our 21st-century sensibilities. Through the ministry of Jesus, God has been able to bring us to a better understanding of His character and the principles of His kingdom, and we now know that God prefers peace to war. He would much rather speak gently than to have to raise His voice.
But it should encourage us to know that God is willing to communicate with us by whatever means is available to Him. If power is the only thing you understand, God will use power to get your attention. If you can only “hear” someone when they’re shouting at you, God is willing to employ His best Mount Sinai voice in His conversations with you.
God knows you through and through, and He is fluent in your language. Whatever particular dialect you require, He is more than able and willing to speak it to you. You never need to worry that God isn’t able to get through to you. Communication is His specialty. Every one of His children speaks a slightly different language, and He is fluent in every single one.
God is a muse.
If this wasn’t such serious business, there could be something almost comical about the way these doom and gloom prophecies keep escalating. First, it was doom prophesied on the average nations, then the bigger and stronger nations, and now . . . the whole world: “Look! The Lord is about to destroy the earth and make it a vast wasteland. He devastates the surface of the earth and scatters the people. Priests and laypeople, servants and masters, maids and mistresses, buyers and sellers, lenders and borrowers, bankers and debtors—none will be spared. The earth will be completely emptied and looted. The Lord has spoken!” (vs 1-3)
If you have spent any time reading the book of Revelation, the thought of the “end times” has probably crossed your mind once or twice. I know I’ve thought about it—especially as it seems so many things in the world are in upheaval right now! It’s hard to imagine where it could all go or just how bad things could get.
As Isaiah goes on in this chapter, he certainly doesn’t paint a very nice picture of the conditions to come: “Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire, and only a few are left alive. The grapevines waste away, and there is no new wine. All the merrymakers sigh and mourn. The cheerful sound of tambourines is stilled; the happy cries of celebration are heard no more. The melodious chords of the harp are silent. Gone are the joys of wine and song; alcoholic drink turns bitter in the mouth. The city writhes in chaos; every home is locked to keep out intruders. Mobs gather in the streets, crying out for wine. Joy has turned to gloom. Gladness has been banished from the land. The city is left in ruins, its gates battered down.” (vs 6-12)
Wow, check out all the negative words in that preceding paragraph—curse, sigh, mourn, silent, bitter, gloom, ruins. As the cheap pleasures of the world are stripped away, the artificial joy they created also quickly disappears. There is no more joy or gladness or singing; now, there is only gloom and crying and chaos.
Oh, but not so fast. Isaiah continues: “Throughout the earth the story is the same—only a remnant is left, like the stray olives left on the tree or the few grapes left on the vine after harvest. But all who are left shout and sing for joy. Those in the west praise the Lord’s majesty. In eastern lands, give glory to the Lord. In the lands beyond the sea, praise the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. We hear songs of praise from the ends of the earth, songs that give glory to the Righteous One!” (vs 13-16)
There is some music after all, and notice who is singing—a remnant who are faithful to the Lord. It is very important to understand why they are singing. It is not because they have been spared from the awfulness of the Earth’s destruction; no, Isaiah says that the story is the same throughout the Earth. Their song has not been inspired by their circumstances; it has been inspired by their God.
When all the sinful mirth and worldly glee has come to an end, the joy of the saints is as full and lively as ever because the foundation of all their hopes and the fountain of all their comforts can never fail. They have not built their security on the things of this world; thus, when the things of this world disappear, they remain secure. They can sing when it seems there is nothing to sing about.
God is a muse, inspiring songs of joy and praise and peace in the midst of the worst storms this life can muster. Either God can be fully trusted or He can’t, but if He can, then those who rejoice in Him may rejoice even when everything is falling apart. Those who rejoice in Him may rejoice when everything appears hopeless.
God is a muse, inspiring the most beautiful of songs in the ugliest of circumstances. And just as the stars shine most brightly when the sky is pitch black, so do our songs of praise about our trustworthy God sound sweetest when the world says we should have nothing to sing about.
God is a muse. You cannot truly know Him and not sing.
God makes wonderful plans.
Sometimes, all it takes is one verse to knock you over the head with the goodness of God: “Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.” (vs 1)
In my journey through the Bible chapter by chapter, I have run across an interesting phenomenon. A chapter I am reading will highlight a certain characteristic of God’s that I am familiar with—in this case, the fact that He does wonderful things. But then, it will take my understanding a step further, unfolding the beautiful picture of God just a little more.
Maybe you experienced that in the first verse of this chapter as I did. We all know God is faithful, even that He is perfectly faithful. And we all know that God does wonderful things. But then, Isaiah adds that lovely little detail—things planned long ago.
God doesn’t just do nice things on the spur of the moment. He doesn’t just act graciously or carry out wonderful things when the opportunity presents itself. He plans to do wonderful things. He makes opportunities for Himself to do wonderful things for others.
Ah, just one more reason to praise Him! He has planned long ago to be wonderful to us, to be outrageously generous, to bless us beyond belief. This isn’t just something that happens by accident. It is the result of careful and continual planning and preparation.
Right now, this very moment, God is planning wonderful things for you. A thousand years ago, before you or your parents or great-great-great grandparents were ever thought of, God saw you and was planning to be wonderful to you! Today, He has specific ways He is planning to pour out His blessings on you.
He couldn’t wait for you to wake up this morning so He could put His plans into action. He has prepared wonderful things for you today, and He has been planning to spend this day with you for a very long time. I hope you will choose to spend it with Him and delight in all the wonderful things He has planned for you!
God gives perfect peace.
In the past 24 hours, there has been an unexpected turn of events in my family. There has been a situation that has caused me to, once again, step back and realize just how fleeting life is and just how little control we have over the things that happen to us. This isn’t a reality we often face; most of us go merrily through the day, living out the plans we have made for ourselves, gleefully unaware that it could all come crashing down around us in a moment (although somewhere, in the back of our minds, we know it’s true).
But, sooner or later, those times will come—the crisis, the tragedy, the unexpected blow. Our world spins out of control, and while we may think that what we want most is for the crisis to just go away so we can return to our plans, if we sit with the suffering long enough, we will realize that what we really want most is peace and assurance.
There is Someone who offers just that: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.” (vs 3-4)
There is only one way to peace, and that is through trusting the Lord. It sounds so simple, but when we are faced with that moment when we must either do all in our power to make things come out the way we want or turn and surrender our crisis to God, it really isn’t easy. As much lip service as we give to trusting in the Lord, allowing Him to have total control over the outcome of our job insecurity, our rocky relationship, or our brain tumor isn’t the natural thing for us to do. After all, what if His will includes losing a job we love, not getting the divorce we want, or relinquishing our very life?
Can we really trust Him to do what is best for us?
The only time I have seen this sort of steadfast trust in action was when my father looked the fear of his terminal illness right in the eye and said, “God knows what He’s doing.” Because of that mindset of total trust and surrender, he (and my mom and I) were kept in perfect peace—all those long months his health was declining and all the long months since he passed away.
Peace doesn’t mean you don’t grieve. Peace doesn’t mean you don’t get upset. Peace doesn’t mean you cease to feel emotions. Peace just means that you have totally surrendered yourself to the fact that God knows what He’s doing. Those who can live in that reality are those whom God will keep in perfect peace—even as every last thing you have is stripped away from you.
God is the eternal Rock. He’s not going anywhere. Isn’t it time to let go of the illusion that you have control and take hold of His perfect peace instead?
God is not angry.
The title of today’s blog post seemed like a no-brainer. After all, how many Bible passages are (1) spoken directly by God, and (2) spoken so clearly? “On that day sing about a desirable vineyard: I, Yahweh, watch over it; I water it regularly. I guard it night and day so that no one disturbs it. I am not angry, but if it produces thorns and briers for Me, I will fight against it, trample it, and burn it to the ground. Or let it take hold of My strength; let it make peace with Me—make peace with Me.” (vs 2-5)
I am not angry.
That seems like an odd thing to say, right before you mention that if the vineyard produces thorns, you’ll burn it to the ground. I puzzled over this for a long time. I read these verses in every Bible version imaginable. Why declare so adamantly that you are not angry and then threaten to do something that sounds so angry?
Perhaps that’s precisely why. God knows that to burn down the vineyard would look like a decidedly angry act—even if He wasn’t angry at all. He knows that it is this sort of thing that tends to cast doubt upon the idea that God is love and perfect love casts out all fear. It is this sort of thing that has caused so many to misunderstand Him as an angry God.
But the best discipline is never carried out in anger, for the point of true discipline is not to express anger, but to effect a change in the one who is disciplined. God reveals that this is also His motive when He offers an alternative to war—”let it take hold of My strength; let it make peace with Me.”
This is God’s ultimate desire—that we would be His friends. This is God’s ultimate desire—that we would not shut Him out (as walls of thorns were used as a hedge around vineyards to keep people out), but that we would surrender ourselves willingly to Him.
He is the keeper of the vineyard; without His constant care and protection, the vineyard would be destroyed. This, of course, is also true of the vineyard of our souls. And if we try to shut Him out of our hearts, He will not go without a fight. But it’s peace He’s after, not punishment. He is not angry.
God is an infinitely patient teacher.
Days with a baby can be long. Many stay-at-home moms live for the times when their babies nap or go down to sleep for the night. Ahhh, finally a moment to relax, put your feet up, and close your eyes. Otherwise, the days can seem non-stop.
My daughter is a little over nine months old, and it’s exciting to see all the developmental changes she’s undergoing. She cut five teeth last week. She is becoming ever more mobile—although instead of straight crawling, she does this part-crawl, part-walk, part-hop thing. (She might be a monkey.) And she talks, sometimes seemingly non-stop: ba ba ba ba, da da da da, ma ma ma ma, na na na na, ta ta ta ta, aaaaaAAAAHHH!
Pretty soon, that part-crawl, part-walk, part-hop will be a run. And pretty soon, that endless babble will turn into words and sentences. Those teeth will come in fully, then fall out and make way for other teeth. Every day, I am more and more convinced that I will but blink, and she’ll be 16.
