5. Getting a God Perspective

Studies in Isaiah 55: 5. Getting a God Perspective

Isa 55:8,9  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The Flow:  The word ‘For’ indicates a continuation or flow of thought from what has just been said. In the previous pair of verses we saw a challenge to “Seek the Lord”, and “call on him” with a specific following challenge: “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.” Note specifically the word ‘thoughts’ which is now picked up in verse 8 above. It is as if the Lord is saying, come to me, search for me and learn to listen to me, especially you unrighteous people. You need to listen to me because your way of thinking is so different from mine that unless you realize this and change you’ll be in trouble! (implied) i.e. you need to get a new perspective.

The Bigger Perspective: First there is this double comparison / challenge:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” It’s not only thinking but ways of living that need to be reassessed. The truth is that, ever since the Fall, mankind has done its own thing, each individual determining how they will live and so their thinking is instinctively at odds with God’s thoughts.  In creating ‘Israel’ the Lord gave them ‘the Law’ as a guidance package of how to live as individuals and as a community. It recognized the fallenness of mankind in that, as well as laying down guidelines for good actions, it also showed ways of putting right wrong actions, how to deal with what we would call ‘crimes’, yet it did not stop those ‘crimes’ happening, people still continued to do wrong. Nevertheless, it was God’s way of revealing a right path through life. By the time of Jesus’ arriving, certain parts of the community (the Pharisees) had taken and formalized the Law in its outward appearance yet failed to keep its heart. Again and again, we as mankind, and specifically Israel as mankind under the microscope, failed to understand God’s heart, God’s thoughts, God’s ways.

The Modern Expression of this Failure: So Jesus came and died for us and the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers. The way of the new covenant was opened and yet we still very much remain fallen humanity, even if greatly improved through the work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. Individually redemption is a learning and changing experience and even the great apostles revealed it – Peter struggled with being sent to the Gentiles (Acts 10) and Paul and Barnabas disagreed over John Mark (Acts 15) leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth over their parting. But in the modern church there are signs that we are so often more concerned with rules, ritual and liturgy than we are with the life, love and power of God pouring through us to transform the world, with the result that unquestionably the Church loses ground in terms of community or national impact. We are often more concerned on how we ‘run’ church than we are in seeking God and letting His Spirit empower and lead us so that we become a community-changing force in our world.

The Call again: The Lord had declared it: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  and we have just been observing the outworking of that. But, as if to emphasis it in case we hadn’t taken it in, he adds, “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”   It’s like God says through the prophet, look up at the skies. See that ‘up there’, as compared to ‘down here’.  That’s how much higher my thoughts and ideas and ways are higher than yours. My thoughts are divine and heavenly, yours are human and earthly. That is how different our ways of thinking are.

Outworking 1: Now there are several things that flow out of this that we should think about. First, the thing to recognize (and forgive me for stating the obvious) is that we don’t think like God. I keep find myself saying in respect of modern Western life, look at the fruits of modern thinking, the harmful things that are the outworkings of unfettered human behaviour seen in modern life.

Outworking 2: The second thing to note is that our thinking differently from God leads us to express our thoughts as deeds and those deeds are increasingly showing that these thoughts, ideas, attitudes, ways of living, don’t work. Observe characteristics of modern godless western society. In politics alienation, hostility, fake news, lie telling and demonising of the opposition have become norms on both sides of the Atlantic.  In our economies we are still suffering from the financial collapse of 2008 that came about from unfettered greed. Many voices are being raised that we are ripe for a further collapse. In our communities crime continues to rise, drug taking continues to be a major problem that is mostly swept under the carpet. On our streets violence, theft and wanton destruction are not uncommon (I heard only yesterday that in a street not a quarter of a mile away, ‘someone’ went down the entire street at night and slashed the tyres on every single car). Family life suffers constant breakdown, divorces prevail where there are marriages, separation where there is cohabitation, and children suffer, become angry and slash tyres!   And so we could go on and on and on. At long last there are voices being raised from the very top of the medical profession that say such things as, pornography is harmful for individuals, families and communities, divorces are harmful for individual, families and communities, and so on.

