Monday, December 24, 2012

O Come, Let Us Adore Him!

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore. 
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this."
--Isaiah 9: 6 and 7

REJOICE! Merry Christmas, friends!

'Til our next Wednesday....

* * *

Next: Isaiah 10: 1-4

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Isaiah 9: 18-21

18 For wickedness burns like a fire;
It consumes briars and thorns;
It even sets the thickets of the forest aflame
And they roll upward in a column of smoke.
19 By the fury of the Lord of hosts the land is burned up,
And the people are like fuel for the fire;
No man spares his brother.
20 They slice off what is on the right hand but still are hungry,
And they eat what is on the left hand but they are not satisfied;
Each of them eats the flesh of his own arm.
21 Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh,
And together they are against Judah.
In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away
And His hand is still stretched out.

There are some weeks when it is such a joy to study and write. I am enlightened, encouraged...wisdom-filled! Then, there are some weeks when it is difficult to read the text, either for content being so tough to understand or so tough to accept, or because the events of my life or the world are overwhelming and consuming. It has definitely been one of the more overwhelming weeks from a world perspective.
The massacre in Newtown, CT, this past Friday, has touched the world. The responses run the gamut, as do the questions, focuses of conversation, posts and statements. Was God there? Yes, no, in what capacity, with what attitude, with what purpose? As believers, we draw near to God and His Word seeking comfort, seeking guidance, seeking understanding. Even more important, we need to just plain seek God and rest in the knowledge of who He is, because this is beyond our scope:

"How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand....
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it."
--from Psalm 139: 6, 17 and 18
It would be important for me to mention, too, that we need to take caution with words of prophecy. Isaiah's words, and the words of other prophets, were spoken to the people of their day, forthtelling a time to come. Many of Isaiah's prophecies have already come to pass, as you know from reading the Scriptural account of the Christmas story. Some prophecies have yet to be fulfilled, while others may see a double-fulfillment (then and to come). And some of the ideas contained within the prophecies might still seem viable today. This world continues to be a fallen one, needing a Savior. But let us be wise in our application of God's Word, seeking the Holy Spirit's counsel as to what from Scripture we apply to events of today and what is to be left as history from which to learn.
Recall that we are in a multi-stanza poem, speaking of the woes of Israel. We will conclude the poem with next week's post. Again, the refrain, from verse 21: "In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out." The wrath or "the fury" (vs 19) of God drives the events that we read about in Israel--these in response to the constant sinfulness and dark-heartedness of the people.
I'm finding it hard to find images to match what Isaiah describes in his words, which are so much stronger. Wickedness, he says, "burns like a fire." (vs 18) One evil act, word, thought or attitude can be the catalyst for a blaze that catches onto everything in its path--like the briars and thorns of the field. The fire results in a smoke cloud that covers the sky with darkness. Do you find that wickedness clouds everything else from your vision? I think I have experienced that this week.
The "Lord of hosts" (vs 19) has brought calamity upon the people in His discipline and righteousness, but the lack of appropriate response from the people makes them, as Isaiah says, "fuel for the fire." If Israel had repented and turned away from its idols, turning back to God, their obedience would have been a beautiful offering, rather than the "column of smoke" (vs 18) ascending from the altar of their apostasy.
"The godly person has perished from the land,
And there is no upright person among men.
All of them lie in wait for bloodshed;
Each of them hunts the other with a net.
Concerning evil, both hands do it well.
The prince asks, also the judge, for a bribe,
And a great man speaks the desire of his soul;
So they weave it together.
The best of them is like a briar,
The most upright like a thorn hedge....
A man’s enemies are the men of his own household."
--Micah 7: 2-4 and 6b

"They do nothing to turn away his anger; they do not repent and reform, do not humble themselves and pray, none stand in the gap, none answer God’s calls nor comply with the designs of his providences, but they are hardened and secure."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Dig beyond the literal when reading verse 20. The ravenous, insatiable hunger depicted by Isaiah represents Israel's pride and longing for the greatest of success. But without God in their picture, their efforts were ultimately futile. In fact, verse 21 says the in-fighting among the tribes of the Northern Kingdom is part of what keeps God's hand "still stretched out."

Manasseh and Ephraim, two of the tribes, had been in a civil war at the time of the Judges. No one does well in a civil war! But what our Isaiah passage notes is that even though these Kingdom brothers had issues with each other, they could unite in ganging up on another brother, Judah. It is the dynamics of relationships like this that call us to pause on the end of verse 19: "No man spares his brother."

Micah said, "A man’s enemies are the men of his own household." It is difficult this week to read these Scriptures and to consider our world today, not to mention remembering what I know of the coming prophecy in Revelation. These are not unexpected or unknown times and ways. They have not left us. They will continue to be with us.

