22. Do Something!

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.22

Isa 11:1,4 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit….. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Do you ever find yourself either reading a paper or watching the news on TV and thinking, “For goodness sake, why doesn’t somebody do something!” There is a frustration living in today’s world. It is because we live in a news or communication world and so we hear of all the wrong things in society, whether it be some government department losing yet more citizens’ personal data, or city traders making obscene amounts of money and then asking us to bale them out when things go wrong. Or it may be the apparent inability of the police to deal with troublesome drunks or whoever else disturb our peace. But it is a common response: “Do something someone!”

When it comes to wickedness in the world we feel the same, except now it is “God, why don’t you do something!” We recognise the evil in the world and want someone to do something about it. It is the cry of justice that demands action. When it comes to the judgment of God, the same critics berate Him because He does do something about it.

Chapter 11 is all about the Lord ‘doing something about it!’  We have just seen at the end of the previous chapter His activity in ‘cutting down’ the unrighteous – but this is a specific one-off historical judgment that deals with a specific limited geographical area. Out of the ‘cutting down’ in Judah (which is now referred to as a ‘stump’) there will come one, being referred to here as a ‘shoot’ that will develop into a ‘branch’ which will grow and ‘bear fruit’ (11:1). This is clearly a man – see the use of ‘him’ (v.2) and ‘he’ (v.3). This man will be particularly blessed by God so he will have a special endowment of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, respect and knowledge of God, in which he will delight (v.2,3).

Moreover he is going to come as a judge and will make decisions in favour of the poor and needy (v.3,4) and when he speaks he will bring down the wicked. Righteousness and faithfulness will be the clothes he wears (v.5) and he will bring in a new era of peace in the knowledge of the Lord (v.6-9). When that happens, people will flock to him from all nations (v.10), the righteous remnant from many countries (v.11,12), bringing reconciliation to warring factions (v.13), victory for God’s people (v.14), and the Lord will make it easy for the righteous remnant of His people to come to Him (v.15,16).

If we see that in purely geographical terms, then that is still yet to happen, but if we see these descriptions as prophetic or poetic analogies, then we see that this has already happened in some measure at least, by the coming of Jesus and the establishing of the era of the Church. As God has moved, so people have been drawn to Him in their millions through His Son Jesus and they have known righteousness, peace, harmony and reconciliation. These indeed have been the fruits of ‘the stump of Jesse’, of the son who was born, in human descent at least, from the family of David. Some believe that the complete fulfilment of these verses will only come at the end of time, or indeed, after the Lord has created a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1).

How, to go right back to some of my earliest comments in this series, do we see here the God who John described as love? Well, look again at the broad sweeps of this chapter that we have already considered once. Out of the wreckage of what had been Israel, the Lord brings a Saviour. Centuries later, even when Israel are under the oppressive hand of Rome, the ‘stump of Jesse’ brings forth a fruitful shoot, Jesus. The Lord is not put off by the affairs of men. With the coming of Jesus, it is almost as if the Lord delights in acting right under their noses. They hold an empire of force. He comes with weakness and humility to express His love to the world.

This One who comes speaks to the poor and weak and needy: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:3-5). These ones are encouraged by the promise of a kingdom, comfort and an inheritance. This is not a kingdom of power as the world thinks of power. This is not an inheritance of great monetary wealth, but both the kingdom and the inheritance are worth far more than all these things.

God’s intent in all this? To express His love by bringing His people into a place of peace and harmony and complete security. See the big themes in this chapter and you cannot help but marvel at the Lord’s loving intentions and His goodness as He works towards these things, despite our sin, and despite our inadequacies, weaknesses and foolishness. No, love is not put off by any of these things. He will work despite them and using them. How marvellous!

But please note, as we close this series for a while at least, that God’s way of ‘doing something’ is not the same as ours. He works on changing hearts and from those changed hearts, brings a changed world. We, sadly, so often only look for changes in society without the changes of heart. No, God deals with hearts and then the changes in society will be real and not cosmetic.