Outworking 3: We need to listen to God. That is what this is all about. It is God saying, ”Listen to me!” We will only do that when we come to our senses and realise that the descriptions of the barren woman and the thrashed city of chapter 54 are descriptions of us today, that we are left spiritually hungry and thirsty, and we’re putting a wrong focus on what is meaningful. So, when He reaches out a hand offering a fresh start as we seek Him afresh, we need to grab it.

Outworking 4: There is another aspect to be considered here. The danger that we have in this part of history is that we have greater technology, greater medical facilities, more food, more provision than any previous generation in history, and this leads us to self-deception. The knowledge and information on our mobile phones gives us a sense of being in charge in a way never known before – and there’s more to come. This breeds a false optimism that covers over all of those other failures I mentioned in Outworking 2 above. We can cope with them as the cost of this brave new world. No we can’t; they will undermine our societies they will breed contempt for truth that leads the way for abuse of all this technology. Distraction ad deception are things that say, “Oh, this is all scare mongering. We don’t need to listen to God, to seek Him out.” We do. This is a call to wake up. It started in chapter 54 and continues in chapter 55. Let’s heed it for today.

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3. The Example of David

Studies in Isaiah 55: 3. The Example of David

Isa 55:3b   I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

Recap:  The call at the beginning of this chapter is to those who are hungry and thirsty to come to the waters and drink and buy provisions without money. We concluded this was a call to receive these spiritual provisions through listening to the Lord. The challenge also came to consider what we are doing with our lives, do we have a right focus so we don’t just work for that which never satisfies. Instead if we listen to the Lord and take in what He says, it will be like receiving a feast for the soul that will not only feed and nourish us but give us eternal life.

Old Covenants: Now consider the living waters that will nourish and feed them. It comes in the form of a promise of a new covenant: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” The first covenant mentioned in the Bible was that given to Noah (Gen 9:9-) never to flood the earth again. It was an ‘everlasting covenant’ (9:16). The next covenant was that given to Abram: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Gen 17:7, reiterated in 17:19 and extended to the priesthood in Num 18:19 and to limit the covenant to the circumcised Gen 17:13). The next was at Sinai (Ex 19:5 and subsequent chapters) that Israel be God’s ‘treasured possession… a kingdom of priests’ which implies to the rest of the world. When later in Isaiah He speaks of them as a ‘light to the nations’ (Isa 42:6) it is clear that that covenant was not only a relational one between God and His people, but it was also intended to reveal God through them to the rest of the world. That still stood.

New Covenant: Through Isaiah now comes this mention of a new and everlasting covenant. Now the reference here is to David: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.“  It is a covenant to the readers (listeners) and the subject of it is the Lord’s love that He promised to David. Now when we go back to David we find the Lord promised him, Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Sam 7:16) Now the Lord says of David,  See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.” (v.4) or as an expanded version puts it, “I made David a witness of my power for all.” i.e. under his rule God expressed His power that raised David up and made him a victorious ruler who brought peace to Israel throughout his reign in respect of the surrounding nations (except later when the Lord disciplined David).

Current Application: He has just declared this new covenant of love, a covenant reflecting all that had been said to David, and now Isaiah goes on to explain what impact that will have on Israel: “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” (v.5) As we said at the beginning, these verse thoughts tend to go in pairs and so these two verses point us first to David (v.4) and then show how the Lord applies that to Israel in that day (v.5). Even as He had made David victorious (because of his heart for God), so the Lord will make this future ‘woman’ (54:1), this future ‘city’ (54:11) – assuming we accept the link between the two chapters – not only great in number but victorious in the earth. It is a word that comes up a number of times in such prophecies.

Wider Application: Again and again – with Abraham and with David – we can see, in the bigger picture, the promises made have a much wider application than simply the one ‘biological nation’. The promises of blessing to all nations – “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3) – is about people of faith who can become God’s people, not merely people of faith within ‘biological Israel’, but also from the Gentiles across the whole world as well, all of whom comprise the real faith ‘people of God’, who express the kingdom of God. When the Lord spoke to David about one who, “is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” (2 Sam 7:13) although, no doubt, David understood that to mean Solomon, it is clear from Scripture that in the bigger picture it referred to the coming of Jesus, for in him only, do the words about an everlasting kingdom come true.

