Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Isaiah 4:1-3

A Remnant Prepared

1 For seven women will take hold of one man in that day, 
saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, 
only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach!”
In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, 
and the fruit of the earth will be the pride 
and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.  
3 It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem 
will be called holy—everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem.

Chapter 4 may be quite short [we'll finish next week], but it is a passage of hope in the midst of judgments. At least, once you get past verse 1.

Verse 1 might well have gone with the end of Chapter 3, as the daughters of Zion received their calling out by God. "Your men will fall by the sword," we read last week in Isaiah 3:25. Indeed, enough men will fall that there will be a shortage of men. This is the situation described in verse 1, with many women trying to secure a single husband. In the battle that left Judah captive to Babylon, men fell. But this passage also alludes to the Day of the Lord in which men will fall and the wicked [like the women of Judah] will be punished with no husbands.

The quote from the women in verse 1 might sound as part rally cry from the days of women's lib. "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan," right? They said they could take care of themselves. But remember the days of Isaiah. Women didn't do these kinds of things for themselves. These women not only overstepped their area of responsibility, but they were willing to take any husband they could grab for the sake of his name, just to save themselves the shame of not being married.

"...These women will be bound to support themselves; they will eat bread of their own earning, and wear apparel of their own working, and the man they court shall be at no expense upon them, only they desire to be called his wives, to take away the reproach of a single life. They are willing to be wives upon any terms, though ever so unreasonable; and perhaps they rather because in these troublesome times it would be a kindness to them to have a husband for their protector. ...That modesty, which is the greatest beauty of the fair sex, was forgotten, and with them the reproach of vice was nothing to the reproach of virginity, a sad symptom of the irrecoverable desolations of virtue."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

If anyone was to remove the reproach of these sinful women, it was God. They needed only to have remembered His servant Jacob's wife, Rachel, and her struggles to have children. She blamed God for the reproach of her infertility and took matters into her own hands. It was quite a few children born to other mothers later that "...she conceived and bore a son and said, 'God has taken away my reproach,'" (Genesis 30:23) in the birth of her son, Joseph. Eventually, by His grace, God will remove the reproach of Judah--a remnant of Judah, more specifically.

Verse 2 brings us to mention of "the survivors of Israel." This means that some are survivors and some are not. This group of survivors is called the remnant. What the prophets begin to foretell is a time coming, a last time coming (the Day of the Lord), in which ultimate judgment will be pending. God in His holiness will take with Him for eternal life--"everyone who is recorded for life" (vs. 3)--those who are the true believers by faith in Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, depicted in verse 2 as "the Branch of the Lord."

"'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord,
'When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.'"
--Jeremiah 23:5

What Judah has not known in this time of Isaiah's prophecy is a king who acts wisely or justice that prevails. To know that a time of a "beautiful and glorious" reign, from the lineage of David, is in the wings should have provided hope to the lost nation. For some, it must have, as the base of the remnant would come through them. Of course, this is not the people who would see the first Advent of our Lord, but, over the generations--if the word of the Lord were faithfully shared down through the generations, as God commanded--the remnant would and will know His Son. Difficult to be faithful through captivity, unlawful governments, and the continued sinfulness of mankind. But God has not forgotten, and Paul's words are an enduring reminder:

"I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 'Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.' But what is the divine response to him? 'I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice."
--Romans 11:1-5 

'Branch' in the Hebrew can also refer to a sprout. [Strong's] Jesus was certainly more than a sprout, but He is the initial catalyst for the larger picture of spiritual growth and salvation that the Bible is talking about. The metaphor literally grows as we read the Savior's words recorded in John 15. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Judah would not be saved by a revival of its own doing. It did not abide in the Father. It was not a fruit-bearing nation of the type that was pleasing to God. Yet, for some, a time will come when the "fruit" evident upon the earth and a recognition of the Branch of the Lord will distinguish them from others who cry out, "Lord! Lord!" yet will go to eternal doom, familiarly unacknowledged.

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"
--Matthew 7: 21-23

Jesus said that you will know "by their fruits," those who are abiding in Him. The Jewish remnant and the Christian know the same God and will demonstrate the same good fruits in their lives, even if the Christian does not share the Jewish heritage as one of the remnant. As Chapter 11 of Romans continues, Paul goes into much detail about how God is working out His plan of salvation for all His people! What we must hold fast to, as would be the words of Isaiah upon Judah, the holiness of the one true God and live "by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD." (from Deuteronomy 8:3)

"Note, If Christ be precious to us, his gospel will be so and all its truths and promises—his church will be so, and all that belong to it. These are the good fruit of the earth, in comparison with which all other things are but weeds. It will be a good evidence to us that we are of the chosen remnant, distinguished from the rest that are called Israel, and marked for salvation, if we are brought to see a transcendent beauty in Christ, and in holiness, and in the saints, the excellent ones of the earth."
--Matthew Henry

