Sinners In Need of a Savior

14 And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
    remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 For I will not contend forever,
    nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
    and the breath of life that I made.
17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
    I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
    but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
    I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
19     creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
    “and I will heal him.
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
    for it cannot be quiet,
    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
21 There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” Isaiah 57:14-21 ESV

Verse 13 ended with the promise:

But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain. –
Isaiah 57:13 ESV

The Hebrew word translated “refuge” is chacah, and it means “to flee for protection.” This is an open invitation from God to His people offering them to place their hope and trust in Him. But He knew they had options, so He challenged them to make their decision. The next time they found themselves in trouble, they could cry out to Him, or they could turn to their assortment of false gods and see how well they fared.

But God makes it clear that, when deliverance comes, it will come from one place: From His hand. The day was going to come when the people of Judah would hear the long-awaited words, “Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity” (Isaiah 57:14 ESV), and they would come from the mouth of God, not some lifeless idol. And Isaiah differentiates God from the so-called competition by describing Him as “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). He is the transcendent God who is above all. He is not relegated to earth and subject to the whims of men. He is not the product of man’s minds or hands and does not require their help in moving from one place to another. He is also eternal, without beginning or end. Every idol the people of Judah worshiped came into existence because someone took the time to manufacture it. And it would one day decay and fall apart. But not God.

And He alone is holy, totally pure and free from any and all forms of defilement. John reminds us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God’s very character makes Him unmatched and unparalleled. There is no one besides Him.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

Yet, this transcendent, holy, incomparable God has made Himself known to mere men. But only to those who meet a certain condition or requirement.

“I live in the high and holy place
    with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
    and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts. – Isaiah 57:15 NLT

Notice the attributes of those to whom God reveals Himself. They are contrite and humble, crushed in spirit, and marked by repentant hearts. In other words, they are cognizant of their need for God. No pride. No self-righteousness. No arrogant boasting in their own self-earned standing before God. No, the people to whom God reveals Himself are those who are contrite or broken in spirit. They have been crushed by cares of the world and their own efforts at trying to live righteous lives in their own strength. When Jesus delivered His great invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT), He was addressing all those who were worn out and beaten down by trying to earn favor with God through self-effort.

God reveals Himself to the humble, those who recognize their true spiritual condition and their need for someone higher and greater than themselves to save them. And this requirement of humility is found throughout the Scriptures.

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud. – Psalm 138:6 NLT

One’s pride will bring him low,
    but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. – Proverbs 29:23 ESV

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6 ESV

The people of Judah had become prideful and arrogant, thinking of themselves as somehow better than everyone else because of their unique standing as God’s chosen people. In one of the many confrontations Jesus had with the Jewish religious leadership of His day, He warned them, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:9 NLT).  Their status as descendants of Abraham gave them no merit before God. Their Hebrew heritage did not impress God or somehow indebt Him to them.

God was looking for those who would humbly recognize their need for Him. His anger against them was real, and it was perfectly justified. He was just and right to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But He wants them to know that His anger can be abated and assuaged if they will only turn to Him and seek His salvation. That is the essence of the gospel message. Sinful men must reach the point where they are willing to admit their sinfulness and humbly acknowledge their complete inability to earn God’s favor through acts of self-righteousness. They must turn to the sole source of salvation made possible through the grace of God. And the apostle Paul puts it in terms we can understand.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Recognizing God’s holiness and coming to grips with our own inherent sinfulness is the key to experiencing God’s graciousness as revealed through His Son’s sacrificial death on our behalf. Jesus told His disciples, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Lue 5:31-32 NLT).

As long as the people of Judah continued to see themselves as spiritually healthy and in no need of a divine doctor, they would continue to suffer the deadly symptoms of their sin. God reminds the people of Judah about their stubborn refusal to take His punishment of them seriously.

“I was angry,
    so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
    but they kept going on their own stubborn way.” – Isaiah 57:17 NLT

And yet, God delivers the amazing news:

“I have seen what they do,
    but I will heal them anyway!
    I will lead them.” – Isaiah 57:18 NLT

God offers to heal them in spite of them. He promises to lead them even though they had consistently refused to follow Him in the past. But the key to experiencing His healing and help was humility. They were going to have to admit their need for Him. And all that God had been doing to them and around them was so that they might know the reality of their sin and their need for His salvation.

The apostle Peter reminds us of the biblical truth: “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). But he goes on to tell us what to do in response to that truth.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:6 NLT

But what does that humility look like? It is not just a matter of recognizing our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. It involves a daily dependence upon God and a growing recognition of His love for us and His ability to provide for all our needs, cares, and concerns. Peter goes on to say:

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:7 NLT

And God assured the people of Judah, “I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far” (Isaiah 57:18-19 NLT). All they had to do was humble themselves before Him.

But God knew there would be those who refused to acknowledge their sin and admit their need for His salvation. So, He warns them:

“But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
    which is never still
    but continually churns up mud and dirt.
There is no peace for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:20-21 NLT

Like the sea that is never calm, but in a constant state of perpetual upheaval, these unrepentant, prideful, and stubbornly self-righteous individuals would never know the peace that comes through humble contrition and willing submission to “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 NLT). 

Confession of our sin is key to receiving cleansing from our sin. Admission of our guilt is a critical step in experiencing the blessing of God’s grace. Those who refuse to see themselves as sinners will never recognize their need for a Savior. Which is why the apostle John so strongly warns us:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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The Choice Is Yours

But you, draw near,
    sons of the sorceress,
    offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.
Whom are you mocking?
    Against whom do you open your mouth wide
    and stick out your tongue?
Are you not children of transgression,
    the offspring of deceit,
you who burn with lust among the oaks,
    under every green tree,
who slaughter your children in the valleys,
    under the clefts of the rocks?
Among the smooth stones of the valley is your portion;
    they, they, are your lot;
to them you have poured out a drink offering,
    you have brought a grain offering.
    Shall I relent for these things?
On a high and lofty mountain
    you have set your bed,
    and there you went up to offer sacrifice.
Behind the door and the doorpost
    you have set up your memorial;
for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed,
    you have gone up to it,
    you have made it wide;
and you have made a covenant for yourself with them,
    you have loved their bed,
    you have looked on nakedness.
You journeyed to the king with oil
    and multiplied your perfumes;
you sent your envoys far off,
    and sent down even to Sheol.
10 You were wearied with the length of your way,
    but you did not say, “It is hopeless”;
you found new life for your strength,
    and so you were not faint.