Earlier in Isaiah we read of a coming son, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it  with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:7) This child, will be God in the flesh (v.6). David demonstrated a rule of righteousness, peace and victory, and now the Son of God rules over a kingdom even today and will continue to rule until the time when he has achieved all that is on God’s heart to be done: “when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26) What are the enemies of the kingdom of God? Unrighteousness, ungodliness, rebellion, disobedience, expressed in all the ways the apostles spoke about – e.g. Col 3:5-9, Eph 4:17-19,29-31, Jas 1:14,15, 5:1-6, 1 Pet 2:1,11,  4:3,4,21, 1 Jn 2:16, 3:4. These are the enemies of Christ, the things he works against today and will finally vanquish when he returns again (see Rev 19).

And So? What have we seen so far here? The Lord seeks to encourage His people by declaring a new covenant of love, patterned on the rule of David. His intent was that all His people who had an open heart to Him could experience something of this rule in the present day. Yet there would be a greater fulfillment of this word with the coming of Jesus (for us, now two thousand years ago) and an even greater fulfillment when he returns a second time. God’s intent is that we know and experience this love that has so many practical outworkings. For us today, we need to remind ourselves that we live in the kingdom that is only partially here: sometimes we sense His close presence, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we pray and see answers, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we pray for healing or deliverance and see it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when we witness, people get saved, sometimes they don’t. And so it is, but let the positive things encourage you to press on until the day when He comes in glory and all WILL be submitted to Him, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil 2:10) Amen!

1. A Call to the Thirsty

Studies in Isaiah 55: 1. A Call to the Thirsty

Isa 55:1 Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

Overall Approach:  Whether this chapter flows on from the previous one or stands on its own, I leave you to decide. I am going to take it as it stands, on its own, for the moment at least. Reading the whole chapter, it seems that most of the time Isaiah is linking thoughts in pairs, two verses at a time, although because there is a steady flow of thought from one piece to the next, that is not always the case. I’m going to suggest from the outset the following structure:

v.1  Call to come

v.2,3a  Consider & listen

v.3b,4 The covenant of David

v.5  The outcome – victory

v.6,7  Call to seek the Lord & live righteously

v.8,9  The Lord’s way of thinking

v.10,11  Confidence in the Lord’s word

v.12,13  Promise of blessing

The studies in this small series within Isaiah 55 will be as follows:

  1. A Call to the Thirsty Isa 55:1
  2. Reject the Fruitless Life Isa 55:2
  3. The Example of David Isa 55:3b
  4. Getting Right with God Isa 55:6
  5. Getting a God Perspective Isa 55:8,9
  6. The Accomplishing Word Isa 55:8,9
  7. Transformation Isa 55:12

Fourfold invitation: Let’s note, first of all, what is here in v.1 and then when it means. There are two separate ‘calls’ here with a fourfold invitation to ‘come’. Interestingly, both the ‘calls’ are to those who are needy. The first are those who are thirsty and the second are those who are poor, without money, and yet both end up offering provision. The first two invitations are to come to a place where you can drink. The first one acknowledges need – thirst – and the second one the means of satisfying that need – water. The second two invitations are more intriguing because they take us beyond merely drinking, to first of all buying food without money, but then drink without money. The twofold acknowledgment of absence of money is what must surely grab our attention. How can you buy when you have no money?

Further clarification?  Let’s recap what is here. The call is to needy people, those who are thirsty and (by implication within the text) who also have no food. The call is to change the circumstances by first of all finding water to drink, but then buying wine and milk. Perhaps we should also note a progression here. Water is a basic need, a fundamental need to sustain life. Wine and milk are the products of farming and are indicative of a higher standard of living than just sustainability. The twice use of the word ‘buy’ implies taking action to barter or purchase, i.e. taking action to legitimately obtain the required provisions.

The Twofold action. The first is a call to acknowledge your need – thirst – and then simply seek the resource that satisfies that particular need. It is that simple. What are the ‘waters’ that are initially referred to? Well, rather than make unfounded assumptions, let’s just hold on to these thoughts and see how the chapter opens up. Finding the waters is the first thing. But then there is this call to buy (without money) food and drink that makes life more manageable. Somehow this requires a greater action than simply finding water and drinking. ‘Buying’ requires interaction with another, the provider of the resource.  Who is that provider? If you jump to the conclusion, the Lord, why? Imagine you have never seen the Bible before and all you have is this chapter. To whom does it guide you?