Though I’m sure every mother has felt this way, there are some days when I feel all alone with my mission in the world. But today, Isaiah reminded me that God has also raised a few babies in His time: “But that’s exactly how you will be addressed. God will speak to this people in baby talk, one syllable at a time—and he’ll do it through foreign oppressors. He said before, ‘This is the time and place to rest, to give rest to the weary. This is the place to lay down your burden.’ But they won’t listen. So God will start over with the simple basics and address them in baby talk, one syllable at a time—’Da, da, da, da, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s a good little girl, that’s a good little boy.’ And like toddlers, they will get up and fall down, get bruised and confused and lost.” (vs 11-13)
This is the wonderful thing about God. He can relate to us and communicate with us no matter the stage of our spiritual development. If the extent of our spiritual language is ba ba ba ba, da da da da, God is right there with us, helping us develop our speaking skills, teaching us how to form those syllables into words and sentences. If the extent of our spiritual motor skills is a part-crawl, part-walk, part-hop, God is right there with us, holding us up, supporting our feeble muscles, helping us find our feet so we can take off running.
God is an infinitely patient teacher, and there is nothing He can’t teach to those who are willing to advance in their development. To those who are open to the Spirit, they will grow and develop in righteousness as babies and toddlers grow and develop in physical and mental ways. They don’t worry about their walking, their talking, or their teething. They depend on Mom and Dad to meet their needs, and everything else comes in its own time.
But what if, as my daughter grows older, she insists on remaining a nine-month-old forever? What if she refused to walk and talk and feed herself? On a recent episode of the Dr. Phil show, I was shocked to discover that there are people in the world who do just this; they call themselves Adult Babies. Though they are adults, they insist on living the perpetual lifestyle of a baby—wearing diapers (and having someone else change them!), sleeping in a crib, speaking in baby talk, crawling, and being spoon-fed or drinking from a bottle. And, to my further surprise, I discovered that there are other adults out there who “adopt” these babies!
God is an infinitely patient teacher. If we are open to His Spirit and willing to be taught by Him, there will be no obstacle to our spiritual development. It doesn’t matter if we must spend years in the ba ba ba bastage; with our willingness and the Spirit’s work, God will perfect us in His time.
It is the Adult Babies who will eventually force God to let them go, because—while He is an infinitely patient teacher—He cannot force us to be willing to listen and learn. And if we ultimately close ourselves off to the influence of the Spirit in our lives, determined to remain in our diapers and eat from a bottle, there will come a point where God will be able to do no more for us.
God is an infinitely patient teacher, and He wants us to grow up into healthy, happy, fully-functioning spiritual adults. So, no matter where you are in your development—whether a babbling baby or a stormy adolescent, enjoy this day with God. He’ll take care of all your needs, and in His time, He’ll teach you everything you need to know.
God wants your heart.
In this chapter, God reveals what the object of His desire is when it comes to worship: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (vs 13-14)
God doesn’t want us to worship Him because He has designed some list of rules that need to be kept. He wants us to worship Him because He wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to worship Him because He wants us to fall in love with Him, to give Him our hearts, and to commit ourselves to living life for and with Him.
He doesn’t want obedience to a checklist. He wants us.
This is also true in marriage. If my husband tiptoed around the house, trying to only say things he thought I wanted to hear, we might have a “peaceful” relationship, but there would be no intimacy in it. Without honest interaction, we would never really get to know each other. In the same way, even if we honor God with our lips, even if we say all the right things, it won’t ultimately mean anything if we never open our hearts to Him.
What God wants more than our good behavior, best clothes, and reverent language is our hearts, just as they are. He wants our honesty, our vulnerability, and our time. So, if you’re planning to go to “worship” this weekend, remember to take your heart. It’s at the very top of God’s wish list.
God will wound you.
In this chapter, God declares what will happen to those who don’t listen to Him: He will wound them. Sometimes He does that by simply turning us over to the sinful things we have chosen—as in the case of Israel choosing to trust in their “speedy horses” (vs 16) instead of trusting in God. And I believe that, sometimes, He also wounds us Himself. If we are taking a path that will ultimately lead us away from Him, He makes it very hard for us to continue on that path, in order to give us time to change our minds and turn around.
But Isaiah says that this isn’t the way God would prefer to treat us: “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. . . He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. . . The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.” (vs 18-20, 23, 26)
God longs to be gracious and compassionate to us. And that includes feeding us the bread of adversity and the water of affliction if we are determined to take a dangerous path. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies many kisses.” God is a friend whose wounds can be trusted. He is a friend whose bruises we can endure—and even delight in!—as we discover how they work according to His purpose for our best good.
We don’t often like to think of God as inflicting “pain.” In fact, I have a lot of friends who would say that this is somehow a misdirected description of God since Jesus never wounded anyone.
Or did He?
Jesus certainly never struck anyone in anger, but He did drive the money changers out of the temple. He did speak seemingly harsh words to the Pharisees and religious leaders—calling them snakes, liars, and dead men. He even told a story which depicted the High Priest of Israel in hell! Jesus may not have hit with His fists, but He certainly hit the Israelite leaders where it hurt—by challenging their preconceived ideas about the Messiah, their abuse of the sanctuary system, and their very authority.
If only they had responded to these wounds! If only they had admitted what they knew in their hearts—that Jesus was right and they were wrong. But though their pride was wounded, they would not submit. They would not allow God to heal the wounds He had inflicted. They would not suffer themselves to bow the knee and receive God’s grace and compassion. They were determined to keep their power and authority at all costs.
When it is necessary for your good, God will wound you. He won’t leave you on the path toward destruction, multiplying kisses and looking the other way. No, He will bruise, He will wound, He will strike. And when we stop long enough to say, “Hey! Ouch!”, He will swoop in with His grace, His compassion, and His blessings, binding up every bruise He has caused and healing every wound He has inflicted.
You see, when you have chosen the wrong path, any enemy can whisper sweet words in your ear and plant kisses on your cheeks.
But a true Friend will wound.
God doesn't need your help.
After I read this chapter, I thought for a long time about how to sum up all the thoughts that were swirling around in my head. Even after reading about this time and time again in the Old Testament, it is still incredible to me that the Israelites were eager to put their trust in the Egyptians instead of God! I mean, this is the same nation God whooped with the plagues hundreds of years before. He exposed their gods as frauds and all their “strength” as interminable weakness. But it seems the Israelites had forgotten all of that.
So, I began to think about why the Israelites would head back to a defeated nation for security and protection. Isaiah said it had to do with military mathematics: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen. . .” (vs 1)
The Israelites were in trouble. They knew they didn’t have the strength to fight the Assyrians. They looked at the enormity of their problem and decided that they needed to find some way to solve it. But, instead of going to God to discuss a solution to their problem, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Instead of trusting God for help, they decided to rely on what was tangible and practical.
In the Bible, this always signals trouble. In fact, isn’t that how we all got into this mess in the first place? When Eve approached the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she met a serpent there who told her some things about God that made her question whether she was living the best life she could be living. The serpent said that God was holding her back from being her best, and instead of going to God to ask Him about what she had heard, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Instead of trusting God for help, she decided to rely on the solution offered by the serpent.
In the same way, when Eve had eaten the fruit and took some to Adam, he immediately knew that she had done the wrong thing. Now, Adam was faced with a huge problem. God had said that the consequence of eating from that tree would be death. Should he do the right thing and not eat the fruit and risk being separated from Eve forever? Or should he do the wrong thing and also eat the fruit and face the music together? Actually, there was a third option. He should have taken Eve by the hand and said, “Let’s go discuss this little problem with God, shall we?” But Adam didn’t do that. Instead, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Instead of trusting God for help, he decided to rely on his own instincts.
It seems to me that the root (and certainly the results!) of sin is deciding that we can best figure out how to solve our own problems. We think we can come up with the best solutions in our own time and in our own way. But the Bible doesn’t say that God helps those who help themselves. The Bible says that God helps those who wait on Him. God doesn’t need your help in order to solve your problem. He needs you to settle down and trust Him to do what’s best for you!
That’s precisely what Isaiah recommended: “Like birds hovering overhead, the Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will ‘pass over’ it and will rescue it. . . ‘Assyria will fall by no human sword; a sword, not of mortals, will devour them.’” (vs 5,8)
None of this suggests that God needed the Israelites to do anything to help solve their own problem. All they had to do was sit back, relax, and watch God work it out. And God doesn’t need us to help Him solve our problems either. All we need to do is sit back, relax, and watch God work them out.
Stop trying to take control of the situations that are causing you trouble! God is more than able to accomplish anything that needs to be done in your life—in the right way, at the right time, and for the right purpose! Trust!
God offer security.
I thought the ending of this chapter was absolutely beautiful: “The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be.” (vs 16-20)
The word “secure” struck me, because I will be driving my in-laws back to the airport today, and they will have to pass through a security checkpoint before they are able to board the plane. We have put those checkpoints in place because we want to believe that the airplanes we fly on are safe. We want to feel secure—and not just on planes, but in our homes, our schools, our communities.
But our “security” works a little differently than God’s security. We employ security officers and set up checkpoints in order to prevent bad things from happening. We try to avoid misfortune and mishap by anticipating evil (or finding a way to stop it quickly once it’s in progress).
God’s security is something different, however. It is not the absence of bad circumstances. Rather, it is the presence of peace, the peace that comes as a result of understanding God’s righteousness. As we come to know God better, as we understand that He always does what is right and good, we develop peace and confidence in Him. Thus, as Isaiah says, even when everything around us is destroyed, we are not destroyed. Even when everything around us is chaotic, we can be at peace.
God doesn’t offer us security by artificially manufacturing peaceful circumstances. In fact, Jesus promised us that when we follow Him, our circumstances will often not be peaceful! Instead, God makes us secure in the midst of the trials and troubles that come to us in life. That’s why the security He offers is everlasting; it doesn’t change with the seasons.
The more we learn about God, the more we will experience the security He offers—security that is not based on where we are or who we’re with, but security that is based on who He is.
God is everlasting fire!
Everlasting fire . . . hmm, what does that sound like? Hell, right? Isn’t that what you’ve always heard—that the righteous are going to live forever with God in heaven and the wicked are going to burn forever in hell? Interestingly enough, that’s pretty much the opposite of what Isaiah says in this chapter. Here, he says (as the title of a great sermon once put it) that heaven and hell have the same zip code.
The wicked aren’t going to live forever in burning fire, the righteous are! “Sinners in Zion are filled with fear. The sinful shake with fear. They cry, ‘Who among us can live with the fire that destroys? Who among us can live with the fire that burns forever?’ He who walks with God, and whose words are good and honest, he who will not take money received from wrong-doing, and will not receive money given in secret for wrong-doing, he who stops his ears from hearing about killing, and shuts his eyes from looking at what is sinful, he will have a place on high.” (vs 14-16)
No wonder the sinners are afraid. Who wouldn’t see a raging fire and be terrified? Of course, they would naturally ask, “Who can survive such a thing?” And then, what’s even more incredible, an answer comes: “The righteous can. In fact, they will live in this fire forever!”