21. Hope Restated

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.21

Isa 10:24,25 “O my people who live in Zion , do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did. Very soon my anger against you will end and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.”

The thing about Isaiah is that it is repetitious. There are a lot of warnings to either Israel or Judah , but there are also a lot of references to future hope. We have seen again and again (and we do need to keep on repeating it until we really understand and take it in) that it is not the Lord’s intention to destroy Israel/Judah completely. He simply wants to restore them to a place of blessing where, living in relationship with Him, they can receive all of His guidance and His goodness. The only trouble is that because He has given us free will He will not override that free will while we are on the earth. Thus if people have set their hearts to resist Him the only thing He is left being able to do is remove them from the picture and we become witnesses to their deaths. However we have also observed the bigger picture: that we all have to die sometime and there is an eternity to be faced after the very short time here upon earth. We also noted that the fact that, even the righteous (imperfect as they are) who remain here and are not destroyed by God for their sin, live by an act of His mercy and grace, but that is something that few of us realise.

It is in the light of all this that we face the challenge of Isaiah. The Lord has called this people into being to be recipients of His blessing and goodness, so that they can be a light to the rest of the world and that many others can come to know Him and similarly receive all of His goodness. But there is this stubbornness in many of them which refuses Him and is determined to go their own way. They ignore their history, ignore all the good things that God has done for them and ignore all His promises of blessing. Thus they reveal their foolishness, for it can be described as nothing less than that. All the while there is the minority who do remain faithful to the Lord and do reveal Him to others, but their testimony is being blocked by the majority. Thus we come to the words in the back part of chapter 10. A remnant, the righteous ones, will return to the Lord (10:21,22) and to them comes our verses above. The Lord’s anger against Israel will soon come to an end, for He will have completed His task of purging the nation, and so His focus will then be on dealing with Assyria.

Perhaps we need to briefly note something about the Lord’s ‘anger’ which is referred to again and again. For us as human beings, when we envisage an angry person we tend to see someone who has lost their temper and is releasing unrestrained hostility on another person. It is a violent emotional expression. When we come to consider the Lord, however, He never loses control. He is utterly in control. Nothing surprises Him for He is never caught out because He knows what is coming. He is never frustrated and doesn’t express anger as an expression of frustration, because He can do all things. Anger, in respect of the Lord, is distinct displeasure that is always directed against wilful sin. In every case where it is expressed, the object of the Lord’s anger should have known better and the anger is directed against that wilfulness.

Scholars suggest that when Jesus was at Lazarus’s tomb when he wept, there was also a dimension of anger against sin involved, that had brought about Lazarus’s premature death and the anguish for his sisters. Our anger has self as its origin; God’s anger has the sin of mankind which spoils or mars humanity as its origin. God’s anger in Isaiah is His displeasure against the sin of the majority that stops the minority being who they are designed to be. God’s anger or wrath is a cool, calm and collected emotion that is determined to remedy a wrong situation. It is perhaps better described as a determination rather than an emotion, although there is an emotional dimension to it. However, we will better understand it if we focus on the Lord’s set determination to bring His people through into a good place where they will, indeed, be the light to the world that He designed them to be.

Isaiah is communicating to a visual people, who do better with pictures than with mere words, and so we find this visual language to convey the end outcomes. When he speaks of what the Lord will do with Assyria he says, “The LORD Almighty will lash them with a whip, as when he struck down Midian at the rock of Oreb.” (10:26a) which just means, He will destroy Assyria in the same way He did Midian through Gideon, “and he will raise his staff over the waters, as he did in Egypt.” (10:26b) which means He will decree over them their destruction as He did over Pharaoh coming out of Egypt. In the verses that follow, Isaiah describes the oncoming Assyrian army getter closer and closer to Jerusalem (10:28-32), but then the Lord will cut them down (10:33,34). Much of Israel and Judah have been lopped down by this enemy in the hand of the Lord, so that only the faithful remnant will be left, and it is in the face of this picture, that Isaiah brings a further amazing picture of the Coming One in chapter eleven, but we’ll leave that until the next meditation.

