Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Isaiah 11: 1-5

Righteous Reign of the Branch
 1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist.

"It is a very good transition in prophecy (whether it be so in rhetoric or no), and a very common one, to pass from the prediction of the temporal deliverances of the church to that of the great salvation, which in the fulness of time should be wrought out by Jesus Christ...."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

With a new chapter in Isaiah comes a point of transition, and Matthew Henry describes this perfectly. Again, we enter another Chapter 11 far from bankruptcy in terms of its spiritual depth. This is a chapter of hope and peace and restoration!

For Judah, knowing that the Assyrian king Sennacherib would not take Jerusalem must have brought great relief, even as he would conquer quite a bit of territory. But, not only this, God's plan for a peace in this time included the leadership of the nation under King Hezekiah, who understood who was in charge: "'Now, O Lord our God, I pray, deliver us from his [Sennacherib's] hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God.'" (II Kings 19:19) Though this time of peace would be temporary, Isaiah writes of a time in which the Prince of Peace will come.

"...a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse...."
--vs 1

Isaiah has spoken of Christ's coming before this. 4:2 "...the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious...," he writes in 4:2, and, in 7:14, "a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." Now we read more about His beginnings. He will come from Jesse's family line, referring to the father of King David.
"After He had removed him [Saul], He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’ From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel."
--Acts 13:22-24

How incredible it is that we can look at Jesse and know that Christ is to come. With the Northern and Southern Kingdoms divided after Solomon's reign, this line to the Messiah could have been lost. But God intended the promise to be carried out through the kings of Judah, though this nation, too, would be lost for a time to exile. Yet, "the stem of Jesse" continued to carry forth life in the Messianic line, and "a branch from his roots will bear fruit." (vs. 1) A remnant will be saved and the line to a Savior will remain.

"'I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.'"
--Revelation 22:16

As Samuel anointed David with oil at the time of God's choosing him as Israel's king, "...the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward." (I Samuel 16: 13) Likewise, the Holy Spirit--"of wisdom and understanding...of counsel and strength...of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:2)--fell upon Christ at the time of His baptism.

"After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'"
--Matthew 3: 16 and 17
The Holy Spirit did not formally come as a counselor and helper until after Jesus' ascension. Those who received "the Spirit of the Lord" were specially marked. For one to come after David and receive this same Spirit, that was significant!
Verse 3 says, "...He will delight in the fear of the Lord." Awe and reverence for God and His Word will predominate over his judgment. Judah had quite a string of kings who did not find favor with God, nor did they seek God in their ruling or in their life. Hezekiah's reign brought a time of renewal and re-commitment of the nation to their Lord and to carrying out justice per His means. Christ's righteous reign will be like nothing the world has seen. Righteousness and faithfulness will be worn as belts (vs. 5), not unlike our calling to "put on the full armor of God." (Ephesians 6:10) Justice will be carried out under the Spirit's direction beyond any sense of human fairness, with extreme compassion and with Christ's intimate knowledge of people.
"Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man."
--John 2: 23-25 

Lest we think this picture of the righteous one to come lacks power, do not miss the end of verse 4. He will have the power to "strike the earth" and "slay the wicked" with his "breath." As threatening as the kings of Assyria appeared to Judah, those kings had nothing on the coming Christ. When I first read this, I thought of a passage in Revelation depicting Christ's mouth with a sword coming out. (Revelation 19:15) Matthew Henry brought up an example from Christ's earthly ministry. John 18 tells the story of Jesus' arrest, when Judas and the throng of those seeking to kill Him came upon Him. Jesus asks, "Whom do you seek?" They say, "Jesus the Nazarene." And Jesus speaks right to them, "I am He."

"...They drew back and fell to the ground."
--John 18:6

That's one powerful shoot!

A picture of perfect peace.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 11: 6-10

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, February 20, 2013

Isaiah 10: 28-34

28 He has come against Aiath,
He has passed through Migron;
At Michmash he deposited his baggage.
29 They have gone through the pass, saying,
“Geba will be our lodging place.”
Ramah is terrified, and Gibeah of Saul has fled away.
30 Cry aloud with your voice, O daughter of Gallim!
Pay attention, Laishah and wretched Anathoth!
31 Madmenah has fled.
The inhabitants of Gebim have sought refuge.
32 Yet today he will halt at Nob;
He shakes his fist at the mountain of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.
33 Behold, the Lord, the God of hosts, will lop off the boughs with a terrible crash;
Those also who are tall in stature will be cut down
And those who are lofty will be abased.
34 He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe,
And Lebanon will fall by the Mighty One.

