Isaiah 28: This is the meaning of the stone: A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE.
The people who hear Isaiah’s sermons think they have everything figured out. As far as they’re concerned they’ve heard it all before. If Isaiah wants their attention he has to come up with a new approach, something unique and interesting. Otherwise, in their opinion, they’re too sophisticated for his old message. The prophet says, “You aren’t as advanced as you think you are. In fact, God’s going to strip everything back to the bare basics and his message to you is going to be ‘baby talk.’” Isaiah describes the Lord’s new approach in dealing with these know-it-all people as laying a new cornerstone. That stone, he says, will be inscribed with God’s communication to his people: “A trusting life won’t topple.” That message is, at the same time, both simple and profound. It’s simple because anyone can understand it. It’s profound because it’s the secret to maintaining life in the Lord. God isn’t looking for clever people who come up with all kinds of gimmicks and cute slogans. Instead, he’s looking for people who’ll simply trust him. As I read of the Lord’s future plans for the people of Isaiah’s day, I see that he wants me, as one of his people, to hold steady, always trusting in him.
Take Away: The Lord’s looking for people who’ll simply trust him.
Reason to expect an answer to prayer
Isaiah 26: God, order a peaceful and whole life for us because everything we’ve done, you’ve done for us.
What an interesting prayer this is. I love the request for a “peaceful and whole life.” When all is said and done, this is about as insightful a request as a person can make for their own life. Isaiah lives in turbulent times and, in the face of so much uncertainty, this prayer makes a lot of sense. However, he isn’t the only one who has lived in such days. We do too. Again, I like this simple prayer. The second half of this sentence though, is the reason the person praying thinks the first half will be granted. Isaiah says, “We’re following your directions Lord, only doing what you’d have us do, operating under your power and authority.” You see, it makes no sense to plead with the Lord for peace and life if I’m ignoring his intentions for my life. The only way this prayer makes sense is when I pray it in the context of absolute obedience and trust. It’s only when I can say, “Everything I have done and am doing is what God is doing in me” that I can pray with an expectation of God’s blessing on my life.
Take Away: The Lord’s blessings often depend on my obedience.
This prescription works for both the farsighted and the nearsighted
Isaiah 25: And God will wipe the tears from every face.
Isaiah’s words contain a great deal of condemnation and his target is not only the enemies of Israel, but Israel, herself. I get lost in it all and am not sure whether the prophet is talking to specific people at a specific moment in history or if he’s slipped into “prophetic perfect tense” in which he speaks of the future as though it has already happened. It may be that he’s speaking on multiple levels of a near future and a distant future with the same words. At times like this, I take the easy way out and focus on my devotional reading, asking, “What’s this saying to me right now?” As I read this part of Isaiah I can’t help but think of the book of Revelation which contains almost the exact same words. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Revelator is reminded of these words even as he promises the glorious “no tears” day. My conclusion is that whether we’re thinking about the broken people of Isaiah’s day or persecuted Christians of John’s day or hurting people today that God’s message is one of comfort and hope. Some of that hope is contemporary hope: what God is about to do. At the same time some of that hope is out there in the uncertain future when the Lord wraps up history and brings a new reality into existence. I’m not sure about just who it is Isaiah is thinking about in this passage, but I do see here a wonderful theme of God’s mercy and grace.
Take Away: Yesterday, today, and forever the Lord remains merciful and gracious to his people.
Making God’s plan my plan
Isaiah 22: You looked and looked, but you never looked to him who gave you this city…who has long had plans for this city.
Disaster’s coming and Isaiah speaks of it as though it’s already happened, in what’s called “prophetic perfect tense.” He describes the preparation for battle: weapons, fortifications, even the securing of the water supply. It seems they’ve done all they can do. However, they’ve totally missed it. In all their plans they’ve failed to look to the One who has plans of his own for their city. Isaiah says that God’s plan includes their repenting of the sins that brought them to all this in the first place. Instead, they make their own plans and then throw parties, saying, “Eat and drink now, for tomorrow we may die.” This refusal to acknowledge God and, instead, to rely on themselves is going to cost them everything. The truth is that we ought to identify with all this, possibly as a nation, but definitely as individuals. God has plans for you and me and his good will to us has been abundantly demonstrated. With that in mind my life should be focused on him. Instead, I tend to do things my own way and then, once in a while (especially when things get difficult) I pause to look to God and ask him to help me do what I’ve decided to do. That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. It isn’t that I’m to never have a thought of my own, but it is that I’m to live in partnership with the Lord. Instead, I tend to “look and look” but never look “to him who gave” me life in the first place; to him “who has long had plans” for my life. When I fail to look to him it’s a recipe for disaster.