The Provider: We have to assume, surely, that the provider is the one speaking and making these calls. Is the speaker just Isaiah or is it one beyond him, the one inspiring him to prophesy?  In verse 3 we find, “come to me” and this person says, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you,”  and then goes on to speak about how He (yes, it has to be God) made David a witness to Him to all the peoples.  The verses that follow are a real mix in terms of origin and the best one can say is that the prophet is so attuned to his Lord that it is difficult to know when one begins and the other ends. But it is God!

Eating & Drinking? Now here’s the strange thing: there are no further references to eating or drinking in the rest of the chapter except in verse 2 where it is as if the whole picture pivots about and the eating and drinking is transformed into listening: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” If you listen to God, “you will delight in the richest of fare.”  i.e. what you hear will act as wonderful food that will (by implication in the light of what has gone) utterly satisfy you. So how do you drink? You come to the Lord acknowledging your thirst and wait on Him and listen to all He says. How do you ‘buy’? You give Him your attention, your will, your time. That is the cost if you are to receive from Him.

Water, Wine & Milk: Note the three provisions that picture the work of God’s words in our lives. Water provides the basics for life. Wine makes the heart merry, the scriptures say. Milk provides nourishment.  When we listen to the Lord, His word provides sustenance, the basics we need. But it also fills us with joy as the wonder of it captures our hearts. But is doesn’t stop there, it feeds us, it nourishes us and it builds us up and strengthens us. Pray as you come to Him, as you read His word, as you seek to hear, pray that the reality of it will sustain you, bring joy to you and feed you so that you are stronger. May this be so every time we do that.

7. Loved

Studies in Isaiah 54: 7. Loved

Isa 54: 10  “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 Grace Prevailing over Justice: In the previous study we saw how the Lord was using the analogy of Noah and the Flood to explain His faithfulness, we should say, in respect of Israel. Even as Noah had moved His heart and brought a promise of grace prevailing over justice, so that same grace would prevail today so that, although He had indeed cast them away for a moment because of their disobedience, now He would come to them and restore that previous relationship. We did go into verse 10 as we mentioned the covenant of peace, but there is something even more wonderful there that we must take hold of.

In a Shaken World: The first phrase of this present verse may be skimmed over by many (me included often) but it is highly significant: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed.” In other words it doesn’t matter how disastrous the world seems, God’s love is going to be there. Now don’t take this casually because very often (along with Chicken Licken) we feel the sky is falling down as things around us seem to deteriorate. At the time I write, the political landscapes of the UK and USA have been transformed and in the UK in particular (although some in the USA say they feel the same) chaos seems to ensue. For many this has created a world-weariness, almost a mental and emotional exhaustion that is only helped by turning off and ignoring the news.

But it is more than just than the political landscape. Older generations feel lost in a world that has been utterly transformed in their lifetime. The world has been shaken for them by technology. Younger generations complain that because of the self-centred carelessness of older generations they have been put into a situation where financially they are disadvantaged; their world has been shaken.  But this ‘shaking’ can be much more personal; when illness strikes or downsizing comes to your workplace and the job you have held for thirty years is suddenly gone, it comes like an earth-shattering loss. In many ways it feels like the earth is being shaken and things we have taken for granted for so long (the hills) are removed from our lives, and it makes us feel very vulnerable.

Need of Security: It is at such times that we desperately feel we need security. When the ‘ground is shaking’ and when ‘the hills are being removed’ we suddenly start thinking about these things. While everything was going along fine, we just took life for granted.  There was food on the table, the sun shone and day followed day without a worry or care in sight. And then the ground shook. We felt it but it would pass quickly. But then it continued shaking and then ‘the hills were removed’ and suddenly everything was different. It happens all the time in the Fallen World, especially this modern world where change is the name of the game every day it seems. It can be highly disconcerting but such shaking can wake us up to the realities of our life – we have taken so much for granted, we had become complacent with our relationship with the Lord, almost superficial if we are honest. Then comes the shaking – usually a loss, of a job, of health or of a loved one – and we start praying, we start crying out, “Are you there?” Of course He is but we had become things-focused instead of God-focused and so lost that sense.

