How Long?

Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly? – Isaiah 64:10-12 ESV

Isaiah 64

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry spanned the reigns of four successive kings in Israel. He had lived long enough to have seen God’s warnings of judgment come true. King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian troops had laid siege to Jerusalem for years and had eventually entered the city, pillaging and burning the temple of God, and taking captive many of the citizens of the city. As Isaiah surveyed the aftermath of all that happened, he knew two thing: They had gotten what they deserved and God was the one who brought it upon them. Their stubborn refusal to turn from their sin and back to God had led to their fall. God had not only allowed the Babylonians to defeat Judah, He had invited them to do so. They were acting on His behalf, as His agents of punishment. Jeremiah had recorded the words of God, warning, “behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation” (Jeremiah 25:9 ESV).

The sad state of affairs in which the people of Judah found themselves had been brought on by their own sin and had been sanctioned by the very God they had refused to obey. And Isaiah knew that as long as God remained angry with them, they had no hope. There was nothing they could do to change their circumstances. Their redemption lay completely in the hands of God. Only He could restore them, which is why Isaiah called out to Him. He knew that as long as God remained silent, the people would remain enslaved, impoverished, hopeless and helpless. It is interesting to note that the people of Judah had refused to obey God and serve Him alone, but now they were having to obey a foreign king and live as slaves to his will. They had rejected the one true King and found themselves serving a pagan, human king. But Isaiah was not willing to accept their current circumstances as final. He turned to the only one who could do anything about it. His prayer was for God’s redemption and restoration of His people.

But when God redeems, He offers more than just release from the guilt of sin. He desires more than just a release from the pain and suffering caused by sin. He wants to restore the relationship necessary for men and women to exist peacefully and pleasantly in His presence. The people of Judah needed more than just release from captivity to Babylon or the physical restoration of the temple and their city. They needed God. They needed their hearts restored. They needed their character transformed. And only God could bring those things about. God’s silence would only mean more suffering. God’s decision to delay His salvation would only prolong their pain. Isaiah knew the people of Judah well enough to know that, in spite of all that they were having to endure, they were hardheaded enough that they would never repent of their sins and return to God. So He was appealing to God to do what only He could do. Save.

All the way back in chapter 44 of Isaiah, God had spoken these words to Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
who frustrates the signs of liars
and makes fools of diviners,
who turns wise men back
and makes their knowledge foolish,
who confirms the word of his servant
and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’;
who says to the deep, ‘Be dry;
I will dry up your rivers’;
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” –
Isaiah 44:24-28 ESV

Just as God had ordained and orchestrated the fall of Judah through the king of Babylon, He was going to one day restore the fortunes of His people and rebuild the temple through another pagan king. God was not done yet. He was not finished with the people of Judah and had not forgotten all the promises He had made to Abraham and David. Judah had to be restored. Jerusalem had to be rebuilt. The temple must be reconstructed. Why? Because one day God’s final solution to man’s sin problem would be born into the tribe of Judah, walk the streets of Jerusalem, minister in the temple courtyard and be crucified outside the city walls. All as part of God’s redemptive plan for the world.

Isaiah would never live to see that day, but he hoped in it and longed for it. So should we. We live in a time when men are enslaved to so much and held captive by the oppressive rule of so many things. Even believers find themselves living as slaves to sin, when they have already been set from its grasps. Our world longs for release from its pain and suffering. As believers we should long for the day of God’s salvation – the Day of the Lord. Our daily prayer should be, “How long?” We should long to know how much longer God will delay before He brings about His restoration and redemption to the world. How long will it be before He sends back His Son to call home His bride, the church? How much longer will He delay before He brings the final fulfillment of His redemptive plan for the world? Only He knows. But we can cry out for His salvation to come. We can long for His redemption to take place. Because only He can bring about the transformation this sin-sick world needs.

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