Take Away: Failing to look to the Lord is a recipe for disaster.
Isaiah 19: God will openly show himself to the Egyptians and they’ll get to know him on that Day.
The words of condemnation to Egypt compare what’s coming to a powerful storm, sweeping away everything in its path. Even the mighty Nile, the symbol of life in Egypt, will be dried up and the nation will be in a hopeless state. Surprisingly, Isaiah’s tone suddenly changes. It’s almost as though the storm ends and the sun breaks through. God will make an appearance to Egypt and, with all else swept away, the people of that land will turn to him with all their hearts. Isaiah says, “Egypt will come back to God.” Additionally, we’re told, Assyria will join Egypt in the worship of God and the result will be that they’ll “share the blessing.” In one of his most famous statements Jesus announces that God “so loved the world.” However, here we are back in the Old Testament where a Hebrew prophet has been, just as would be expected, telling how God’s going to destroy all the enemies of the people of Israel. Then, the tone of his prophecy suddenly changes. The enemies of God’s people aren’t going to be wiped off the face of the earth. Instead, they’re going to be converted! Here, then is the heart of every missionary effort. If God wants to do away with those who reject him, he can do it with just a word. Instead, he engineers circumstances designed to draw us to him. Granted, some of those circumstances are stout medicine, but, then again, it isn’t annihilation, which is what we deserve. In this somewhat confusing turnabout passage we get a glimpse of what will only become clear through the ministry of Jesus.
Take Away: The Lord wants to save all people – that’s good news for you and me.
Isaiah 15: A Message concerning Moab.
Lest it appear that Isaiah has it in only for Babylon, we must note that a quick journey through this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy brings to light God’s displeasure with several other groups. There’s Philistia, Moab, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tyre and others. In other words, not only have God’s people gotten themselves in trouble with the Lord for their sin, they’re surrounded by sinful nations that would like nothing better than to wipe Israel off the map. (Somehow that sounds familiar — oh yes, we heard something like this on the news this morning!) Across the centuries God’s people have survived only by the grace of God. Their own failures have brought judgment and their enemies have posed a very real threat to their existence. Today, that’s still true for all of God’s people. We Christians believe we’ve been “grafted in” and are, by faith, children of Abraham. As his people, God holds us to a high standard and we must not forget that. Also, as did they, we live in hostile territory. For some believers, this is literally true and for all believers it’s spiritually true. We’re surrounded by that which would destroy our life in the Lord. Israel’s only hope is to reconnect with God. Today, our remaining “in Christ” is also our only hope.
Take Away: Our journey through life takes us through some dangerous territory, our only security is in the Lord.
Letting the Bible say what it says
Isaiah 14: You said to yourself, “I’ll climb to heaven…instead of climbing up, you came down.”
If you were raised in church as I was you’ll identify with my observation that church folks develop a lot of folk theology. When I was a kid someone told me that Isaiah 14 describes the fall of Satan from the splendor of heaven. I believed it and grew to adulthood assuming that all Christians thought that about this passage. One day it dawned on me (and I probably had some help with that awakening) that this passage is about Babylon and its king. The ruler of Babylon thinks he’s bigger than God. In fact, because of his nation’s unequaled economic and military power and his unlimited authority over it all that he concludes that he, himself, is a god. Isaiah prophesies that mighty Babylon is going to fall, and will fall in a very big way. Now, this passage can be used to illustrate other things, but it really isn’t about anything aside from Babylon. For instance the true-ism, “the bigger they come, the harder they fall” comes to mind. Sometimes, even well-meaning people can mistakenly use Scripture in improper ways. As God’s people we’re to be people of truth, “rightly dividing the Word” even if that means we lose a handy proof text.
Take Away: Even well-meaning people can mistakenly use Scripture in improper ways.
Isaiah 12: Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation.
As I read this statement from Isaiah about drawing “buckets of water from the wells of salvation” I can’t help but think of Jesus and the woman at the well. Jesus offers the Samaritan woman “living water” that she might “never thirst again.” As I see Isaiah promising a day when abundant “salvation water” will be available and remember Jesus offering just such water, well, I can’t help but focus in on this wonderful offer. I’m glad today that Jesus didn’t just offer a philosophy of life or a new approach to religion. Instead, his “well of salvation” contains that which is “living” and fully satisfying. Whether Isaiah’s prophecy really applies here or not, it does remind me of all Jesus has made available. In the words of the woman at the well, “Give me that living water that I might never thirst again.”
Take Away: The “living water” is nothing other than an abiding relationship with the Lord, himself.