11 Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?
Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
    and you do not fear me?
12 I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
    but they will not profit you.
13 When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
    The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain.Isaiah 57:3-13 ESV

After castigating and condemning the watchmen, the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah, God turns His attention to the people. While they had been misinformed and mislead by the false prophets, they were not without a measure of guilt. And God makes it painfully clear what He thought about their behavior towards Him. He addresses them in not-so-flattering terms, calling them “sons of sorcerors, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman” (Isaiah 57:3 ESV). The New Living Translation makes it even more unpleasant, translating verse3 as “you witches’ children, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” And God is not done. he goes on to describe them as “children of transgression, the offspring of deceit” (Isaiah 57:4 ESV).

God is not happy with them. And all these unflattering appellations are tied directly to their practice of idolatry. God is unsparing in His accusations against them. Like a criminal prosecutor in a court of law, God lays out His evidence, providing more than enough proof to convict the people of Judah of their crime and justify their well-deserved punishment.

God accuses them of worshiping their false gods under every oak and green tree they can find and doing so with passion. The Hebrew word translated as “passion” is chamam and it carries a sexual connotation. It can be translated as “inflamed” or “aroused.” To put it in rather graphic terms, the people of Judah “got off” on practicing idolatry. They set up shrines and high places all over the land of Canaan, where they worshiped their false deities and even practiced child sacrifice as part of their passionate adoration of their gods. And God had been very clear in His commands regarding child sacrifice.

“Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the LORD.”  – Leviticus 18:21 NLT

“Give the people of Israel these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living in Israel. If any of them offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech, they must be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:2 NLT

“I myself will turn against them and cut them off from the community, because they have defiled my sanctuary and brought shame on my holy name by offering their children to Molech.” – Leviticus 20:3 NLT

Yet, here was God, generations later, accusing His people of doing exactly what He had told them not to do. They had idols under the trees, in the valleys, on top of the mountains, and just about every other place you could imagine. False gods were ubiquitous in Judah. And in the very act of worship their many false gods, they were proving themselves unfaithful and spiritually adulterous to the one true God. Like a faithful husband speaking to his promiscuous wife, God tells them, “You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies” (Isaiah 57:8 NLT).

Their passion for their false gods was relentless. Many of their gods were the result of political or military alliances with pagan nations. Envoys from Judah would travel long distances to worship the false gods of their potential allies, carrying olive oil and perfume to use as tributes to these idols. God describes them as constantly in search of some god who could provide them what they were seeking. And just when they would start to lose hope, they would discover yet another potential savior in the form of a statue made of stone, wood or precious metal.

“You grew weary in your search,
    but you never gave up.
Desire gave you renewed strength,
    and you did not grow weary.” – Isaiah 57:10 NLT

In the face of God’s whithering charges against them, He poses a question:

“Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?” – Isaiah 57:11 ESV

Obviously, they had not feared God, or they wouldn’t have disobeyed His commands like they had. So, was their unfaithfulness driven by fear of their enemies? Or was it due to fear of their enemies’ gods? Whatever the case, they had not exhited any fear of God, even though He had displayed tremendous patience with them. Now, God was done showing them patience. And, knowing that they would argue with Him and try to present themselves as faithful servants who had done acts of righteousness deserving of His grace and mercy, God breaks the not-so-good news to them.

“Now I will expose your so-called good deeds.
    None of them will help you.” – Isaiah 57:12 NLT

Later on in this very same book, Isaiah will deliver some seriously bad news to the people of Judah, that will blow their concept of self-righteousness out of the water.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
    how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NLT

They had no righteous deeds. Their best deeds done on their best day with the best of intentions were worthless in the eyes of God. He could see into their hearts. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah29:13 NLT). 

So, God offers His disobedient and idolatrous people a challenge. The next time they faced trouble, He suggests that they call on their false gods to save them. And, because God has already made it clear that the next thing that was going to happen to them would be His judgment of them, He was basically taunting them to use their gods to stop Him. But God lets them know the outcome ahead of time.

“The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.” – Isaiah 57:13 ESV

They will prove laughingly impotent. But God says that “whoever trusts in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13 NLT). They could continue to trust in their false gods. They could passionately pursue deliverance from lifeless idols or put their hope in the God of the universe. The choice was theirs, but the outcome of that choice was completely up to God and not up for debate.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Where Are the Watchman?

All you beasts of the field, come to devour—
    all you beasts in the forest.
10 His watchmen are blind;
    they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
    they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
    loving to slumber.
11 The dogs have a mighty appetite;
    they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
    they have all turned to their own way,
    each to his own gain, one and all.
12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
    let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
    great beyond measure.”

The righteous man perishes,
    and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
    while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
   he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
    who walk in their uprightness.
Isaiah 56:9-57:2 ESV

The opening verses of this chapter feature God calling the people of Judah to bring their behavior in line with their beliefs. They claimed to be His chosen people, but their conduct did little to support their God-ordained status. But in light of all that God has promised to do for them in the future, by way of restoration and redemption, He called them to live lives that reveal their gratitude and reflect their desire for holiness.

But now, God points His divine finger at one of the primary sources of Judah’s stubborn refusal to live as the chosen people of God. It was their so-called spiritual leaders. Using blatantly satirical language, Isaiah describes them as blind watchman.  They were responsible for the spiritual care of God’s people, but they were no better than a security guard without sight. His visual impairment would make him unsuitable for the requirement of his job.

And God used the image of the watchman repeatedly in His messages to His people. He told the prophet Ezekiel:

Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. – Ezekiel 33:2-5 NLT

A watchman had one job to do. He was to watch and then warn of coming danger. And this imagery of the watchman was used by God to refer to the spiritual leaders of His people. God had commissioned Ezekiel as His watchman and warned him of the dangers associated with his calling.

