On the solid Rock I stand
Isaiah 40: God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
Sooner or later everything fails us. Some failures come on purpose and can be considered betrayal. Others come by accident but are painful none-the-less. Still others come with great reluctance; such as the death of a loved one who promised to be with us always. Sometimes I make something that was never intended to be permanent into a centerpiece in my life. When the time comes for it to be taken away it becomes, spiritually speaking, a surgery rather than a simple letting go. Because of the temporary nature of this life, I must remember the truth of Isaiah’s words here. There’s only one place of absolute firm footing and that’s on the solid rock of God. He’s the only One who never fails. As I take my stand on the rock of his faithfulness everything else falls into its proper place. I can weather betrayal because One vastly greater has not betrayed me. I can survive some thoughtless, accidental failure and I can find hope even in genuine personal disasters because my hope isn’t focused there in the first place. Everything else comes and goes. If I’ve pinned my hopes and dreams on anything or anyone else, I’ll become a sad, broken man. The only stability I really have (and need) is in the Lord.
Take Away: There’s only one place of absolute firm footing and that’s on the solid rock of the Lord.
On the solid Rock I stand
God of Creation
Isaiah 40: God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants.
In this passage Isaiah pictures for us the God of Creation. This is the God who “scooped up the ocean in his two hands” and measured out the mountains. This God calls the stars by name and sits high above the earth, so distant that the inhabitants of this world look like “mere ants.” The purpose of this passage isn’t to teach what I’ve heard called “worm theology” in which the human race is viewed as insignificant and worthless. After all, once those oceans are created and the mountains put in place, God turns his attention to making us, and when he finishes he’s pleased with the results. This portion of this passage isn’t about putting humanity in its place. Instead, it’s about lifting our Creator to his place! We aren’t talking about a tin god here; this is the God of the Universe, Maker of all. This King isn’t the ruler of some little country off in some forgotten part of the world. No king or idol holds a candle to this Creator-God. I can never fully comprehend him but I can worship him. This passage is a reminder of the greatness of God and a call to humbly bow before him.
Take Away: I can never fully comprehend him but I can worship him.
Looking to the distant mountains
Isaiah 40: Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
An illustration of how the prophets view the future is of looking from the plains up to a towering mountain range. As I look to the mountains I see one mountain in the “front range,” but at the greater distance is yet another taller and even more majestic peak. Coloradoans call the really big ones, “fourteeners,” that is, they’re over 14,000 feet in height. From my vantage point I can’t tell how far it is between the two mountains. It’s only as I actually travel through the mountains that I realize there’s a deep valley between the first and the second mountain range. As the prophets are given a vision of God’s intentions they sometimes see an act of God that’s close at hand and at the same time see a similar but even greater event more distant than they can imagine. Here in Isaiah 40 the focus of Isaiah’s prophecies is on comfort and hope. These words will become a life line for his people in a few years. All the terrible things he’s warned them of will come to pass, and in distant lands the next generation will turn to these words to find comfort in their sorrow. When I read this passage at the level of the “front range” I see that God’s broken people have hope of restoration. The Lord’s going to return to their lives as a powerful king might return to his kingdom. Isaiah’s command to them is to start preparing for this sure event by making a smooth and straight road into their lives. However, beyond that “front range” is a gigantic “fourteener,” the coming of the King of Kings to this world. Hundreds of years later this prophecy will become John the Baptist’s text and it’ll be fulfilled in a much greater way by King Jesus. As a Christian I can identify with the dual nature of this passage. That “front range” view is when I receive Jesus as King in my own heart. The “fourteener” view is when Jesus comes to this world the second time as King and Judge of all.
Take Away: Sometimes the words of the prophets of the Lord cause us to look both to the past and to the future.
Taking it to the Lord
Isaiah 37: Then he went into the sanctuary of God and spread the letter out before God.
The threat Sennacherib makes to Judah through his general Rabshekah can’t be ignored. King Hezekiah sends representatives to God’s man, Isaiah, to seek a response from the Lord. God doesn’t let Hezekiah down. The Lord has heard the threats and the blasphemy and is going to personally deal with the situation. Not long after that, Sennacherib is called away to deal with a crisis elsewhere in his kingdom. However, before he leaves he sends a letter to Hezekiah, promising that he’ll be back to finish the destruction of Jerusalem just as he promised. Upon receiving that letter Hezekiah takes it to the Temple. There, in the presence of God he opens that scroll and spreads it out before the Lord. He prays, reminding himself and God of the promise the Lord made to take care of Sennacherib and to protect his people. I love what Hezekiah does with that letter. He knows that the Lord has promised to deliver him but that letter and the threat it contains is real. Rather than letting it consume him with fear he takes it to the Lord. This is a lesson I need to learn. What difference might it make if I take that lab report from the doctor that’s causing me concern and lay it out before the Lord when I pray? Or maybe a good course of action is to write out the situation from work that’s worrying me and then lay it out before the Lord? I’m not saying that this is some magical formula for getting the Lord to do what I want him to do. However, I do think that it might serve as a practical reminder to me that God does know about these difficult situations and that he has promised to walk with me through even in them.
Take Away: In the words of the old hymn: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!
Just the facts
Isaiah 36: Be reasonable. Face the facts.