The Word Comes: Then comes the word of the Lord: my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” The psalmist says the same thing: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psa 46:1,2) He doesn’t mention the word ‘love’ there but that is what it is all about and why he does not need to fear. The earth may be shaken but God’s love will not be shaken. David knew this same love: “save me because of your unfailing love.” (Psa 6:4) Whatever else might change, God’s love would not. All other resources might run out, but God’s love will never fail, will never be exhausted. Jeremiah was prophesying against the same thing when he declared, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) Not only had the people turned away from God who was an everlasting source of life and love, but they had tried to manufacture their own forms of provision and security and those always failed! No, God’s love is unfailing, that is why He is so often referred to as ‘faithful’ because He is unchanging.

Beware Appearances: I often teach on the fact that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and will continue to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and it is at such times that I sense that readers or listeners have the same query as Gideon had that we considered in the previous study. It is so common we need to repeat it here: if God is around, why are all these things happening? In another context recently I wrote the following:

Point One: we live in a Fallen World where, because of sin, things go wrong and people say and do nasty things because they have free will.

Point Two: God does not override our free will and so permits the world to proceed as it does with things going wrong and people acting badly BUT He does expect us, His children, to act as His representatives and to be salt and light in it.

Point Three: He a) expects us to change the circumstances and b) be changed by the circumstances. We are to be one of His means of bringing change in this world while being changed into Jesus’ likeness as we do it.

That is the ‘big picture’ that we need to remember. Jesus IS ruling but he doesn’t do it with a heavy hand; he uses us (yes, he does sometimes move sovereignly without us as well) and sometimes waits for us to catch on to that, but the Father’s love IS always there, it is unfailing and it does not change because we are slow to understand or slow to act. It is still there despite whatever we do. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) the apostle John declared. Hold that truth firmly, never let it go, despite the appearances of what is going on around you. He IS there for us at all times, every day. Hold that, rejoice in it and be at peace in whatever is going on.

6. Reassurance

Studies in Isaiah 54: 6. Reassurance

Isa 54:9 “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. 

Seeking Understanding:  Something I have observed in recent days is that in some quarters there is a tendency to explain away some of the Old Testament that seems difficult to understand. More often than not it is to do with the judgments of God but I have written about this extensively elsewhere, so I will not cover it now. Another area is to do with prophecy, as we now have here. We look at a passage and take what we read, failing to get understanding, and get confused.

The truth is that when we study the Bible we need to go through several stages to get the most out of it. Stage 1 is seeing what it says. Yes, it is that simple. What does this passage actually say? Stage 2 is seeking for understanding of it. What is the bigger picture, how does it fit and, especially with prophecy, how does it seem to fit in history and how was it – or has it been – fulfilled?  The third stage is seeking to see how the lessons or principles revealed can be applied to us today. Now I say all of this here, because what is being said is so enormous that we have to ask, when does the Lord want this applied?

Context: As we so often point out, context is important, so how do these present two verses fit into the chapter.  Well, the chapter started with an analogy of Israel being like an abandoned wife – the Lord being her husband (v.1). The picture encourages this ‘abandoned woman’ saying she will have many children and should therefore enlarge her home (v.2,3). He went on to say forget the past (v.4) for the Lord is a redeemer (v.5) who, although He had previously cast her aside (v.6-8), He will bring her back (v.7). It is possible that when Israel heard this prophecy, they might doubt it, and what now comes is the Lord’s way of reassuring them.

Perhaps a parallel illustration of this is found in the case of Gideon. “When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judg 6:12) There was the message of reassurance, but observe Gideon’s response: “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judg 6:13) Although the words came through an angel, the prevailing circumstances seemed to negate them. He needed further reassurance.

The Reassurance: So now we can look at our present verses. To reassure Israel the Lord parallels what He is now saying with what happened at the Flood: “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.” (v.9a) To understand this we need to go back to that account. The Lord had called Noah who had been obedient and so had come through the Flood with his family. The other side of the flood we read, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” (Gen 8:20) i.e. Noah’s response to the flood was to worship God; he held onto a right attitude towards Him.

He did not grumble about the flood and all that happened about his home and his past being wiped out, but responded with a right attitude and worshiped. It was in response to this that we find, “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Gen 8:21) I don’t know if you can see the enormity of this, but it is the Lord showing us that we can move His heart and thus reveal a completely different possibility for mankind.