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:17-19 NLT

But the watchmen of Judah were spiritually blind and, therefore, unqualified for their role. Their inability to see made them ignorant of the dangers that faced the people of Judah. They were without knowledge of the truth. And many of these men, proclaiming themselves to be spokesmen for God, were filling the ears of the people of God with lies. They were painting a rosey picture of the future and telling the people that all would be well, because they were God’s prized possession. But God had repeatedly warned His people to ignore the words of these liars.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

Isaiah describes these men as “silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming” (Isaiah 56:10 NLT). In other words, they are not only like blind security quards, they are like sleeping watchdogs, who doze through the impending danger, dreaming that all is well. They are worthless and unreliable. But, despite their inability to provide adequate security, these lazy dogs demand to be fed, exhibiting insatiable appetites that are never satisfied.

Isaiah compares them to shepherds who don’t know how to do their job. They were shepherds in name only, lacking in the basic knowledge of what it takes to care for the flock of God. And God delivered some harsh words to these men through the prophet Ezekiel.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

And Isaiah echoes God’s words, accusing the shepherds of Judah of  “all following their own path and intent on personal gain” (Isaiah 56:11 NLT). They could have cared less for the spiritual state of the flock under their care. They were much more concerned about their own comfort and personal pleasure.

“Come,” they say, “let’s get some wine and have a party.
    Let’s all get drunk.
Then tomorrow we’ll do it again
    and have an even bigger party!” – Isaiah 56:12 NLT

And, as a result of their lousy leadership, Isaiah declares, “The righteous man perishes” (Isaiah 57:1 NLT). This seems to be a statement regarding the diminishing number of righteous people in the land of Judah. The Hebrew word translated as “perishes” can also mean “vanishes.” The godly were decreasing in number. The quantity of the faithful was on the decline, with many of them disappearing from the land through captivity. And for those who remained in the land, they would have to endure the wrath of God because of His shepherds had refused to what God had called them to do. These blind, greedy, lazy, self-absorbed individuals were bringing the wrath of God on the people of God because they refused to do the will of God.

And yet, Isaiah provides a much-needed reminder that the truly righteous need not worry, even if their lives end in death. Because “those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die” (Isaiah 7:2 NLT). Remember the offer God made to His people in chapter 55: “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life” (Isaiah 55:3 NLT). A pleas was made to the righteous and the wicked to return to God.

Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. – Isaiah 55:7 NLT

While the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah were busy lining their own pockets and satisfying their own selfish desires, God was pleading with His wayward people to return to Him. He desired that the righteous remain so, even in the face of His coming judgment. But He also longed for the lost and wandering sheep of His flock to return to Him.

The sorry state of affairs in Judah was a combination of many factors that included the sins of the people, but also the silence of the shepherds. They had failed to do their job. Rather than telling the people what they needed to hear, they told them lies that conveyed what the people preferred to hear. And God takes this breach of duty seriously.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for…” – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

Today, as then, many of God’s people are like sheep without a shepherd. They are being led by men and women who are in it for selfish gain. They preach messages that are pleasant to hear, but that lack the authority of God. Rather than act as God’s watchmen, they prefer the role of spiritual cheerleader. And they find themselves preaching to a people who “no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching” and who “follow their own desires and … look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). Far too many of our pulpits are filled with false prophets, who are filling the people with futile hopes (Jeremiah 23:16). .
God is looking for faithful shepherds who will stand in the gap and declare His message of salvation and call to righteousness. May it not be said of our generation what God declared against the people in Ezekiel’s day.

“I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall…but I found no one.” – Ezekiel 22:30 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Behavior and Belief

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
    and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
    and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:1-8 ESV

Belief and behavior. Confession and conduct. However you choose to describe them, there are two unseperable parts to man’s relationship with God. The vast majority of the content of the book of Isaiah has been a stinging indictment against the people of Judah for their failure to live as who they claimed to be: The children of God. They were proud of their heritage and quick to brag about their status as the descendants of Abraham. They knew they were God’s chosen people and never tired of letting others know about their preferred status with the Almighty. But the problem was that they didn’t live like it. Their conduct didn’t reflect their confession. And God has already condemned them for their contradictory lifestyle.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah put it in even more stark terms:

Your name is on their lips, but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:2 NLT

Now, in chapter 56, God calls on the people of Judah to dramatically alter the way they behave.

Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.– Isaiah 56:1 ESV

This sounds very similar to the words written by the prophet Micah.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

But how were they supposed to pull this off? They had a lousy track record of keeping justice and doing righteousness and God has made that fact painfully clear. So, what was going to be different? What had changed? Notice what God tells them: “for soon my salvation will come.” He has spent several chapters telling His people that He would one day redeem and restore them. Yes, they were going to suffer because of their sin and rebellion.  They would end up in captivity in Babylon, but God would eventually return them to the land of promise. And, beyond that, God would one day send His servant, the Messiah, to restore them to a right relationship with Himself.

The prophet Ezekiel recorded the promise of God concerning that day:

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:24-28 ESV

So, what was to motivate their change in behavior? God’s promise of future redemption. Having been told that God had incredible plans in store for them, they were expected to live out their lives in such a way that it reflected their gratitude  for His grace and mercy. The apostle Peter spoke of this very same thing when he wrote:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:1-16 NLT

The people of God, while waiting on the final fulfillment of the promises of God, are to live their lives in keeping with the commands of God. And they are guaranteed to receive a blessing from God when they do so.

“Blessed are those who honor my Sabbath days of rest
    and keep themselves from doing wrong.” – Isaiah 56:2NLT

Obedience brings blessing. But notice that obedience does not bring salvation. God is not telling the people of Judah that He will redeem and restore them if they they “keep justice and do righteousness.” Their efforts at producing holy behavior are not what will bring God’s salvation. In fact, God will end up saving them in spite of them. But with His promise of their future salvation made known to them, they were to respond in grateful appreciation by willingly pursuing those things that bring glory and honor to God. They were to return the promise of His unmerited favor and their undeserved salvation with an unwavering commitment to do what pleases Him.

