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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Isaiah 9, Part 1: The Promised Prince

Isaiah 9, Part 1: The Promised Prince (verses 1-7)

Previously in chapter 8:

With his child's name as an omen, Isaiah responded to God's inspiration and preached a warning to "this people", the Jews in Israel and Judah. They would be inundated by an invasion from Assyria, shattering their idolatrous fear and superstition. Distress, darkness and gloom would bring the people anguish.

Overview of chapter 9:

Those without hope in the LORD would suffer the gloom of anguish, but for those once thought contemptible there will be no such gloom. A Child would come from Zebulun Naphtali, a Son Who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.

Yet the present circumstances are dire. God's anger brings Assyrians, Syrians and Philistines against Israel. The horrors of war and genocide become terrifying symbols of Israel's moral and spiritual wickedness against the LORD.

The Promised Prince of Peace (verses 1-7)

In the "former time" the LORD brought into contempt Zebulun and Naphtali (Isaiah 9:1).

A good example of "contempt" is seen early in the Old Testament, in Hagar's attitude toward Sarai:

Genesis 16:3-4 (ESV) So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.

Evidently, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali had previously been viewed with contempt by other Israelite tribes who felt themselves more numerous, more affluent, or more favored by God.

Scripture suggests a few reasons why the people of Zebulun and Naphtali were long considered to be light or trifling, and of little import. The tribe's founder, Zebulun, was a son of Leah, who was Jacob's first wife, but not his first love. Zebulun's borders allowed only a small bit of land, squeezed by Manasser to the south, Naphtali to the north, and Asher and Issachar on either side. When Moses and Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, Zebulun as a tribe failed to completely drive out their enemies (Judges 1:30).

The child Naphtali was technically a son of Rachel, Jacob's favored wife, but was actually born of Rachel's servant, Bilhah (Genesis 30:7-8). The Naphtali tribe also failed to drive out their appointed enemies in Canaan (Judges 1:33). During the years of civil war, Naphtali was conquered by Syria, the people taken captive and exiled to Assyria(1 kings 15:20). It could easily be that Zebulun and Naphtali would be seen as "foreign", ruined by the "dogs" of a Gentile nation.

But Isaiah promised glory for this contemptible region of Israel:

Isaiah 9:1-3 (ESV) But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

The ostracized peoples of Zebulun and Naphtali would experience something glorious and great, something that would give them reason to rejoice with joy and gladness.

Note: The KJV translation seems confusing:

Isaiah 9:3 (KJV) Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

"Not increased the joy" probably refers to the contrast between a contemptible past and a glorious future, as in "Whose joy thou hadst not increased" in the former time (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

"Blithe" means a casual and cheerful indifference that could be considered callous or improper.

Isaiah foresaw a time of incredible joy for the little, trivial and contemptible tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali...joy that would make them seem indifferent and forgetful of their former days of darkness and anguish.

That future day would be ushered in by the triumph of a Child:

Isaiah 9:4-7 (ESV) For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Oppression and war would cease under the government of the Son, the "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace". This Saviour would be a descendent of David the King and would reign for eternity.

And this Saviour would first appear in the formerly "dark" regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, a land filled with Jews made impure and contemptible with Gentile blood.

Matthew 4:12-17 (ESV) Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city of the Jewish tribe of Judah. But shortly after his birth his parents fled Herod's persecution, escaping to Egypt. When it was safe, the family returned to Israel, settling in the district of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, the once-contemptible land. It was in Galilee that the light of the gospel first shone.

Isaiah's message of hope and joy would take centuries to bear fruit for the people who were then experiencing oppression, war, death and disease. But the promise would be fulfilled...eventually.

What do you think?

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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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Isaiah 8: The Conspiracy (Part 3 of 4)

Isaiah 8: The Conspiracy

(Part 3 of 4)

Isaiah felt pulled into fear. The people he preached to were shaken to the core and their fear was contagious. But the LORD spoke to Isaiah, warning him not to fear as the people feared. But the LORD did not tell Isaiah not to fear at all. Rather, the LORD told Isaiah to fear the LORD only, and that fear would be their only salvation.

The LORD warned Isaiah against fear of conspiracy:

Isaiah 8:11-12 (ESV) For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.

This word can mean tied up physically. When twins were born to Tamar, the midwife tied a scarlet thread on the hand of one babe as a way of distinguishing them (Genesis 38:38). Proverbs urges us to honor our parents, binding their teaching on our heart (Proverbs 6:20-21).