God is everlasting fire. He is described this way all over the pages of Scripture. To Adam and Eve, He appeared as a flaming sword. To Moses, He appeared as a burning bush. To the Israelites, He appeared as a pillar of fire.
God is everlasting fire, and He is who He is when it comes to both the righteous and the wicked. It’s just that the righteous can live in the fire whereas the wicked cannot: “‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,’says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Mal 4:1-4)
Clearly, the righteous live—even frolic!—in God’s fire. In fact, God is described here as a “sun” of righteousness, and you know what the sun is, don’t you? A big ball of fire!
The wicked also encounter this fire, but they are not able to survive in God’s presence. Why? I don’t know the physics behind it, but I do know that God doesn’t treat His righteous children any differently than He treats His wicked children. It’s clear that He doesn’t “burn” one group and “protect” the other. To both, He will simply reveal Himself as He is, and in this chapter, Isaiah has described the qualities of those who will be able to live in the presence of God.
Maybe it’s time for us to start rethinking our entire concept of “heaven” versus “hell.” God is everlasting fire, and if Isaiah makes anything clear at all, it’s that (1) the wicked cannot live in this fire and (2) the righteous can.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to burn forever?
God will eventually let go.
Whoa, scary chapter! No wonder lots of people read the Bible (especially the Old Testament) and get the idea that God—while He may graciously be biding His time—is out to “get us” in the end. In fact, this chapter is so scary that it (and lots of other chapters in Isaiah) got completely cut out of the Revised Common Lectionary, used by many (if not most) mainline Protestant churches. If you attend such a church, that means you will never hear this chapter of the Bible read in worship. Ever.
That would be a shame.
This is the “Romans 1″ of the Old Testament. That is, it is the chapter that speaks plainly about the wrath of God and what it is. We tend to overlook that little detail as we get caught up in the horrific description of what follows God’s wrath.
First of all, what is God’s wrath? Let’s briefly look at Paul’s description in Romans: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them . . . Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts . . . Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts . . . so God gave them over to a depraved mind . . .” (Rom 1:18-19, 24, 26, 28)
Clearly, Paul writes that the “wrath of God” revealed from heaven is God’s giving up on people. His “wrath” isn’t some sort of punitive anger; it’s surrender. When there is nothing more that can be done for His wicked children, God surrenders Himself to the choices they have made and “gives them up” in order to reap the consequences of their choices.
Did you notice that Isaiah describes God’s wrath in the exact same way? “The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is on all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter.” (vs 2) We read this verse, and we get all hung up on the part that says “He will totally destroy them,” but there is not a period at the end of that sentence! The last part is just as important; it describes how God “destroys” them—He “gives them over” to slaughter. He gives up. He surrenders. He lets go.
Many Bible commentators believe that Isaiah was prophesying about the end of the world in this chapter and that these events are connected with those described in Revelation 8 and 9. And just before those end-time events, Revelation 7 says that God has had four angels “holding back the four winds of the earth” in order to prevent the catastrophic consequences of sin until all His faithful children have been sealed. Once that has occurred, God is again depicted as “releasing” (or “letting go” of) these winds, and that is when calamity ravages the Earth.
What if God’s judgment isn’t about punishing anyone? What if it’s about finally allowing sin to work its own destruction—something that God has been holding back in order to give time for salvation? What if the last thing God wants to do is let go?
I’m sure any parent who has lost a child can resonate with the idea of never wanting to let go. I don’t think God wants to let go either; that’s why He begs and pleads and threatens and yells and screams and promises and waits. But, in the end, if He has children who are hell-bent on leaving Him, God will eventually let go.
If we insist on having our way, He will surrender.
God turns things around.
Have you ever watched a movie about the struggle between good and evil that ended up with evil defeating good? I know I have. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a good example right off the top of my head, but I know that more than once in recent years, I have come to the end of a movie with a knot in my stomach because the story didn’t end well. What does Hollywood have against happy endings?
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t have anything against them. After several chapters full of warnings of impending doom, judgment, and God’s wrath, Isaiah sees a happy ending: “Then the blind people will see again, and the deaf will hear. Crippled people will jump like deer, and those who can’t talk now will shout with joy. Water will flow in the desert, and streams will flow in the dry land. The burning desert will have pools of water, and the dry ground will have springs. Where wild dogs once lived, grass and water plants will grow.” (vs 5-7)
I love the idea in this passage that our God can turn any situation around. The blind? They’ll see again. The deaf? They’ll hear again. Crippled people? They’ll be leaping out in traffic like deer. (Okay, hopefully not in traffic.) Those who can’t talk? They’ll be shouting louder than the rest of us. The desert? It will become an ocean. Dead places? They’ll become full of life.
Is there a part of your life that you consider less-than-ideal? Are you struggling with illness, loneliness, joblessness, homelessness, or any other kind of -ness? No matter what it is, God can turn it around in an instant, and He will. In His time, He will make all things new.
Comedian Mark Lowry used to say that his favorite Bible verse was the one that says, “And it came to pass . . .” (In other words, it didn’t come to stay.) No matter what you’re going through today, enjoy it, because it will pass. Either it will pass or you will pass. It came to pass!
Whatever it is, God is going to make it new; one of these days, He’s even going to make you new, so just for today, relax and enjoy your life just as it is. Wait on the Lord, and He will turn things around in His time. He specializes in happy endings.
God allows competition.
Have you ever noticed that for everything God offers, Satan has a counterfeit? And usually, it sounds pretty good. So good that, sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish the right from the wrong. Instead of trying to decide between black and white, it’s more like trying to decide between white and off-white.
In this chapter, Isaiah told of an offer made to the Israelites by the commander of the Assyrian army: “‘Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.’” (vs 16-17)
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t this almost exactly what God said to the Israelites when He was preparing to take them into the Promised Land? Didn’t He tell them that if they followed Him, He would make sure they had the best of everything in a land flowing with milk and honey? Didn’t He promise them happiness and success?
The king of Assyria was asking the Israelites to do the very same things, but unfortunately, he was trying to promise what only God can promise. It was all just a ploy to get them to surrender. And if they had done that, I am willing to bet that things would have looked very different from what he had promised.
In fact, Bible commentator David Guzik says this commander was likely referring to the policy of “forced resettlement practiced by the Assyrians. When they conquered a people, they forcibly resettled them in far away places, to keep their spirits broken and their power weak. Rabshakeh’s speech was intended to make this terrible fate seem attractive.“ Sort of like Hitler promising the Jews a wonderful vacation at Auschwitz.
Then again, it’s always that way with Satan’s claims, isn’t it? He promises that things will be so much better if we will just do what he says. But once we give in, we find that things are anything but better. (In fact, that’s what Adam and Eve found out the hard way. They thought that by eating the forbidden fruit, they would gain something. Instead, they lost a whole lot.)
Remarkably, though, God is so interested in freedom that He allows His competition to make a sales pitch. He is so committed to our being able to choose that He allows Satan to make these bogus claims—even when they sound exactly like what God promises!
Now, to be fair, God doesn’t just leave us in the dark, trying to figure out the right way to go. He always provides us with sound evidence so that we know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—which way is right and which way is wrong. But if we are determined to go after evil, He leaves that option available to us. He is not a dictator. He allows Himself to be challenged by the competition.
God—the original "Mission: Impossible" guy.
Although the acting has sometimes left something to be desired, I must say that I have taken quite a fancy to the Mission: Impossible movies. I’m always fascinated at how the characters manage to find a way around the “impossible” situations they face. And if there was a Mission: Impossible story in the Bible, this could be it. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, has gone around the region, conquering everyone and everything in sight (including Israel!), and now, he was sitting on Jerusalem’s doorstep with 185,000 soldiers, ready to capture Judah as well. Good guys, bad guys, lots of drama—this chapter has it all.
First, the “trash talk.” I’m a linguist with a penchant for sarcasm, so I have always enjoyed sparring with words—and this chapter didn’t disappoint! Did you catch the bravado? First, it’s the king of Assyria who puffs up his feathers in a message to Hezekiah: “Don’t let your God, on whom you so naively lean, deceive you, promising that Jerusalem won’t fall to the king of Assyria. Use your head! Look around at what the kings of Assyria have done all over the world—one country after another devastated! And do you think you’re going to get off? Have any of the gods of any of these countries ever stepped in and saved them, even one of these nations my predecessors destroyed—Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who lived in Telassar? Look around. Do you see anything left of the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, the king of Ivvah?” (vs 10-13)
Ooooh. Talk about throwing down the gauntlet. This guy was pretty sure of himself. And after defeating all those other nations (and nations’ gods), Sennacherib was confident that Jerusalem would be his. Adding to his confidence must have been the fact that he had defeated Israel—who supposedly served the same god as Hezekiah and his people.
But God had a response for Sennacherib’s challenge. And I was quite amused to see that God is also fluent in the language of trash talk: “Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you. Daughter Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee.” (vs 22) Whoa. What could be more feeble and fragile in this male-dominated culture than a girl? And a virgin girl at that?! Yet what God is saying to the king is, You’re so weak that virgin girls laugh at you and toss their pretty little heads while you run away.
The divine dressing-down then continues for several verses, ending with this: “Now I will put a hook in your nose, a bit in your mouth, then I will send you back to where you came from.” (vs 29) That may sound sort of strange to us—the whole hook-in-the-nose and bit-in-the-mouth thing—but this is exactly what the Assyrians did to their prisoners! When they captured people, they humiliated them by piercing them. And now the Lord says that He’s going to give Sennacherib a little taste of his own medicine.
Still, all bravado aside, the residents of Jerusalem appeared to be in an impossible situation. They were totally surrounded by an army of such magnitude that they have little hope of survival. From a practical perspective, their goose was cooked. But God doesn’t subscribe to the “practical perspective.” He has His own perspective, and He is able to do the impossible!
Just when we’re looking at the impossible—wondering how we’re going to be able to fight hard enough or smart enough—God says, “How about if I just put the whole army to sleep? They won’t even wake up in the morning!” Not only can God talk the talk, but He has the goods to back it up. So no matter how impossible the situation looks to you, don’t sweat it. God specializes in impossible missions!