And God provides His people with some practical examples of what keeping justice and doing righteousness should look like in their everyday lives. He uses two distinct groups of individuals to drive home His point: Foreigners and eunuchs. In both cases, God seems to be referring to those within these two groups who have aligned themselves with the people of God and become worshipers of Yahweh. But, while these individuals could become followers of Yahweh, they were never really treated as genuine members of the family of God. They were still considered outsiders. A eunuch was not allowed to enter the Temple because He had violated God’s laws as outlined in Deuteronomy 23:1-8. But the Jews had taken things too far and were guilty of treating these two groups of people harshly and unjustly. They ostracized them and looked down on them. Rather than treating them as fellow worshipers of Yahweh, they looked own on them as damaged goods. But God wants His people to see things from His perspective. These foreigners or Gentiles, who sought to worship and honor Him, by obeying His laws and keeping His Sabbath, were to be made welcome in His family.

The day is coming, God reminds His people, when both Jews and Gentiles will worship Him in spirit and truth. The faithful and obedient Gentile will enjoy the same eternal blessings as the faithful and obedient Jew.

“I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem
    and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. ” – Isaiah 56:7 NLT

But again, it will not be their faithfulness and obedience that brings about God’s favor and future blessings. It will be the result of God’s gracious favor. Paul makes it clear that the future salvation to which God is referring in these verses will be based on the saving grace of God, as made possible through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile. – Romans 1:16 NLT

God’s redemptive plan is all-inclusive. It will include His chosen people, the Jews, but also the Gentiles. It will include eunuchs, prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, farmers, governors, and former Pharisees.

For the Sovereign Lord,
    who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says:
I will bring others, too,
    besides my people Israel. – Isaiah 56:8 NLT

So, if God is going to graciously include all in His plan of redemption and future restoration, how much more so should we embrace all those He brings into our lives as our spiritual brothers and sisters? Based on  God’s promise of future salvation, we are to live our lives in such a way that our conduct reflects our convictions. Our behavior should let the world know that we believe all that God has promised to do for us. So, as a result, we willingly and gladly obey His call to “Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Come!

1 “Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
    and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 55:1-13 ESV

This chapter is an open invitation from God Almighty. In light of all that He has said He will do and the work His servant will accomplish on His behalf, God calls the people of Judah to return to Him. Five times in the first three verses, God invites them to “come!” And if they accept His invitation, they will experience the many benefits that accompany a restored relationship with Him. They will satisfy their thirst. And God is not talking about man’s physical need for water. As Jesus told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14 ESV).

Like His Son, God the Father is offering a permanent solution to the spiritual drought that has plagued mankind since the fall. But this was not the first time God had offered to quench the thirst of His people. In fact, He had been a source of living water to the descendants of Abraham from the very beginning of His relationship with them. Yet, they had decided to seek substitute sources for that which God offered. And in the book of Jeremiah, we have God’s indictment against their actions.

“…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:13 ESV

Now, in Isaiah 55, we see God responding to the stubbornness of His people with yet another invitation to come and drink. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” What exactly are these waters of which God speaks? Where are they? In the book of Revelation, the apostle John describes seeing the New Jerusalem, and in it, what he says was “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city” (Revelation 22:1 ESV). And growing along the banks of this river, John saw the tree of life – not one, but many – and these trees will yield 12 different kinds of fruit, and their leaves will bring healing to the nations.

The closing chapters of John’s apocryphal book describe the final days of the Tribulation, which will end with the return of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom. And John records a message from the victorious Christ that offers one more promise to permanently quench mankind’s thirst for free.

“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” – Revelation 21:6 ESV

What God the Father and His Son are offering is absolutely free. It comes at no cost to those who are willing to accept it for what it is: A gracious gift. But it is not that the gift is without value. As the apostle Peter makes quite clear, it came at a high price.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV

And the apostle Paul further clarifies the value of this gift when he states, “God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT). The gift God offers has great value, but it costs the recipient absolutely nothing. And yet, the people of Judah were guilty of building cisterns, man-made religious systems, in a vain attempt to replicate what only God can offer. But their cisterns proved to be cracked and worthless. Here was God offering them the real thing for free, and they were busy wasting time, money and energy pursuing poor substitutes. And, exposing the absurdity of their actions, God asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2 ESV). He offers them everything they need, at no cost, but they seem intent on throwing their money away on that which cannot satisfy.

So, He invites them again to come to Him. He even offers to make with them a new covenant, an everlasting covenant. The prophet Jeremiah wrote about this new covenant.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” – Jeremiah 31:31 ESV

And God describes the unique nature of this future covenant with His people.

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 ESV

This new covenant will reflect the kind of love God had for David. He prospered David and made him king over a great nation. And just as David conquered many nations and ruled over them, so will the people of Judah. This promise is particularly significant when you consider the current state of affairs in Judah when Isaiah penned these words. They were in a bad spot. They were surrounded by enemies. They were threatened with destruction and powerless to do anything about it. But, here was God promising, “You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey” (Isaiah 55:5 NLT). And it will all be the work of God.

But Isaiah warns the people to act. He calls them to take advantage of God’s gracious invitation.

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

And, knowing that the people of Judah were going to find His offer hard to believe, God reminds them that He operates according to a different standard. His way of doing things was going to be alien to them. His methods were going to appear more like madness to them. But they needed to believe that His word, like the rain He sends from heaven, always accomplishes all that He intends. They may not understand or even like His methods, but they could not argue with the results. And God assures them that His word, like rain from heaven, “shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 ESV).

And God describes a future scene marked by great joy and celebration. These images picture a time of rejuvenation and restoration. And this is not the first time Isaiah has described this as-yet-unfulfilled day.

Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
    The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
    and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
    as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
    the splendor of our God. – Isaiah 35:1-2 NLT

I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.
    I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.
I will fill the desert with pools of water.
    Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.
I will plant trees in the barren desert—
    cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine. – Isaiah 45:18-19 NLT

For I will pour out water to quench your thirst
    and to irrigate your parched fields.
And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants,
    and my blessing on your children. – Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God is inviting His rebellious people to accept His gracious invitation to return to Him so that they might one day enjoy the pleasures of both literal and living water. He wants them to experience the joy that will be found in the future kingdom He has planned, a place of abundant fruitfulness and unending fellowship with He and His Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Your Maker Is Your Husband

1 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
    break forth into singing and cry aloud,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
    and your offspring will possess the nations
    and will people the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
    be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
    says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
    but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
    I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“This is like the days of Noah to me:
    as I swore that the waters of Noah
    should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
    and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

11 “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
    behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
    and lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of agate,
    your gates of carbuncles,
    and all your wall of precious stones.
13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
    and great shall be the peace of your children.
14 In righteousness you shall be established;
    you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
    and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
15 If anyone stirs up strife,
    it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
    shall fall because of you.
16 Behold, I have created the smith
    who blows the fire of coals
    and produces a weapon for its purpose.
I have also created the ravager to destroy;
17     no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:1-17 ESV

This chapter speaks of the coming blessings of God, made possible by the suffering servant of God. The content of these verses is directed at the people of Judah and is intended to encourage their hope and trust in God, even in the midst of their present circumstances. God has clearly shown them that He has a long-term plan for them. While they would suffer because of their rebellion against Him, they would not be completely or permanently abandoned by Him. And, He comforts them by guaranteeing His commitment to them.

