Friday, January 29, 2021

Isaiah 46: There is None Like God

Building on chapter 45's ending section on Salvation by God alone, chapter 46 is a treatise on how God is not like anything or anyone else. He has made these assertions before, but we need to be reminded of them because we tend to make much of self and little of God. Peter opens his second letter with a description of the characteristics of Christians and then says, "Therefore I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are established in the truth you have." (2 Peter 1:12) Se let's bear with Isaiah as he reminds us of what we've already been taught.

Isaiah 46:1-2 (HCSB) Bel crouches; Nebo cowers. Their idols are consigned to beasts and cattle. The images you carry are loaded, as a burden for the weary animal. The gods cower; they crouch together; they are not able to rescue the burden, but they themselves go into captivity.

"Bel" is likely a reference to the chief god of Babylon, Marduk. Nebo was Marduk's son - the god of wisdom and scribes. The idols made to represent these demonic gods would have been large and heavy, hence the need of animals who were wore down from transporting them. Note God's perspective of these gods: they cower and crouch in fear, they cannot bear the burden of the idols but are carried away by whoever conquers Babylon.

Isaiah 46:3-4 (HCSB) “Listen to Me, house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you."

YHWH now turns His attention to the elect in ethnic Israel, the remnant of Jacob and Israel - those whom He had sustained from conception (actually, from before the foundation of the world!) and carried them along in His protection. He does not change, He is the faithful One! As I've grown older and my beard turned gray, I like this verse more. God will bear us up when we are weak (even when we are young and strong, we are weak!); He made us, He will carry us (no mundane beasts of burden!); He will save us!  This is all of God - doing what no man or god of man can do.

Isaiah 46:5-7 (HCSB) “Who will you compare Me or make Me equal to? Who will you measure Me with, so that we should be like each other? Those who pour out their bags of gold and weigh out silver on scales— they hire a goldsmith and he makes it into a god. Then they kneel and bow down to it. They lift it to their shoulder and bear it along; they set it in its place, and there it stands; it does not budge from its place. They cry out to it but it doesn’t answer; it saves no one from his trouble."

Here we see the futility of idol worship, which goes way beyond the idols described here. These are examples from history, idols that folk were used to seeing and hearing about. In our day, we don't call them idols, but we have standard of living, spouse, kids, dogs, motorcycles - all sorts of acceptable things that tend to take up space they aren't meant to! As it was with Baal, idols made of gold or other things within creation tend to be expensive in more ways than one and they cannot bear their own load. These lesser things cannot hear, cannot speak, cannot save anyone from trouble. YHWH, on the other hand, hears all things, spoke the universe into existence, and saves people from their sin!

Isaiah 46:8-10 (HCSB) “Remember this and be brave; take it to heart, you transgressors! Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will."

Short and simple - remember these things about God, take them to heart, and be brave - fear not, only believe! When the women went to the tom and found it empty, Luke's account reveals the angels of God telling them to remember what Jesus had spoken to them; and they remembered His words! (Luke 24:1-8). We will be prone to fear and anxiety if we do not remember what God has spoken to us. He alone is God, everything else is a mere god. No one is like Him - one of the problems ethnic Israel had was to forget what God was really like. Forgetting this makes falling into sin all the easier. They engaged in a long list of sin; at the end of which, we read "These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you." (Psalm 50:21 (ESV)) Bear in mind what you know to be true about God - it will help keep one holy and humble.

God declares the end from the beginning, while we cannot even say we'll go a town and conduct business tomorrow unless God wills it. Without comparison to anything in creation, the Creator plans it and does it. His will is certain; He will do ALL His will. I cannot see how any man can think himself able to "ask Jesus into his heart" when - not only is natural man unable to do anything good - natural man does not have the will to make anything happen. Unless God wills it, it cannot be done!

Isaiah 46:11-13 (HCSB) I call a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far country. Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it. Listen to me, you hardhearted, far removed from justice: I am bringing My justice near; it is not far away, and My salvation will not delay. I will put salvation in Zion, My splendor in Israel.

The note in my study Bible says the bird of prey is Cyrus; those with an earthly hermeneutic might agree. I rather think of this passage, among others: Revelation 19:17-18 (HCSB) Then I saw an angel standing on the sun, and he cried out in a loud voice, saying to all the birds flying high overhead, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of commanders, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great.” These birds of prey are God's judgment on the world - the people described are those mentioned in Rev 6:15 who wanted the mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. While Cyrus was called and served God's purpose in the shadowlands, the light of eternity reveals a different scene.