Cloud and fire return over Mount Zion, as Chapter 4 concludes. ....'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 4: 4-6

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, May 23, 2012

Isaiah 3:16-26

Judah’s Women Denounced

16 Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud
And walk with heads held high and seductive eyes,
And go along with mincing steps
And tinkle the bangles on their feet,
17 Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs,
And the Lord will make their foreheads bare.”
18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, 20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, 23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.
24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction;
Instead of a belt, a rope;
Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp;
Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.
25 Your men will fall by the sword
And your mighty ones in battle.
26 And her gates will lament and mourn,
And deserted she will sit on the ground.

Compared with the last passage we looked at here on these pages, this is a much longer segment of Scripture. But, as I'm sure you've discovered by reading through these verses, this was a passage to be taken in its entirety rather than broken part way. Isaiah's picture of the women of Judah cannot be captured in just one image. I'm thinking you are conjuring up images for yourself! (As you can see, I opted for featuring a closet that might contain such an extensive wardrobe and accompaniments rather than to "hang up" one of today's women of Judah.)

God doesn't mince words, even as He mentions the women's "mincing steps." (vs 16) The detail in the description from Isaiah is fantastic. The outcome for these women, however, is not, dare I say, pretty. Punishment will come in the form of a disease of some type, something to leave their scalps covered in scabs and their foreheads bare. (Though the King James Version reads, "the Lord will discover their secret parts," leading us to believe a far worse fate would be theirs.)

My favorite commentary from Matthew Henry offers up the possibility that these women could be the wives and daughters of the aforementioned "princes" of this chapter, "that they might maintain the pride and luxury of their families." They would certainly be the ones who could afford such a closet. But, the principle of taking dress too seriously could be applied to all women--even today.

Was the problem with having an abundance of these items or having these items at all? Verse 16 focuses on the issues in mentioning 'proud' and 'seductive eyes.' "Vestis virum reddit is one of my take-away sentences from Latin I--"Clothes make the man." Surely, the thought was that clothes make the woman, too, but that was just the beginning. She needed the attitude, the posturing, the "wanton eyes" (in the Hebrew, "to ogle, blink coquettishly," Strong's), the tinkling of her bangles to attract attention and complete the image of who she was.

"The enumeration of these things intimates what care they were in about them, how much their hearts were upon them, what an exact account they kept of them, how nice and critical they were about them, how insatiable their desire was of them, and how much of their comfort was bound up in them.... The prophet did not speak of these things as in themselves sinful (they might lawfully be had and used), but as things which they were proud of and should therefore be deprived of."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Can you even keep track of fashion trends today? Look at the King James Version's take on verse 22: "The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins...." Nowadays, we have the double-decker, elevatored closets housing enough shoes to shoe a small country. Mantles and wimples and crisping pins--oh my! And what is the fashionable length of jeans--with or without holes, bleach, fringe, embroidery, belts.... "A chasing after the wind," as Ecclesiastes might have captured.

The biggest problem of all goes beyond what the women thought of themselves, or what they wanted others to think about them. My study Bible sums it up: "When women cultivate beauty for beauty's sake, they thereby reflect the moral decay of the nations and detract from the glory of God." When the storehouse is full, do we thank God or do we build another storehouse for the extra we accumulate? If we're beautiful, do we thank God for who He created us to be ("...the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God," I Peter 3:4), or do we head back to the mall to make sure our beauty stays intact.

"'And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry." But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.' And He said to His disciples, 'For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.'"
--Luke 12: 19-22

Verse 18 says, "In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of.... Again, back to the King James', we read, "...the Lord will take away the bravery of.... (italics mine). That word in the Hebrew also means glory, honor or majesty. [Strong's] "All glory, laud and honor to Thee, Redeemer King...." "To Thee all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all...." When we take away or cheapen that which belongs solely to God--that which tries to be captured in an ornament, bauble, fabric, style, attitude, etc.--He will respond. 

"Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness."
--Psalm 29: 1 and 2 (italics mine)

The chapter concludes with the effect that the choices of the daughters of Zion will have in joining the sinful nation of Judah as a whole. Not only will they trade their beautiful garments for sackcloth, but their men will be destroyed and their city left fallen.

"The roads of Zion are in mourning
Because no one comes to the appointed feasts.
All her gates are desolate;
Her priests are groaning,
Her virgins are afflicted,
And she herself is bitter."
--Lamentations 1:4

"If sin be harboured with in the walls, lamentation and mourning are near the gates."
--Matthew Henry

There is hope in this word. "A Remnant Prepared." ....'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 4:1-3

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).

