As we saw yesterday, God’s judging work would prepare the way for what Derek Kidner calls a ‘’kingdom of converts.’’ We can be judged for our sins, or we can repent and be forgiven. We get to choose (20).
God’s Spirit and His Word go together. There cannot be a genuine work of the Holy Spirit that dismisses or undermines the importance of the Bible. In a truly Pentecostal or Charismatic church, God’s Word will be honoured and taken seriously. The Scriptures will be searched. They will be faithfully, meticulously and systematically taught.
As a prophet of God, Isaiah was speaking Spirit inspired words. Here God gives him the encouragement that these words will be repeated by his ‘’children’’ and ‘’their descendants from this time on and for ever.’’ (21). There will be an enduring impact.
God’s Word should be in our ‘’mouths’’. We need to speak it to ourselves and to others. It is important to speak in line with it and according to it; to allow God’s wonderful Book to shape our speech. ‘’We must receive the Holy Spirit, and we must utter the words which He puts into our lips.’’ F.B. Meyer: ‘Great verses through the Bible, p.291. Meyer goes on to quote Acts 2:4: ‘’All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak…’’ I heard a preacher say that when a bath gets full, the water goes out through a hole called an ‘overflow’. He went on to say that we are all fitted with an ‘overflow’. It’s a little hole beneath the nose called a ‘mouth’. He argued that if you work your way through the book of Acts you will find that when anyone got filled with the Holy Spirit, they overflowed, in some way, through the mouth.
‘’Here God gives His people two great covenant gifts, His Spirit and His words, and they will not depart from His people. These two gifts are given to us today – through Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift of all.’’
‘’In verse 21, God says His Spirit and His words will not depart from the people’s mouth (see Joshua 1:8). Neither will they depart from the people’s hearts, because the new covenant will be written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). Heart and mouth go together; the mouth expresses what flows from the heart (Matthew 12:34; 15:18; Romans 10:9-10).’’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary, p.1064.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for your mercy to the genuinely repentant. Thank you too for the gift of your Spirit and your Word, showing us a new direction to walk in, and giving us the power to do so.
As we saw yesterday, God’s judging work would prepare the way for what Derek Kidner calls a ‘’kingdom of converts.’’ We can be judged for our sins, or we can repent and be forgiven. We get to choose (20).
Isaiah 59: 1-8
The unavoidably sad truth is that sin separates. The vertical dimension of sin is the most serious of all. Sin separates us from God. But as the passage progresses the horizontal aspect comes ever more clearly into view: sin separates man from man. Isaiah highlights the social injustices the people of his day had been guilty of. In Romans 3:15-17 Paul quotes from verses 7 and 8 to show that everyone is guilty before God (even the Jews themselves).
‘’Your hands are drenched in blood, your fingers dripping with guilt…They trust in illusion. They tell lies, they get pregnant with mischief and have sin-babies…They compete in the race to do evil and run to be the first to murder. They plan and plot evil, think and breathe evil, and leave a trail of wrecked lives behind them. They know nothing about peace and less than nothing about justice.’’ The Message. Sin hurts God and harms people. It divides us from our Maker, and from one another.
But there is another truth that we have to face. It is that sin can separate our prayers (and even fasting, as we saw yesterday) from God. If we cherish sin in our hearts the Lord will not listen. However much we love religious exercises, our prayers are likely to be ineffective if we refuse to wash our ‘muddy’ hands. The people in Isaiah’s day were tempted to lay the blame on God for their difficulties, saying that His arm was ‘’too short’’ to help them or His ear ‘’too dull’’ to hear (1). ‘’But to blame God is always wrong. Whenever God seems distant and His blessings few, we need to look to ourselves to find the cause: it is our own iniquities that separate us from God.’’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.1063.
‘’If God seems far away, guess who moved!’’
‘’God’s hand is unable to work when our hands are defiled with sin. Our prayers accomplish nothing (Ps.66:18), and His power is absent from our lives and ministries.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word, p.488
‘’Look! Listen! GOD’s arm is not amputated – he can still save. GOD’s ears are not stopped up-he can still hear. There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you. Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God. Your sins got between you so that he doesn’t hear.’’ The Message.
It was to bridge that unbridgeable chasm between God and people that Jesus came into the world and died for our sins. His cross is the ‘Bridge’ over that immense gulf. Have you walked across it from darkness to light, and from death to life? You will find there is no other route.
Prayer: Help me Lord God to put down my favourite sins and cling only to Jesus’ cross.