Although the basic message of today's passage--the conclusion of Isaiah, Chapter 10-- is not difficult to understand, you are probably choking over the myriad place names as you try to read this. To help us not choke, let's pull out this vocabulary to study before we try and piece this all back together. A geographical Hebrew Heimlich, if you will....

Not all of these locales are listed on this map, but, where available, I have tried to include geographical information. (All references from the Encyclopedia of the Bible, EOB.)

  • Aiath--Likely known as Ai in other places in Scripture, Aiath was located somewhere east of Bethel, according to Genesis 12:8.
  • Migron--In I Samuel 14, we read of when Saul camped under a pomegranate tree at Migron, located "in the outskirts of Gibeah." The EOB says that it is not clear if the Migron of I Samuel is the same as the one mentioned in Isaiah.
  • Michmash--This is a town located 6 miles southeast of Bethel. Back to I Samuel for a little history, Saul and his son, Jonathan, are battling the Philistines. Saul has more men, but he isn't very brave and retreats (to the pomegranate tree at Migron). Samuel pushes Saul back into battle while Jonathan cleverly executes a sneak attack at Michmash that scares the Philistines silly.
  • Geba--Besides Saul and Jonathan, who camped at Geba at the time of the Michmash battle, David also made headlines at Geba as this is where he began his attacks on the Philistines.
  • Ramah--Without further description, 'ramah' means height in Hebrew, and there were a few ramahs in the region. What is referred to in Isaiah is Ramah of Benjamin (one of the 12 tribes). Judges 4 tells us that Deborah served as a judge in Israel between Bethel and Ramah. Judah's King Asa, quite before Isaiah's time, dismantled a blockade at Ramah that had been established by Israel's evil King Baasha, which stopped the flow of traffic into Jerusalem cutting off the city from resources.
  • Gibeah of Saul--This is the city named after the home of the first king of Israel, King Saul.
  • Gallim--This village was located north of Jerusalem, near Gibeah of Saul and Anathoth.
  • Laishah--Another village of Benjamin, located northeast of Jerusalem.
  • Anathoth--This is one of 48 cities given to the Levites from the tribe of Benjamin. This is also the birthplace of the prophet Jeremiah.
  • Madmenah--In Hebrew, 'madmenah' means compost heap, and it's important to say compost heap and not trash pile or dung hill. Healthy compost made for good, productive soil. Madmenah is also an unidentified city on this pathway outlined by Isaiah.
  • Gebim--In Hebrew, 'gebim' means pit or pits. Again, this town has not been adequately identified, except for its location on the Assyrian's attack blitz mentioned by Isaiah.
  • Nob--Three centuries before its mention by the prophet, Nob is cited as a "city of priests." It was at Nob where Saul commanded the killing of 85 priests, this as part of his chasing down of David.
  • Lebanon--Not surprising that Isaiah would use Lebanon as a word picture for Assyria in creating the image of a mighty, towering forest, for this is what Lebanon was known.

Amazing to see this level of detail captured by Isaiah after reading through the background on these cities. The Reformation Study Bible mentions that Micah features a similar type of exposition on Assyria's invasion, only from the southwest. But, that's a study years down the road. Isaiah made note of these cities through which the Assyrian army moved, whether fully known now or not. There was intent. [And, I am very thankful for the map, too!]

Where there is Biblical history, I feel the need to pause and consider what happened in that place and then to think about how this mighty army swept through these areas, "depositing baggage" (vs. 28), and leaving people "terrified" (vs. 29) or fleeing (vs. 29 and 31). God brought victory to Saul and Jonathan in the battle of Michmash. Where was victory now? God allowed for rebuilding and safety at Ramah for Asa. Where was this safety now?

"Yet today he will halt at Nob" and shake his fist at Jerusalem. (vs. 32) The Assyrian, Sennacherib, stops at "the city of priests" and only shakes his fist in threat at Jerusalem. After such a run, after what would appear an unstoppable conquest, the attack comes to a screeching halt at the wall of Jerusalem.

