Thursday, March 18, 2021

Isaiah 65 - Two Categories of People

This is a relatively long chapter, with much of it describing the differences between the wicked and the godly. One main point the first part brings to us is that God has wrath for the wicked which cannot be escaped; many who are wicked are, as then, people who claim to be His people. Let those who have ears, hear what the Spirit says.


Isaiah 65:1-4 (HCSB) “I was sought by those who did not ask; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said: Here I am, here I am, to a nation that was not called by My name. I spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people who walk in the wrong path, following their own thoughts. These people continually provoke Me to My face, sacrificing in gardens, burning incense on bricks, sitting among the graves, spending nights in secret places, eating the meat of pigs, and putting polluted broth in their bowls."


This chapter opens up with YHWH declaring that someone other than His covenant people had been called to Himself and found Him - though they were not looking for Him, did not ask for Him. In contrast, His covenant people, to whom He was known, rebel and follow the wrong path, their own wisdom. This provokes the Lord, as does their pagan religious practice. Their law said don't speak with the dead, don't eat pork - and they did these things and much more. Law against sin provokes sin. This is why those who say the Decalogue is the rule for the saints or for society miss the mark. Laws against things give the state the authority to punish evil doers, but they do not give the members of society the ability to obey them. These laws can only provoke sin - which is what Paul wrote in Romans 5:20, the law came in to INCREASE the transgressions! This to refute the Jews who had grown to believe they could obey the law and merit God's favor.


Isaiah 65:5-7 (HCSB) "They say, ‘Keep to yourself, don’t come near me, for I am too holy for you!’ These practices are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all day long. It is written before Me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will repay them fully for your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together, says the LORD. Because they burned incense on the mountains and reproached Me on the hills, I will reward them fully for their former deeds.”


Self-righteous people of all stripes believe they are good and do not want anyone to confront them. This is a stench in the nose of the One Who created them and gives them breath. These people think that because judgment is delayed that either God is asleep or that they have escaped His notice or that He doesn't judge anyone. But there is coming a day - Isaiah has revealed this time and time again in this gospel vision. On that day, all who are not in Christ will suffer His wrath - each will be rewarded FULLY for their sinful deeds.


Isaiah 65:8-12 (HCSB) The LORD says this: As the new wine is found in a bunch of grapes, and one says, ‘Don’t destroy it, for there’s some good in it,’ so I will act because of My servants and not destroy them all. I will produce descendants from Jacob, and heirs to My mountains from Judah; My chosen ones will possess it, and My servants will dwell there. Sharon will be a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for cattle to lie down, for My people who have sought Me. But you who abandon the LORD, who forget My holy mountain, who prepare a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will kneel down to be slaughtered, because I called and you did not answer, I spoke and you did not hear; you did what was evil in My sight and chose what I did not delight in.


Using something familiar to the agrarian community, YHWH tells them that there are a few of His people in that community, servants of His - such as Isaiah. Perhaps Peter was thinking of this when he said, "The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). In both places, the elect are the object of His mercy - God does not wait for those how hate Him to change their minds and come to Him. It's abundantly clear throughout the Scriptures what Jesus said "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him."  From Jacob - called Israel - God will deliver children that are His; and it's these chosen ones who will dwell with Him in places Isaiah describes in terms that would delight those who made their living off the land but have deeper meaning for those who know Him spiritually.

Those who abandon YHWH and live for their best life now are heaping up wrath for the day of judgment, destined for the sword because they did not have ears to hear. They are evil in His sight - the only visage that matters - and they will be slaughtered eternally.

Isaiah 65:13-16 (HCSB) Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says: My servants will eat, but you will be hungry; My servants will drink, but you will be thirsty; My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame. My servants will shout for joy from a glad heart, but you will cry out from an anguished heart, and you will lament out of a broken spirit. You will leave your name behind as a curse for My chosen ones, and the Lord GOD will kill you; but He will give His servants another name. Whoever is blessed in the land will be blessed by the God of truth, and whoever swears in the land will swear by the God of truth. For the former troubles will be forgotten and hidden from My sight.

The Word of God is that His people will be well cared for but the wicked will be ever hungry and ever thirsty. These terms brought up memories in their ranks of the promised land - the land of milk and honey God promised His people; they thought that was the end-game; but this description means something heavenly to those with eyes to see it.