‘’You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.’’ (4b)
There is nothing wrong with fasting. It is part of the normal Christian life. Jesus showed this in His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, saying, ‘’When you fast…’’ (Matthew 6:16). There is no ‘if’ about it; it’s ‘when’. (See also Matthew 6: 2 and 5. Jesus expected His disciples to give, pray and fast. If you want to look at this subject more deeply, I suggest reading John Piper’s excellent book, ‘A hunger for God.’)
However, there is a way of fasting that is totally wrong and Isaiah 58 points this out. Someone who fasts can ‘’seem eager’’ (2b) spiritually, and we may be impressed with their intensity. It as ‘’as if’’ they were very saintly. But God has ‘x-ray’ vision and sees past the appearance of things. ‘’ When you strive to be a spiritual person, you fight the constant battle of ‘’ritual versus reality.’’ It is much easier to go through the external activities of religion than it is to love God from your heart and let that love touch the lives of others.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.488. Here are three ways in which your fasting can be ineffective:
- If you do not turn from your sin. God had been calling again and again to His people through Isaiah; pleading with them to repent. The majority would not. You cannot expect fasting, important as it is, to cut any ice with heaven while you are holding on to your favourite sins. Psalm 66:18 provides an important comment on the whole subject.
- If you still continue to do it your way (3b, 13). This is closely related to the above point. If you go to church on a Sunday (or give yourself to some other special set aside time to seek God), but return home to live as you did before, going your own way and doing your own will, don’t expect any prayer and fasting to bring about the desired change in your circumstances. It doesn’t work like that. Without submission to the Lordship of God you are merely going through an empty religious ritual. Fasting was intended to be a means of self-humbling before God. ‘’The orthodox faith was popular in Judah at that time, and people enjoyed learning the Word and even participating in fasts (vv.2-3). But when the services were over, the worshippers went back to exploiting people and pleasing themselves.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.488.
- If you do not care about issues of injustice in the world and take appropriate action; serving the poor and needy as you have opportunity.
‘’The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground.’’ The Message.
That is all negative. However there is a way in which we can be ‘’heard on high’’ as we pray and fast. We should not miss this point. Those who genuinely seek God with fasting, turning from their sinful ways and their own wilful paths; serving all around them who need their help; such people will experience immense blessing from God (6-14). As Wiersbe says, your life can become a ‘’watered garden, not a dismal swamp.’’
Prayer: I choose not to give up on fasting, but to give up on sin and self-pleasing.
This short passage preaches the gospel. It declares that there can be ‘’peace’’ (19) for both Jews and Gentiles. These are words picked up by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:17. He sees them as applying to the preaching of the good news by Jesus through the church. It’s a message of peace with God made possible by Jesus; and peace with all others who have peace with their Creator through Christ. They are united in Him, in His church: built into ‘’a holy temple in the Lord’’ (Ephesians 2:21). This ‘temple’ is made up of people who are reconciled to God and to each other.
But these verses in Isaiah 57 also imply that not everyone will experience God’s peace. You can’t stay ‘’wicked’’ (20, 21) and enjoy it. Spiritual healing and ‘’comfort’’ (18) are for those who repent. As someone said, ‘’The gospel is bad news before it is good news’’. The bad news is that we are born under the judgment of God because of our sin, and if we do not turn away from wrong we cannot be saved.
Here are two complementary truths about God that seem paradoxical: He is transcendent (15a). He is ‘’the high and lofty One’’ who is so far above us He is beyond our reach. Yet He is also immanent (15b). He is close to us; closer even than breathing. And it is possible for a humbly repentant person to have a close and intimate relationship with Him. Such a person who is truly sorry for his or her sins can know God.
By the time Paul quoted verse 19, something significant had taken place. Jesus had been crucified, and the cross makes all the difference!
‘’There is a way for man to rise to that sublime abode; an offering and a sacrifice, A Holy Spirit’s energies; an Advocate with God.’’
Prayer: Thank you Jesus that you made a way where there was no way.
Although we know that we all have to die, we still sometimes wonder why certain people die; or why they seem, from our perspective, to die prematurely. So here is an interesting angle: do we ever consider what God has taken them from or is sparing them from? Do we pause to think about where He is taking them to? We can be more aware of our loss than their gain (1, 2; see Philippians 1:21-23). These words flow on from words about the ‘blind’ religious leaders, and we need to think about them in that context: ‘’They all look after themselves, grabbing whatever’s not nailed down. ‘’Come,’’ they say,’’let’s have a party. Let’s go out and get drunk!’’ And tomorrow, more of the same: ‘’Let’s live it up!’’ Meanwhile, right-living people die and no one gives them a thought.’’ The Message. You can see that godly people were being removed from a situation that would grieve their souls (see 2 Peter 2:7). They were also being spared many ‘’evil’’ experiences that were to befall a people who were under God’s judgment (3-13); a people who, in the main, had turned to other gods. They had adopted many of the evil, idolatrous practices of the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of the land. A lot of these religious practices involved sexual fertility rites, which were conducted under oaks and other spreading trees (5). Their spiritual adultery showed up in sexual immorality.