Law and Grace: I have, when writing elsewhere about the judgments of the Lord (see ‘Judgments of a Loving God’), suggested that essentially the Bible reveals two sorts of judgment: disciplinary judgments that are designed (where the Lord sees it is possible) to change the hearts of men, and what I have called terminal judgments or ‘judgments of the last resort’, i.e. people die because the Lord sees that is the only way to save the situation. (We always need to see this in the light of His words in Ezek 18:23,32, 33:11, 2 Pet 3:9 – the Lord never wants to bring terminal judgments but they are sometimes necessary if the Lord sees that repentance will not be forthcoming).

Thus the awfulness of the state of mankind just prior to the Flood (see Gen 6) was so terrible that it was only the righteousness of Noah that prevented complete extinction. So, back to our picture of Noah and the Flood, the Flood was God’s demonstration of His power to bring judgment on evil as seen in Gen 6, indeed justice would demand such a thing but when the Lord sees the response of Noah (to worship) He sees the possibilities for mankind and He is moved in compassion to provide an alternative way of appeasing justice (the Cross).

Now we have commented on this before, that the Lord appears to act both as God outside of space-time history and thus plans redemption through the Cross before Creation AND as God in history who responds to the present. Thus the Flood was a legitimate response to the call of justice, meeting the demands of ‘the Law’ if you like,  but out of it was revealed the genuine possibility of a good response from human beings, which opens up in turn the Lord’s willingness to offer grace.  But does He just turn a blind eye to our sin? Definitely not! Our Sin (and sins) are covered by the work of Christ on the Cross. His death acted as the sentence that satisfies justice and that is what applies here and now for Israel.

The Covenant of Peace: This same compassion comes through in these words: “So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  The covenant of peace is ultimately the Cross which covers all sin of all people through all time. The seriousness of sin was revealed through the Flood, but then also, as we’ve seen, the grace and mercy that can follow.

Application: So having spoken in picture language about a relationship to be restored, the Lord reassures Israel that this is possible because of the covenant that He instituted from before the foundation of the world through Christ.  That covenant applied to Israel’s present situation as much as t did after Noah. Noah is the means of reassurance that He brings to them now. There is more to be seen in these verses but we will see that in the next study.

5. The Big Picture

Studies in Isaiah 54: 5. The Big Picture

Isa 54:6 “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.

Two Approaches:  As we look at this verse it appears that there can be two approaches to it. There is the approach that sees it in the context of the history of Israel and then the approach that sees it in the context of the history of the world. Put most simply we have a picture that portrays a wife who has been rejected, deserted and distressed, which can be either Israel or the world (and we will look at both) whom the Lord calls back to Himself. What follows in the ongoing verses is simply an expansion of that.

Israel, the wife: This has to be the primary meaning within a prophecy that comes from a Hebrew prophet to Israel in their time-space history. We must note the words in verse 6, “as if you were”. It is a picture, an analogy, to describe what they are like. The implication is that the Lord is like their husband. He had called them – through Abram and then later through Moses – to become a uniquely identifiable people with a uniquely distinct relationship with Him, a relationship likened to that of a husband and wife.

When? Now there is always a problem with prophecy: it may be spoken out of time, about a future time, a future time that is not yet identifiable, and it may be fulfilled more than once! So the Lord speaks of a time when He had apparently given them up: “For a brief moment I abandoned you,” (v.7a) and, “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.” (v.8a) Now in Isa 36 we have an historical insert: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.”  (Isa 36:1,2)

It was one of those numerous times when the Lord would discipline Israel – to bring them back to Himself – by using an enemy invader. The reality is that it happened so many times – the book of Judges is full of it – that it is difficult to suggest from our perspective when the Lord was referring to. The fact that Isaiah refers to Cyrus, who later becomes an instrument in the Lord’s hand for getting Israel back to the Land after the Exile, suggests it could be that this prophecy is yet to be also used for encouraging Israel in that later time as well as in the present when Isaiah is actually speaking out these words.