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Unexpected Break

I hadn't planned on missing my deadline this week, but it's clear that I have. To my study friends, I am sorry to have not been with you this week.

I have been helping a friend's ministry. Through her ministry (Hands Up Ministries--on the web and Facebook; look it up!), she purchased this home and has been revitalizing it with the help of several hundred volunteers to be put into service as a transitional home for men leaving substance abuse rehabilitation facilities. I have been making curtains for the home, and, this week, had the opportunity to help hang them up, do some minor painting, do some supply shopping and help set things up. The Open House is this Sunday afternoon, so there was a deadline here, too.

I am still wrestling with not feeling guilt over the direction of my days. I love this study. Love to study and write. But this week was one of those weeks that needed to be devoted to Kingdom service. And it's all OK. Feeling like I can do everything is not OK. God continues to work on breaking down the walls regarding the control I have over my days. That's very OK, even if it doesn't always feel right....

I am thankful for my time this past week, as I have known such great joy in the service. The beginning of an investment into transforming lives! I am thankful that this blog is still here, too. Isaiah isn't going anywhere!!

Thank you for your understanding, friends! 'Til next Wednesday....

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Isaiah 3:13-15

God Will Judge

13 The Lord arises to contend,
And stands to judge the people.
14 The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people,
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
15 “What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the face of the poor?”
Declares the Lord God of hosts.

Short passage in Isaiah today, but one that my study Bible sets off by itself, with the title: "God Will Judge." After laying out the case in earlier verses and the presentation of evidence, as it were, God, as lead Prosecutor and Judge, calls His people on the carpet.

"Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel,
For the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land,
Because there is no faithfulness or kindness
Or knowledge of God in the land."
--Hosea 4:1
If you studied Hosea here in these pages, you'll remember us looking at the word contend. ("Contend with your mother," said Hosea 2:2, as the nation of Israel was grappling with its sinful stance against God.) In the Hebrew, it means to "grapple, wrangle or hold a controversy." [Strong's] God pleads, not in the begging way but in the "Do you see the controversy we have here?" way. The people were not following in obedience or reverence to God, and the leadership was making some drastically unloving, un-Godly decisions. In this Judge's courtroom, the questions asked are rhetorical, as there is nothing the defense can introduce into evidence that can stand.

In verse 14, we read that the elders and princes--those in power--are the ones called into judgment by God specifically. Isaiah began Chapter 3 with a dissertation on the problems with those in charge. In a statement, God says, "'It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the plunder of the poor is in your houses.'" The King James Version uses 'eaten up' for devoured, which, more accurately means consumed by fire. Chapter 5 of Isaiah is "The Parable of the Vineyard," into which we'll look more at the metaphor of the vineyard that is Judah. 'Plunder' does not just mean collected items; there is an application of force suggested, whether actual physical theft or taken through deceptive means, such as by fraud. The leadership of Judah is held responsible for these offenses by God Himself.

"Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness!
And do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no man living is righteous."
--Psalm 143: 1 and 2

The above would have been a wonderful thought and prayer on behalf of Judah's leaders. But, it was not to be. God did enter into judgment, and, as Israel had failed to recognize, so, too, did Judah fail to recognize that "no man living is righteous."

Verse 15 is so powerfully worded: "'What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the face of the poor?'" In Hebrew, the word face literally means "that which turns." [Strong's] The face of the poor, which had turned to the leadership to be its earthly guide and support, would be "crushed" and "ground," with its resources devoured and plundered. I am saddened as I think about our worldview today, with the abundance of poor in so many places and hurting in so many ways. Systems that crush and plunder. Attitudes that devour self-worth.

We simply must remember the lesson of last week regarding the sin of showing partiality. "The shew of their countenance [their respect for persons] bears witness against them." (Isaiah 3:9) A champion of the poor, James must have breathed Isaiah's prophecy as air, given how he addressed the Christian Jews of his day:
"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool, 'have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man....'"
--James 2: 1-6 (the sin of partiality; emphasis mine)

Judah's leadership had become a nation of "judges with evil motives." Is it any wonder God's words were intended to cut straight to their hearts: "What do you mean....?" If there's anyone rhetorically grappling for an explanation in this controversy, it's God.