"BEHOLD, the Lord, the God of hosts...."
--vs. 33 (emphasis mine)

Because who holds everything in His hands? Who is the God of Angel Armies, to quote the new Chris Tomlin song? The Lord! God had already determined that a remnant would be saved. Part of that plan meant saving Jerusalem at this time from utter destruction. Isaiah forthtells the story here and will relay the fulfillment of his own prophecy later on in Chapter 37. The mighty Assyrian, as the tallest cedar of Lebanon, will fall at the iron axe of the mighty hand of God (vs. 34).

"Come and see the works of God,
Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.
He turned the sea into dry land;
They passed through the river on foot;
There let us rejoice in Him!
He rules by His might forever;
His eyes keep watch on the nations;
Let not the rebellious exalt themselves."
--Psalm 66: 5-7

Continuing on with the theme of mighty trees: "Righteous Reign of the Branch".... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 11: 1-5

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, February 13, 2013

In-Between Time Revisited

Once again, I have made a change in the schedule. Quite inadvertently. But I had news this week that has called me away, even as it is bringing me back to something.

My church has undergone a division. For more than a year, we were in discussions with our denomination about withdrawing--this after quite a few years of challenging several steps in spiritual direction made by the governing bodies of the denomination. It seems to be an increasingly common occurrence, sadly, as some denominations' interpretations of Biblical truth leave parishioners to question the nature of the actual Word of God itself.

Not to get into specifics here. It has only been 4 days since the announcement, but time has lost its element of exactness in dealing (and reeling) from the news. This is family. A family torn over differences. Again, not uncommon today. It just goes to show you that Christians can have their differences, and we are all very much still sinners.

There is a remnant of folks staying behind in the church building, choosing to remain under the denomination's leadership. The rest of us--myself included--will be part of a new beginning. Which is what leads me to the "bringing me back" part.

Here I am in another "in-between time." The name of this blog stems from a phrase the interim pastor at my last church used to refer to the time in which there is a transfer from one thing to another. At my last church, it was from one pastor's departure to the hiring of another. The in-between time was to be used for study of the congregation: reviewing past hurts, past direction, past resources, past everything! This study would then allow those to look toward a new beginning with a clean slate.

The in-between time wasn't meant to be an easy-going period of waiting for the next big thing. It was an active time of exploration, of digging deep, of admitting past mistakes, seeking forgiveness and rebuilding relationships. It was a time to focus on God and to seek His will and discernment for the next steps. It was a time for people to step down and a time for people to step up. It was confusing, emotional, fast-paced, slow-going--and essential!

I have used this blog space for various in-between times. A time of Scriptural devotionals in between Mothers of Preschoolers gatherings. A time of study when Bible study groups took time off in the summer. Now, of course, it's a study of the in-between time in which God chose not to speak directly through His prophets, anticipating the time of the Messiah.

And now I am living through another personal in-between time, which, even after 4 days, has every intention of being another season of challenge and growth, as the dust settles and God does His work through two newly reformed bodies of believers. Two bodies that need renewal and restoration, clarity of mission and focus, and, most importantly, a time of healing, forgiveness and sanctification.

Thank you for your prayers! Jumping ahead in this Isaiah study quite a bit to close with some words from Isaiah 40:   

"Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
'All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.'
And this is the word which was preached to you."
--I Peter 1: 22-25 (quoting Isaiah 40: 6-8)


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 10: 28-34

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, February 6, 2013

Isaiah 10: 24-27

24 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, 
“O My people who dwell in Zion, 
do not fear the Assyrian who strikes you with the rod 
and lifts up his staff against you, the way Egypt did. 
25 For in a very little while My indignation against you will be spent 
and My anger will be directed to their destruction.” 
26 The Lord of hosts will arouse a scourge against him 
like the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; 
and His staff will be over the sea and He will lift it up the way He did in Egypt. 
27 So it will be in that day, that his burden will be removed from your shoulders and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be broken because of fatness. 

Where the Scripture passage from last week had some hope interspersed with times of trial for Israel, this week's passage has some trials interspersed with a promise of eternal freedom from slavery. Isaiah says that not only will a remnant be spared but Assyria, the conqueror, will no longer be a threat. Can you rejoice when you know your enemies will not defeat you? This is what we're talking about today!