A Changed People:  The point of this word – in the present at least – is to reassure Israel that they were not utterly cast away. Now the truth is that the Lord does not just shrug his shoulders and pretend that sin has not happened; He always deals with it. The Exile, possibly many years later, was a time of purging Israel of their idolatry and of creating a new faithful heart in them. Thus when the remnant eventually started returning after some forty years, they came back with changed hearts. We need to realize this, that when the Lord speaks of restoring Israel after a time of disciplining, it is a purged people He will be restoring, a changed people.

He’s not going to just turn the clock back so that the old sinful attitudes are still there and He is doing nothing about it, He is going to change them. Previously, if He appeared to be doing nothing, it was simply that He was staying His hand of judgment to give them time to repent, and if they did not, then the judgment came to discipline them: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

So when we try to understand the ways of the Lord, we should always understand that even though discipline comes, it comes with the purpose of changing us and the end result is to be a restored and changed people, a people who have been cleansed by the judgment (discipline) and had their hearts changed and transformed. Perhaps we should also note the tense at the beginning of verse 6: “The Lord will call you back…” There is a future sense to this. It is the Lord declaring His intention of what is yet to come, but that is how it is so often with prophecy; it is not merely stating God’s will for the moment, it also so often declares it for the future.

The World:  But the second approach we said above is about the world. The big picture of salvation after the Fall is perhaps portrayed here. This is the big picture of God’s plans and purposes for the whole world. At the Fall we were cast away. His relationship with mankind – Adam and Eve – was fractured by sin. When I first studied this judgment of being cast out of the Garden, I marveled that this was not the end of the ‘God + Mankind’ equation. God did not totally abandon us, He gave us what we wanted, what Adam and Eve had revealed, autonomy, the freedom to live our lives as we will – with all the repercussions!  We would learn, we had a need, of someone to save us from the mess that we all make of life.  And thus it was that it was like He hovered in the background. It was clear that He spoke with Cain and Abel, had dealings with various others in the ensuing years, and eventually called Abram into relationship with Him.

The Anger of the Lord: The words of these verses that we are considering could equally be applied to the Fall and what followed it: “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.” (v.6) They had a relationship with the Lord to start with, but their sin meant that, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.“ (v.7,8) The folly of sin evokes righteous anger; it is a right response to wrong.

In our defensiveness we so often fail to see this, perhaps only made clear when one of our children do wrong and provoke anger within us.  Anger is a rising of indignation, a rising of displeasure at what has happened. The thing should not have happened, it was pure folly for it to happen – and of course that is true of all sin, we should know better, but there seems to be this blindness that is part of sin, so that we don’t see the folly and so proceed with the sin. It is stupid and so any onlooker with an unbiased mind would feel a sense of anger that it ever happened. If we could see clearly we would feel it; God does see clearly and so feels it.

The Compassion of the Lord:  “I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.” We may settle in anger and fume; God never does. It may be right to respond with anger at our folly but God never leaves it there. He looks upon us and anger is tempered by compassion. He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16, Ex 34:6,7) and love always looks for the best in everyone else. Anger is appropriate but it is overwhelmed by compassion and out of that God acts to redeem us.

There is a mystery here that C.S.Lewis sought to address, that God appears to stand outside of history, like He looks down on history, as seen as a road below that He can see from beginning to end, but also He steps into history and acts as if everything is new. So although the Scriptures are clear that the Godhead planned salvation, seeing the effect of free-will, even before they made anything, when the Fall took place God’s response to the moment was anger followed by compassion, and it was that compassion that moves Him to continue to interact with mankind. Never say God doesn’t care for us, He does. He may discipline us, “for a little while” (Heb 12:10) but it is that Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.”  (Heb 12:11).

Thus in these verses we also have the wonder of our salvation. Whenever we fail the Lord and come under His discipline, always remember it is but for a moment and the compassion of God will be there to restore us to Him: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1) God’s constant intent is to redeem us and that is what the whole of the Bible is all about. See it and rejoice in it.  Hallelujah!

4. Fear Not

Studies in Isaiah 54: 4. Fear Not!

Isa 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”

It’s about Redemption:  History can be a curse. Guilt so often hangs over us. Shame follows us. We wonder if the past will mar the present and blight the future. In the following verse there is an amazing statement: “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.”  A year ago I found myself writing a series on ‘redemption’. Mostly we think of redemption as something the Lord does just when we come to Him but the truth is that every day of our lives, He is redeeming us. There are three things about redemption we should note.