But more frequently it referred to groups involved in secret rebellion:

King Saul accused his servants of conspiracy with his rival David (1 Samuel 22:8-13). David himself confronted conspiracy after he became king (2 Samuel 15:31). King Pekah, king of Israel during the days of Isaiah, gained his throne through conspiracy, and was assassinated later by yet another conspiracy (2 Kings 15:25). The final book in the Jewish Old Testament, 2 Chronicles, describes the conspiracy that executed Zechariah the prophet. The king who led that conspiracy was himself assassinated by yet another conspiracy. (2 Chronicles 24:21-25).

The people around Isaiah were shaken to their core with fear of conspiracy: Who were the traitors, who were the murderers and oppressors, who were liars? But the LORD told Isaiah to see beyond earthly things. If there was betrayal, murder, oppression and lies, God was sovereign over all. God knew all things, and God was using the murderers, liars and invaders as an instrument of judgement and salvation.

What do you think?

The Sanctuary

Isaiah 8:13-14 (ESV) But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary...

"Asylum" often has a different meaning in popular languange. It properly means protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country persecuted for political reasons. The word is from Greek "asulon" meaing refuge, "without right of seizure". Popular use often connects "asylum" with facilities that care for those with mental illness.

The LORD was not saying to Isaiah, "Do not fear". Rather, the LORD was saying "DO fear the LORD." And the result of that godly fear would be rescue and protection.

However, the journey to rescue and protection would be difficult:

Isaiah 8:14-15 (ESV) And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

"Lamina" means a thin layer of rock or other material.

The conspiracy and dread that terrified the people went far beyond wicked leaders and oppressive nations. The LORD was using kings and armies as a instrument of judgement and wrath that would lead to rescue and protection of his people. But the process would involve injury and loss, pain and weakness, a "pounding thin" of the people's resolve.

The LORD told Isaiah that he would be their sanctuary, their protection from persecution. But he also told Isaiah that he would be their stone of offense, rock of stumbing, a trap and a snare.

What do you think?

The Fall

Rescue and protection would involve brokenness:

Isaiah 8:15 (ESV) And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

"It" refers to the LORD.

"Cohere" means to be united, to form a whole; from Latin cohaerer, "together to stick".

Stumbling is not a good thing. It stops a person from continuing on and it causes pain. But if the person is pursuing a dangererous path, or ignoring reality, perhaps stumbling is a good thing:

Romans 9:31-33 (ESV) Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

Tripping over Christ provides an opportunity to choose: faith or rebellion.

1 Peter 2:6-8 (ESV) For it stands in Scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Christ may be a Cornerstone of life, or a Stone of stumbling.

What do you think?

Photo by Lara Cores, Creative Commons license

Monday, July 7, 2014

Isaiah 8: The Flood (Part 2 of 4)

Isaiah 8: The Flood (Part 2 of 4)

The LORD compares the Assyrian invasion to a mighty river that will sweep over the land, including Judah. The armies of Syria and Israel will be shattered, bringing their dream of domination to nothing.

The people "refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently."

The Shiloah (Shelah or Siloam) ran through Jerusalem's royal garden (Nehemiah 3:15), forming pools used often for healing (John 9:7-11).

"This people" refused the gentle stream of the LORD and sought happiness in Rezin and the son of Remaliah (the king of Syria and the king of Israel). "This people" referred to both Israel and Judah. Israel preferred an alliance with Syria, and Judah sought alliance with Assyria (2 Kings 16:7).

The LORD promised judgement of "this people", using the Assyrian army as his instrument of wrath. He compared Assyria to "the River":

As the Euphrates River floods its banks in the spring by melting of the snow in the Armenian mountains, so the Assyrian army would sweep over all the land, reaching even to the "neck" of Judah.

When the waters reach to the neck, a man is near drowning; still the head is not said to be overflowed. Jerusalem, elevated on hills, was the head. The danger would be so imminent as to reach near it, but it would be spared (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

What do you think?

Immanuel

The land over which Assyria will flood belong belonged to Immanuel:

Isaiah 8:8 (ESV) Its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.

This reference to Isaiah's child must have seemed bewildering. How could the land belong to a son of Isaiah? The prophecy suggests eventual deliverance and restoration through the power of God, but how?

The answer would wait for centuries.

Matthew 1:20-23 (ESV) Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).

The faithful Jews clung to the promise symbolized by the name given to Isaiah's son. Centuries later they saw in Jesus glimpses of his divine power and they associated his name with the promised savior of Israel:

Acts 1:6 (ESV) So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?

Because God's hand was behind the Assyrian invasion, because "God is with us", the flood that would sweep over the land would accomplish his purposes: destroy the rebellious plans of his enemies and bring his people to their knees in broken, shattered dependence upon him.

What do you think?

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