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with great compassion I will take you back.
In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.
    But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer. – Isaiah 54:7-8 NLT

It is interesting to note that, in the 17 verses that make up this chapter, God is referred to by a range of different names. He is called their “Maker,” the one who fashioned them out of nothing. Their very existence was His doing. And not only had God given life to each and every Hebrew, He had created the nation of Israel to which they belonged.  And then He had made them His wife. He had betrothed Himself to the people of Israel. We see the language of the marital covenant reflected in Exodus 19 when God called them into a special relationship with Him.

“‘And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

And the people had responded to His proposal by declaring, “All that the Lord has commanded we will do!” (Exodus 19:8 NLT). And yet, the bride would prove to be unfaithful. She would not keep the covenant she made with her Husband. In fact, God later indicts His wife, accusing her of adultery.

“If a man divorces his wife
and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife,
he may not take her back again.
Doing that would utterly defile the land.
But you, Israel, have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods.
So what makes you think you can return to me?”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:1 NET

And yet, just a few verses later, God calls on His bride to do just that.

“Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master.” – Jeremiah 3:14 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “master” was actually used as a play on words. It is ba`al, and you can see its similarity to the name of the pagan God, Baal. But what is even more significant is that the Hebrew word ba`al can be translated as “husband.” God was Israel’s master because of His role as their husband. And, as their husband, God had remained faithful to His covenant promises. He had not wandered or committed spiritual adultery. He had not chosen another bride. And the text goes on to explain why. Because He is the “Lord of hosts” and “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 54:5 ESV). He is mighty in power and morally pure. This is what made His decision to wed Israel all that more remarkable. And it is because He is the Lord of hosts and the Holy One of Israel that He will keep His covenant promises to them.

The book of Deuteronomy emphasizes the unique relationship between God and the people of Israel.

For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure, His covenant wife.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Israel had not been more beautiful. The had not come with a sizeable dowry. There was no benefit to God in this relationship. He wed Himself to her because of the promise He had made to Abraham.

“I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” – Genesis 17:7 NLT

God, Israel’s faithful Husband, would become their kinsman-Redeemer, buying her back out of her slavery, which had happened as a result of her infidelity. This strange relationship between God and the people of Israel is outlined in the book of Hosea, where the prophet is told by God to marry a prostitute and bear children with her. Then, when Hosea’s wife proves unfaithful and falls back into prostitution and, eventually, becomes enslaved, Hosea is commanded by God to redeem her from her slavery.

And God will use this real-life scenario to illustrate His relationship with the people of Israel. He even uses the wordplay mentioned earlier, cleverly revealing the uncomfortable similarity between ba`al (husband) and Baal (a false god).

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.” – Hosea 2:16-17 ESV

The day was going to come when Israel would no longer confuse their true Master or husband with the false gods of the pagan nations. They would no longer prostitute themselves to a host of other gods, breaking their covenant promise with their one true Husband. Why? Because God would call them back. He would restore them.

For the Lord has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
    says your God. – Isaiah 54:6 ESV

And God confirms this commitment when He tells them: “my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed” (Isaiah 54:10 ESV). And verses 11-17 contain an amazing account of how God will bless His wayward wife, showering her with gifts and His goodness, all in spite of her unfaithfulness.

While the peoples of Israel and Judah were currently experiencing affliction, all as a result of their unfaithfulness to God, Isaiah assures them that a day was coming when they would be redeemed and restored by God. And the imagery in these verses portrays a beautifully restored and repopulated city of Jerusalem. The walls, battlements, and foundations are described as being made of precious stones. The city is filled with children who are being instructed in the ways of the Lord. It will be a time of great peace, free from oppression and fear. This seems to coincide with the New Jerusalem, as seen by the apostle John and described in the book of Revelation.

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” – Revelation 19:9-11 ESV

Jerusalem becomes the symbol of the bride, the nation of Israel. It will be the home where God will dwell with His people. But more important than the physical description of the city is the description of its two primary occupants:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. – Revelation 19:22-23 ESV

Isaiah 54 is a prophetic promise outlining God’s intentions toward His covenant wife, Israel. At the time at which Isaiah penned this chapter, Israel and Judah were barren, desolate, afflicted, and facing more of the same. But God was reassuring them that He would remain faithful. He would be unwavering in His marital vows, even to the point of redeeming His wayward wife out of captivity and restoring her to a right relationship with Himself. And God closes the chapter with His personal guarantee to do all that He has promised.

“This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” – Isaiah 54:17 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Suffering Servant

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV

This is, arguably, one of the most significant chapters in the entire Bible. It actually extends from verse 13 of the previous chapter and provides an amazing portrait of the suffering servant: Jesus Christ. Chapter 53 of Isaiah is quoted by the New Testament authors more than any other section of Scripture. And you can see why they aligned themselves with this remarkable section of God’s Word, because in it is contained the quinticential description of Jesus as the suffering servant of God.

For anyone familiar with the New Testament account of Jesus’s life, it would be difficult to read this chapter in Isaiah and not see a clear and compelling portrait of the Jesus and His crucifixion. He is described as being marred in appearance, despised, rejected, pierced, crushed, wounded, oppressed, afflicted, and burdened with the sins of mankind. The amount of detail provided in these verses is difficult to fathom, when you consider that Isaiah penned these words more than seven centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.