1. An Ongoing Process: Very well, the first is that it is a process, an ongoing process. It started when we first turn to Christ and it will only be completed when we stand before him in heaven. It involved us being forgiven, our guilt being removed (i.e. us being justified), us being adopted into God’s family, and being empowered by His Holy Spirit to live new lives.

2. Change: But then next, second, it is a process whereby Christ is working to change us; it is a process with a purpose. This process seeks to deal with our past in such a way that as much as possible the past will not inhibit who Christ is seeking to make us become today. Yes, often the memory of past failure remains but Christ uses it in the transforming process as both a reminder of what not to do again, and as a deterrent to keep from that particular failure. However, once we see the whole picture that we are laying out here, although it should humble us, that failure will no longer act as a weight that limits us today.

The Goal of Perfection: Very often we see this process of change as about moral or ethical behaviour but it is very much greater than that. Jesus once declared, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) When something is perfect is cannot be improved upon, it lacks nothing. That is God and that is what He wants to work into our lives. There is nothing He thinks, says or does that can be improved upon. Is that true of you and me? Right!  That is why we need Him to work this process out in us.

My Lacks: Let’s consider how we fall short of perfection and so need to make it a goal to which we let Him draw us.  First, my lack of knowledge; there is so much I don’t know (about you, for example, and if I did know more it would mean I would have a better attitude towards you!) I need Him to teach me, inform me, bring me knowledge and understanding. Second, there is strength, mental, physical and spiritual.  I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.  Even when I am fully charged and refreshed, third, I need more grace, more wisdom, more insight, more everything else to cope with you, others, circumstances, difficulties, etc. etc. than I have got.

Therefore there are times, when running on my own resources, which may be good at times, that I still get it wrong and may react defensively, or with hostility. I may be unsure of myself and may therefore feel bad (guilty) about how I handle life, or maybe I allow myself to be hurt by your dealings with me. I need constant help to remind me of the truths of God’s love and provision. We could expand these things considerably but they provide some starting thoughts for the idea of our lives being a process of change.

3. The Cross: Now we are considering three things, we said, about redemption and the third thing is that redemption is all about the Cross. Through his work on the Cross, Christ paid the price for our sin. His death, for all the wrongdoings of my entire life, satisfies justice and so I am freed from the Judge’s sentence of death that such a life of sin deserves. He has bought my freedom by taking my punishment; the guilt has been dealt with. That is what redemption means – buying us back from the guilt and the sentence of death.

Now that act of redemption is applied to my life the moment I turn to Christ in surrender and repentance. From that second on, I am freed and as far as God is concerned from that second on I am His justified son. But the reality is that I still have free will – He never takes that from us – and so as I work my way through life, I make decisions and, even as we noted above, sometimes, because I am not yet perfect and am inadequate for the task of living blameless in this fallen world, I get it wrong.

The apostle John understood this: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) The goal is that I don’t sin, but if there are occasions when I trip over my feet and blow it, the moment I acknowledge my failure and confess it, seeking His forgiveness, it is there for me – because of what Christ has done on the Cross.

Back to the start: Very well, let’s apply all this to our starting verse: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  We said that the past can be a curse if we let it, and so for Israel, just as with us, there is the memory of the past lurking there, of their failures and standing before them, so to speak, is Almighty Holy God. They need serious reassurance.

Reassurance: Is God going to smack us for our past? No! Is He going to hold up our failure for display to the whole world? No!  Is He going to humiliate them for their failures? No! Instead He is going to so move that the blessing they will experience will completely over-shadow and obliterate all the past. That is what is so incredible about redemption: God never changes in His determination to do whatever needs to be done to draw us back onto the right course, to draw us back to Him, to heal up the past, bless us in the present, and present hope for the future.

That is as much true for us today as it was for them then. We could add various caveats about the time He sometimes takes to work these things through, but let’s just stick for the moment with the basics: God IS in the process of redeeming you and me and so we don’t need to worry about all the negative aspects of this verse – no fear, no shame, no disgrace, no humiliation – all we need do is rejoice in the wonder of what He is doing in us – working us towards the perfection that will be ours in heaven, a life of ongoing change that is getting better all the time. Yes? May it be so! Hallelujah!