Note this back and forth contrast between those who are called His people and those who are not His people. It carries through the Scriptures and Isaiah's gospel. The wrath poured out on the wicked is dire - they will cry out from a broken spirit and be put to death by God for their concern is for self. Let those who think God is nothing BUT love read that passage over again, slowly. God loves His people, His spiritual people; He has NO LOVE for those not in Christ. Yet for all who trust in Jesus, believe on Him and His finished work - God will put their deeds out of His sight and mind. This is blessedness by the God of truth! Every other message is from the god of lies.


The final section in this chapter is rightly titled in HCSB as A New Creation! Smart theologians say chapters 65and 66 form a chiasm, with verse 65:20 in the middle - helpful for proper understanding of the message. Look up chiasm if you are not familiar with the term. Knowing this is not critical but is helpful. I frankly don't see a chiasm as large as two chapters. I can see another literary feature we see in this next section, however: the basic building block of Hebrew poetry - the couplet.


Isaiah 65:17-20 (HCSB) “For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind. Then be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I will create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people. The sound of weeping and crying will no longer be heard in her. In her, a nursing infant will no longer live only a few days, or an old man not live out his days. Indeed, the youth will die at a hundred years, and the one who misses a hundred years will be cursed."

These four verses are said to be two poems, with the first part being YHWH describing and rejoicing over His new creation and the second part Him describing what life thereon will be like for those who are His people. When we consider what the rest of relevant Scripture says about the New Jerusalem, streets of clear gold, pearls as big as large door, walls 200 feet think and 1,400 miles long! This is John's description from Rev 21, alluding to Ezekiel's vision of this city in Ezek 40-41. It is beyond description in human language. The life in that city as described by John is pure bliss - no more sorrow, sin, pain, or death! Isaiah described this in words he and his kinsmen could comprehend. The present cursed age is full of sorrow, sin, pain, and death. Isaiah said life in the New Jerusalem would be empty of weeping and full of long life. The one who dies young is cursed - yet this is life in the New Jerusalem and death is not known, so no one CAN BE cursed. This colorful, poetic language is not meant to taken literally; but are meant to paint a picture of what God has in store for His people.


Another thing to think on: In verse 17 God declares He will create a new heaven and new earth and a new Jerusalem. When He redeems His people He gives them a new name (Rev 2:17) as He makes ALL THINGS NEW! (Rev 21:5)


Isaiah 65:21-22 (HCSB) People will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They will not build and others live in them; they will not plant and others eat. For My peoples lives will be like the lifetime of a tree. My chosen ones will fully enjoy the work of their hands.

Note the first two sentences above - a couplet that repeats the idea that their work will be rewarded and not taken from them. People will build houses and live in them; they will not build and have others live in them. They will plant and eat; they will not plant for other to eat. And the reason for this goodness is that they are God's people and He insures their needs are taken care and their good works are rewarded. Another reference to long life (the man in Psalm 1 - like a tree planted next to a river) and enjoyment in the work YHWH provides. Work now isn't always enjoyable, even though every honest job is a gift from God. In the age to come, all work will be honorable and enjoyable.


Isaiah 65:23-25 (HCSB) "They will not labor without success or bear children destined for disaster, for they will be a people blessed by the LORD along with their descendants. Even before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but the serpent’s food will be dust! They will not do what is evil or destroy on My entire holy mountain,” says the LORD.


Another aspect of life in New Jerusalem - all labor will be successful. Though we have no giving in marriage and, therefore, no child-bearing there, this is simply another metaphor for life without the sorrow and pain of this life. This will be on account of YHWH blessing all His people and being attentive to them - before we call, He hears. Unlike in this age, wherein it took 21 days for Michael to get back to Daniel. The wild animals will be at peace as well - but no rest or peace for the serpent! Nothing and no one that does evil with be allowed on the holy mountain of God, where His New Jerusalem resides.


Saints - here this: We have peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus. No other way. His way, His name, His grace - is the only way. This is the gospel and it's all we have for those who are perishing. Be faithful with His gospel and trust Him to redeem every lost sheep.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Isaiah 64 - the Lament continues

In chapter 63, the Spirit revealed the glory of Christ in the day of judgment. This scene prompted national Israel to cry out to God for mercy; this lament goes on to occupy all of chapter 64. If we fail to join in seek mercy from God, even though our circumstances are different, we are in danger.