God loves us in a big way.
I often tell my husband that nothing makes me happier than to hear those three little words from him: You were right. Such simple things can make a girl’s day! (ha ha) And I must admit that this was on my mind as I read today’s chapter from Isaiah. I can imagine that there are a lot of words we can say that would make God happy, and I think some of them were in this chapter.
Hezekiah was facing a terminal illness. Of course, he found this distressing: “I am in the middle of my life. Do I have to go through the gates of death? Will I have the rest of my life taken away from me? . . . I cried like a bird and moaned like a dove. My eyes became tired as I looked to the heavens. Lord, I have troubles. Please help me.” (vs 10, 14)
Hezekiah did what I’m sure most people do when facing a terminal illness: He begged God to heal him. And, for some reason, God decided to do just that. He told Hezekiah that he would live for another 15 years.
After receiving his healing, as Hezekiah was reflecting on all that had happened to him, he spoke these words: “What can I say? The Lord told me what would happen and then made it happen. I have had these troubles in my soul, so now I will be humble all my life. Lord, because of you, people live. Because of you, my spirit also lives; you made me well and let me live. It was for my own good that I had such troubles.” (vs 15-17)
God loves us in a big way; that is to say, He loves us in the context of the bigger picture. He may be interested in our comfort for the moment, but He is also interested in our best good for the long haul, and whenever and wherever those two things conflict, He will always choose what’s best for us in the big scheme of things.
And one day (hopefully in the not-too-distant future!), I believe we will stand with God and be able to look back over the course of our lives and see it then as He sees it now. And I believe that we will absolutely marvel at all the ways God was weaving His blessings into our lives and working out every situation for our best good. I can’t imagine doing anything but falling down on my face and exclaiming, “Wise and wonderful are your ways, O God. I wouldn’t change a thing!”
Just as it gives us pleasure to see the “light bulb go on” in our children’s mind when we’re sharing something particularly meaningful to us, I believe it brings God happiness when we can see how He has loved us in all the big ways—even when there might have been less-than-pleasant moments involved.
For all the times He’s had to say no or not yet when we didn’t really understand why, I think it will make Him happy to finally be able to show us what things looked like from His perspective. And I can’t help but think that He will have a tiny twinkle in His eye when we turn to Him, perhaps with a tear in our own eye, and say, “Now I understand. Thank you. You were right.”
God never says, "Why Me?"
Having just been through Father’s Day weekend, I have been thinking a lot about my dad. He taught me so many things—about how to live and, especially, about how to die. Most of what I learned from him wasn’t spoken, but observed. But today’s chapter made me think about an incredible lesson I learned from him shortly after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. His best friend had come to visit, and he was obviously having a hard time accepting the news. During the course of their conversation, he looked at my dad and said, “Why you?” Without a thought, my dad shrugged and replied, “Why not me?”
It still moves me now, just to think about it. Because I know that there have been so many times in my own life when, confronted with a less-than-desirable situation, I was eager to whine, “Why me?!” As if I should be immune to life’s problems. Or, worse, as if I should wish for them to happen to someone else, just so long as I’m not affected.
Surprisingly, that was King Hezekiah’s attitude at the end of today’s chapter! He had done something very foolish—shown all the treasures of Judah to potential enemies—but when Isaiah told him that it would all lead to ruin for the nation and his own children further down the line, Hezekiah’s response was stunning: “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” ( vs 8 )
Wow! That was almost unbelievable to me! If I knew that something I had done was going to make life difficult and painful for my children, I hope my response would not be, “Well, that’s okay. At least the rest of my life is going to be smooth sailing!” I think I would be devastated.
Unfortunately, in Hezekiah, we see an example of a man who cared more about his own comfort than the plight of others. As long as he enjoyed peace, it seems he didn’t much care what even his own children would have to endure! By contrast, God is quite the opposite. He will gladly sacrifice Himself, enduring personal pain and discomfort, in an effort to make things easier for us. He doesn’t want to enjoy “peace and security” on the backs of His precious children.
No, Paul wrote that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) He didn’t refuse the cross and grab the joy. He didn’t take the good stuff and leave us to deal with the bad stuff. No, He voluntarily entered the mess we created and sacrificed Himself to save us. He always thinks of others before self.
When His creatures messed up His perfect creation, God could have sighed and said, “Why Me?” But He didn’t. He never says that. Instead, He said, “Why not me?”
He took the fall and thought of us above all.
God gives abundant life.
You know, there are some days on this blog when it seems like I’m grasping at straws to find something, anything in the chapter to write about. I particularly remember feeling that way during the ten genealogy chapters of 1 Chronicles! Today, I had the opposite problem. I think I could have written 15 different blogs from things in Isaiah 40. How come he had to cram all the great stuff in the same chapter?
Alas, I will try to incorporate several different points by placing them all under the umbrella idea that only God offers us a truly abundant life. That’s the kind of life He wants us to have, and so this chapter begins with a promise that no matter what we have suffered, God is going to more than make it up to us: ”Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (vs 1-2)
That’s right. God not only returns good for evil, He returns a double portion of good for evil. No matter where our suffering has come from—someone else’s sins or our own sins—God promises to more than make it up to us if we will let Him. He holds no grudge against us for any of the wrong things we’ve done. All He wants to do is be good to us.
The second promise about the abundant life we find in this chapter is that God’s plan is to make life easy for us: “A voice of one calling: ’In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (vs 3-4)
Sometimes, we give the impression that living life God’s way must be hard in order for it to be right. Actually, it’s the opposite. When we follow God’s plan for our lives, we discover that He makes the way easier, not harder. He levels out the mountains. He fills in the valleys. It’s His intention for us to travel on our way as smoothly as possible.
I was out to lunch the other day with my husband and our daughter, and for some reason, I began to think about family relationships in this world. So many children now come from broken homes and blended families. So many children are born to mothers out of wedlock. All of that has to add such stress to life! I was sitting at the table trying to imagine what life would be like if David had other children with an ex-wife or a child from a previous girlfriend. I’m sure there would be a lot more mountains and a lot more valleys! God would like to save us from that kind of stress.
But, God cannot always save us from stress or suffering in the here and now. As He is working out His big plan for us and the rest of the universe, there are many times when He must simply say, “Wait and be patient. I’m working on it!”
For all those times, there comes the essential component of God’s abundant life—supernatural strength to live today, right where we are: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (vs 29-31)
God offers us an abundant life—no matter who we are, no matter where we’ve been, no matter what we’ve done. He wants to make life as easy as possible for us. In His time, He will make up for any hardships we’ve suffered. And through it all, He will lift us up on His wings, refreshing us and renewing us with His presence.
God will hold you up.
There seemed to be quite a bit of “propping things up” in this chapter.
First, humans trying to hold something up: “They help each other and say to their companions, ‘Be strong!’The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, ‘It is good.’ The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.”(vs 6-7)
Second, God holding humans up: “I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (vs 9-10)
When I read that, it struck me that we really only have one of two options: either we will allow our God to uphold us, or we will spend our lives trying to prop up the gods we have made with our own hands. Notice that God’s hand alone is strong enough to hold us, yet our own hand is not steady enough to hold the idols we carve out. We must nail them down. We must always seek to make them more stable, for they are always in danger of toppling over.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that Isaiah was talking to people who actually made tangible idols. They created them, formed them, and then turned around and prayed to them. They asked the very thing they had made to save them. That’s sort of ridiculous! Yet I wonder how often we do the same exact thing with parts of our lives that aren’t so tangible.
How often do we rely on money to make us feel secure, or sex to make us feel wanted, or alcohol to comfort our hurt? How often do we turn to things that, intellectually, we know have no power to save or help us? And how often, when all those things fail to satisfy, do we find ourselves search for yet another “nail” to keep our idol from falling over?
Isn’t it time to let your idols come toppling down? You can stop trying to hold up your gods and, instead, let your God hold you up. That’s what He’s been waiting for. He says, I choose you. I don’t reject you. I don’t want you to be afraid. I am with you. I don’t want you to be dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. And I will hold you up with my own hand.
God is always fresh.
When I was growing up, I was sometimes accused of having a fresh mouth. And I must admit, I have a sincere appreciation of sarcasm. But when I say that God is always fresh, I don’t mean that He has a fresh mouth (although He is very adept at sarcasm). What I mean is that He is always moving forward, never stuck in the past, always doing something new.
Did you catch that in this chapter? “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (vs 8-9)
Isaiah continues this thought in the very next chapter: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:18-19)
God is always doing something new. His creativity is always expressing itself in new and different ways—in the universe, in our world, in our lives. He doesn’t get hung up on the past, and He doesn’t want us to get hung up in the past either!
No matter what our past has been, God is moving! He is on to bigger and better things, and He really wants us to come with Him. Things with God never get stale. If we turn up our noses at His first plan, He will move right on to a new plan. If we don’t want anything to do with that plan, He will move right on to another plan.
God is always doing something new. His plans for us are always fresh. We can have a brand-new start with Him every single day. So don’t get hung up on your past. Instead, anticipate what God has for you in your future. Look forward to all the new things He is planning for your life!
God protects us.
This chapter begins with one of my all-time favorite passages in the Bible: “But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.’” (vs 1-2)
If you have (or have had) little children, you know they can be prone to fits of immediate, albeit temporary, despair. My ten-month-old is a little like that. When I lay her down to change her diaper, sometimes you would think the world is coming to an end. As she is practicing standing up and balancing, sometimes she loses her grip and goes tumbling. I wonder if she ever looks at me and thinks, How could she let me fall?
I know this is only going to continue (and probably get worse) as she grows up. I think back to my own childhood and recall all the things that happened to me that I thought were the “end of the world” at the time—dropping my ice cream cone in the sand, breaking a toy, losing my favorite hat, not having a boyfriend, getting dumped by a boyfriend.
Life brings many small disappointments to children (although, in the eyes of children, they seem huge). Sometimes, parents can and do alleviate those hurts. Other times, they can’t or don’t. Parents have a perspective that their children don’t have. They know that it’s not the end of the world when a 13-year-old girl loses the “love of her life” in a breakup. They know life will continue if that favorite stuffed animal is never found. They are busy protecting their children from the things that really matter, things that could cripple or harm them for life.
God is the same way. He is interested in protecting us in the ultimate sense. He is busy protecting us from the things that could cripple or harm us for eternity. Notice, in the passage quoted above, that God does not promise to keep us away from the storms or the fires. We will go through the waters! We will walk through the fire! God doesn’t promise to provide us with a way around them, but with a way through them.
