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Monday, May 26, 2014

Isaiah 3: Supply and Support

Isaiah 3: Supply and Support

God takes away food and water. He intends to allow the government to fester with superstition, immaturity and oppression. All of this because the people have defied the LORD in word and deed. They have flaunted their sin and ignored their doom. God stands in judgement against the leaders, condemning their mistreatment of the poor, and scorning their proud affluence. All of their shallow appearances of beauty will become rottenness; their tinkling songs will fade into mournful lament.

GOD TAKES AWAY SUPPORT AND SUPPLY (Verses 1-7)

God has determined that the people of Judah suffer severe shortage of food and water. Worse, their political, military, and religious leaders will deteriorate. Infantile rulers will allow insolent oppression to become rampant, and the people desperately look for a savior. But none will be found.

Isaiah 3:1 (ESV) For behold, the Lord GOD of hosts is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah support and supply, all support of bread, and all support of water.

Verse one describes God's removal of all support and supply.

"Support" occurs only two other times in the Old Testament, and both instances refer to the LORD being our strength (2 Samuel 22:19 and Psalm 18:18). "Supply" occurs 12 times, with nearly every instance referring to a literal walking stick or staff.

This first main idea emphasizes the lack of good leadership, even more dire than the lack of food and water. The entire southern half of Israel, the region known as Judah, will experience a loss of strong, skillful leaders, replaced by insolent boys and infants.

Verses two and three describe the loss of spiritually mature leadership.

The image here is of someone attempting to evoke power or control by scratching secret markings or fabricating cultic art.

An amulet is an ornament or small piece of jewellery thought to give protection against evil, danger, or disease. It seems likely that such an ornament would often be stroked or touched, with a whispered prayer or satanic phrase.

To "divine" means to discover something by guesswork or intuition, from an Old French word meaning to predict.

Verses two and three list eleven examples of the "support and supply" upon which Judah relied and God took away. Within this list are references to occult magic and secret superstition.

This echoes Isaiah's words in chapter two, "fortune-tellers" and "idols". The leadership of Judah was proud of their power, both natural and spiritual. Their pride had led them to reject God Almighty and worship themselves and demons, imaginary and real.

In one sense, the LORD's rebuke and punishment of idolatrous Judah seems terrifyingly harsh, yet in allowing Isaiah to speak to the people, to warn the people, it's very clear that the LORD was extending mercy and patience even with such an antagonistic, paganistic nation.

What do you think?

Verses four through 5 describe the ineffective, immature leadership that will ruin the country.

The psalmists here describe a government led by toddling, distracted, obsessive infants who will act impulsively without regard for honor or respect.

What do you think?

God's harsh treatment of Jerusalem and Judah would be in direct consequence of their leader's defiant words and work against the LORD. They proclaimed their Sodom-sin and glibly misled the people they govern. They devoured and crushed the poor for the sake of their own comfort and affluence.

Isaiah 3:12 (ESV) My people - infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.

Verse eight describes the LORD's "glorious presence" which the leadership had defied:

The LORD's glorious presence is also described in the Book of Exodus:

Exodus 24:16-17 (ESV) The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

"In the sight" is from the same Hebrew word as "presence".

In these references "presence" means "in the eyes of the beholder". The leadership of Jerusalem and Judah defied God in their eyes. They defied seeing any splendor or greatness in God.

Verse eight decribes rebellious defiance.

Moses used this word, translated as "rebels", to rebuke the people who complained bitterly against God's lack of care in the wilderness (Numbers 20:10). The LORD Himself used this word to describe the great trouble in which Israel found itself much later under King Jeroboam (2 Kings 1426).

Here, in Isaiah 3:8, the people are described as having bitter, rebellious hearts against God. In words and deeds they expressed their deep-seated disappointment and resentment against God. In their eyes, God was far from being "heavy with splendor". Rather, they saw Him as burdensome, severe or dull...all things unpleasantly bitter in their sight.