A warning to those who consider Him not, who trust in the works of their hands and their own wisdom rather than trust in God's judgment. His justice is coming, the birds will eat the flesh of His enemies, no matter how strong or powerful they are. Salvation is of the Lord! Those in Zion will be saved - His glory and splendor will be displayed in Israel! The remnant will glorify the Son on that day!

Hebrews 4:6-7 (HCSB) Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, again, He specifies a certain day—today—speaking through David after such a long time, as previously stated: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Isaiah 45, part 2: One Savior

Chapter 45, part 2: One Savior

Isaiah 45:14 (HCSB) This is what the LORD says: The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush and the Sabeans, men of stature, will come over to you and will be yours; they will follow you, they will come over in chains and bow down to you. They will confess to you: God is indeed with you, and there is no other; there is no other God.

The God of Israel is the only God; everything else that claims deity is the work of man's hands and is a fraud. In this verse, God is addressing the elect among the nation of Israel - at no time in her history did the nations come to national Israel in this fashion, but at the end of time all nations will be in chains and the redeemed will participate in judging them (1 Cor 6:2).

Isaiah 45:15-17 (HCSB) Yes, You are a God who hides Himself, God of Israel, Savior. All of them are put to shame, even humiliated; the makers of idols go in humiliation together. Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; you will not be put to shame or humiliated for all eternity.

This appears to be Isaiah speaking, saying the God who saves Israel hides Himself. By this, he means that God cannot be truly discerned by natural man; for general revelation is merely in part and God must open eyes and ears before mortal man sees Him. All who rebel against Him will be humiliated along with idolaters. In another stark contrast, elect Israel will be redeemed with an everlasting salvation no shame or humiliation for those who have refuge in Christ.

Isaiah 45:18-19 (HCSB) For this is what the LORD says— God is the Creator of the heavens. He formed the earth and made it. He established it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— “I am Yahweh, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, somewhere in a land of darkness. I did not say to the descendants of Jacob: Seek Me in a wasteland. I, Yahweh, speak truthfully; I say what is right."

YHWH declares that He is the Creator of heaven and earth, with the full intention that it would be full of life. Consider what this means. Think of the most complex, intricate mechanism man has "created" and compare with the glorious expanse and complexity of the universe! I put "created" in quotes because man can create nothing - everything man invents or develops is nothing more than rearranging what God has created. An old joke has a Texas A&M scientist working in the lab to "create" life and he succeeds! He shakes his fist at the heavens and tells God all about it. God condescends to talk with the creature and asks him to explain how he did it. "First thing I did," he said, "was to grab a little dirt." "Oh no!" said YHWH. "You must make your own dirt!" That's the point - God formed, created, and established the universe with the plan to fill it full of life.

There is NO ONE like unto Him, all the prophets of Baal are less than dust. All creation testifies of His glory, this was not done in secret, not in a corner of darkness as many cult religions do. He does not tell His people to go into the desert and find Him gazing at their navels; He calls His people to come to Him directly - this is the only true religion.

Isaiah 45:20-24a (HCSB) “Come, gather together, and draw near, you fugitives of the nations. Those who carry their wooden idols, and pray to a god who cannot save, have no knowledge. Speak up and present your case— yes, let them take counsel together. Who predicted this long ago? Who announced it from ancient times? Was it not I, Yahweh? There is no other God but Me, a righteous God and Savior; there is no one except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other. By Myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from My mouth, a word that will not be revoked: Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance. It will be said to Me: Righteousness and strength is only in the LORD.”

This passage is a call to the elect from all four corners of the earth, fugitives of every nation. Those not called have no saving knowledge and continue in their idolatry. They are commanded to present themselves, take counsel, and speak up for themselves; another court room scene for the judgment that will take place. God taunts these reprobates, asking them who prophesied these events, announced them in ancient times?

Then He answers them: It was I, YHWH! There is no God but YHWH; He is the righteous Savior and (in case you missed it) there is no one other than Him! "Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth" - His saving call goes out by to all the elect. He has sworn by an irrevocable oath that every knee will bow and every tongue confess allegiance to Him; for in Him ONLY is righteousness and strength. Paul used this to describe the Lord Jesus in two of his letters, Phil 2:11 (every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father) and Rom 14:11 (speaking of Christ: For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God). This is how we know this part of Isaiah is about spiritual redemption, not geographical redemption - the apostle has shown us the true application.