Often, however, we are more like little children who have not been spared the immediate storm or fire. We want what we want when we want it, and since we can’t see the big picture as God can, the loss of our favorite toy or the dissolution of the love we believed so much in can seem like the end of the world.
In those moments, we may honestly ask, “Where is God? Why did He allow this to happen?” And Isaiah reminds us (as all good parents remind their children) that these things we go through are most definitely not the end of the world for us. Ultimately, we will arise from the waters. Ultimately, we will emerge from the fire. And God will have been there protecting us every step of the way.
God doesn't want you to be an idiot.
Especially as I journey through the Bible, I am finding more and more “all-time favorite” chapters, but this one certainly ranks right up there. The undercurrent of sarcasm (and sadness) is strong. In this chapter, God is decrying the fact that among the nation of people He has chosen, there are a lot of idiots:
“[Cedar wood] is used as fuel for burning; some of it [the carpenter] takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire . . . From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me! You are my god!’ They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, ‘Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?’ Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” (vs 15-20)
Unbelievable, isn’t it? That a person could expect to be saved by the very thing he manipulated and formed! He burned half of it in the fire, but asks the other half to save him. It’s beyond idiotic.
And yet, God says this is what happens when we refuse to acknowledge Him as sovereign. When we refuse to trust Him, to submit and surrender ourselves to Him, this is how we end up: deluded, confused, ridiculous. We don’t even have the inclination to admit the truth to ourselves—that we’re putting our “trust” in something we know is a lie.
God doesn’t want you to be an idiot. He doesn’t want you to become dull in your thinking or futile in your efforts. He doesn’t want you to put your trust in anything or anyone but Him. There is no other besides Him. No other Rock, no other Savior, no other God.
God loves atheists.
Hey! Would you rather eat a can of worms than be mistaken for a “believer”? Do you think the idea of any deity, let alone a loving and personal God, is a harebrained notion? When somebody refers to “the F word,” do you automatically think of “faith”? If so, I’ve got great news for you!
God loves you, and He will still bless you, even if you don’t believe in Him! Notice these wonderful verses from today’s chapter: “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus . . . I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me.” (vs 1-5)
Cyrus, future king of Persia (at the time this prophecy was written), was certainly not a believer—at least not in the God of Israel. In 1879, a clay tablet was discovered that now sits in the British Museum, and on this tablet, Cyrus declared his allegiance to the Babylonian god, Marduk. Yet, God called Cyrus His “anointed” and promised to bless him with strength and riches.
Really, could this God we serve be any greater? He doesn’t even curse those who don’t believe in Him! In fact, far from being indifferent to them, He plans ways to bless them!
So, if you’re an atheist, you might want to give the God of the Bible a second look. (He’s definitely got His eye on you—in a good way!) And if you’re a believer who is fond of turning an accusing finger or tongue toward your atheist acquaintances, you might want to think twice about that. God loves atheists just as much as He loves believers. It would be best not to curse what God has blessed!
God is a master.
I was searching for a noun to put after the word “master” in the title, but the right one just wouldn’t come to me. I considered master player, master manipulator, and master of the game, but none of them seemed to quite convey the idea that this chapter of Isaiah put in my head.
I once saw some old film footage of American chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer playing the game as a teenager. There was a room set up with at least ten tables, and at each table was a chess board and an opponent. And Bobby was walking around the room in circle, playing multiple games of chess at the same time, assessing each board and making his move within seconds. He won every game.
I struggle with the game of chess, so I marvel at a mind like Fischer’s. I wish I could look at a chess board and just “get it.” But it doesn’t come easily for me.
So, what does Isaiah 46 have to do with chess? I thought of the game when I read this passage: “Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” (vs 8-11)
Have you ever thought about God as distant, faraway, aloof, disinterested, or passive? Maybe like that Bette Midler hit from the 90s that claimed God was “watching us” from a distance?
This passage blows that idea right out of the water! God is anything but passive! And I get the impression from this passage that He has His fingers in far more things than we give Him credit for. God’s hands have not been tied by evil. Far from it—He continues to work out His good purposes in this world despite the evil we see around us. In fact, God takes the evil we see around us and turns it into good!
So, I have this image of God as a chess Grandmaster, moving swiftly around the room, juggling a billion “games” at once. Of course, we are the “games” (although this is not to imply that we are simply puppets on strings). For every move we make, God has a counter-move. For all our strategizing, God is ten steps ahead of us.
I see God as extremely active in this world, almost as a master manipulator. I think He will manipulate anything and everything He can, while always stopping short of manipulating people or trampling their freedom to choose. Up to that point, however, I see Him as orchestrating life behind the scenes, weaving all the experiences of our life into a grand and beautiful tapestry.
You know how the old saying goes: Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous. God is certainly not passive. He is in the middle of the game with us, and He’s a master.
God shatters all our delusions.
Several weeks ago, English teacher David McCullough Jr. made national headlines when he told the graduating class from Wellesley High School, “You are not special. You are not exceptional.” Almost immediately after the words left his mouth, the reactions began to roll in from all sides. Surprisingly, the feedback was mostly positive, although there was very strong criticism from some corners.
In his defense, McCullough said that he was trying to help kids realize that they will need to struggle to succeed in today’s competitive world and that they shouldn’t expect that anything will be handed to them on a silver platter: “So many of the adults around them—the behavior of the adults around them—gives them this sort of inflated sense of themselves. And I thought they needed a little context, a little perspective,” McCullough said. “To send them off into the world with an inflated sense of themselves is doing them no favors.”
I saw a bit of this same idea in today’s chapter. This is God speaking to the Babylonians: “Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.’ Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells. You have trusted in your wickedness and have said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’ Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you.” (vs 8-11)
Wow, these Babylonians were operating under some serious delusions. In declaring, “I am, and there is none besides me,” what they were saying is that they had set themselves up as gods in their own minds. They trusted only in their own power and strength, believing that everything they had built would never come to ruin.
This is precisely why God warned them that their world would be turned upside down. They would face disaster that they wouldn’t know how to handle—so they would learn that they could not trust in their own wisdom. They would face calamity that they couldn’t avoid with money—so they would learn that they could not trust in their riches. And they would face catastrophe that they couldn’t foresee—so they would learn that all their illusions of control were just that: illusions.
God shatters all our delusions, and He shatters them on purpose. Why? Because it’s the kind thing to do! The sooner we are disabused of all of the lies we tell ourselves, the better. God will show us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—even when it’s hard and painful.
So, we need not worry that we’re deluding ourselves about anything. If we are, God will straighten us out. He is not squeamish about shattering our delusions!
God's revelation is progressive.
In this chapter of Isaiah, God rails against the Israelites who have either been slow to respond or have not responded at all to His personal revelation in their lives: “I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze. Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’ You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them?” (vs 3-6)
It seems God was right about the Israelites—that they were so stubborn in their thinking and hardened in their hearts that they would find every conceivable way possible of attributing God’s work to their own idols. (Hmmm, that doesn’t sound so different from what many of us still do today—myself included!)
God was having a difficult time “breaking through” to them, but He had a plan: “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, ‘Yes, I knew of them.’” (vs 6-7)
God declares that He will make a progressive revelation of Himself. It will be progressive in two ways—first, it will be new information, things which have previously been hidden and unknown; second, it will be harder to “reject” than previous revelations.
This is precisely why I have written that, with God, it is not possible to be deceived. I tell my atheist friends not to worry about whether God exists, because if He does exist, and if He is as the Bible portrays Him, they will not be “in the dark” for long. He will make it more than clear to them that He’s alive and well! And I tell my Christian friends not to worry about whether they are holding to false doctrine, because if they are, they will not be “in the dark” for long. God will make it more than clear to them where they’re going wrong. He did it time and time again for the Israelites, and He still does it today!
If there is any “danger” in God’s progressive revelation, it is that danger seen in the life of Pharaoh. When we deny truth—that is to say, when we deny something that we know to be true—it damages us. Imagine what it takes to knowingly live a lie! And, just like with Pharaoh, when we have rejected something we know is true, God comes to us again with a further revelation of who He is. If we are, then, re-convicted of that truth we’ve been trying to deny, yet redouble our efforts to deny it again and still “live the lie,” we do even more damage to ourselves!
Thus, while God’s revelation is progressive, so is the impact of our response to Him. If we continually reject His progressive revelation, we are putting ourselves at greater and greater risk of that thing called “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” (which means to harden the ears of our hearts, or deaden our conscience). On the other hand, as we continually receive His progressive revelation, we are opening ourselves more and more to the beauty and wonder of a personal relationship with our wonderful God.
Hopefully, we will choose the latter and not the former, for with God, the revelation is always progressive!
God is a slave.
There are so many ironies in the Christian life, and this is one of them: to be a slave to others in love is the highest expression of freedom. Yeah, that probably bears repeating: to be a slave to others in love is the highest expression of freedom. And in this chapter of Isaiah, that’s exactly what we learn about God—He is a slave to others in love.
In Bible times, a slave would have his master’s “mark” tattooed on his hand. That way, if there was any question about who the slave belonged to, they only needed to look at his hands. Marking the hands was a common practice (Ex 13:9; Isa 44:5; Rev 13:16). And, apparently, it is not a practice limited to human beings.
God says His hands have also been marked: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (vs 15-16)
God has engraved our names on His hands. In other words, He has made Himself a slave to us in love. This doesn’t mean that we can now boss God around and act like He should jump at our every whim. No, it means that He has chosen to fully commit Himself to our every need, our best good, our total well-being.
It’s no accident that this slave imagery is coupled with the concept of motherhood in this passage. Let me tell you, on August 30, 2011, at approximately 7:43p.m., I became a slave. When our daughter, Caroline, entered the world, I became a slave to her in love—fully committed to meeting her needs and doing what is best for her (even when it has been terribly painful and inconvenient for me!). As I have discovered (actually, it was sort of like a rude, yet somehow glorious awakening), this job never ends. There will always be a part of my heart enslaved to my love for her.
To be a slave in love to others is the highest expression of freedom. And God has freely chosen to engrave you and me on the palms of His hands. As a wonderfully perfect Mother, He will never, ever forget us, and He will never fail to be moved by our struggles, our triumphs, or our interests. For all time, there will always be a part of His heart enslaved to His love for us.