Here again we have seen the outworking of the Lord’s disciplinary action in respect of this willfully disobedient foolish people. It is a controlled action and one only brought after plenty of warnings and plenty of time for consideration, and it is an action that clears away the disobedient while maintaining the faithful remnant. Fearfully awesome? Yes! But encouraging by hope? Yes, definitely! In the face of apparent impending disaster, this is very encouraging for those who are faithful and who remain strong in their belief in the Lord.

20. Reliant on…

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.20

Isa 10:20 In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD , the Holy One of Israel.

There is no doubt about it, that parts of Scripture pertaining to the violence that God’s chosen people encountered, is not comfortable reading. The back half of chapter 9 and the whole of chapter 10 are uncomfortable, especially to a modern mind in the comfortable West in the twenty first century. If we personally have not suffered war but only observed it through a TV screen, it is very easy to be judgmental about war and those who are involved in it, especially when God is involved. But let’s take it face on!

The Lord has spoken against Israel in the north: “The Lord has sent a message against …. Israel ….who say with pride and arrogance of heart…” (9:8,9) He challenges their attitude first of all. What are they saying? “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.” (9:10) In other words, it doesn’t matter who comes against us, we (implied) are the people of God and we will bounce back! So the Lord had spurred on the Arameans and the Philistines to give Israel trouble (9:11,12) but this had had no effect: “But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the LORD Almighty,” (9:13), so the Lord will come again against them (9:14-17) but still wickedness burns like a fire (9:18) and so the Lord will further take off His hand of restraint and the people will burn with anger against one another (9:19-21). Whatever He seems to do the people will not return to the Lord.

Now we need to note something carefully here. We have just read of the Lord’s hand coming against Israel again and again, but it would have taken time and it is a slow and gradual chastising of this people that is intended to bring them to their senses. This is not a hasty judgment but a slow process of discipline that gives them plenty of time to take note of what is going on. This is the Lord in His grace and mercy moving very slowly with this people to give them plenty of time to think about it, realise their plight and turn to Him. In others words they will have no excuses at the end of this process. You may not like the discipline of the Lord but it does give the people plenty of time to learn and to turn back. Indeed they are foolish of they don’t.

But there is more in Israel that upsets the Lord. Those who make laws make unjust laws, oppressive laws (10:1) that are obviously not the Lord’s laws. These laws deprive the poor of their rights and do down widows and orphans (10:2). This people should know better and so will be dealt with by the Lord (10:3) and it is really simply a case of the Lord applying justice into this situation.

Now there is also more in respect of the nation that the Lord is using to bring His discipline on Jerusalem , the Assyrians (10:5,6). The Lord had wanted then to simply strip the land and undermine the materialism of Judah , but Assyria were unrestrained and wanted to totally destroy Israel (10:6,7). King Ahaz of Judah had originally relied upon the king of Assyria to fight against Aram : “And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria . The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.” (2 Kings 16:8,9) and then swept on down into Israel and took many of them away (1 Chron 5:26), and now they intend to destroy Judah as well. There is a pride in Assyria that thinks it can do what it likes (10:8-11,13,14) but they will find they will be answerable to the Lord (10:12 ,15-19).

In all of this the Lord’s focus is on dealing with Jerusalem and Judah (10:12) but it is a very controlled form of discipline which, as we’ve already noted is not intended to destroy the whole nation. Oh no, there will be a righteous remnant but they will not rely upon Assyria as Ahaz had done, but will rely on the Lord as our verse today shows: “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD , the Holy One of Israel.” (10:20).

Have we caught the picture of what has been going on? Ahaz in Judah heard of the rumours of Aram and Israel uniting against him and so instead of relying on the Lord and turning to Him, had turned to the might of Assyria but Assyria had turned on them as part of the Lord’s discipline. This has all been about reliance. The Lord is trying to teach His people not to rely on political force but upon Him. When they refuse to heed Him eventually He sweeps away the unbelievers and the Chosen People are now left as a remnant that does believe and does rely on the Lord. If we rely on people we will only get deeper and deeper into a mess. The Lord is trying to teach us to rely upon Him. Will we learn the lesson?