Isaiah 45:24b-25 (HCSB) All who are enraged against Him will come to Him and be put to shame. All the descendants of Israel will be justified and find glory through the LORD.

A final stark contrast as this chapter closes: All who war against God will come to Him and be ruined. All the descendants of Israel (according to the promise, not the flesh) will be justified and be glorified in the Lord. Again, it seems like Paul was thinking of this when he wrote this: Romans 5:6-11 (HCSB) For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him.

We have no boast in anything we've done or in our person. We were part of those who are enraged against God. But if you are in Christ, you are one He called to and justified and will glorify. Oh dear brother and sister - resist think you chose God or that He chose you because He saw something of value in you. We were helpless - unable to help ourselves; we were His enemies - thinking we didn't need His grace. But He has declared us righteous because Christ died for us - not because we've done anything to help our cause. Rejoice in Christ, boast of Him! Jesus is Lord of all and He ALONE save sinners from the wrath that is certainly coming for those who are not at peace with the Father. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Isaiah 45, part 1 - God Raises up a king

Chapter 44 of Isaiah should include the first 8 verses of chapter 45, as the end of 44 reveals God's choice of Cyrus to make the restoration of Jerusalem happen and the first part of 45 explains how He will do this.

Chapter 44 ends (vs 28) with God declaring He would use Cyrus for His good pleasure, not Cyrus', to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple therein. Our current chapter begins:

Isaiah 45:1 (HCSB) The LORD says this to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him, to disarm kings, to open the doors before him and the gates will not be shut:

The One True God is Creator of all and Lord/King/Judge over all. As He withheld Abimelech (king of Philistia) from sinning by taking Sarah as his wife, so He calls Cyrus (king of Persia) His right hand for the task at hand. Cyrus will subdue nations, disarm kings, open doors and keep gates open - all for the purpose of rebuilding Jerusalem and its temple. Is there any doubt Proverb 21:1 is true: "A king's heart is like streams of water in the LORD's hand: He directs it wherever He chooses." Let those who hold high office in our day be not deceived - God is not mocked, He is not asleep; His winnowing fork is in His hand.

Isaiah 45:2-4 (HCSB) “I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two. I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I, Yahweh, the God of Israel call you by your name. I call you by your name, because of Jacob My servant and Israel My chosen one. I give a name to you, though you do not know Me."

Here it begins, God explaining to one who knows Him not how things will be laid out. All of these actions are similar to how God describes His provision for Israel - think back to the description of how they would take Canaan. YHWH tells Cyrus that He will make his way smooth, breaking down the barriers, giving him treasure from places Cyrus would never know; He does all this so Cyrus would know Who called him by name to be used in this glorious way. He chose Israel not because they were great; He chose them because He is great. So with Cyrus - a man we might not know if he hadn't been chosen by YHWH, the God of Israel.

Isaiah 45:5-8 (HCSB) I am Yahweh, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is no one but Me. I am Yahweh, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, Yahweh, do all these things. “Heavens, sprinkle from above, and let the skies shower righteousness. Let the earth open up so that salvation will sprout and righteousness will spring up with it. I, Yahweh, have created it."

YHWH drives home the point about Who He is; Cyrus doesn't know Him so God is making it clear. Reminds me of Paul on Mars Hill in Act 17, telling the Oprah Winfrey crowd of his day about the "unknown god" who really is the Lord of all things, seeing as how He created all things and does not need anything that human hands can give. Here YHWH explains that He is creator, Who creates light and darkness, makes success and disaster, causes the sun to rise and set, tells the rain where to fall, and creates righteousness; THERE IS NO ONE BUT YHWH!

Ponder this. We all have the tendency to think too highly of ourselves and not highly enough of God. We tend to humanize God in our mind so we can live with ourselves. If you claim Christ, make it your goal to see Him as He is, worthy of worship and beyond all you can imagine. Thanos is a gnat! Loki was a puny god. All of these tales tend to "help" us reduce God into one of these lesser things. He will have none of it and neither should we!

Isaiah 45:9-10 (HCSB) “Woe to the one who argues with his Maker— one clay pot among many. Does clay say to the one forming it, ‘What are you making?’ Or does your work say, He has no hands? How absurd is the one who says to his father, What are you fathering? or to his mother, What are you giving birth to?’”