Isaiah 64:1-4 (HCSB) If only You would tear the heavens open and come down, so that mountains would quake at Your presence as fire kindles the brushwood, and fire causes water to boil to make Your name known to Your enemies, so that nations will tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome works that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains quaked at Your presence. From ancient times no one has heard, no one has listened, no eye has seen any God except You, who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him.


Chapter 63 ended with God's covenant people asking Him to remember them as such, despite their rebellion. This chapter opens with Israel asking YHWH to reveal Himself to the nations in a similar way He revealed Himself to them on My Sinai - with blazing fire, darkness, gloom, and storm (Heb 12:18) - so they would tremble before Him. As they had done - Hebrews 12:20-21 "for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! The appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling.)"


Israel might well have had this passage in mind: Judges 5:3-5 "Listen, kings! Pay attention, princes! I will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel. LORD, when You came from Seir, when You marched from the fields of Edom, the earth trembled, the heavens poured rain, and the clouds poured water. The mountains melted before the LORD, even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel." There is no god made by man that can hear, see, speak, or think; much less such a god that has or can make all things from nothing; can cause men to fear greatly and wish for death. And yet, men stop up their ears and minds to what creation tells them of this Creator-Judge God. The Son, alone, can look upon Him and not be consumed.


And this God is the one Paul testified of in front of the Oprah Winfry crowd of his day: Acts 17:24-26 "The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live." This is the only God and He demands worship and is, alone, worthy of worship.


Isaiah 64:5-7 (HCSB) You welcome the one who joyfully does what is right; they remember You in Your ways. But we have sinned, and You were angry. How can we be saved if we remain in our sins? All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind. No one calls on Your name, striving to take hold of You. For You have hidden Your face from us and made us melt because of our iniquity.


God's character never changes: He welcomes those joyfully do what is right and remember His way and obey Him. But natural man can do nothing except sin and redeemed man is not capable of perfect obedience; while sin is no longer our master, we are still weak. Isaiah, on behalf of his people, asks the question that rings through history: "How can we be saved if we remain in our sins?" The wrong answer is to rely on self - because all are unclean and even the "good deeds" of the unregenerate man are polluted by his sinful nature. The sins of natural man are his master and they carry him about like a leaf on the ocean. Isaiah leaned on the ancient preacher: Ecclesiastes 7:20 "There is certainly no righteous man on the earth who does good and never sins." God does not reveal Himself to sinners, his wrath against those who are not in the Son is unquenchable, hot, fierce anger against sin.

Isaiah 64:8-12 (HCSB) Yet LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we all are the work of Your hands. LORD, do not be terribly angry or remember our iniquity forever. Please lookall of us are Your people! Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful temple, where our fathers praised You, has been burned with fire, and all that was dear to us lies in ruins. LORD, after all this, will You restrain Yourself? Will You keep silent and afflict severely?

This passage is also filled with statements about YHWH, 8 times You and Your are used to denote YHWH must act if sinners are to be reconciled to Him. The imagery of the clay and potter have been used before by Isaiah and was picked by Paul - there is no way to brush this aside because it is offensive to our flesh. While some are made for honorable use and other made for dishonorable use, the point is man is in no way qualified to participate in his redemption. The only hope man has is to be remade into something honorable, so the potter will look kindly upon him, to call "His people" those who were not His people. If He doesn't, their iniquity will be remembered forever. Contrast this with the redeemed, whose iniquity God promises never to remember! Without His hand of redemption, all things valued by man - cities, gardens, temples - become useless, burned down, ruined by fire. The people will be consumed if He does not relent and pour out mercy.


Saints - do not, I beg you, grow complacent about your walk. We should plead with God to guard us against drifting into mere rote religion, wherein the living faith of Christianity is traded out for something tame, manageable - traditions developed by men that are acceptable to the flesh. Daily we should ask YHWH to stir our hearts, wake us up to the truth of who we are IN HIM! How can that which has died to sin live therein any longer? Joyful obedience to what Christ calls to is what is pleasing to Him - and this He gives us, as He wills and equips us to do that. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit but submit to Him with joy unspeakable, for He will abide in those the great Shepherd has brought into the sheepfold of God.