There’s nothing theoretical about the threat Sennacherib of Assyria and his great army is to Jerusalem. They can crush that city as they have crushed many others. The king sends a spokesman with his terms of surrender and he minces no words in telling them what will come if they don’t give in. He offers them a choice: be starved and then destroyed, or surrender and be relocated to a distant land under the rule of Assyria. The king’s man, Rabshekah, isn’t much of a diplomat. He’s convinced that these pitiful people are in his hands and that either through defeat or surrender his army will win the day. He says to them, “Be reasonable…face the facts…” pointing out that they couldn’t mount an opposing army even if they were given horses and chariots with which to fight. Those words strike terror in the hearts of all who hear them. In that terror all of God’s promises are forgotten and they’re ready to do the “reasonable” thing and abandon their faith. I am, I think, a reasonable person and generally do a good job of learning the facts and acting on what I’ve learned. However, there’s a whole set of “facts” that can only be seen with the eyes of faith. Rabshekah’s facts ignore the fact that these are the people of God and that God has something to say about what happens to them. In the decisions I make I must remember that I’ve surrendered my life to the Lord and, even though some facts aren’t apparent to me, they’re clear to him. When I’ve done my spreadsheet of pluses and minuses, I must remember that there’s a dimension beyond my view and that dimension is every bit as real as the facts and figures I might collect. If I’m going to be truly reasonable, I must carefully listen to the Lord. That’s the only way I can really keep my facts straight.
Take Away: Even though some facts aren’t apparent to me, they’re clear to the Lord.
Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now
Isaiah 35: There will be a highway called the Holy Road.
God is a holy God and his purpose for us is that we be a holy people. Isaiah looks to such a day, a day when the people of God will reflect God in their lives. Of course, that reflection is incomplete. Even as the bright moon reflects the sun, but not the entirety of the sun, so do God’s people reflect the holiness of God. Isaiah promises a day and a people who’ll walk the Holy Road and in that journey will “be becoming” the people God intends them to be. To walk that road is, at the same time, a journey and a destination. That is, the journey is what the Lord calls us to. To him, “arriving” is not nearly as important as “journeying.” With that in mind we respond to his call on our lives, the call to holiness, and thus get on the Holy Road. Starting is not the same thing as finishing, but without the start and without the steadfastness of the journey there’s no hope of arrival. Holiness people are people committed to that journey, not people who have finished it.
Take Away: We are a people on a journey, not people who have reached a destination.
Guilt free living
Isaiah 33: Best of all, they’ll all live guilt-free.
Jerusalem is conquered, now condemned by Assyria to bow and scrape to those in control of their holy city. Isaiah promises that things won’t remain as they are. As the citizens turn back to the Lord, the Lord will turn back to them. The day is coming when the Assyrian tax collector will be gone and their new masters’ foreign language will no longer be heard in the streets of Jerusalem. It won’t be King Sennacherib who’ll be in charge, instead, Isaiah promises it will be “God who makes all the decisions here” and it’ll be God who’ll be king. Isaiah adds, describing his people, “Best of all, they’ll all live guilt-free.” This is such a wonderful promise. You see, the people hearing these words are really guilty. It’s their abandonment of God that brought this calamity on them in the first place. The good news is that the only One who can forgive them is willing to do so. It’s a great thing when God removes the “foreign kings” from our lives and forgives us our sins. One lady told me that when she confessed her sins and received Christ into her life that she “felt lighter.” In other words, having the sin burden lifted from her was just as real as if a 40 pound backpack had been lifted from her shoulders. Only God can make that kind of difference in a life or in a nation. The Good News is that he wants to do just that.
Take Away: How wonderful to realize that the only one who can forgive us our sins is willing to do just that.
To do list
Isaiah 33: The answer’s simple: live right.
The picture Isaiah paints isn’t a pleasant one. Things are going to get bad as a firestorm of God’s wrath is on the agenda. Who can survive such a purging? How does a person prepare for it? Isaiah has a list for all who will listen: “live right, speak the truth, despise exploitation, refuse bribes, reject violence, and avoid evil amusements.” This, he says, is the way through the storm, the way to stability and satisfaction. I know that some things about God are complicated and it takes a lifetime of serious study and application to master them. However, some things are pretty straight forward and this list is an example of that. The Lord expects us to “live right.” That is, we can drop the excuses and commit ourselves to, as best we can, doing the things we know we should do. That isn’t all there is to it, but it’s a pretty good start. Soon enough we’ll realize that our best isn’t good enough, but it does turn us in the right direction and with that done, we’ll find ourselves aligned with God’s grace which is freely extended to us.
Take Away: The Lord expects us to “live right.”
Like an eagle circling high above
Isaiah 32: Weep and grieve until the Spirit is poured out on us from above.
Isaiah is addressing the women of his society, warning them that Judgment is coming and telling them that when it comes their comfortable lives will be disrupted. The coming danger isn’t just that of invading armies but of crop failures resulting in famine in the land. Everything will be turned upside down on that day which Isaiah specifically says is just a little over a year away. With such a storm bearing down on them Isaiah says there’s just one thing to do: repent and seek God. The coming disaster isn’t some random event. It’s the Judgment of God. It’s not too late for them to change their ways and seek the Lord. Earlier, the prophet pictured God as a mighty eagle, circling high in the sky, not waiting to pounce upon some unwitting prey, but waiting to deliver. Now, he says that if sinning, God-rejecting people will repent of their sin the Lord will pour his Spirit out upon them from above. We often think of the prophets as having messages of only gloom and doom but that’s only a portion of their work. In this passage we see an abundant measure of hope for even the most God-rejecting life. To this day, the Lord waits for us to look up in repentance and trust that he might pour his Spirit out on our lives.
Take Away: Like a circling eagle, the Lord hovers over us, waiting for an opportunity to dish out abundant mercy.