We have a change in scenery, leaving Cyrus behind and picking up a warning to ALL who do not humble themselves before their maker. Woe! is pronounced on those who argue with Him. When you or I complain that life is unfair, unjust, or plain wrong, we are judging God's rule of providence - arguing with our Maker. The familiar metaphor of potter and clay is used to drive the point home: we have NO RIGHT to question or argue with Him. I like the wording of the HCSB here - how ABSURD for a child to question his birth, as if his parents didn't do it right.

Isaiah 45:11-13 (HCSB) This is what the LORD, the Holy One of Israel and its Maker, says: “Ask Me what is to happen to My sons, and instruct Me about the work of My hands. I made the earth, and created man on it. It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have raised him up in righteousness, and will level all roads for him. He will rebuild My city, and set My exiles free, not for a price or a bribe,” says the LORD of Hosts.

YHWH builds on verse 10, turning it around, as that the Holy One of Israel, the One who is its Maker, asking Israel to tell Him about His work. He is the Creator of all things and all people; He stretched out the heavens and will one day roll them up like a scroll! He has raised up Cyrus to rebuild His city and He is telling Israel not to bark at the idea of a pagan king doing them a favor. All of this is the Lord's doing - is it marvelous in your eyes? It should be!

I'll stop here and pick the second half of this chapter later. Think about what God has revealed here in this passage. He is so far more than we can comprehend, God help us to not imagine any less than we're able.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Isaiah 44 - Redemption and Reminder

The 44th chapter of Isaiah is easily divided into three section. The difficulty comes in rightly seeing what the true meaning of each of these three sections is. I see clues in the first section, where God uses terms of tenderness that a parent has towards a child. Ethnic Israel knew God as King (yes, they failed there) but did not in any of their history see Him as Father. This leads me to think the main message of the first part is comfort to the elect. John Gill agrees, seeing the elect of ethnic Israel being the people.

Isaiah 44:1-2 (HCSB) “And now listen, Jacob My servant, Israel whom I have chosen. This is the word of the LORD your Maker who formed you from the womb; He will help you: Do not fear; Jacob is My servant; I have chosen Jeshurun."

This "forming you from the womb" is tenderness that is attached to His eternally elect, as David knew this (Psalms 51) and Jesus used similar language when He desires to gather the children of Israel as a hen does her chicks. The name Jeshurun is a term of endearment (seen in Deut 32 and 33). This may be God speaking to elect ethnic Jews, but his promise in the following verses applies to all who know Him as Lord.

Isaiah 44:3-5 (HCSB) For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your descendants and My blessing on your offspring. They will sprout among the grass like poplars by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.”

National Israel didn't experience this type of earthly renewal; agricultural metaphors were common to describe the blessings of YHWH on His people because they could understand them. The redeemed of God WILL sprout and grow strong - recall what took root in the good soil (Mark 4). The flowing stream points to the river of life in Rev 22. And with one saying "I am the Lord's" and another calling himself Jacob, and another write on himself that he is the Lord's and is Israel - all these echo realities found only in the New Covenant! Jeremiah says in that covenant that everyone will know the Lord and will not have to tell his neighbor "know the Lord!" All who are in Christ are Israel for He is the Israel of God, and we are all children of Abraham according to the promise.

This next section starts out with a wonderful declaration of who God is, which is well received by all who are reconciled to Him.

Isaiah 44:6-8 (HCSB) This is what the LORD, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the LORD of Hosts, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but Me. Who, like Me, can announce the future? Let him say so and make a case before Me, since I have established an ancient people. Let these gods declare the coming things, and what will take place. Do not be startled or afraid. Have I not told you and declared it long ago? You are my witnesses! Is there any God but Me? There is no other Rock; I do not know any.

Here what YHWH has to say! He is the King, redeemer, Lord of the hosts of heaven; He is the first and last. There is no God but Him - we will have commentary on those other gods shortly. As He demanded of Job, He demands of His people here; who among you is like Me? God is the one who called national Israel out of the dust bin of humanity and kept them until the fullness of time. He declared it long ago and has done it; the children of ethnic Israel are witnesses! These other gods cannot declare a thing. So do not be afraid, only believe (Matt 5:36).

Isaiah 44:9-11 (HCSB) All who make idols are nothing, and what they treasure does not profit. Their witnesses do not see or know anything, so they will be put to shame. Who makes a god or casts a metal image for no profit? Look, all its worshipers will be put to shame, and the craftsmen are humans. They all will assemble and stand; they all will be startled and put to shame.

In the segment, man's religion is examined. Those who make idols are nothing, treasuring rust, with witnesses who are as blind and dumb as their gods. Shame is their lot!