19. Confusing Prophecy

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.19

Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

If we have one characteristic that gets us nowhere, it is the desire to be in charge and fully understand everything that is going on! The desiring to be in charge simply means that so often we end up getting ourselves in a mess – we need God’s guidance and grace! The desiring to understand all that is going on is a fruitless desire because although we can know many things, when it comes to God we are so limited in our knowledge, especially about what He is doing today!

Our verse above is a classic example of this. Of course we read it and say, oh yes, that applied to Jesus. And we would be right, but suppose you were someone in Isaiah’s day? How do you think you’d feel about this verse then? It refers to a child, a son, but the only son we’ve had brought to our attention is Isaiah’s son, and he’s not of the family of David, he’s not a ruler. Is this a word that Isaiah is applying to his own son? But no, in the next verse we find, “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,” which seems to suggest that this is someone from David’s family tree, so this would suggest that this is another child as yet unborn perhaps.

So first there is the confusion over who the son is but next there must be confusion over the description of this son. It may be too familiar to us, perhaps because we may have read it so many times or even heard it sung in music or sung it ourselves. First he’s going to be a ruler: “the government will be on his shoulders.” But then look at these incredible descriptions that follow, descriptions of this child yet to be born: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The fact that he’s going to be a great counselor and a bringer of peace is acceptable, but to call him Mighty God and Everlasting Father is outrageous! This child is going to be seen as God? He is going to be seen as the Father from heaven? How can such a thing possibly be?

Surely that must have gone through the minds of the people who heard Isaiah. He’s flipped! He’s really gone off the rails now! We always said he was a bit weird. Now we know! Hundreds and hundreds of years would pass before Jesus came and then there was controversy over whether he was, in fact, the Son of God. So why did God say this to Isaiah all those centuries beforehand? Well, I can only make a suggestion. We know from Scripture that the Trinity had planned the coming of Jesus from before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:20 , Eph 1:4, Rev 13:8). It’s almost as if the Father was so excited by the prospect of redeeming the world through His Son that He couldn’t help just dropping hints through His prophets throughout Israel ‘s Old Testament history.

These prophecies are God’s constant signposts, over 300 of them in the Old Testament pointing towards the coming of Jesus, things that had the Jewish scholars puzzled, signposts pointing to a God of love who has it in His heart to send His one and only Son to redeem mankind. Recently I was involved in a publicity campaign, seeking to raise the awareness of the world to the plight of persecuted Christians in China . At one point we sent out a Press Release: In twenty four hours there will be breaking news in Beijing. Twenty four hours later we released a second Press Release stating what had happened and why. This is the nearest I can get to a picture of what the Father was doing, inspiring His prophets through the centuries with tit-bits of information about the coming of His Son. As the archivists held on to the prophecies and the scholars studied them, they became aware of this recurrent theme: there is One coming who will be God’s anointed One, the Messiah.

Perhaps many of us take all this for granted now, but the truth is that if God wasn’t a God of love He would have given up long back and completely wiped out the whole world. The apostle Paul starts his famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage about love with, “Love is patient.” How we must have tried the Lord’s patience, and yet the wisdom of God had decreed that in time space history in what we call two thousand years ago, THAT would be the right time to send His Son. How He must have wanted to intervene earlier yet knew that that was the right time. The apostle Paul spoke of it as “at just the right time.” (Rom 5:6). Writer Michael Green in his book Evangelism in the Early Church points out that there were a number of things in the world that made that precise time probably one of the best times in history for the Gospel to be shared around the world.

The question of how much God could share with his prophets takes us down the path of thinking how the Lord brought His revelation to the world. Without doubt, as we read through the history of the Old Testament in particular, we see that there is a gradual revealing of the Lord Himself through His interaction with individuals and the nation of Israel , and a gradual revealing of His purposes for mankind. As we noted earlier, Jesus coming was not a last minute crisis act on behalf of the Godhead, but something planned even before they brought the world into being, knowing what would happen and knowing how they would have to act into history to redeem us. This word from Isaiah may not have brought great revelation when he spoke it, but it certainly did in the fullness of time. Perhaps this suggests that we ought to see ourselves as sometimes having much greater significance that merely in what we do today!