Our ‘idols’ may not be images and statues of the ‘’Molech’’ (9) variety. However, if we give ourselves in any way to that which is not God, we will suffer. There will be unwanted consequences. Calvin said that our hearts are idol making factories.Here are four good reasons not to worship other gods:
- There will be a negative impact on your children (5). Some people literally sacrificed their children to Molech. Some Bible scholars think these verses relate to the reign of King Manasseh of Judah. It was under his reign that Isaiah died. Manasseh was the wicked son of the godly Hezekiah. He persecuted the innocent (2 Kings 21:16) and even sacrificed his own son in the fire (2 Kings 21:6). But there are more ways than one to sacrifice your children. When we set them a bad example by bowing down to the gods of this age we are in danger of leading them down the road to Hell. What do our young ones see us living for? Yes, it is a challenging question!
- You will have a deeply unsatisfying and frustrating life, even as you try to cram it full with meaning (10). You will live to the soundtrack of ‘’I can’t get no satisfaction’’, whether or not you care to admit it. ‘’You wear yourselves out trying the new and the different, and never see what a waste it all is. You’ve always found strength for the latest fad, never got tired of trying new religions.’’ The Message.
- There will be the judgment of God upon your works. ‘’Who talked you into the pursuit of this nonsense, leaving me high and dry, forgetting you ever knew me? Because I don’t yell and make a scene do you think I don’t exist? I’ll go over, detail by detail, all your ‘righteous’ attempts at religion, and expose the absurdity of it all.’’ The Message. Because God had ‘’long been silent’’ (11) – that is, He had withheld His judgment, the people had ceased to fear Him. But the truth is that we will all face judgment, and the godly and ungodly will face divergent destinies (13b). You can’t be ‘saved’ if you trust in a false god.
- You will find your gods fail you when you most need them. They will not; cannot answer prayer (13a). ‘’Go ahead, cry for help to your collection of no-gods: A good wind will blow them away. They’re smoke, nothing but smoke.’’ The Message.
Prayer: Thank you that to be with Jesus is better by far. Help us to believe it.
‘Beat you to the prayer meeting!’ What God says is important is important! Two things stand out in this chapter as particularly vital:
- The Sabbath: Although we are not under the law, the Sabbath principle remains an important one for believers now. On this subject I can recommend an excellent book by Pete Scazzero entitled ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.’ God has built into the order of the universe the need for margin in our lives. Without this we will try to cram too much in, and our health will suffer.
- Prayer: In fact, we could say corporate prayer – the prayer meeting: ‘’…and give them joy in my house of prayer.’’ (7). Because many Christians do not correlate joy and prayer in their thinking, the prayer meeting remains ‘the Cinderella of the church’, as one writer dubbed it. It is unloved, unappreciated and neglected. But what joys await us in God’s ‘’house of prayer’’. Some of them are intimated in this chapter:
- The joy of acceptance (3, 6). We Gentile ‘’Foreigners’’ have been ‘’brought near through the blood of Christ’’ (Ephesians 2:13). Because Jesus is our ‘Burnt Offering’; our ‘Sacrifice’ (7), we are ‘’accepted in the Beloved’’ (Ephesians 1:6).
- The joy of holiness (7a). Between the ages of 17 and 18, because of a house move, I travelled to school every day of the week on the bus, and I liked to go upstairs for the better view. Of course, that was where smoking was permitted. Although I was not a smoker myself, my coat wreaked of tobacco smoke. As we live in this world, even though we try to avoid its filthy, sinful pollution, this is the atmosphere that encircles us; the air we breathe. In some ways we are touched by it. But in prayer we inhale the clean fresh air of God’s Holy presence. It’s like being at the peak of a high mountain where the air is so pure. In holiness there is true pleasure. Compare this with Israel’s blind guides who were seeking their pleasures in fleeting things; in poor and pale substitutes. You might say they weren’t just sitting amid the smokers; they were themselves smoking! God had much better things for them on His ‘’holy mountain’’ ; in His ‘’house of prayer’’. But this they rejected, to their own ruin, and that of their people. It is a part of the church’s very identity to be a temple of prayer.