He’s got the scars on His hands to prove it.
God sometimes keeps us in the dark.
When we talk about God, one of the first things that comes to mind is light. Jesus is described in the Gospels as the Light of the World (Jn 8:12) and the true light that gives light to every person (Jn 1:9). In fact, the Bible begins with God saying, “Let there be light!” (Gen 1:3). So, that’s why it seemed a bit odd to come to the end of this chapter and discover that, sometimes, those who follow the Lord walk in the dark:
“Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.” (vs 10-11)
Obviously, God is once again warning His people against idolatry. Instead of trusting in God to provide them with light for the journey, they have taken to finding their own fire and lighting their own torches. Instead of accepting the Pillar-of-Fire-God who brought them out of Egypt, they have resorted to nursing their own flickering little flame, hoping it will illuminate the path just enough so they can see to take the next step.
But as I contemplated this, I wondered why God—who is described as Light—would ever leave His children “in the dark.” Would He? Why would He do that? And, if He would, how would He expect His children to rely on Him for the journey? If they can’t see where to walk, how will they know where to go?
Thinking about being left “in the dark” reminded me of one of the most astounding passages from Miracle in the Andes, the book about three young men who climbed out of the Andes after the plane their rugby team had chartered crashed in the mountains.
Nando Parrado, author of the book and one of the three who climbed out, wrote about being “in the dark” when it came to traversing the mountains:
None of us had much to say as we followed the gentle incline of the glacier up to the mountain’s lower slopes. We thought we knew what lay ahead, and how dangerous the mountain could be. . . We knew that deep crevasses lay hidden beneath the thin crust of frozen snow, and that rocks the size of television sets often came crashing down from crumbling outcrops high on the mountain. But we knew nothing about the techniques and strategies of mountaineering, and what we didn’t know was enough to kill us.
We didn’t know, for example, that the [plane's] altimeter was wrong; the crash site wasn’t at seven thousand feet, as we thought, but close to twelve thousand. Nor did we know that the mountain we were about to challenge was one of the highest in the Andes, soaring to the height of nearly seventeen thousand feet, with slopes so steep and difficult they would test a team of expert climbers.
Experienced mountaineers, in fact, would not have gone anywhere near this mountain without an arsenal of specialized gear, including steel pitons, ice screws, safety lines, and other critical gadgets designed to keep them safely anchored to the slopes. They would carry ice axes, weatherproof tents, and sturdy thermal boots fitted with crampons—metal spikes that provide traction on the steepest, iciest inclines. They would be in peak physical condition, of course, and they would climb at a time of their own choosing, and carefully plot the safest route to the top.
The three of us were climbing in street clothes, with only the crude tools we could fashion out of materials salvaged from the plane. Our bodies were already ravaged from months of exhaustion, starvation, and exposure, and our backgrounds had done little to prepare us for the task. Uruguay was a warm and low-lying country. None of us had ever seen real mountains before. Prior to the crash, Roberto and Tintin had never even seen snow. If we had known anything about climbing, we’d have seen we were already doomed. Luckily, we knew nothing, and our ignorance provided our only chance.
Those three young men (and the thirteen others they saved) are only alive today because they didn’t know anything about climbing mountains. If they had known more, they wouldn’t have dared to try the impossible. If they had been able to “see” what really lay ahead of them, they would probably have crawled into a cold, dark corner of the wreckage and waited to die.
In their case, being “in the dark” about the impossibility of their situation was a very good thing. In fact, it was the only thing that enabled them to do what they did. I think the same is true for us in our walk with God. At times, the things ahead of us in this life would look overwhelming and impossible, if we could “see” them in the daylight. Thus, God in His kindness and wisdom, sometimes keeps us in the dark, asking us to trust His voice even if we can’t see the path.
It is such a simple request, yet so hard to do! Sometimes, the temptation to find our own torch and light it up is nearly overpowering. It’s not easy for us to give up “control.” We want to see the path that lies ahead. We want to know every curve, every twist, every turn, every steep part. We want to try to figure out how we will navigate every tough spot.
But God doesn’t want us to figure it out. He wants us to trust Him. Nando and his friends climbed over mountains that were seventeen thousand feet high in worn-out shoes, with no ropes. And they did it not knowing how they were going to do it, just putting one foot in front of the other.
If that’s what it feels like you’re doing in life, if you feel like you’re walking in the dark, it might just be because God is keeping you there. So, instead of using your energy to light a torch for yourself, use your energy to trust in God. Whether it’s light or dark, He knows the way, and He will lead you in it!
God wants to know what you're afraid of.
I’ve never been one to beat around the bush much. Unless I’m indulging in “girl talk,” I like to get down to business, straight to the point. I think that’s why I was so drawn to the plain talk in this chapter: “I’m the One comforting you. What are you afraid of—or who? Some man or woman who’ll soon be dead? Some poor wretch destined for dust? You’ve forgotten me, God, who made you, who unfurled the skies, who founded the earth. And here you are, quaking like an aspen before the tantrums of tyrants who think they can kick down the world. But what will come of the tantrums?” (vs 12-13)
Fewer things are more temporary than tantrums—that is, unless you’re in a crowded Walmart at 5:00p.m. on a Friday afternoon with 20 people waiting behind you in the checkout line, and your kid has spied something she wants that you have absolutely no intention of buying for her. Then, the tantrum will probably last forever. Otherwise . . .
What are you so afraid of?
Really, is there any need to expound on these verses? God says, “If you actually take time to remember who I am, you’ll suddenly see that all those things you’re afraid of amount to nothing more than temporary tantrums by temporary people. You’re temporary, too, so make sure you take hold of the One thing that’s permanent.”
All of the great villains of history have come to the same end. Their tantrums have ended, their evil deeds are done, their voices are silent . . . and in their place, new villains have arisen to shout. But the God who unfurled the skies and laid the foundation of the earth has never “come” and “gone.” He is. And long after today’s villains have turned to dust, He will still be. So what are you afraid of?
Why should we stand in fear of one who is as frail as we are? To be excessively afraid of any person or any thing is simply a form of idolatry. While we quake in our boots, we are carving an idol out of a man just as surely as the Israelites fashioned gods from wood and stone.
Let’s treat men as men and God as God. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can remove us from the solid and steady hand of God. Whether we live today or whether we die today, we are irrevocably in His hands. It doesn’t matter what is said to us, what is done to us, or what is taken from us—nothing can ultimately touch us when we rest in the safest place in the universe, God’s hands.
So if you’re in His hands, what are you afraid of?
God's got you covered.
I loved this little verse tucked away in today’s chapter: “You will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” (vs 12) Really, could we ask for anything more?
When it comes to this crazy world, it seems to me that when it comes right down to it, what most people want is security and assurance. And isn’t that what God is offering here? I will go before you, He says. This means that He will be our guide, leading us into the unknown future. And I will bring up the rear, He says. This means that He’s got us covered, making sure that we are safe and cared for.
That’s why Isaiah says there’s no need for “haste” or “flight.” We don’t need to worry or be anxious. As we move through life with God in front and God behind, what do we have to fear? No matter where we walk—over the highest mountain or through the lowest valley—we are never alone. God is always with us, leading us and watching our back.
God is always with us—in the steps we’ve already taken and in the steps we’ve yet to take. As Oswald Chambers put it, “Leave the irreparable past in His hands, and step out into the irresistible future with Him.” Today, we can have every confidence, every assurance. God is ahead, God is behind. He’s got us covered.
God is beautifully unattractive.
Wow, talk about a jam-packed chapter. I feel like I could write a blog about every single verse! But I decided to focus on one of the things that I have always found most amazing about God: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (vs 2)
Think about being in the desert, where the ground is dry, hard, and cracked. It’s unbelievably hot. There is literally no sign of life for miles—except a teeny tiny brown root that’s sticking up out of the ground. When you think of that scenario, does the word beautiful come to mind? Hardly!
Yet, this is the image Isaiah gives us about Jesus. Not a beautiful rose. Not a strong, sturdy tree. Not a lush meadow. A “root out of dry ground.” Still, after my many years of knowing the Lord, this is one of the things that most astounds me about Him. He, who is in a position to dazzle us and overwhelm our senses with amazement, comes to us in an unassuming way.
This is especially counter to the culture we live in. A friend once shared a photograph he had found on the streets of New York City. It was a photo of a gorgeous model. Looking at it, you’d have to say it was flawless. Yet, it had been thoroughly marked up by an ad agency in preparation for a magazine ad campaign. Every tiny (and I do mean tiny) freckle, line, or spot on the model’s face had been targeted for Photoshop elimination. Every minuscule stray hair circled. There were even instructions given to “thin” the model’s chin (could she be any thinner?). And, of course, this ad would be printed on the highest-quality glossy paper—everything specifically calculated to convey beauty.
Do we even have a concept of true beauty anymore?
Contrast that with a God who says, “If you see any beauty in Me, I want you to see it in My character.” God purposefully came to us in such a way that we would not flock to Him because of His good looks, His physique, His wealth, or His stardom. He came in the most unattractive way possible so we would have the opportunity to really see the great beauty that lies within Him.
How many genuine people do you know who want to be loved for their hair color, their toned body, their bank account balance, or their acting achievements? Everyone wants to be loved, but we want to be loved because of who we are, not because of what we look like or what we’ve done.
Surprise, surprise. God is the same way. He doesn’t want to be loved because He can create stars with a word or hold the oceans in His hands or bring a person back from the dead. He wants to be loved because of who He is. So, when Jesus came to this Earth and walked among us, He came in a way that gave us the very best opportunity to get to know Him.
Unassuming, even unattractive, on the outside. Amazingly beautiful to the core.
That’s our God.
God sees you as you will be.
This is one of those passages that I know I’ve read before since I’ve worked my way through the Bible more than once in my time. But this opening passage from Isaiah 54 has never stuck out to me—perhaps it does now because between the last time I read it and this time, I bore a child:
“‘Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,’ says the Lord. ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.’” (vs 1-3)
Only a God like our God would tell a barren woman to sing for joy because her house won’t be big enough to hold all her kids and their families when they want to come over for Christmas dinner. Only a God like our God can look at a barren woman and see a mother. That’s because He sees us, not as we are, but as we will be.
How can God be so sure of what we will be? Because when we place ourselves fully and freely in His hands, the work that will be done in our lives is His work. And He knows just what He will do and when He will do it. He knows the right thing to do and the right time to do it. Paul called Jesus the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2), promising that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” (Phil 1:6).