What do you think?

GOD WILL STRIP AWAY ALL SOURCES OF PRIDE (Verses 16-26)

The "daughters of Zion" will lose everything that matters to them: clothing, jewelry, perfume, hair, and strength. They will be left sitting in rags on the ground, filled with lamentation and mourning.

Isaiah 3:17 (ESV) The Lord will strike with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts.

Who are the "daughters of Zion"? The rich women of Jewish high society? Is this a figure of speech that refers to the leadership of the nation? Or is it a reference to all of God's people who have become defiantly rebellious and haughty?

We saw in chapter two that "Zion" was a literal reference to the high mount upon which God allowed the nation of Israel to establish their capital city, Jerusalem. Figuratively it referred to the LORD's protection, providence and prominence given to the people of His choosing.

"Daughters of Zion" occurs at least 76 times in the Old Testament, referring to all people chosen by God, ancestors of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, named the people of Israel.

Jeremiah's reference to "daughter of Zion" is a good representation of the biblical use of this phrase.

Jeremiah 8:19 (ESV) Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land: "Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?"

Jeremiah describes the great lament of a people invaded by enemies and utterly crushed and ruined. Through Jeremiah the LORD calls the people "the daughter of my people". Jeremiahs quotes the common lament asking how they could be suffering so much pain if they belong to the LORD their King.

Zephaniah uses the same phrase to foretell of the LORD's mighty rescue of His people:

Zephaniah 3:14-17 (ESV) Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: "Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

What do you think?

This chapter began with a harsh rebuke of the leadership of Judah, with God punishing the leaders for their oppression and manipulative control (verses 12 and 15). But all the people, leaders and followers, are included in the reprimand. All "daughters of Zion" means all people called by the LORD to be His people.

The LORD is rebuking the haughty, shallow attitude with which His people regard their relationship with Him.

It seems very likely that this detailed list of dress and jewelery describes the people literally as well as spiritually. Specific articles of clothing and beauty accessories are mentioned. "Secret parts" is a gentle translation of a shockenly graphic description of the woman's body.

God has commanded Isaiah to proclaim an extremely harsh, truthful rebuke of His people.

Yet it would be a grave mistake to think God was only concerned about literal appearances. At the heart of everything mentioned in this message is a reference to a deeply spiritual issue.

Isaiah warns that the God will take away bread and water, yet immediately follows that warning with specific examples that involve government leaders, rather than food and drink. Isaiah refers to the rulers as "infants", which is obviously not a literal reference. The leaders did not literally "devour the vineyard". This rebuke strikes at the heart of spiritual shallowness. The people regarded themselves as greatly as they disregarded the splendor of God.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Isaiah 2: The Mountain Of The LORD

Isaiah 2: The Mountain Of The LORD

Isaiah describes a vision given him by God concerning Jerusalem, capital city of the Israelite tribe of Judah. He describes the city as a mountain of justice and peace, drawing together all nations in earth. Yet Isaiah feels that God has rejected the people of Israel because of their affluent idolatry. He warns the people of God's imminent terror, bringing low the haughty and raising high the LORD.

THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD (Verses 1-4)

God gave Isaiah a vision of the LORD as the highest of mountains, a source of judgement, justice and peace for all the nations.

Isaiah 2:3 (ESV) And many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

What do you think?

In how many different ways is a mountain a fitting description of God?

A desert may be described as something conspicuous, something clearly visible, something compelling in its appearance. Similarly, a pillar or a mountain demands attention.

An ancient stronghold in the mideast called "Tsijon" existed years before Israel's defeating the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Canaan (2 Samuel 5). The stronghold protected the old city of Jerusalem. David took the stronghold, renaming it the "City of David".