The descriptions of Jesus in this passage are far from flattering. He is portrayed as a yowneq, which is the Hebrew word for a small shoot or suckling. It refers to a small sprout that appears after a tree has been cut down. It is an unexpected shoot that appears out of nowhere in dry ground because of the presence on an unseen root. Isaiah referred to this aspect of Jesus earlier in his book.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. – Isaiah 11:1 ESV

In that chapter, Isaiah describes Jesus, the shoot, as having power and authority. He will come as a conquering King, not a suffering servant.

…and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:4-5 ESV

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people. – Isaiah 11:10-11 ESV

But the Jesus of Isaiah 53 is quite different. The Jesus who came to earth as a man, in His incarnate form, was anything but beautiful and physically impressive. In fact, Isaiah says, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2 NLT). He didn’t have a charismatic personality, come from an influential family or wield  a lot of power.  Born in relative obscurity in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus spent His childhood in the backwater town of Nazareth. He was the adopted son of a lowly tradesman, and spent the early years of His adulthood living at home and working alongside His father.

And even when Jesus began His earthly ministry, He would do so without a lot of fanfare or noteriety. And while He received the glowing endorsement of His Heavenly Father at the commencement of His ministry, things did not end well for Him. Isaiah describes Him as “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT). During the 3-1/2 years of His earthly ministry, Jesus encountered far more rejection than He did acceptance. The Jewish religious leaders hated Him with a passion. The majority of the Jewish nation, while enamored with His miracles and amazed by His teaching, would end up rejecting His claims to be their long-awaited Messish.

And Isaiah fast-forwards into the closing days of Jesus’ earthly existence, describing events associated with His eventual trials and crucifixion. Speaking in the past-tense, Isaiah says the suffering servant, “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The Jewish people believed that Jesus died for His own sins. He was accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy because He had claimed to be God. And the Jews “thought his troubles were a punishment from God” (Isaiah 53:4 NLT). But Isaiah clears up the confusion, declaring that Jesus “was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). Don’t miss the significance of this verse. It was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born and yet, it perfectly describes the details associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

And, just in case we miss his point, Isaiah stresses that Jesus died because of our sins, not His own.

Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 ESV

Men were the ones guilty of straying from God, walking away from His love and faithfulness. And yet, Jesus was the one who died in their place. And like an innocent sheep being led to the slaughter, Jesus didn’t utter a word in His own defense. Mark describes the fulfillment of this prophecy in his gospel account.

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. – Mark 14:60-61 NLT

Jesus would end up unjustly condemned, sentenced to death, and stripped of life, without a single descendant. His life was cut short, having done nothing to deserve the death He suffered. And He would suffer the ignominy of having to be buried in a borrowed tomb. The gospel writers provide us with the fulfillment of this prophecy when they describe Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for the right to bury the body of Jesus in his own tomb.

And Isaiah delivers the amazing part of this entire story. The death of the suffering servant was all the plan of God Almighty. It had been the will of God from the very beginning.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

None of what happened to Jesus took place outside the divine will of God. It had all been a part of His sovereign plan. God had a method to His seeming madness. What Isaiah is describing had to have sounded farfetched and difficult to understand from the perspectives of the Jews in his audience. Why in the world would God do something so heinous to His own servant? What could be remotely redeeming about any of this? And the answer would be, “Everything.” The suffering servant would eventually recognize the wisdom behind God’s plan.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about this passage is its undeniable accuracy. So much of what we read in these verses was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. He lived out these verses to the smallest detail. And because of His obedience to the will of God, Jesus was exalted.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. – Isaiah 53:12 NLT

Jesus hung on the cross, bracketed by the two “rebels” who were crucified on either side of Him. And Jesus went to that cross willingly, not begrudgingly. The apostle Paul describes what happened because of Jesus’ willing submission to His Father’s redemptive plan for mankind.

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT

The people of Judah were facing the prospect of some intense suffering, all as a part of God’s will concerning them. And God wants them to realize that this plan was to be embraced, not rejected. Like the suffering servant, they were to trust God for their future and submit to His will. If they would only listen, they would be exalted at just the right time. God’s will for Jesus included suffering and, eventually, death. But it also included exaltation and glory. God always has a purpose behind His actions. And while the people of Judah were having a difficult time understanding why God was bringing His judgment on them, He wanted them to rest in His sovereign will for them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Your God Reigns!

1 Awake, awake,
    put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
    O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
    the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
    be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.

For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there;
    touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,
    you who bear the vessels of the Lord.
12 For you shall not go out in haste,
    and you shall not go in flight,
for the Lord will go before you,
    and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand. Isaiah 52:1-15 ESV

There are times in life when it is difficult to imagine God sitting on His throne and ruling in unparalleled power and sovereignty. We look at the circumstances surrounding us and see no signs of His presence or power. The world appears to be in a state of chaos. The enemies of God seem to hold the upper hand. Righteousness looks as if it is on the wane, while wickedness spreads like a cancer through the land. Immorality runs rampant and injustice prevails. People call good evil and evil good. And, it appears as if God is going nothing about. Either because He can’t or because He doesn’t care.

But Isaiah 52 extends to the people of God, in every generation, a much-needed wake up call. This particular message is directed at Zion, the holy mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem sat. It is a call to the people of Judah, but it is timeless in nature. The situation in which they found themselves was unique to them but, at the same time, universal. They were facing difficult days and wrestling with strong feelings of doubt regarding God’s involvement in their circumstances. Which is why, in chapter 51, they had extended their own wake up call to God.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

From their vantage point, it appeared that God was the one who had fallen asleep on the job. The evidence was all around them that God had either abandoned them or simply forgotten all about them. But their perspective was skewed and their conclusion was wrong. Not only was God there, He cared, and He was going to act on their behalf. But, as we have seen, His intervention into their difficulties was going to be on His schedule and according to His divine plan, not theirs. He knew what was best and He was going to do what needed to be done at just the right time – no sooner or later. And, they were going to have to trust Him.

Salvation comes easy to God. It requires no effort on His part. He doesn’t even break a sweat. Which is why He told the prophet, Jeremiah, “I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 NLT). Which is the same thing God said to Abraham when Sarah had laughed at His announcement that she would bear a son, in spite of her barrenness

“Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” – Genesis 18:14 NLT

It is the same message Jesus conveyed to His disciples when they had asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” He responded, ““With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

The problems facing the people of Judah were not a problem for God. In fact, He is the one who had sovereignly ordained each and every circumstance in which they found themselves. The Assyrians and Babylonians had been instruments in His hands. The fall of Judah to the Babylonians had been His doing. Their 70 years of captivity were part of His divine plan for them. And, just as God had found it quite easy to bring His judgment upon the people of Judah, He would find it just as easy to bring about their salvation. The 800-pound gorilla in the room was not God’s lack of power, but the peoples’ lack of faith. They didn’t trust God.