When you come to God, you are not defined by your past or even your present situation. God Himself defines you, and He sees you as you will be. The world may see a barren woman, but God sees a mother of many children. The world may see an unemployed man, but God sees a thriving and productive worker. The world may see an outcast, but God sees someone who is in His inner circle. The world may see a loser, but God sees a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
So, the question is not, What do others see when they look at me? It is not even, What do I see when I look in the mirror? The question is, What does God see when He looks at me? And the answer is, He sees you as you will be. He sees perfection, because that’s the only quality of work He produces!
God must be odd ('cuz He never gets even).
I stole the title of this blog from the title of a chapter in my father’s book, Freedom Fighter: How God Wins the Universal War on Terror. That chapter is all about God’s amazing forgiveness. (I invite you to read the chapter online.) In many ways, God’s forgiveness does seem odd to us, because unlike most of us, God never holds a grudge. Ever.
Wasn’t that evident from this chapter? “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (vs 6-7)
This mercy is free. This pardon is free. We don’t receive it because we’ve done the right things or said the right things or even brought the right sacrifice. We get it because that’s the kind of person God is. He forgives because He is forgiving—not because we’ve done something to persuade Him to be merciful.
He needs no such persuasion.
It is true that the best things in life are free, and God confirms that in this chapter. Not only are the best things in life free, but God’s abundant life itself is free. Along with mercy and pardon for our past, He invites us to, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (vs 1-2)
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been wicked and unrighteous, indulging in the very worst kinds of evil. God’s arms are still open to you. He doesn’t hold anything against you. In fact, He just wants you to have the best life possible! You don’t have to do anything to buy this life—He’s more than willing to give it to you for free!
That’s what God is like. It seems odd, you know—the fact that He never “gets even,” the fact that He doesn’t hold a grudge, the fact that He only wants the best for all of His children, even the ones who have turned their backs on Him. If this seems hard to believe, you’re not alone. It really runs contrary to the way we think.
That’s why God immediately followed His declaration of mercy with this: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (vs 8-9) It’s almost as if God knew we would have a hard time believing that He would be merciful to us just because.
Oh, to be as odd as God—to never again be a slave to the desire to “get even.”
How nice that would be!
God loves outcasts.
In this chapter, God addresses two groups of people who were considered outcasts in Israel: the eunuchs and the foreigners. Back in Deuteronomy 23, both groups had been forbidden from entering “the assembly of the Lord.” Incidentally, that phrase is only used three times at the beginning of Deuteronomy 23 . . . and nowhere else in the Old Testament. So, all scholars don’t agree on what “the assembly of the Lord” means, but it likely had something to do with taking part in ceremonial or religious practices.
It’s interesting, then, that God specifically welcomes them to the temple in this chapter: “Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let no eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ For this is what the Lord says . . . ‘To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters . . . these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.’” (vs 3-4, 5, 7)
As I thought about this today, I wondered how the eunuchs and foreigners had ever become such outcasts in Israel. I’m sure that the God who values community so much wouldn’t have intended for there to be such long-standing divisions among His children.
However, regardless of whether the Israelites followed or strayed away from God’s original intention regarding these folks on the fringes, the fact is, they came to be regarded as the pariahs of society, often being shunned not only from religious life, but every other aspect of life as well. They were the outcasts, the “untouchables.”
But God has a special place in His heart for the untouchables. He has great compassion for the outcasts. In fact, when Jesus lived with us, most of His time was spent with the outcasts. He touched the people that nobody else would touch. He talked to people who were ignored by everyone else. He spent His time drawing people closer, not pushing them away.
God has never played favorites. He doesn’t want an exclusive “members-only” club; He wants a community where everyone is loved, valued, and appreciated. He wants every single person to find joy in His presence. So, if we’re keeping at arm’s length those whom God is seeking to draw in, we better think twice.
God loves outcasts, and so should we!
God is not a snob.
To me, one of the most wonderful things about God is that He isn’t a snob. No matter who we are, no matter where we’ve come from, no matter what we’ve done, when God looks at us, He sees one of His precious children. There is nothing in Him that is aloof or standoffish. He has no interest in maintaining a pecking order in His creation. He will stoop to relate to His creatures anywhere, anytime.
This is the message He sent through Isaiah: “For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (vs 15)
Because God occupies the high, holy place, He is more than willing to come down to meet us where we are. He doesn’t humble Himself in spite of being God. He humbles Himself because He is God. This is a character trait of God’s and a principle of His kingdom: the more exalted a position one holds, the more willing he is to serve. (That’s why there will never be a greater servant than God in the universe. He is the most exalted; by default, then, He is also the greatest servant.)
Jesus proved that there is no person not worth reaching out to; there is no job too insignificant for Him to do; there is no detail too small to escape His notice. Instead of using His position, power, and authority for His benefit, He uses it for our benefit. There is nothing He won’t do for us.
God is not a snob. He doesn’t pass by the “little guy.” He is all for the “little guy.” The “high and holy place” He loves to dwell is the “contrite and lowly” heart of His most fragile creature. As far as He’s concerned, that is a throne fit for a King.
In this chapter, God exposed the Israelites’ empty practice of two religious rituals—fasting and Sabbath-keeping: “On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high . . . If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, (vs 3-4, 13-14)
By this time, the people of Israel had obviously lost the significance of both of these rituals, and they had degenerated into a meaningless practice designed to “butter God up” so they would get what they wanted. Unfortunately (or fortunately), contrary to the common belief about gods at the time, Israel’s God couldn’t be bought off or appeased with ritual.
God wants something more.
It’s interesting that both of these traditions—fasting and Sabbath-keeping—are primarily defined as not doing something. Fasting is about not eating. And keeping the Sabbath is about not working. Or so the Israelites thought.
But what God reveals in this chapter is that He is not just interested in what we don’t do; He cares deeply about what we do! “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (vs 6-7)
I think this provides us with a glimpse into God’s own character, because He is definitely an actor, not simply a refrainer. He doesn’t just keep from doing evil; He grabs the initiative and does good. He doesn’t only refrain from cursing us; He actively blesses us.
This is why Jesus said that the Golden Rule was to do unto others as we would want them to do to us—not refrain from doing to others what we wouldn’t want them to do to us. God acts, and He is well-pleased when the religious rituals we engage in go beyond empty tradition to meaningful practice. As we allow the Spirit to have greater reign in our hearts, we will find that the list of things we don’t do will only be outweighed by the list of things we do!
God is not weak.
This chapter touches on one of the greatest theological questions of our time: how can there be an all-loving, all-powerful God when there is so much suffering in the world? For, certainly, if we had the power to end the suffering of someone we loved, wouldn’t we do it? That’s how many people come to the conclusion that (a) God must not be all-powerful and, thus, cannot do anything about our suffering or (b) God must either not love us or not exist at all.
Isaiah presents a third option: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (vs 1-2) Apparently, there is absolutely nothing wrong with God’s power, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with His love. There is nothing wrong with Him. There is something wrong with us. That something is sin, and it has separated us from Him.
So, how does sin separate us from God? We know from Scripture that it doesn’t necessarily separate us from His presence, because there is nowhere we can go to outrun Him. Even in our sinful state, He is with us (Ps 139:7). Even Satan himself can have a conversation with God (Job 1:6)! And Paul wrote that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 5:8).
But sin can still separate us from God in many ways. It’s easier to think about this in terms of the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15. When the son decided to rebel against his father, he left home. He put distance and separation between himself and the father who loved him.
His rebellion separated him from fellowship with his father. As long as he stayed away from home, he couldn’t enjoy the company and companionship of his father. When we deliberately indulge in sin (as Isaiah said the Israelites were doing), we no longer think like God. In a mental sense, we cease to fellowship with Him.
The Prodigal Son’s rebellion separated him from the blessing of his father. When he was living in the pig sty, he began to think about just how good the servants had it back at his house! But as long as he stayed away from home, he couldn’t receive any of those blessings. The father still loved him, but the son couldn’t experience the benefits of that love while he remained separated from his father. The same is true for us. God will always love us—no matter what. But cherished sin separates us from some of the blessings of that love.
Sin also separates us in many ways from God’s protection. This is not because God withdraws his protection out of petty anger. Actually, it’s for our best good. God allows trials to come our way in order to discipline us. The Prodigal Son was allowed to feel the embarrassment and humiliation of living in the pig sty, not to mention the physical hunger of starvation! These dire consequences helped him come to this senses and head back home. In the same way, God allows us to go through trials and hardships that will help to correct our thinking.
Sometimes, it’s not easy to think that God would allow us to suffer. Many people would rather believe that God’s hands are tied by Satan—that He can’t act, rather than that He chooses not to. Many people would rather believe that there is something about our situation in this world that makes God impotent.
But Isaiah doesn’t really leave us that option. He says there’s nothing wrong with God’s strength. He says there’s nothing wrong with God’s hearing. God, Isaiah says, is not powerless to act. He knows what He’s doing. We may not necessarily like what He’s doing—but then again, that’s likely part of what’s wrong with us!
God loves multiplication.
I have seen many stories of late about the declining number of Christians in North America. Many denominations are faced with the problem of how to “keep” the members they have, let alone trying to find ways to attract new ones. In some places, I’m sure it seems little more than a numbers game, with pastors reporting how many baptisms or transfers of membership they’ve garnered in the previous year.
We like to “count heads.” Perhaps we believe there is strength in numbers. Perhaps we should have paid a little more attention to David’s experience when he tried to take a census (1 Chron 21). Often, God doesn’t want us to put any stock in numbers.
You see, He views numbers a little differently than we do: ”The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.” (vs 22) God can mushroom one into a thousand. He can make a great nation from one individual. He declares that it is His work to do, and He does it in His own time.
Haven’t you noticed this about God? He prefers to start small. A mustard seed (Matt 17). A boy’s small lunch (Matt 14). A gathering of two or three (Matt 18). Two or three: how many of us would even call that a church?! Yet, this is how God works. He takes the smallest thing we can think of and then multiplies. While we’re thinking of how to add one or two, He’s planning to add one or two million. He is always thinking bigger than we can imagine.
God loves multiplication, and He’s a master at it. If we allow Him to accomplish His purpose in His way and in His time, we will discover that He is able to do far, far more than we could ever hope or dream. He is capable of doing things beyond our wildest imaginations!
God will make it all better.
