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....


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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).