Thursday, January 14, 2021

Isaiah 40 - the Glory of the Lord!

Chapter 40 of Isaiah brings another shift in focus by the Prophet. Chapter 38 & 39 were primarily about specifics things that took place around 700 B.C. This was, in part, a reminder that though God is outside His creation, His plan of redemption is worked out in time with real people going through myriad trials. While the revelation of His plan of redemption is complete, all people will continue to experience various trials until Christ returns.

The HCSB and ESV title this chapter "God's People Comforted" and "Comfort for God's People", while the KJV has "The promulgation of the gospel." While comforting God's people is one theme in this chapter, the major theme that I identified when I read it was the glory of God. KJV's outline is a nice one:

Vs 1-2: The promulgation of the gospel

Vs 3-8: The preaching of John the Baptist

Vs 9-11: The preaching of the Apostles

Vs 12-17: The prophet, by the Omnipotence of God

Vs 18-31: and because He is incomparable, comforts His people

The chapter does start out with words of comfort. Isaiah 40:1-2 (HCSB) “Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”

Isaiah is likely being commanded by YHWH to speak these words, telling Jerusalem her time of slavery is over, her iniquity pardoned, and her sin paid for double. This sounds like New Covenant language, where the remnant of Israel finds reconciliation with God.

Isaiah 40:3-5 (HCSB) A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the LORD in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the LORD will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

We recognize John's words, as he quoted to this passage in his early preaching (Luke 3: 4-6). We've seen highways and straight, level paths mentioned in Isaiah before, in context to leading the way to Zion. This is the message of Isaiah as it was of John - Christ has gone before us, making the way to peace with God possible. And if you don't hear Handel's music from The Messiah as you read verse 5, go listen to it right now. The KJV is what he used: "And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." As with everything else that has come to pass, even this - when Christ returns with the blast of the trumpet and shout of the archangel, the glory of YHWH will be revealed to all mankind; for the mouth of YHWH has spoken it! What a glorious day for all who know Him, or rather are known by Him!

Isaiah 40:6-8 (HCSB) A voice was saying, “Cry out!” Another said, “What should I cry out?” “All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the LORD blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”

Voices call out, reminding man that his life is as grass - frail and short. All creation will come to an end when YHWH blows on them, for nothing and nobody can withstand Him. Yet His Word remains. What is of God cannot be overturned or ended.

Isaiah 40:9-11 (HCSB) Zion, herald of good news, go up on a high mountain. Jerusalem, herald of good news, raise your voice loudly. Raise it, do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with strength, and His power establishes His rule. His reward is with Him, and His gifts accompany Him. He protects His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in the fold of His garment. He gently leads those that are nursing.

Zion and Jerusalem are heralds of good news to Judah, just as we each as messengers of reconciliation are heralds of good news to lost sheep everywhere. We tell them, "Here is your God! He rules with power and gather His own, carrying them back to His the safety of His sheepfold." Oh, we have read so much about the wrath of God poured out on His enemies. Savor this passage revealing Him as a gentle shepherd who knows how to care for His flock and is tenderhearted towards them in caring for them. Do you sense His arms around you or does this sound foreign to you? Saints of God - raise your voices LOUDLY! Jesus came to save sinners!

Isaiah 40:12-17 (HCSB) Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or marked off the heavens with the span of his hand? Who has gathered the dust of the earth in a measure or weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in the scales? Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or who gave Him His counsel? Who did He consult with? Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding? Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are considered as a speck of dust in the scales; He lifts up the islands like fine dust. Lebanon is not enough for fuel, or its animals enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before Him; they are considered by Him as nothingness and emptiness.

This paragraph resounds with the last several chapters of Job, wherein that righteous man was reminded of how glorious and almighty YHWH is. How can any human read these Scriptures and not be taken aback at how the Creator describes Himself? No creature can counsel Him or give Him knowledge. No matter how big a farm you may own, look at His handiwork and see how small and insignificant the NATIONS are! This is why it was foolish for Israel to seek a partnership with Egypt to help them fight Babylon. This is also why it is foolish for Americans to get fraught with anxiety over the sad state of our national government.

When the Lord Jesus returns, Revelation 6:15-17 (HCSB) Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?”

The nations are as dust on God's scales, they are considered as nothing and empty. For apart from Christ, man can do nothing good nor is he capable of being good. Only those who are known by the Good Shepherd have cause to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:14 &18).

Isaiah 40:18-20 (HCSB) Who will you compare God with? What likeness will you compare Him to? To an idol?—something that a smelter casts, and a metalworker plates with gold and makes silver welds for it? To one who shapes a pedestal, choosing wood that does not rot? He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not fall over.

