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....


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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).