18. God of Hope

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.18

Isa 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

When we have been caught out doing wrong, told off, hauled into court, or whatever other expression of accountability comes upon us, we feel bad. We possibly try to make excuses and justify ourselves but essentially we feel bad because we have been caught doing wrong. The child who has been told off, often sulks, and needs attention! The book of Isaiah is much about the corrective process, of God having to speak to Judah, Jerusalem and Israel about their folly, and warning them of His corrective processes that are designed to draw them back to Him and to a place of blessing, as we’ve already seen in this series a number of times.

However in the midst of these words of assessment and correction, we also find a number of words of hope. It is as if the Lord doesn’t want us to get bogged down in the present morass of wrong doing and correction, but wants us to lift our eyes to the future and see that there is something better on the horizon. This is a God who is always looking to our future, the future of good that He has planned for us. So often I say, “God loves you so much that He accepts you just like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you and doesn’t want you to stay the same.” This reflects God’s love that wants to move us on to something better than we have now. The Bible is full of this.

Chapter 9 starts off with this recognition: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” (9:1a) The ‘nevertheless’ points back to the previous chapter where the Lord warned of negative outcomes, but now Isaiah offers hope. Despite that, he is saying, that will come to an end. He continues, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.” (9:1b). Yes, he says, in the past the land in the north had a hard time of it, but that will change. They are in for blessing. Then comes our verse today, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (9:2). These people up in the north, who have so often walked in the darkness that comes with invasion from the nations of the north, will find that their land will be lightened when a ‘great light’ comes to it.

Now there is something to be noted here of importance. We immediately jump to the (right) conclusion that this prophetically refers to the coming of Jesus many centuries later, for so Matthew applied it (Mt 4:13-16), but there was also a practical outworking of that prophecy in that time of Isaiah. We mustn’t forget that. Isaiah describes what will happen: “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” (9:3) In other words there is coming a time when the people of the north will be ‘enlarged’. Whether that means a time of stability where they are able to grow, or simply their confidence in who they are in God will be enlarged, is not made clear. But this ‘enlarging’ will be accompanied by joy. There will be much rejoicing, just like there is rejoicing when the harvest has been got in or when there is a victory over an enemy.

He continues, For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” (9:4) Gideon’s defeat of Midian was still spoken of as a memorable deliverance. The change that is coming will be like that. There is going to come a complete transformation. The further outworking is explained: Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” (9:5) In other words, and read that verse carefully, all signs of war will be gone. There is coming a time of peace.

Now we’ll leave the reason for all that which comes in the following verses until the next meditation, but let’s just focus for now on the hope that is given. So often when we are down, we remain down because there seems no hope. Indeed the things that have happened in the past only go to confirm in us that this is a bad world and things only go wrong. But that is where our God of love steps in and says, “No, it doesn’t have to remain like that. I can transform it if you’ll let me.” That is the message of the Gospel and it comes loud and clear again and again through scripture. God comes to us with an offer of love and transformation. This isn’t an empty offer. This isn’t a God who says, “I’ll be there for you,” and then just stands and watches our struggles. No, this is a God who steps down into our affairs and brings His power and His abilities to bear on our circumstances to bring change – as we let Him!

Yes, there is the crucial condition – if we let Him, for He will not force Himself on us or on our circumstances. His love involves respect and so He respects our sovereignty and will not invade our lives. He waits to be invited in, but once He is given free reign, then He brings the transformation we long for. We cannot guess how He will do it, but do it He will! This is the hope we have and which comes through Scripture to us: the bad times don’t have to remain. He longs to bring a great light to our darkness. May we know that!

17. Confidence in God

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.17

Isa 8:16,17 Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.