Here the nations are reminded that their gods are not gods at, but stupid idols crafted by their own hands. Nothing made by man can compare with the One Who created all things! The best of what man can craft is like Dagon, which was knocked over by being in the same tent as the Ark of God's covenant with Israel (1 Sam 5). Why work to make a stupid thing when the one true God has revealed Himself in creation and spoken to us in His Word and by His Son?

Isaiah 40:21-24 (HCSB) Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not considered the foundations of the earth? God is enthroned above the circle of the earth; its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like thin cloth and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He reduces princes to nothing and makes judges of the earth irrational. They are barely planted, barely sown, their stem hardly takes root in the ground when He blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind carries them away like stubble.

Does Romans 10 come to mind when you read this? Romans 10:14a (HCSB) "But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him?" Have you not heard, do you not know, has it not been proclaimed to you, even from the created order? Don't be misled by those who point to verse 22 and claim the Bible supports a flat earth; that is a "literal" hermeneutic that strains itself to the breaking point. Rather see this as evidence that the Spirit revealed to the prophet that earth is curved - looks like a circle if you see it in 2 dimensions. The point is that God cannot be contained in His creation - He handles the heavens (our galaxy) as a thin cloth.

This next word picture is most interesting to me right now. God reduces the princes (rich, powerful men) to nothing and MAKES JUDGES of the earth IRRATIONAL! Now the rich people in the USA are getting richer - their big barns will not protect them when the Lord returns. Our judges ARE irrational - and this the Lord's doing, is it marvelous in your eyes? They think they are high and mighty - He says they are plants with no root that will wither and be blown away like stubble when the winds blow. Have faith in God, be ye not worried that your country is coming apart at the seams! We in the USA have grown to think wealth, health, and comfort are our rights! This unique experiment in human history has been a tremendous blessing to uncounted people. But it is not the norm and we should not murmur when it withers and is blown away like stubble.

Isaiah 40:25-26 (HCSB) “Who will you compare Me to, or who is My equal?” asks the Holy One. Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing.

This is one my favorite passages. How many of you parents have had trouble grabbing the name of the child you wanted at a particular time? We had two children live and our son heard his mother run through the names of his sister and the family dog trying to get his name to come out of her mouth. The boxer George Foreman had 6 sons and named each of them George because he knew he would have this trouble. Compare our feeble minds to that of God! not only did He create all things, He hung each star where He wanted it and calls each one by name - and they are NOT all named George! And none of the countless stars are missing because by Him all things hold together (Col 1:17). That is POWER beyond what our puny minds can comprehend! Ponder this. Every star, put in the sky and kept in place by the very One Who gave His life so we would have life.

The transcendent God is immanent! He is beyond our ability to comprehend yet He has come close to us, became like us, to reveal Himself to those He would save. The bridge in a hymn brought back to life by Matthew Smith (What Wondrous Love is This!) shows our need of Him and the way He transcends the gap between Him and us to save us:

And what wondrous love is this

Though I raised my clenched fist

He opened up my hand to received His gift

And what wondrous love is here

The God Immortal has drawn near

And shed His blood to close the rift

While we were His enemies, Christ died for us. We do not reach out for Him - He reached down to where we were in spiritual death, pried open our clenched fist to receive His gift. And ponder this for a long time: God immortal has drawn near and shed His blood to close the rift! Does your soul rejoice, has Christ drawn close to you and drawn to Himself? Praise Him all ye saints!

Isaiah 40:27-31 (HCSB) Jacob, why do you say, and Israel, why do you assert: “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my claim is ignored by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.

It is a common complaint - nobody understand me, nobody even knows I exist! Others claim they can have their hidden sins - nobody sees them, nobody is hurt. How foolish we are! Jacob and Israel are often used as a reference for the remnant, not the ethnic nation. The remnant, from every nation, has heard, knows, YHWH is the everlasting God! Recall those stupid gods we read about earlier? YHWH is not like that. He created all things and He does not get tired; His wisdom is limitless! The highest IQ known to man is empty and nothing compared to the wisdom of God.

And this holy God; One Who is not like us - He is set apart from us - He is our tender shepherd (verse 11). He gives strength to the weary and powerless - come unto me, Jesus said, ALL who are weak and weary and I will give you rest! The young and powerful men of the world will stumble and fall - they will fade like grass and be blown away by the breath of God! But all who trust in Him will be renewed in strength, soaring like eagles, running and not growing weary, walking and not faint. Have you seen a man in his 70s and 80s who still on fire for the Lord, preaching and teaching the gospel with a fire in his belly that won't stop? This is the Lord's doing - He promised right here He would do it! - and it IS marvelous in our eyes!

Dear brothers and sisters - do not go quietly into the night. Cry out for mercy, for renewed strength to teach your grandkids about Jesus, to tell your neighbors about the glories of Christ. He who began a good work in you WILL BE faithful to bring it to completion. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Isaiah 39 - Hezekiah's Folly

Isaiah 39 - Hezekiah's Folly

"Hezekiah's Folly" is how the HCSB titles this chapter. The ESV has it "Envoys From Babylon" and the KJV has "Merodach-baladan sends visitors to Hezekiah to examine his treasures." A read through this short chapter convinced me the HCSB nailed it and the other guys had the wrong focus.

From Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary:

FOL'LY, noun [See Fool.]

1. Weakness of intellect; imbecility of mind. want of understanding.

A fool layeth open his folly Proverbs 13:16.


Folly is the hallmark of a fool; one who commits folly is foolish. May God keep us from folly!

Isaiah 39:1 (HCSB) At that time Merodach-baladan son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah since he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.

At that time - this was around 703 B.C., after Sennacherib had removed Merodach-baladan from being king of Babylon. Merodach-baladan was a constant pain for Sennacherib, plotting with Assyria to overthrow him. The gifts and letters to Hezekiah were, no doubt, part of his plan or revenge against Sennacherib. Timing was perfect - Hezekiah was feeling good, having received healing and more years from God.

Isaiah 39:2 (HCSB) Hezekiah was pleased with them, and showed them his treasure house—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the precious oil—and all his armory, and everything that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his palace and in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.

Here then, is the folly of a foolish man. Apparently puffed up because he sees himself as having favor with God, Hezekiah reveals everything to a man long-bent on destroying Israel. This action is not lost on our prophet.

Isaiah 39:3-4 (HCSB) Then the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah and asked him, “Where did these men come from and what did they say to you?” Hezekiah replied, “They came to me from a distant country, from Babylon.” Isaiah asked, “What have they seen in your palace?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen everything in my palace. There isn’t anything in my treasuries that I didn’t show them.”

Something didn't set right with Isaiah, seeing Babylonians walking around the king's palace. Not fearful the man, Isaiah asks him bluntly what he has done; the foolish king answers honestly. He has lifted his skirt to show his enemy everything.

Is this how people of God are supposed to act? We have the benefit of having more of God's Word in writing and His Spirit indwelling. We read, Matthew 10:16 (HCSB) “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves." God's people are sent by God into the world of wolves, knowing we are but sheep - needing our great Shepherd. While He will defend us He also equips us to walk in wisdom towards the world. Be wise as serpents - do not allow the world to take advantage of you. Here's one place in the Old Testament where we DO see a morality lesson - Don't be like Hezekiah!

Isaiah 39:5-7 (HCSB) Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of Hosts: ‘The time will certainly come when everything in your palace and all that your fathers have stored up until this day will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the LORD. ‘Some of your descendants who come from you will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”

Here's how we know Hezekiah was foolish: YHWH pronounces judgment on him for his actions. Everything that Hezekiah proudly revealed to the Babylonian would be carried off to Babylon - nothing would be left. Some of Hezekiah's children would be taken to Babylon, in exile for a time; some serving as eunuchs in the Babylonian palace. This came true nearly 100 years later, as Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took gold and people back to Babylon. Daniel 1:6 (HCSB) Among them, from the descendants of Judah, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Isaiah 39:8 (HCSB) Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good,” for he thought: There will be peace and security during my lifetime.

More foolishness from this foolish king. He is fat, dumb, and happy because he will be spared the consequences of his folly. The fool that Hezekiah had become does not care what will happen after he is dead - does not care his offspring will suffer greatly for his actions. But in 605 B.C. all Israel will wail and moan as the great and terrible king Nebuchadnezzar devastated their land and left only those who were of no use to him - and no use to their own.

If you have been translated from darkness into the glorious light of the kingdom of God and His Christ, then you - and I - MUST diligently seek to walk in wisdom toward the world, knowing it as at war with the Lord Jesus and His body; knowing we are called to be a light in this dark place, proclaiming His gospel and equipping His people so we won't be tossed about by the wiles of sinister men. Like Hezekiah was. Don't be like Hezekiah. Follow the teaching of the Word, the guidance of His Spirit. Our children and grandchildren are watching, the other saints in our local fellowship need us to walk with them. For His glory and the good of all who know Him, or rather are known by Him.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Isaiah 38 - Hezekiah falls ill and is given recovery

In this chapter, we see Hezekiah as a type of Christ in that he is stricken with a mortal illness (is close to death) and God grants him recovery to health (a type of resurrection). This aligns with the type Scripture confirms elsewhere, when Isaac was offered up for sacrifice and restored to life with Abram.

Isaiah 38:1 (HCSB) In those days Hezekiah became terminally ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Put your affairs in order, for you are about to die; you will not recover.’”

God sets the times and boundaries of men's lives - see Acts 17. Seldom do any of us get the advance notice that Hezekiah did, as Isaiah brought the Word of YHWH to him: ‘Put your affairs in order, for you are about to die; you will not recover.’ How many of us will die without notice and leave our affairs in disorder?

