Monday, July 21, 2014

Isaiah 8: Waiting and Hoping (Part 4 of 4)

Isaiah 8: Waiting and Hoping (Part 4 of 4)

VERSES 16-22

The Prophecy

Isaiah's voice now becomes personal, speaking perhaps for himself, or perhaps as the One chosen by the LORD. The testimony of Isaiah given him by the LORD is to be bound and sealed, kept secure and sacred by disciples of the LORD. Isaiah proclaims himself and his children as signs and portents from the LORD, warning the people to reject mediums and necromancers. Rather, the people are to cling to the word of God alone, else they will perish.

After Isaiah had inscribed "Maher-shalal-hash-baz" in a tablet and displayed it in public, it is likely he wrote in more detail in a parchment roll:

Isaiah 30:8 (ESV) And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever.

The book would be sealed in order that nothing be added or taken out, but also to imply that it relates to distant events and is therefore a sealed and not understood testimony:

Isaiah 6:9 (ESV) And he said, Go, and say to this people: Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.

Only God's disciples would understand the testimony, at least in part. Subsequent revelations would afterwards clear up what now was dark.

Psalm 25:14 (ESV) The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

John 15:15 (ESV) No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

What do you think?

The Wait

Although the teaching is sealed, awaiting the time of fulfillment, Isaiah declares his faith in what he cannot yet see:

Isaiah 8:17 (ESV) I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.

God had warned his people long before:

Deuteronomy 31:16-18 (ESV) And the LORD said to Moses, Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.

Unable to see God, Isaiah will wait and hope:

"Wait" means to remain in one location, with the expectation of reward. Hosea used this word to describe robbers who lie in wait by the side of a road (Hosea 6:9).

Habakkuk was exasperatated by being unable to see what God was doing, and he received this encouragement from the LORD:

Habakkuk 2:3 (ESV) For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end - it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

An example of binding together or collecting as an expression of hope might be found earlier in Isaiah's book:

Isaiah 5:1-2 (ESV) Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

"Looked" is the same word as "hoped". All of the preparations, all of the time and strength invested, was in expectation of reward.

Jeremiah referred to "gather" in the same sense:

Jeremiah 3:17 (ESV) At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.

"Gather is the same word as "hope". People of all nations shall exert time, expense and strength in gathering together at Jerusalem in expectation of reward from the LORD.

"Wait and hope" combines two opposing concepts. "Wait" implies remaining still, and "hope" implies action.

What do you think?

The Occult

The popular remedy for fear and dread was occultic wisdom:

Isaiah 8:19-21 (ESV) And when they say to you, "Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter," should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.

"Inquire" meant more than asking a quick question and then going on one's way. "Inquire" implies a strong desire for something, often as worship:

Deuteronomy 4:29 (ESV) But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

"Search" is the same word as "inquire".

Isaiah was known to be a prophet, speaking the words of God to the people. Yet the people found no hope in his words and they pressed Isaiah to resort to occultic wisdom. They urged Isaiah to go to the wizards able to channel the voice and mind of long-dead kings who might be able to lead them.

Who were the "mediums" and "necromancers"? The LORD dismisses them as ones who "chirp and mutter", ones able to cast their voice or bewilder others with mysterious displays. Were the displays real? Do mediums have genuine connections with the dead? Do conjurers have genuine power?

King Saul felt that God had forsaken him, so he turned to a medium for help. He went to a town named En-dor, and found a woman known to have power with the dead, and she summoned the prophet Samuel to appear:

1 Samuel 28:11-14 (ESV) Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" He said, "Bring up Samuel for me." When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul." The king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a god coming up out of the earth." He said to her, "What is his appearance?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe." And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

In this instance the power was genuine. But whether genuine or false, occultic practices were strongly condemned in the Old Testament:

Leviticus 19:31 (ESV) Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 20:6 (ESV) If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.

There is not a strong condemnation of occult practices in the New Testament, although there are a few instances in which the practices are mentioned. The instances do not encourage occultic worship, however.

Barnabas and Paul encountered strong opposition to the gospel from Elymas the Magician, and Paul strongly condemned Elymas:

Acts 13:8-12 (ESV) Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time." Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

What do you think?

Photo by Zuhair A. Al-Traifi, Creative Commons license