We do need to put this passage into a time reference, however, or we'll forget that Israel is going to face "a complete destruction." (vs. 23) Israel does go into exile in Assyria, and God's "indignation" (vs. 25) will be upon the people throughout that time and then some. What is indignation? Love the Hebrew definition from Strong's: "Strictly froth at the mouth, i.e. (figuratively) fury (especially of God's displeasure with sin)."

"Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation."
--Isaiah 10:5

Yet though God's fury results in strong disciplinary action, He does not mean it to be a forever punishment. A remnant will be saved! That remnant might fear the future, however, given the strain and dominance of the empire under control. God says, "...Do not fear the Assyrian...." Do you hear echoes of Isaiah's words to Judah's King Ahaz? "Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted," he says in 7:4. God zeroes in on a primary concern, seeing as time in Assyria would look like time spent by the Israelites in another place of slavery.

In verse 24, God makes specific reference to the Israelites' time in Egypt--the rod and staff used against the people under Pharaoh. One of the cross-references for this passage is in Exodus 5. Moses and Aaron appeal to Pharaoh to let the people have time away from their labor to worship and sacrifice to God. Of course, Pharoah sees this as ludicrous and responds by having the Israelites make bricks by not only mixing and forming them but also gathering the straw to make them. Same quota of bricks, but they no longer had the straw supplied. The rod and staff came out to beat them when they fell short. The Israelites would know such conditions again in Assyria, but another rescue was in the works.

"Do not fear the Assyrian...." Why? "For in a very little while...." (vs 25) the tables will be turned completely. God will be done foaming at the mouth over Israel's disobedience and will then direct His anger toward the destruction of Assyria. Now, we can quibble over "very little while" in defining what that means exactly. From my reading, especially given what's coming in Isaiah, Chapter 11, we have not yet reached that time. With God speaking and His timing not being ours, "very little while" is what He says and means it is, despite our definitions.
"Note, God’s anger against his people is but for a moment, and when that ceases, and is turned away from us, we need not fear the fury of any man, for it is impotent passion."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

"For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning."

--Psalm 30:5

With verse 26, then, we read how God will take action, arousing a scourge within the Assyrian. Here, 'scourge' is used figuratively to mean affliction. [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia] Later on, with the rising of the Roman Empire, scourging would come to mean something much more harsh. Not a mere lashing, but lashing with a whip containing multiple leather straps affixed with pieces of bone or other sharp materials designed to tear into the flesh. Still, the affliction will ultimately meet with a similar end as a Roman scourging, with God clearly being in control of the elements.

Isaiah recalls two events from past history to demonstrate the power of God's actions as well as to instill a sense of calm and safety. The prophet has made mention of the slaughter of Midian earlier, in 9:4, and you can read about it fully in Judges 7. There are many amazing aspects of this story, but God setting the stage for battle is one of my favorite details. There are too many men to fight, "for Israel would become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me,'" He says. Even with a remnant, God can demonstrate His might and uphold victory!

The miracle of the parting of the Red Sea--the rescue of the Israelites--would also resonate in the memory. Isaiah practically reenacts the scene, with Moses lifting up his staff at God's command, leading the people to safety. With such a staff, God will again bring His people home--out of slavery--leaving the enemy tossed under the waters.

Our passage today finishes with a picture we have seen before of a yoke being removed.

"And it shall be in that day that the burden of [the Assyrian] shall depart from your shoulders, and his yoke from your neck. The yoke shall be destroyed because of fatness [which prevents it from going around your neck]."
--Verse 27, Amplified Bible

There will come a day when the burdens of slavery to another nation will leave Israel once and for all. The yoke that determines the way of the people will not only be removed but "destroyed." When I looked up the Hebrew for 'fatness', I noticed a figurative definition beyond the denotative ones--"God's goodness." [Strong's] "In a very little while," by God's grace, for those who remain faithful through the time of burdening, the chains will be gone, and they will be set finally and eternally free.

"There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given....

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams...."
 --from There is a Wideness in God's Mercy (lyrics by Fred­er­ick W. Fa­ber)

How Assyria will finally fall, as Chapter 10 concludes.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 10: 28-34

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).