My ten-month-old daughter is just beginning to find her feet. For some time now, she has been pulling herself up into a standing position at the sofa, taking a tentative step to the right or left, only to come quickly crashing down on her behind. But just the other day, she started “cruising,” walking smoothly around the perimeter of the sofa while holding onto the cushions. It’s only a matter of time.
And I know that once she begins the journey of walking, it won’t be long before we enter the world of boo-boos. At times, she will fall down and hurt herself, and she will come crying to Mommy, believing that I can “make it all better.” And, although I won’t have a magic wand to wave, if I remember correctly from my childhood, somehow Mommy and Daddy do have the power to “make it all better” with a simple hug and kiss.
This is one of my most favorite passages in the Bible—particularly because I can just imagine what it must have been like to hear Jesus read it from the scroll and then announce that He was the person it referred to: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion.” (vs 1-3)
Here’s what God said He came to do among us:
- Give good news to anyone who would listen.
- Mend broken hearts.
- Free people whose hearts were in bondage.
- Give sight to the blind.
- Help people understand that God loves and accepts them.
- Proclaim salvation to those looking for justice.
- Comfort and care for all who were grieving.
When you think about it, this—in a nutshell—sums up everything God is able to do and wants to do in our lives. He wants us to be freed from our sin-bondage. He wants us to rejoice in the assurance that we are loved and saved. He wants to open our eyes to the goodness and beauty of God the Father, who loves us with an infinite love, just as Jesus does. He wants us to know that even when evil appears to prevail in this world, He will have the last word.
Interestingly, when Jesus quoted this Scripture in the synagogue, He stopped reading after “the year of the Lord’s favor.” At that time, He didn’t mention the “day of vengeance of our God” or the part about comforting those who mourn. Some people think He didn’t mention the part about vengeance because Isaiah and the other Old Testament writers got that wrong. Some people think there won’t be a “day of vengeance of our God.”
But part of the problem is the negative connotations we now attach to the word vengeance. From reading some commentaries and Hebrew-language studies on this issue, I understand that the original Hebrew concept holds no negative connotations—such as revenge or retribution—but rather the idea of redemption and salvation. For instance, when Samson prayed to God that He would help him get vengeance on the Philistines, the idea behind his request was not that he would get to kill a lot of people, but that his reputation of strength would be redeemed.
So, when the Bible speaks about the “day of vengeance” or the “day of the Lord” (which it does a lot), I believe it is referring to the day when Christ will return and fulfill His promise to take us home, to save us, to redeem us. Perhaps that is why Jesus stopped short of quoting that part of the verse. He ended His presentation by saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21), and, quite simply, His “Second Coming” wasn’t planned for that afternoon.
Once we can “hear” the word vengeance the way the Hebrews did, I think the entire passage takes on this wonderful message of how God takes all that we bear and makes it all better. No matter the hardships we face, He can and will fix every boo-boo. If we are depressed, He’s got good news for us. If we are mourning, nobody comforts as He does. He can mend the most broken heart. His light can penetrate the darkest night.
Whatever the problem, He can fix it. He will make it all better.
God loves jewelry.
I’ve had a little love affair with jewelry ever since I was a girl. Nothing fancy, mind you. My eye is mostly attracted to costume jewelry—even though I don’t wear it often. I think I like the thought of wearing it more than the actual wearing of it!
I do like to see beautiful jewelry on other people, though. When I lived in England, I used to love seeing the royals on TV, because the women always had the most beautiful rings and necklaces. And when it was a very special occasion, you’d even see the Queen all decked out in her royal crown. Wow!
It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that God—being a King—also has a crown. Apparently, He likes jewelry, too! But this is no ordinary crown: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” (vs 1-3)
Yes, God loves jewelry—and we are His jewels! When He thinks about things that shine brightly, He thinks of us. He treasures us just as a person would treasure their gold or diamonds. In Hebrews, Paul wrote that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before Him—and that joy was knowing that there was a royal crown in store for Him. It was a crown made up of His own precious children.
You are a precious jewel in the crown of the King of the Universe.
God is legit.
This chapter of Isaiah begins with a question and an answer from God Himself: “Who is this Who comes from Edom, with crimson-stained garments from Bozrah? This One Who is glorious in His apparel, striding triumphantly in the greatness of His might? It is I, Who speaks in righteousness, mighty to save!” (vs 1)
Right off the bat, this struck me—both the way the question was phrased and, especially, the way the answer was given! First, the question. Whoever is asking the question notices two things about God: His glorious appearance and His physical power. These are the things that impress the questioner.
It was very interesting to me, then, that God’s own response ignores those attributes altogether in favor of two other things: His righteousness and His ability to save. In other words, God identifies Himself by what He says and what He does. He doesn’t want us to get bedazzled by His glory or awestruck by His power. He appeals to us on the basis of His character—that He says what is right and does what is good.
God is legit. He’s not all talk and no action. He’s not full of empty promises. He’s got the goods to back up what He says. When He speaks, it is the truth, and when He acts, it is miraculous. He says what He does, and He does what He says.
This all-powerful God could easily force us into submission. He could demand that we bow down to Him simply because He is on the throne of the universe . . . and we are not. Instead, He opens wide His arms and says, Come, get to know Me. See for yourself what I’m all about. Watch what I do; listen to what I say. Then judge for yourself. Make up your own mind about me.
God wants to be known, loved, and admired for His character, not His position. So, watch Him work and decide for yourself if He’s genuine. It won’t take long to discover that He’s totally legit.
God helps those who . . .
You can finish that sentence, right? God helps those who help themselves. But where did we ever get that idea? Certainly not from Isaiah 64. Here, he says quite the opposite: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” (vs 4)
God helps those who wait for Him.
Okay, God will also help those who help themselves. I mean, He’s in the “helping us business” as much as possible. He doesn’t stomp off and leave us alone if we run ahead of Him. It just may mean that He has to scrap His original plan in favor of something else. He’d much rather have us wait on Him, because His plans will bring us the greatest happiness.
There could be no better day of the year for me to remember this than today. It’s my lovely parents’ 38th wedding anniversary today. Of course, my excellent father is temporarily unavailable for the celebration, but that doesn’t keep me from remembering the best relationship advice he ever gave me: “God gives the best to those who leave the choice to Him.”
I grew up listening to the story of how my parents “got together,” and it’s really not an understatement to say that it was a miracle! My father was a very popular high school teacher with no shortage of prospective dates, and my mother—who was enamored with him from the first moment she laid eyes on him—knew there was no chance of her being “the one.”
So, she did the only things she could do. She prayed, and she waited. And 38 years ago today, she walked down the aisle and became Mrs. Ken Wilson, having seen that God does indeed act on behalf of those who wait for Him.
We can’t begin to imagine the marvelous things God has in store for us. Blessed are those who resist the urge to take matters into their own hands and, instead, wait patiently on the Lord. For He helps those best who don’t help themselves!
God always loses at hide-and-seek.
A few years ago, the Christian band Newsboys released a song titled, “God is Not a Secret to Be Kept.” And there’s a lot of truth to that. Those of us who know and love God shouldn’t keep Him to ourselves, and frankly, it would be quite hard to do so. When you’ve found something awesome, you want to share it with others!
That’s why there was something wonderfully amusing in realizing that God can’t even keep Himself a secret. He desperately wants to share Himself with others: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’” (vs 1)
So, there’s one thing we know for sure: God would lose at hide-and-seek! He doesn’t play that game very well. The point is to hide and not be found, but God goes around saying, “Here I am, here I am!” to people who aren’t even looking for Him! That doesn’t make for a very difficult game.
That’s the point, I guess. God’s not into game-playing—certainly not when it comes to giving us the opportunity to get to know Him! He doesn’t even wait for us to come looking for Him. If we’re not interested in looking, He’ll show up anyway. He’ll walk right over, stick out His hand, and introduce Himself. He’s not shy.
God may be a lot of things, but He’s definitely not a secret to be kept. He will reveal Himself to us—even if we’re not asking for Him. We will find Him—even if we’re not looking for Him. He will appear—even when we’re not saying, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
It’s true. God will always lose at hide-and-seek. But the only thing He’s trying to win is us.
God prefers the "handyman special."
If there was one thing my parents loved to do together, it was remodeling. When I was 10, we moved into the house my mom still lives in, and I don’t think there was one square inch of it that didn’t need remodeling. Consequently, there is now no square inch of the house that doesn’t have a remodeling “story” attached to it. No matter where I look, I will always see my mom and dad when I walk through the house and remember how, for much of my childhood, we could only watch Sunday morning cartoons if we were simultaneously using the heat gun to strip the paint off of old windows. (My mom says she doesn’t remember that part.)
It had to have been these years of living in remodeling heaven that made me swear to my husband that when we bought our first house, it would not be a fixer-upper. I did not catch the remodeling bug as a kid, and I dreamed of moving into a house that was “ready to live in.” So we did. Only, I have since discovered that no matter how ready your house was to live in when you bought it, there are plenty of things that still need to be fixed up through the years. I guess there’s no way to completely escape the necessity of remodeling!
So, what caused me to take this little vacation down memory lane? The realization that God also delights in remodeling: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the Lord. ‘These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.’” (vs 1-2)
I love this passage. There’s something so poetic about it. God begins by making us realize that He is so much bigger than we seem to remember. Heaven is His throne and earth His footstool. He can’t be contained or corralled. He has made everything and everyone—do we really think we can come up with a house, or “resting place,” that is worthy of His glory and grandeur?
And then, He continues right on and says, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit.” That word contrite is very interesting. We most often associate it with humility. However, the original Hebrew word—nakeh—literally means “crippled” or “disabled.” It is a person who is broken, damaged, and in need of serious help. This is the very place where the Sovereign God wants to take up residence!
He doesn’t get excited about castles or mansions or temples. He doesn’t look for something described as “turn-key” when looking for a resting place. No, He looks for the dirtiest, nastiest, scummiest, filthiest place He can find and offers to move in and perform an extreme makeover—a total overhaul from top to bottom. In that sense, the “resting place” He wants is actually not a place where He will rest at all! He wants to roll up His sleeves and get His hands dirty. He wants to restore and improve every nook and cranny.
This is God’s specialty. He prefers the “handyman special.” When we are willing to open the door and let Him move in, there is nothing He can’t fix, nothing He can’t restore, nothing He can’t overhaul. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there on the market. He has already paid a fortune for the chance to make His home in you!