According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, Jerusalem was situated on the edge of one of the highest table-lands of the country. From the south the approach to the city is nearly level. But from any other side the ascent is intimidating. To a traveler approaching the city from the east or west it must always have appeared as a mountain city, "breathing mountain air". It was on a ridge, "the broadest and most strongly-marked ridge of the backbone of the complicated hills which extend through the whole country." (Smith's Bible Dictionary)

“At right (on the east side of the valley) is the "eastern hill" on which David had his original city. Across the valley (at left) is Silwan village on the southern slopes of the Mount of Olives.

“Here we look south along the lower Kidron valley with the slope of the "eastern hill" (the "City of David") on the right and the southern section of the mount of Olives across the valley at left. This section of the mount of Olives, a less affluent Palestinian area of Jerusalem, is known as Silwan Village. The cramped houses cling to the steep slopes of the ridge, stacked one on top of the other, much as the houses would have clung to the eastern hill's slopes in the time of Hezekiah. The eastern hill was the location of the bronze-age fortified town which was captured and occupied by Israelites during the Iron Age, probably in the 10th century BCE. Since this sequence corresponds with the biblical account of David's conquest, the eastern hill was most likely the site of David's capital and the centre of the later kingdom of Judah. Excavations along this eastern slope of the hill have uncovered 10th-century monumental buildings which may be David's palace or administrative offices. There are no new fortifications from the 10th century, so David and Solomon's capital likely continued to rely on the strong Canaanite (bronze-age) city wall that ran around the hill about half-way up its slope. The gihon spring, Jerusalem's main water source, also comes out near the foot of this slope.”

The psamist echoes Isaiah's description of God's Mountain:

Psalm 48:1-3 (ESV) Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.

What do you think?

Given God's promise of establishing a world-wide center of justice and peace in Jerusalem, what is your opinion today regarding mideast political conflicts?

GIVEN UP TO IDOLATRY (5-8)

Isaiah 2:8 (ESV) Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.

Isaiah urges the people of Israel to love and depend upon the LORD, warning them that God has rejected them for their idolatry and affluent pride in themselves.

Isaiah realizes that God has rejected and forsaken the people of Israel because of their sin. This Hebrew word translated as "rejection" implies violent pushing away, well-described previously by Isaiah:

Isaiah 1:7 (ESV) Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.

What do you think?

What has been your experience with suffering trouble and knowing that you've been disobeying God in a specific area of your life? How did you find relief?

HAUGHTINESS BROUGHT LOW (9-22)

Isaiah 2:11 (ESV) The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.

Isaiah warns the proud, rebellious people that they will soon be brought low by the terrible wrath and majesty of the LORD. They will be reduced to hiding in caves, discarding their idols of silver and gold.

The meaning of this word suggests intimidation and danger. The LORD's words to Isaiah indicated that the people's only option in the face of his terror and majesty would be to "enter into the rock" and hide. The implication is that those who fail to hide will be destroyed. Those that hide will certainly be humbled and brought low, but they will escape destruction.

The word for "rock" is the same spoken to Moses:

Exodus 33:19-22 (ESV) And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, The LORD. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But, he said, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

What do you think?

Was there ever a time in your life when you regarded God as threatening or dangerous? How did he change from being a terror to being tender?

This section repeatedly describes God as high and lifted up, majestic and lofty, above all other peoples and idols. Verses 12 through 17 use metaphors and images to describe the haughtiness of humans who refuse to accord God the honor due him. Leaders of nations are called cedars, oaks, mountains, hills, towers, walls and ships...things tall and imposing to earth-dwellers, but miniscule in comparison to God.

What do you think?

Were Isaiah to be describing our modern world, what earthly things seem tall or powerful, nearly invincible yet small and puny when set beside God?

What "big" things in your life has God had to humble or bring low in order to set your heart right with him?

Isaiah indicates the people's gods were made of gold and silver, obviously expensive and beautiful. Yet in God's estimation they were worth nothing.

Habakkuk railed against the vanity of idols as well:

Habakkuk 2:18-19 (ESV) What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.

These worthless gold and silver gods will be thrown on the rubbish heap when the LORD rises to his throne.

What do you think?