"'What mean you, that you beat my people into pieces? What cause have you for it? What good does it do you?' Or, 'What hurt have they done you? Do you think you had power given you for such a purpose as this?' Note, there is nothing more unaccountable, and yet nothing which must more certainly be accounted for, than the injuries and abuses that are done to God’s people by their persecutors and oppressors. 'You grind the faces of the poor; you put them to as much pain and terror as if they were ground in a mill, and as certainly reduce them to dust by one act of oppression after another.'"
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

"And the people will be oppressed,
Each one by another, and each one by his neighbor...."
--Isaiah 3:5

"Moreover...." God continues. "Judah's women denounced".... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 3:16-26

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, May 2, 2012

Isaiah 3:9-12

9 The expression of their faces bears witness against them,
And they display their sin like Sodom;
They do not even conceal it.
Woe to them!
For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Say to the righteous that it will go well with them,
For they will eat the fruit of their actions.
11 Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him,
For what he deserves will be done to him.
12 O My people! Their oppressors are children,
And women rule over them.
O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray
And confuse the direction of your paths.

God, through Isaiah, is continuing to explain to Judah why He is at His wits' end with them. 

The NASB uses "the expression on their faces" (vs. 9), suggesting that their sin is truly outwardly visible. Other translations and more literal renderings offer a more accurate picture. "In Isaiah 3:9 [speaking of the King James Version], 'the shew of their countenance' is a bad translation for 'their respect of persons.'" [Burton Scott Easton, writing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia] The idiom suggests that the partiality of Judah--seeing themselves far above others, including God--bore out in all their doings. Can't help but recall the word of James:

"If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors."
--James 2: 8 and 9

Clearly, the people were not loving others according to the true law, much less were they loving themselves as God would have them.

How obvious was this? Verse 9 continues, "...They display their sin like Sodom." The prophets love to bring back Sodom, I'm discovering. If there were a most hated place by God, Sodom would certainly rank right up at the top. Their open displays of promiscuity and sinfulness (Genesis 19:5) led to God bring down the gauntlet upon the nation--and, thus, for the prophets to echo their story over and over in an appeal to the heart of God's people to examine themselves.

"Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD."
--Genesis 13:13 (or, as some translations would say, "wicked and sinners exceedingly")

Still in verse 9, "Woe to them!" Although this points to consequences to come to the people, this is a much deeper sentiment than just a reference to impending captivity. Again, other translations get to the root: "Woe to their souls!" Such an easy point to gloss over, but it's crucial to follow this through. Sin goes deeper than just the misdemeanor of the moment.

"Note, the condition of sinners is woeful and very deplorable. Note, also, it is the soul that is damaged and endangered by sin. Sinners may prosper in their outward estates, and yet at the same time there may be a woe to their souls. Note, further, whatever evils befall sinners it is of their own procuring...."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

What Matthew Henry says in his commentary about sinners prospering, is supported in God's Word, difficult as it is to read, perhaps:

"Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly."

--Ecclesiastes 8:12 [italics mine]

Make sure you take the entire verse and concept together. Will we sometimes see sins go unpunished here on Earth? Will we see those who seemingly should be called out 'guilty' proceed forward in their life and ways as though nothing ever happened? The answer is yes. ON EARTH! "In their outward estates," as Matthew Henry puts it. But, as we know from Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." What is going to happen after Earth? God will not let sin win--EVER! So, can He stand and watch as His people continue in their attitude of sin, supposed witnesses of Him to the world? No way! Not with eternity in His eyes.

"The dealing of his hands will be done to him...."
--Literal translation of Isaiah 9:11b

The righteous will inherit Heaven, and the wicked will inherit what they dish out as love to their neighbors!

Verse 12 speaks of women and children. Most of you probably realize that these were not among the well-regarded people in this culture. God's eyes saw them differently, of course, but in the eyes of the people, women and children were low in the totem pole. (Remember that "partiality" evidenced in the character of the people, as mentioned in verse 9.) We had read earlier in the beginning of Chapter 3 about the "capricious children" who would be ruling over the people in these days. Isaiah ties in women with government in this verse, which would have culturally illustrated additional weakness in the leadership.

"Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths." (vs. 12) Remember, again, from the beginning of the chapter, "...The mighty man and the warrior, the judge and the prophet," etc., etc. (Isa. 3:2- ) These are the ones the people had put in place of God. The self-appointed guides were guiding them into evil. How they had forgotten the wisdom of Solomon!

"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
--Proverbs 3: 5 and 6 (King James Version)
Judah's heart was wicked and filled with trust in themselves. Their ways turned crooked, as they should have, given that the nation no longer acknowledged God nor followed in His way. Although some, for the short term, would seem to succeed in their sinful living, God would, and will, have the final word. Judah had forgotten the word of God, the word of the wise appointed by God, and the God's word spoken through the prophets.

And what of ourselves? In a world that looks much like Sodom, in whom do we seek our righteousness that we might be rewarded with the eternal fruit of Heaven?

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
--Hebrews 12: 1 and 2
"God will judge".... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 3:13-15

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).