- The joy of praying people into the Kingdom (7b, 8). We Gentiles have been joined to believing Jews in the House of God. But the Lord has still more to gather ‘’besides those already gathered’’. We can know the joy of partnering with God to pray them in.
- The joy of knowledge and understanding (10, 11). There is insight and perspective given to those who seek the Lord. Israel’s ‘’watchmen’’ missed out on this. They were playing when they should have been praying. The need for praying leaders in the church will never go out of date. What joy it is to us when God imparts His wisdom and revelation. If you stay in the smoky atmosphere on top of the bus and never climb prayer mountain your vision will inevitably remain foggy.
The ‘’house of prayer’’ belongs to God, but He calls us to it. Real and lasting joy cannot be divorced from prayer. I have reached a point in my life where I cannot conceive of the joyful life apart from having prayer at the heart of everything. God-centredness and joy go together.
Prayer: Lord pour upon us the Spirit of prayer so that we want to come to your ‘’holy mountain’’.
Isaiah 55: 8-13
‘Let it snow…’ (And let it rain too!) God doesn’t think or work as we do. He is God, so His thoughts and ways are inevitably ‘’higher’’ than ours (8, 9): ‘’As the heavens are higher than the earth’’. So the question is, ‘How will these high thoughts and ways come down to affect us at ‘ground-level’? The answer is, ‘By means of God’s ‘’word’’ ‘(10, 11). His ‘’thoughts’’ and ‘’ways’’ are revealed in His Word. That Word is like ‘’the rain and the snow’’ which falls ‘’down from heaven’’ and is productive in this world, causing growth and fruitfulness. It may seem to be wasted, but it isn’t.There is a huge, indeed immeasurable, gulf between God’s infinite Mind, and our puny, finite minds. How can that be bridged? By means of God’s refreshing Word. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything there is to know, but it does reveal everything God wants us to know; all that we need to know in order to be saved by Him.
So, we can be encouraged by these thoughts:
- God’s prophetic Word is effective: God was going to restore the exiled captives among His people (12, 13). He had said this again and again through Isaiah. What He had said, that He would do. In fact, from our perspective we can say ‘This He has done!’ In these verses we can also catch a glimpse of the ultimate coming of God’s Kingdom, and this He will do. God’s speaking and His working cannot be separated; His Word is as good as His act.
- God’s written Word is effective: It is like rain and snow falling on our hearts, changing the inner (and outer) landscape, making us fruitful and beautiful. People don’t always like rain and snow, and as God’s Word falls on us it can sometimes feel like being caught in unpleasant weather. But His Word goes to work on us and changes us – even when we are not aware of anything much happening.
- God’s preached Word is effective: Generations of preachers have drawn strength from these words. They have visited this well; this oasis in the wilderness and found refreshment. How many times have we heard these words quoted in prayer meetings? They are true. We can count on them. We may not see results from our preaching. Or, we may not see all possible results. But results there will be if we are preaching God’s Word and not using a ‘snow machine’. It’s got to be the real thing.
‘’Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, Doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.’’ The Message.
Prayer: How I thank you Lord that your Word is ‘’living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates…it judges…’’ (Hebrews 4:12). Thank you that it works effectively in our lives to change us into the likeness of Christ.
‘’Come…Listen…Seek…’’ Verse 2 poses a relevant question: ‘’Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?’’ The Message. This has relevance for every day of the year, but it seems especially pertinent as we approach another Christmas. The festive round of over-indulging on drink, food and presents is about to begin. Come 2nd January, people will find that they are no more satisfied than they were last year, or any other. The binge will once more lead to the same disappointing results: feeling flat, fat, and broke (and even in debt.) And all through the year we give our time and efforts to things that cannot fill the inner void. ‘’ Why be content with that which is not real food, which does not truly satisfy? The question is addressed to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, who were becoming complacent; they were getting comfortable in Babylon. And the Lord asks them: Are you really satisfied with the things Babylon has to offer? Is this all you were created for?’’ Tom Hale: The Applied Old Testament Commentary, pages 1058, 1059.In this passage God calls His people to find their deep, true satisfaction in Him alone. The words, originally addressed to the exiles in Babylon as we have seen, have relevance to us today. We are called away from obsession with things that do not fulfil to a profound God-centeredness. The invitation says:
- ‘’Come…’’ (1). Four times in the first verse you read this word. God calls us to come to Him, and our spiritual hunger and thirst will be freely The cost to God was incalculable (Isaiah 53), but the gift to you and me is free. As you read these words in Isaiah, you may also call to mind the words of Jesus (John 4: 10, 13, 14; 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17; John 6:35). What Jesus said must have had a significant Old Testament resonance in the ears of those who heard Him. When God appeared on earth in human form He was still saying ‘’Come’’. It’s been pointed out though that it is hard to give spiritual blessings to those who don’t want them; to give the good news of the gospel to those who are disinterested. There must be ‘thirst’. ‘’Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway-buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money-everything’s free!’’ The Message.