Isaiah 38:2-3 (HCSB) Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD. He said, “Please, LORD, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly, and have done what pleases You.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

When Abraham was told of the looming demise of Sodom, he pleaded with God to save the city for the sake of his nephew, Lot. While some see that the conversation in Genesis 19 is Abraham bargaining with God, YHWH is, in fact, helping Abraham see the depths of man's depravity. In our passage, Hezekiah is confronted with his own mortality - not far different from Abraham facing that of Lot - and he pleads with God to remember his, Hezekiah's, faithfulness. We see from this side of history that we should go to God pleading His faithfulness, as Moses did when he asked God to not wipe out the Hebrew nation for the sake of His name - otherwise the pagans would think the Hebrews' God was unable to keep His promises. Hezekiah wept, perhaps because he did not yet have an heir, and that was personal and national embarrassment.

Isaiah 38:4-6 (HCSB) Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah that this is what the LORD God of your ancestor David says: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Look, I am going to add 15 years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the power of the king of Assyria; I will defend this city."

Verses 21 & 22 fit here, chronologically. We have no hint as to why they are at the end of this chapter. Isaiah 38:21-22 (HCSB) Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a lump of pressed figs and apply it to his infected skin, so that he may recover.” And Hezekiah had asked, “What is the sign that I will go up to the LORD’s temple?”

Isaiah 38:7-8 (HCSB) "This is the sign to you from the LORD that He will do what He has promised: I am going to make the sun’s shadow that goes down on Ahaz’s stairway go back by 10 steps.” So the sun’s shadow went back the 10 steps it had descended.

YHWH had a promise that must be kept - a seed would come through the royal line of Israel (a son of David) that would save Israel. He tells Isaiah to tend to the sores and He provides and answer to the larger question. God hears the prayers of His people and He granted Hezekiah 15 additional years. Hezekiah would have a son, Manasseh, 3 years after this "resurrection", 12 years before his death (2 Kings 21:11). The issue was not Hezekiah's life; human life is never the reason for God's actions. He had sworn by Himself (Heb 6:13) and His promises WILL NOT FAIL. To that end, Hezekiah was given a longer life.

The sign given Hezekiah to prove it was YHWH making the promise to him went against the natural order, as when fire came down to consume Elijah's altar. The account in 2 Kings 20 reveals more detail, with Hezekiah being given the choice of whether the sun's shadow would advance or retreat. Hezekiah asked that the shadow retreat, since this is - from man's perspective - less natural, more difficult. For the One who created all things, moving the shadow up or back is nothing - the nations are as dust in His scales.

But that this One condescended to answer him prompted Hezekiah to break forth in song. Isaiah 38:9 (HCSB) A poem by Hezekiah king of Judah after he had been sick and had recovered from his illness:

The first part of his poem is focused on his looking death and the realization of the finality therein. Isaiah 38:12 (HCSB) My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent. I have rolled up my life like a weaver; He cuts me off from the loom. You make an end of me from day until night.

The last part of the poem is his praise to God for giving him life. Isaiah 38:15 (HCSB) What can I say? He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it. Isaiah 38:16-17 (HCSB) Lord, because of these promises people live, and in all of them is the life of my spirit as well; You have restored me to health and let me live. Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back.

He is amazed that the One who spoke creation into existence has spoken to him! He realizes that people live because of promises God has made; perhaps reflecting on the Covenant with Noah, wherein YHWH promised seed time and harvest until the end of the age. Hezekiah confesses his bitterness was because he was vain and selfish; but he sees that it was God's loving kindness that rescued him and threw all his sins behind His back. Hezekiah sees the bigger picture - not merely more years added to his walk on this earth; FORGIVENESS of sins that will never be laid to his account! Are we amazed He has spoken to us, or do we take His Word for granted?

Isaiah 38:18-20 (HCSB) For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children. The LORD will save me; we will play stringed instruments all the days of our lives at the house of the LORD.

Those who are in the grave awaiting the second death, those who go down to the pit, cannot praise God. Only the living - those whose sins have been thrown behind God's back - can praise Him. Having been saved, the redeemed will desire to praise Him in many ways all the rest of his days. This is the happy state of all who have forgiveness, who are reconciled to YHWH. Endless praise because of His faithfulness and for redeeming helpless sinners.

Is your heart filled with praise for this God? Do you realize what's been done to redeem sinners? Salvation is of the LORD - Jonah knew this, Hezekiah declared this. Do you know this - or do you believe your salvation depends, even in part, on you? None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good. Trust Him wholly, let no other trust intrude. Make His faithfulness known to your children. They need to see their earthly fathers for what we are - no help in saving them beyond proclaiming Christ to them.  Your faithfulness and mine isn't what anyone needs. God's faithfulness is what insures every lost sheep will be brought into the sheepfold of Christ.