Now, God addresses the people of Judah in their captive state – in the midst of one of darkest days of their corporate history.

Remove the chains of slavery from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.
For this is what the Lord says:
“When I sold you into exile,
    I received no payment.
Now I can redeem you
    without having to pay for you.” – Isaiah 52:2-3 NLT

Just as no one had forced God to sell the people of Judah into slavery, no one would coerce or bribe Him to redeem them. He would act according to His own divine will.

The truth was, that the people of God had a track record of finding themselves in difficult situations. Generations earlier, Jacob and his family had willingly sought shelter in Egypt, in an attempt to escape the famine in Canaan. But they ended up enslaved to the Egyptians and had to be rescued by God. Centuries later, when they had occupied the land, they found themselves harassed by the Assyrians, and the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and deported as slaves.

And hundreds of years later, the southern kingdom of Judah would find itself living in captivity in Babylon, enslaved once again and crying out in despair. Their captors would mock the name of God, declaring their false gods to be superior in strength. And even the Jews would end up blaspheming the name of God by failing to trust in His word and rely on His covenant faithfulness. Their wailing and moaning would be a visible sign of their lack of faith. And yet, God tells them:

“But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.” – Isaiah 52:6 NLT

And the following verses contain a powerful song of praise from the lips of Isaiah as he considers the incredible nature of God’s promise of redemption.

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 ESV

Don’t miss what Isaiah is saying here. The key to the salvation of God’s people was the fact that God reigns. He is in complete control of all things. He is the ruler over all the earth. He is final determiner of all that happens. God is not only powerful, He is ALL powerful. And, as far as Isaiah is concerned, the salvation of the Lord is as good as done because He reigns over all.

The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52:10 ESV

God would one day return a remnant of the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon. But there is an even greater deliverance foreshadowed here. This passage predicts an even more remarkable day when the people of God experience release from their captivity to sin. Look back on verse 7 and consider the significance of what is conveyed in its words.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!

Now fast forward to Paul’s letter to the Romans. He picks up on this very same passage when addressing the Roman believers about their need to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost in their community.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. – Romans 10:14-17 ESV

The release of the people of Judah from their physical captivity in Babylon did nothing to restore their broken relationship with God. They remained stubbornly unfaithful and persistently inconsistent in their obedience to and worship of Him. Sin still plagued their lives. Immorality and injustice remained a constant part of their individual and corporate existence.

But one day, God would send His Son to remedy their true problem: Their slavery to sin. And, He would do it by sending His Son. In the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah is given a vision of the coming Messiah, God’s servant who “shall be high and lifted up,  and shall be exalted” (Isaiah 52:13 ESV). In these three verses we have a prophecy concerning Jesus and His incarnation, crucifixion and ultimate glorification, as described so eloquently by the apostle Paul.

…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, came to earth in order to provide sinful mankind with a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. It required His death. It also demanded His resurrection and ascension. And it will include His eventual return to earth to consummate God’s redemptive plan for the earth and for His people, Israel. And all of this will take place because our God reigns, whether we see it, believe it, or place our trust in it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wait For the Lord

16 “And I have put my words in your mouth
and covered you in the shadow of my hand,
establishing the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

17 Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
18 There is none to guide her
among all the sons she has borne;
there is none to take her by the hand
among all the sons she has brought up.
19 These two things have happened to you—
who will console you?—
devastation and destruction, famine and sword;
who will comfort you?
20 Your sons have fainted;
they lie at the head of every street
like an antelope in a net;
they are full of the wrath of the Lord,
the rebuke of your God.

21 Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
who are drunk, but not with wine:
22 Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more;
23 and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
who have said to you,
‘Bow down, that we may pass over’;
and you have made your back like the ground
and like the street for them to pass over.” Isaiah 51:16-23 ESV

Back in verse 9, the people of Judah called on God to wake up from His apparent slumber. From their perspective, it appeared as if God was asleep or unconcerned about their dire circumstances. But in verse 17, God turns the tables, calling on the people of Judah to wake up. He reminds them that He is the one not only made the heavens, but had chosen them to be His people. Why would He abandon His own? No, they had fallen asleep on the job and had failed to do His will. And now, they were suffering the consequences for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. This wasn’t a case of spiritual narcolepsy. They were hungover from wine of God’s wrath.

You have drunk the cup of the Lord’s fury.
You have drunk the cup of terror,
tipping out its last drops.” – Isaiah 51:17 NLT
They were punch drunk, hammered and hungover from having imbibed the divine anger of God Almighty. God describes Judah as bereft of their senses and of children. They were like a heavily intoxicated individual who has no one to assist them in getting home safely. All their children are gone.
“Not one of your children is left alive
to take your hand and guide you.” – Isaiah 51;18 NLT
The picture here is bleak. Judah is described in stark terms that reveal the devastation brought on them by God’s judgment. And they had received exactly what they deserved. No one felt sorry for them, including God. They had not been innocent victims, but had been willing participants in the rebellion that had brought on them the judgments of God. And their sins have impacted the lives of multiple generations.
“For your children have fainted and lie in the streets,
    helpless as antelopes caught in a net.
The Lord has poured out his fury;
    God has rebuked them.” – Isaiah 51:20 NLT
And yet, God provides them with powerful words of comfort.
See, I have taken the terrible cup from your hands.
    You will drink no more of my fury.” – Isaiah 51:22 NLT
God acknowledges that they are afflicted and totally incapacitated by the fury of His wrath. But God reveals that a day will come when His anger is abated, and He speaks in the past-tense, as if it has already occurred. It is as good as done.
And God lets them know that their fortunes will take a dramatic and unexpected turn for the better. Instead of being the sufferer, they will watch as all those nations that had tried to destroy them come under the vengeance of God.
“Instead, I will hand that cup to your tormentors,
    those who said, ‘We will trample you into the dust
    and walk on your backs.’” – Isaiah 51:23 NLT
This message from God has long-term ramifications, that reach far beyond the immediate context of Isaiah and the generation to whom he ministered. God is revealing prophetic details that extend into the future and encompass generations of Israelites. Yes, they would eventually suffer at the hands of the Babylonians, but in time the Jews would find themselves suffering at the hands of other nations and in other centuries. Theirs would be a history marked by constant abuse and unrelenting persecution. For generations, they would be a nation without a homeland. During WWII, they would become pariahs in virtually every country in which they resided. In Germany, the Nazis would persecute and murder to the point of virtual extension. The viscious pogroms of communist-controlled Russia would carry on the unrelenting efforts to eliminate the Jews as a people group. And, during the seven years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will do everything in his power to eradicate every single Jew from the face of the earth.
And yet, because they belong to God, they are still here. And, even the Antichrist, backed by the power and authority of Satan himself, will not be able to destroy God’s people or prevent Him keeping His promise to redeem and restore them to a relationship with Him.
In spite of all that was happening around them and to them, God was reminding the people of Judah that He was far from done with them. Much was going to happen in the not-so-distant future. But even more would take place in the centuries ahead. And God did not want them to lose hope. He desired that they have a long-term perspective based on His faithfulness and His plan for their eternal well-being as a nation. The prophet Habakuk penned these words, expressing his intention to trust in God no matter what happened around him, and they should provide inspiration and encouragement to every child of God in every generation.
“I will wait quietly for the coming day
    when disaster will strike the people who invade us.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights.” – Habakuk 3:16-19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