- ‘’Listen…’’ (2b, 3a). See also ‘’Give ear’’ and ‘’hear’’. If we come to God we must also listen to Him, if we are to benefit from being near Him. We have to ‘apply’ ourselves to His truth (as we saw a couple of days ago). ‘’Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words.’’ The Message.
- ‘’Seek…’’ (6, 7; see Jeremiah 29:13, 14). A life of going hard after God begins with repentance and continues down that road. It is not enough to deeply desire God’s blessings; we have to also want to progress in His ways. There is wonderful promise here for the truly repentant. But there is also an urgency; a warning that the ‘door of the ark’ will not always be open. There is a day of opportunity that will pass. So, now is the time to seek the Lord.
If we come to God, listen to Him and seek Him, turning from all He shows us to be wrong, He will make our lives ‘missional’ (5). He will attract people to Himself through us (see Titus 2:9, 10). Ultimately, the promise to David is worked out in Jesus (3; see Acts 13:34), who will bring people from all nations to Himself through the witness of His people (Matthew 28:19.)
Prayer: Lord God, I very much want to take you up on your invitation. So I come to you in order to hear your voice and obey. Please help me to do so.
Another repeated theme in the later chapters of Isaiah is that of great numerical growth (see Isaiah 49:19, 20). It is a growth so significant, indeed so miraculous (‘’barren woman’’), that it takes more than the return from Babylonian exile to account for it. These verses must look toward the coming of the Messiah and the advancement of His Kingdom. Following His suffering and triumph, which we thought about yesterday, we see the outworking of that victory in the world. The Apostle Paul quoted (1) and applied it to the ‘’Jerusalem that is above’’, i.e. the church (Galatians 4:24-28). Let’s not be content with a small vision, but work for, and pray for, and expect the church’s growth.
‘’In Christian terms, the Calvary of ch.53 is followed by the growing church of ch.54 and the gospel call of ch.55.’’ Derek Kidner: ‘New Bible Commentary’, pp.663, 664
Verses 1-3: The little post-exilic community of Jews did grow and spread out to some degree, but these words are now being fulfilled in the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom on earth. ‘’Spread out! Think big!…You’re going to need lots of elbow room for your growing family. You’re going to take over whole nations; you’re going to resettle abandoned cities.’’ The Message.
Verses 4-8: Jerusalem will forget the ‘’shame’’ of her ‘’youth’’ (the slavery in Egypt), and the ‘’reproach’’ of her ‘’widowhood’’ (4 – the exile in Babylon). She has a Husband, her ‘’Maker…the LORD Almighty’’ (5). She was like a ‘’wife deserted’’ (6), but was only ‘’abandoned’’ for a ‘’brief moment’’ for her unfaithfulness. However, God was going to turn things around (7, 8) and bring His wife back into the family home. The separation was never going to be final; it was just with a view to bringing the wayward spouse to her senses; a ‘short, sharp shock’ you might say!
Verses 9, 10: This was a ‘line in the sand’ moment, such as when God promised that He would never destroy the world again by a flood (Genesis 9:11). Here He promises that His ‘’covenant of peace’’ will never be removed (10). He will never stop loving His people. They can count on it.This is the covenant in which the Lord promised to be Israel’s God forever (Genesis 17:7). It includes within it a promise of protection and security – that the spiritual enemies of God’s people will never prevail against them (Matthew 16:18).
Verses 11-15: Here we have a figurative description of Jerusalem following the exile. But it is even more a picture of the ‘’new Jerusalem’’ which will come down from heaven at the culmination of history (Revelation 21:2, 10, 11, 18-21). There is no guarantee that God’s people will not come under attack, but in the midst of that they can know ‘’great…peace’’ (13).
Verses 16, 17: ‘’This is the true strength of God’s city, which is promised not immunity from attack but the unanswerable weapon of truth (17; cf. Lk.21:15).’’ Derek Kidner: ‘New Bible Commentary’, p.664.
Prayer: I thank you Lord Jesus for the working out of your triumph in the world, and for allowing me to be part of it.