"No man shall spare his brother, if he come in the way of his ambition of covetousness, or if he have any colour to be revenged on him; and how can they expect God should spare them when they show no compassion one to another? Men’s passion and cruelty one against another provoke God to be angry with them all and are an evidence that he is so....."
--Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry is speaking of the impetus and the results of civil war, and God's people's defiance of His truth. But should we not take heed to hear what these Scriptures are saying, for us, for now? We cannot completely remove evil from this world, but we do not have to be "fuel for the fire" in spurring it on in its various forms--many of which are completely under our power to change. For the sake of our families, our children, will we consider these words?

We cannot change everyone in the world, but, embracing a change of heart is within our means. As a song heard at this time of year says, "Let it begin with me."

Reasons for God's wrath, as our poem closes. 'Til next Wednesday....


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 10: 1-4

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Isaiah 9: 13-17

13 Yet the people do not turn back to Him who struck them,
Nor do they seek the Lord of hosts.
14 So the Lord cuts off head and tail from Israel,
Both palm branch and bulrush in a single day.
15 The head is the elder and honorable man,
And the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail.
16 For those who guide this people are leading them astray;
And those who are guided by them are brought to confusion.
17 Therefore the Lord does not take pleasure in their young men,
Nor does He have pity on their orphans or their widows;
For every one of them is godless and an evildoer,
And every mouth is speaking foolishness.
In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away
And His hand is still stretched out.

The next strophe or section of Isaiah's poem concerning Israel's waywardness deals with the ongoing discipline of the Lord and the people's unresponsiveness to that discipline. As with last week's passage of Scripture, the refrain continues to sing: "In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out." (vs 17)

Being the providential parent He is, God offers discipline to His children. As any parent who loves his children, God has varying layers of discipline to reach a given child in a given situation. The goal of discipline is not to punish, but to instruct and correct. However, when this does not work with the child, there may well be punishment for continued misbehavior. When done with unconditional love, discipline and punishment should work together to help "train up a child in the way he should go." (Proverbs 22:6)

But, what we read in verse 13 says that the people "do not turn" from their misbehavior and turn back to their loving Parent. This forces God's hand of discipline to kick it up a notch.

"O Lord, do not Your eyes look for truth?
You have smitten them,
But they did not weaken;
You have consumed them,
But they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
They have refused to repent."

--Jeremiah 5:3

Since the people will not take responsibility for their own behavior, God intervenes to deal with the problem where it originated--at the "head and tail." (vs 14) More descriptively, Isaiah uses "the palm branch" and the "bulrush" (see picture above) to represent the high places and the low places in which His word has been, at best, confused and misrepresented, and, at worst, maligned and ignored.

Verse 15 answers specifically the question of who is the "head" and who is the "tail"? [Not all prophecy or parable is as easy to interpret as this passage today, in which the prophet fills the blanks!] "The head is the elder and honorable man, and the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail." Throughout Isaiah, we have read of the corruption at the top. Israel and Judah both had kings at various times who did not honor God or His word, and the trickle-down effect was palpable in the actions and hearts of the people. Idol worship and false prophets filled in the gaps.
"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect."
--Matthew 24: 24
Any evidence of such troubles today? Everyone has his or her own answer to what leads people astray to cause the ills of this world. And that in itself, friends, is the problem. What Isaiah is saying here is that there is really only ONE BIG PROBLEM:
"Yet the people do not turn back to Him who struck them,
Nor do they seek the Lord of hosts."
--vs 13

Until the worldview becomes a Christ-centered view, "Therefore...." (vs 17), God will not show His favor. The verse continues, mentioning those God would regularly have had His favor upon in better times--young men, orphans and widows. Most surprising to find orphans and widows here, especially, as we read in Scripture of God's special mercy and instruction to show mercy to these.

"Learn to do good; 
Seek justice,
Reprove the ruthless, 

Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow."

--Isaiah 1:17

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
--James 1: 27

That the infiltration of ungodliness in Israel had penetrated into the hearts of widows and orphans demonstrates the depths of the people's depravity, and the heights of God's anger and response over the situation. Again, verse 17 says, "everyone is godless and an evildoer...." In the King James Version, 'godless' is translated 'hypocrite'. The Hebrew word means "soiled (in sin), impious." [Strong's] In the Greek, the word means "stage actor, pretender, dissembler." [Online Etymology Dictionary] What describes the people of Israel at the time of the prophets would be used by the Chief Prophet to describe certain people in His day:
"'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!'"
--Matthew 23: 23 and 24

Israel had it wrong. I daresay we might have some things wrong, too.

