Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Isaiah 6: 11-13

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
“Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,
12 “The Lord has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it,
And it will again be subject to burning,
Like a terebinth or an oak
Whose stump remains when it is felled.
The holy seed is its stump.”

Closing on another chapter of Isaiah with today's passage, which begins with one of those timeless questions said by child and grown up alike: "Are we there yet?" HA! OK, that's not what verse 11 actually says, but isn't that the idea? Don't we all want to know, "Lord, how long?" When do we "arrive"? When are we through with this phase? How long will we have to receive treatment? When will the car be ready? Can I go home, now? Add your own variation, because you are likely pondering one, even as you are reading this!

What's interesting about Isaiah's quote is that he asks the question within the timeframe of receiving his calling to be a prophet. I can't imagine most folks ask the question, "How long will I be working here?" at their job interviews. But given what God has told him about the nature of his calling--"Render the hearts of this people insensitive...." (vs. 10)--he is not unlike us in taking on a task that we're not looking forward to facing. He could have said, "How long will I have to put up with being abused and rejected?" Note, he's not saying, "No," he's just preparing himself for what is to come.

To put another spin on Isaiah's question, looking at the cross-reference verse (Psalm 79:5), "How long, O Lord? Will You be angry forever?" The prophet may well be asking if God's state of mind will change for the eternal sake of Judah. The answer to this question would certainly weigh on Isaiah, as that might have meant an about-face from what he understood to be the Word and promises of God.

Of course, as we already know from reading the first five chapters, there is an end coming to Judah as they knew it. Decimation of the city and captivity to another was in the works. This was the judgment facing Judah for disobedience. God gives Isaiah the full picture before the prophet speaks a word to the people. "Forsakenness will be great," is an alternate translation of verse 12, meaning that not only will there be a visible picture of desertedness, but that there will be a palpable feeling and understanding of abandonment by God. True helplessness. Quite the opposite of what God had told the people when they were first called to be His:

"The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."
--Deuteronomy 31:8 

We need to realize, again, the great depths to which His people had fallen. From great is Thy faithfulness to great is Thy forsakeness! This prophecy does not reflect a one-time judgment, either, which is not uncommon with the Bible's revelations. Consider this thought by Matthew Henry:

"Note, Spiritual judgments often bring temporal judgments along with them upon persons and places. This was in part fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, when the land, being left desolate, enjoyed her sabbaths seventy years; but, the foregoing predictions being so expressly applied in the New Testament to the Jews in our Saviour’s time, doubtless this points at the final destruction of that people by the Romans, in which it had a complete accomplishment, and the effects of it that people and that land remain under to this day."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Now, lest you think God has forever forsaken His people and His prophet, don't miss the last verse of the chapter, which begins with one of those great transition words, 'Yet'.... God's promise to never fail nor forsake His people is kept intact, but by "a tenth portion," which is in other passages of Scripture is referred to as "a remnant." God creates the picture of the oak or terebinth tree, that though it is destroyed will rise up again from its stump. [Per the Reformation Study Bible: "The Middle Eastern terebinth and oak trees can produce new shoots even when they appear to have been cut or damaged beyond all hope."] Can you see Jesus' death and resurrection through this visual picture, too?

God's people would continue to be cut down and overrun, time and time again. The unbelief that came to this boiling point, that brought God to a place of forsaking His people for a time, continues into this day. And though Isaiah is long gone, God's promise to reach His people with His Word and the hope of eternity that rests in the knowledge of Jesus continues to exist. A time will come when the last of the remnant will be secured--through evangelizing Jews, like Isaiah, in the days of the End Times--and the long-held promise completely fulfilled.

"For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth."
--Deuteronomy 7:6
 Until then, "Lord, how long?"....
"Until the whole world hears,
Lord, we are calling out,
Lifting up Your name for all to hear the sound.
Like voices in the wilderness we're crying out
As the day draws near,
We'll sing until the whole world hears."
--from Casting Crowns' Sing Until the Whole World Hears

Beginning Chapter 7, "War against Jerusalem".... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Isaiah 7: 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).