When one observes the changes taking place in the world, and the signs of instability and insecurity that there are, it means that sometimes the world appears very confusing. Add to this the Christian perspective where we wonder what God is doing, and it becomes even more so. It is often a very unsettling and confusing place, this world in the early part of the twenty-first century. It was no different in Isaiah’s day.

Isaiah saw, with God’s revelation, that Assyria was about to come and invade the nation (8:7,8) but he was warned by the Lord not to think in the same way as the godless people of the land thought: The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.” (8:11,12). Conspiracy meant scheming and plotting, whether from inside the nation or outside it. The gossips of the land, possibly the travellers and merchants who travelled the lands, brought news that there was plotting in the north against the south. It’s all right, says the Lord to Isaiah, you don’t need to worry about the plots of men: The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (8:13).

There is within this almost an implication that what is happening in the north is something instigated by the Lord. They will only do what the Lord wants done. He’s the originator of these things, the One to be feared. Because of this, those who are righteous can take comfort in that, “he will be a sanctuary.” (8:14a). If the Lord brings these nations from the north, He will also look after His righteous ones and be a refuge for them, but that isn’t necessarily so for everyone else: “for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.” (8:14,15) i.e. The Lord will make these unrighteous ones stumble and fall and be broken, snared and captured. What a summary of what will happen!

It is at this point that Isaiah makes his own declaration: “Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples.” (8:16) i.e. my disciples will hold onto the scrolls that carry both the testimony and the law so that whatever happens to the land, this will be preserved for future generations. The ‘testimony’ refers to what the Lord has done for Israel. It started, as we noted previously, with the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Ex 20:2) and is found in many other places in the early books of the Bible. It is a record of the Lord’s dealings with His people. Most of Exodus, parts of Numbers and much of Deuteronomy, speak of the Lord’s dealings with His people. This is the testimony. The Law is that found in Exodus in small measure, Leviticus in large measure, some in Numbers and a large amount reiterated in Deuteronomy. All of this, says Isaiah we will hold on to and preserve, whatever happens.

Then comes his own personal testimony or declaration: “I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” (8:17). In other words, the Lord may be hiding Himself from this people so they know little of Him (because of their godlessness and unrighteousness), but I will seek to remain faithful to Him and will simply wait for Him to work out His purposes with this people. I’m going to trust Him. All that I know of Him means I am able to rest in His love and His righteousness, knowing that He will do right.

Do you see what we have here? Isaiah is an insider. He understands what the Lord is doing because he has heard the Lord. He understands the confusing things that appear to be happening between the nations and realises that it is really the Lord at work. Moreover, what he knows of the Lord gives him confidence to be able to just trust in the Lord, to trust that it will all work out for good in the long run.

He goes on: “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” (8:18) i.e. I and my family point to the Lord and reveal His purposes for the nation today. We are part of the Lord’s great communication process. We stand out and speak to the nation of the Lord’s purposes; we are part of His plan to communicate to this people to seek to draw them back to Himself.

Look, he goes on, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (8:19). This people consult the occult. Whatever are they doing? They are the people of God; they should be consulting God. That is just a sign of their stupidity! Look, he continues, get back to your origins as the people of God, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (8:20). Get back to the records of God’s dealing with us in earlier generations; get back to His design rules for us, measure everything according to this and (implied) if it doesn’t measure up, or if it contradicts the records, throw it out! If you don’t do this, he explains, you’ll end up in a mess (8:21,22).

You see what is at the heart of the lessons here: we have the records of God’s dealing with mankind in His word, the Bible. Read it, study it and understand what it’s about. There is no need to live in chaos and confusion, in pain and hurt, worry and anxiety. The Lord has made it plain. All we have to do is read it, and absorb it and we’ll realise that it is true and we can follow it. God HAS given us all we need already, because He loves us. Just pay attention to it, and come to Him and receive His blessing. That’s the lesson here!