"Where children pure and happy pray to the bless├Ęd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more."

--from O Little Town of Bethlehem (lyrics, Phillips Brooks)

Oh, yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute....

The results of wickedness. 'Til next Wednesday....


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 9: 18-21

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Isaiah 9: 8-12

God’s Anger with Israel’s Arrogance

The Lord sends a message against Jacob,
And it falls on Israel.
And all the people know it,
That is, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
Asserting in pride and in arrogance of heart:
10 “The bricks have fallen down,
But we will rebuild with smooth stones;
The sycamores have been cut down,
But we will replace them with cedars.”
11 Therefore the Lord raises against them adversaries from Rezin
And spurs their enemies on,
12 The Arameans on the east and the Philistines on the west;
And they devour Israel with gaping jaws.
In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away
And His hand is still stretched out.

There are many times when I appreciate the subheads contained within chapters of Scripture. As with other forms of documentation, subheads break up large amounts of text. They make it easier to read, to know what is contained within a section and to help remember where certain passages are. But, the original text of the Bible was not written with these subheads, and, sometimes, the editors'/translators' choices are curious.

My study Bible explains that Isaiah 9:8 begins a poem, which runs several stanzas through 10:4--which is after a new chapter subhead while 10:5 does not contain a new subhead. You might think a poem would stand on its own. But, I'm not a Biblical scholar/editor/translator. Just so you know what you're reading!

You will recognize the refrain of the poem, which is found in verse 12, and will be repeated throughout the poem. We first read it as part of Isaiah 5:25--

"On this account the anger of the Lord has burned against His people,
And He has stretched out His hand against them and struck them down. 
And the mountains quaked, and their corpses lay like refuse in the middle of the streets.
For all this His anger is not spent,
But His hand is still stretched out."
--Isaiah 5:25 (italics mine)

The Lord's discipline is still to be completed.

Back to the top, verse 8, "the Lord sends a message against Jacob...." We know that Jacob was the father of sons representing the original 12 tribes of Israel. God changed Jacob's name to Israel ("...For you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."--Genesis 32:28b) after Jacob wrestled with Him. The second part of verse 8 further clarifies: "It falls on Israel," meaning the Northern Kingdom, the 10 tribes (as opposed to Judah, the Southern Kingdom). To make that even more specific, in verse 9, Isaiah uses 'Ephraim' for the nation of Israel and those of its capital city, "Samaria."

What was the word sent forth? Prophets and others had told the nation of its "pride and arrogance of heart." As we learned from studying Amos and Hosea--prophets to Israel--the nation had a massive struggle with its self-sufficient nature. It had worked itself up to a stage of not finding a need for God, all the while building up its city walls and fortresses, and giving itself every good pleasure for living. Besides 'haughtiness' and 'highhandedness,' it seems appropriate to find 'lordiness' listed as synonymns for 'arrogance.' [] Israel was lord of itself, despite the words of Truth handed down through its messengers. Striving took on a whole new emphasis.
"Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the Lord is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed."
--I Samuel 2:3 (from Hannah's "Song of Thanksgiving")

The actions of people are weighed before God, and God's actions should be weighty matters when they fall upon His people! "All the people will know it," returning to verse 9. If they hadn't learned through the words of God's messengers, God would demonstrate His point through His actions.

"Those are ripening apace for ruin whose hearts are unhumbled under humbling providences; for God will walk contrary to those who thus walk contrary to him and provoke him to jealousy, as if they were stronger than he."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Verse 10 is a response by Israel to what God has been trying to tell them about their heart. "If there is trouble to come, Lord, no problem. We can handle it. If the nations tear down our homes, we'll rebuild, and rebuild even better than before! We'll use 'smooth' or 'hewn' (King James Version) stones and long-lasting, sturdy cedar instead of the fickle sycamore. It's OK, Lord. Thanks, anyway. We got this!" Again, Israel's take-charge ways would get the best of them.

In verse 11, God tells how. He plans to send in forces which are Rezin's (king of Syria) adversaries. That would be the Assyrians. The Syrians or "Arameans" would also be involved, as would the Philistines who carried a long battle history. God was raising up forces all around. Where's your mighty fortress now?

"Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing...."
--from A Mighty Fortress is Our God (lyrics by Martin Luther)
"Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles,
And the sprawlers’ banqueting will pass away.
The Lord God has sworn by Himself, the Lord God of hosts has declared: 
'I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.'"
--Amos 6: 7 and 8 

The poem continues.... 'Til next Wednesday. (And thanks for your patience in waiting a day, as I had seasonal service opportunities not to be missed yesterday!).... 


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 9: 13-17

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).