Isaiah 44:12-20 (HCSB) The ironworker labors over the coals, shapes the idol with hammers, and works it with his strong arm. Also he grows hungry and his strength fails; he doesn’t drink water and is faint. The woodworker stretches out a measuring line, he outlines it with a stylus; he shapes it with chisels and outlines it with a compass. He makes it according to a human likeness, like a beautiful person, to dwell in a temple. He cuts down cedars for his use, or he takes a cypress or an oak. He lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a laurel, and the rain makes it grow. It serves as fuel for man. He takes some of it and warms himself; also he kindles a fire and bakes bread; he even makes it into a god and worships it; he makes an idol from it and bows down to it. He burns half of it in a fire, and he roasts meat on that half. He eats the roast and is satisfied. He warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm, I see the blaze.” He makes a god or his idol with the rest of it. He bows down to it and worships; He prays to it, “Save me, for you are my god.” Such people do not comprehend and cannot understand, for He has shut their eyes so they cannot see, and their minds so they cannot understand. No one reflects, no one has the perception or insight to say, “I burned half of it in the fire, I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and ate. I will make something detestable with the rest of it, and I will bow down to a block of wood.” He feeds on ashes. His deceived mind has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself, or say, “Isn’t there a lie in my right hand?”

This long paragraph is God's commentary on the futility of vain worship of the work of man. How weary the man is who spends his time and energy on worthless things. Note how the carpenter grows wood that he uses, in part, for good things and, the other part, to make a god for himself. What does YHWH say about them? They do not comprehend and cannot understand. Why is this? Because God has shut their eyes and minds so they cannot see or understand. This should remind us of the people Isaiah was sent to prophecy to - those would have eyes but be unable to see; have ears but be unable to hear; and dull minds that cannot understand. Natural man in inclined to self-worship. Those who hide from general revelation are shut up so they will not be able see and understand the gospel. Jesus did this by speaking in parables, so those who were not supposed to understand would not.

Idolatry comes in many forms and is NOT restricted to worshiping stone and wood idols. I've mentioned large barns several times in this walk through Isaiah; wealth is an idol for many and they know it not, just as that farmer did not. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be brutally honest with ourselves and ask God to reveal any and all idols we may have - and grant repentance while it is yet today.

Isaiah 44:21-23 (HCSB) Remember these things, Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I formed you, you are My servant; Israel, you will never be forgotten by Me. I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like a mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. Rejoice, heavens, for the LORD has acted; shout, depths of the earth. Break out into singing, mountains, forest, and every tree in it. For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and glorifies Himself through Israel.

Here, God returns to tender language to remind His elect to avoid idolatry because they belong to Him. What is said here cannot be said to apply to the whole of national Israel - their transgressions (this word applies specifically to breaking the law) are swept away like a cloud; forgiven. These people have been redeemed - not just from exile in Babylon from sin and hell. This is cause for all - heavens, mountains, forests, and depths of the earth - to rejoice in God for He has redeemed His people and glorified Himself in them.

Isaiah 44:24-28 (HCSB) This is what the LORD, your Redeemer who formed you from the womb, says: I am Yahweh, who made everything; who stretched out the heavens by Myself; who alone spread out the earth; who destroys the omens of the false prophets and makes fools of diviners; who confounds the wise and makes their knowledge foolishness; who confirms the message of His servant and fulfills the counsel of His messengers; who says to Jerusalem, “She will be inhabited,” and to the cities of Judah, “They will be rebuilt,” and I will restore her ruins; who says to the depths of the sea, “Be dry,” and I will dry up your rivers; who says to Cyrus, “My shepherd, he will fulfill all My pleasure” and says to Jerusalem, “She will be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Its foundation will be laid.”

Our chapter ends with a reminder of why YHWH is worthy of worship. He returns to the tender parental language of the first part of the chapter. He is truly the Lord of all, Creator of all, Judge of all. He confounds and destroys the false prophets; He confirms what He has told His people, reminding them Jerusalem will be rebuilt and re-inhabited. God will do these things, even using a pagan king to do His pleasure in the temporal rebuilding of Jerusalem. John Gill advises that this reference to Cyrus "makes way for a particular prophecy concerning him in the next chapter."

Remind yourselves of Who God is, in Christ is our assurance of the salvation that He has purchased for us. Walk humbly with the saints, knowing each of us has been gifted to serve one another. None of us lives to himself and serves God; we are to live unto the Lord Christ Jesus and that is the only way we can be fruitful.