16. Fulfilling Prophecy

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.16

Isa 8:3,4 And the LORD said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Before the boy knows how to say `My father’ or `My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”

Understanding prophecy and how it is fulfilled requires a simple, open heart. It almost seems sometimes that the Lord does either the most obvious things or the most obscure, but whatever it is, it needs simple faith to understand it. God is constantly revealing the state of our hearts, and the way we respond to prophecy (Biblical or personal) does that. We made brief reference in the previous meditation about the ‘Immanuel prophecy’, that this was taken by Matthew and applied to Jesus. Now many of the New Testament writers do this sort of thing, taking an Old Testament prophecy and applying it to current events. It takes simple faith to understand and accept that God spoke words that would speak about the immediate future AND about His long term plans. You either have that simple faith, or you don’t!

The ‘Immanuel prophecy’ spoke about a virgin, or simply young girl (who in Hebrew culture would have been a virgin), having a child. Now in the context of Isaiah there is nothing miraculous about that. It was simply a prophetic picture that said within just a few years these things will happen. It is only in the New Testament that we find Matthew applying it because there IS a miraculous intervention by God with a young girl who is obviously a virgin, to bring in the Son of God, and no man is involved. Matthew sees the circumstances fit the prophecy! He catches God’s longer term plans in that word.

But as we said, this word in Isaiah has an immediate fulfilment. Let’s examine the order of events. First of all the Lord calls Isaiah to write down a name, a strange name which has meaning and significance: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means ‘quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil’. Now actually He doesn’t at that point say it is a name, just that Isaiah is to write it down and get it witnessed. The next thing to happen is that Isaiah goes to his wife, the prophetess, and she conceives and a son is born. Now frustratingly we aren’t told if the prophetess and Isaiah are just married and she was a virgin, but the closeness to the prior prophecy seems a little bit beyond coincidence.

Right, we now think, this child is to be named ‘Immanuel’ according to the prophecy, but no, he is to be called Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, ‘quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.’ What a name to have! So what does that really mean? We are told in verse 4: “Before the boy knows how to say `My father’ or `My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.” A plunderer will quickly come and strip the land. Now look in your Bible at something of great significance. Verses 6 to 8 expound on this invasion but they are clearly spoken to the child and end with the name that the Lord applies to him, Immanuel! So he is called by a name that points to a coming discipline from the Lord, but he is also to be known as a prophetic fulfilment that says, “God is with is”, the meaning of Immanuel.

What is going on here? The Lord is making it plain through Isaiah that He is in the midst of all that is about to happen. This is not an out-of-control pillaging nation; this is an invader who has the hand of the Lord upon him. This is not a word for the faint hearted, but it is designed to make the proud and arrogant faint hearted! Remember, throughout all this, the Lord is seeking to draw Judah back to Himself so that they can come back into the place of right living, a place of blessing where peace and prosperity are the order of the day.

In our ordinary everyday world we believe in discipline and deterrent and justice. We discipline (and train) our children, otherwise they run amok and feel insecure. We enforce the Law that seeks to bring peace and order to our streets. We imprison criminals. All these things we take for granted, but the critical among us object to the Lord doing these things with a nation.

Carry out a simple exercise. Compare the description of Ahaz that we saw previously and consider the state of the nation as it must have been under him, and then go and read about the state of the nation under king Solomon as he ruled with the wisdom of God bringing the nation to the best and most affluent that it ever was. The latter is a picture of God’s desire for His people, because He was the one who enabled Solomon at the prime of his life. The former is a picture of foolish sinful mankind, getting in a total mess when it rejects God.

What we also find, when we consider what has been happening, is the Lord who is seeking to make obvious to His people what He is doing. When God brings warnings it is not because He wants to bring this invader, but He wants Ahaz to respond to the warning and take the appropriate action to avoid it. What is the appropriate action? It is to call the nation to repentance, to call them back to the Lord. If that had happened then the invader would never have come. If we are given warnings it is so that we can take appropriate action to avoid the danger. When we see warning signs on the road, we take avoiding action. If we see symptoms of the onset of a disease we don’t laugh it at and just carry on; no, we immediately rush to a doctor to see how to stop it happening. Why can we do these things when they are practical or health issues, but somehow be so blind when they are spiritual issues?