What things have you dealt with in your life that were expensive and valuable in earthly terms, but worthless in your relationship with God?

Isaiah 2:22 (ESV) Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?

Although one of the meanings of this word implies maliciousness, the word is used in the Bible many times in reference to skill, planning or assessment of value. The LORD gave "of what account" concerning Abraham's faith (Genesis 15:6). The tabernacle of worship was to be made "of what account", meaning cunning or skillful work.

What do you think?

What earthly, human-made things in this psalm could be regarded as valuable or skillful work? Why would God tell Isaiah to "stop regarding" those things?

What things in your life has God asked you to not regard, those things that have little "account"?

Trust and Obey

What unchanging, universal truths about God are revealed in this passage? What will you do, or keep on doing, to obey these truths?

The LORD will reign as King over all nations, bringing justice and peace, drawing many peoples to Himself. He will bring low the haughty and exalt Himself alone above all gods and idols.

Knowing God's power, holiness, justice and righteousness, and His desire to be exalted in people's eyes as Highest Almighty King, I will humble myself now and seek His mercy, praise His greatness, and obey His words.

Image by Ian Scott, Creative Commons

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Book of Isaiah: At a Glance

The Book of Isaiah: At a Glance

This study of the Book of Isaiah began in May, 2014. Week by week we looked at the Hebrew word origins, sketched out the events and arguments described in each chapter, and attempted to apply the passages to our own lives.

It is now July, 2015. We've arrived at Chapter 21, but there is a need to stop and look back. It's clear that this book is a collection of visions and messages given to Isaiah by God. However, it is not a chronological narrative. There are passages that foreshadowed the future, and flashbacks to previous events. There are emotional outbursts of despair, fear, joy and celebration.

This outline, "At A Glance", is that look back. More importantly, it attempts to answer three basic questions that should be asked of every passage:

  • What does this passage teach us about ourselves?
  • What does this passage teach us about God?
  • If this passage is true, how should we respond to it?

This At A Glance overview of the Book of Isaiah may help us pull out the primary truths of each passage, helping us to see how each succeeding chapter adds to the majestic story of God revealed in the Holy Bible.

Isaiah 1: Rebuke and Redemption

God lays upon Isaiah a vision of rebuke and judgement against the nation of Judah and the capital city of Jerusalem. God rebukes their sin and rejects their shallow religion. Yet in his mercy God offers a choice and promises relief and restoration.

Isaiah 1, Part 1: Rebuke and Redemption

Isaiah 1, Part 1: Rebuke and Redemption

Isaiah 1:1-9

God lays upon Isaiah a vision of rebuke and judgement against the nation of Judah and the capital city of Jerusalem. God rebukes their sin and rejects their shallow religion. Yet in his mercy God offers a choice and promises relief and restoration.

God rebukes the nation's sin.

Isaiah 1:1-9 (ESV) The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.

In the vision given to Isaiah God regards the nation of Israel as his children (sons) who have wallowed in ignorance and forsaken him in rebellion. The nation is described as laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, corrupt and utterly estranged.

Isaiah first describes the nation as a body sick with bruises and sores. Then Isaiah focuses on the land: the nation is desolate, burned with fire and besieged by enemies. Yet there is hope of mercy. Unlike the fate of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, God suggests that he will leave a remnant alive in Israel...the nation will not be utterly destroyed.

The people have failed to do what common farm animals are able to do: know their master. "Know" is a general term for seeing and understanding.

Unseeing and unaware, Israel deliberately loosed themselves from God, scorning God's existence, turning their hearts away.

What do you think?

What evidence would show that an ox knows its master? How would that relate to Israel's failure to know God?

What evidence can you point to in your life that supports the assumption that you "know" God?

God allowed desolation, fire storms and attacks from enemies in order to open the people's eyes to their sinful hearts. Does it help you, or does it repulse you, to consider misfortune as a reminder from God that we need to seek him?

What does this passage teach us?