His Righteousness Draws Near

1 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
    you who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
    and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
    that I might bless him and multiply him.
For the Lord comforts Zion;
    he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
    her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

“Give attention to me, my people,
    and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
    and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
My righteousness draws near,
    my salvation has gone out,
    and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
    and for my arm they wait.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
    and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
    nor be dismayed at their revilings.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
    and the worm will eat them like wool,
but my righteousness will be forever,
    and my salvation to all generations.”

Awake, awake, put on strength,
    O arm of the Lord;
awake, as in days of old,
    the generations of long ago.
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
    who pierced the dragon?
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
    the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
    for the redeemed to pass over?
11 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

12 “I, I am he who comforts you;
    who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
    of the son of man who is made like grass,
13 and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
    who stretched out the heavens
    and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
    because of the wrath of the oppressor,
when he sets himself to destroy?
    And where is the wrath of the oppressor?
14 He who is bowed down shall speedily be released;
    he shall not die and go down to the pit,
    neither shall his bread be lacking.
15 I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name.” Isaiah 51:1-15 ESV

Three times in the first eight verses, God calls on His people to hear what He has to say. But He specifically addresses the small remnant made up of those who remained faithful to Him – those who still knew and pursued righteousness.

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
    you who seek the Lord.” – Isaiah 51:1 ESV

“Give attention to me, my people,
    and give ear to me, my nation.” – Isaiah 51:4 ESV

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    the people in whose heart is my law.” – Isaiah 51:7 ESV

And God explains why the should listen to Him. First of all, He is the one who made them. He called one man, Abraham,  and from him created a great nation. Then God blessed them, providing them with Zion, the mountain on which Jerusalem sat and from which David reigned. Secondly, they should listen to Him because He is the Creator-God, the maker of all things. He is powerful and fully capable of sending His salvation to rescue them. And that same power He used to create the universe will be used to destroy all the He made. It all will be part of His redemptive plan for His creation. Finally, God explains that they should listen to whata He has to say because He is not yet done. They have no reason to fear man because God is on their side and He has an infallible plan of salvation already in place. He assures them, “my righteousness will last forever” (Isaiah 51:8 ESV).

That small, but faithful remnant of those who still believed in and waited on God, were being encouraged to keep their eyes focused on Him. Even though things looked bleak and the prospects for Judah were anything but good, God was faithful. They were His chosen people and He had promised to protect and provide for them. But He had also promised to punish them if they refused to obey Him. They were going to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians, but God would restore them. He would return them to the land and, while they would be small in number, He would once again bless them and multiply them. All in keeping with His promise to Abraham.

Their greatest danger would not be the Babylonians, but their tendency to look at their temporary circumstances and draw the wrong conclusions. Once they found themselves in captivity in Babylon, even the faithful would be tempted to question God’s covenant promises. But God tells them to see things from His perspective.

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and they who dwell in it will die in like manner.” – Isaiah 51:6 ESV

The apostle Peter warned of this coming day.

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. – 2 Peter 3:10-13 NLT

Isaiah prophesied about this coming day of judgment. He described the future destruction of the earth and heavens in chapter 24.

The earth mourns and dries up,
    and the land wastes away and withers.
    Even the greatest people on earth waste away.
The earth suffers for the sins of its people,
    for they have twisted God’s instructions,
violated his laws,
    and broken his everlasting covenant.
Therefore, a curse consumes the earth.
    Its people must pay the price for their sin. – Isaiah 24:4-6 NLT

Then the glory of the moon will wane,
    and the brightness of the sun will fade. – Isaiah 24:23 NLT

The things we can see with our eyes are temporary in nature. They are not meant to last. Even our circumstances are fluid, constantly changing from the pleasant to the painful, from moments of joy to seasons of sorrow. But God is eternal and so is His plan for His people. That is why they were to focus their attention on Him and not their immediate surroundings and circumstances. And again, Isaiah has already addressed this issue with the people of Judah.

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.” – Isaiah 40:6-8 NLT

But verse nine reveals that even the faithful remnant were wondering if God had fallen asleep at the wheel. They were busy looking at their circumstances and questioning whether God had dosed off. So, they called on Him to awake.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

These righteous ones still believed God could save them. Their faith, while small, was focused on the right thing: God Almighty. They weren’t calling on the Assyrians or Egypt to be their saviors. In fact, they remind God of when He defeated Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. They knew that God could save and they express their confidence in His saving power.

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 51:11 NLT

This is an amazing expression of faith in the midst of uncertainty and overwhelming signs of pending doom. Their words convey their belief in the faithfulness of God and His power to deliver, no matter how bad the circumstances may appear.

Yet, God seems to know that they still harbored doubts. He was aware that their bold-sounding words of faith were accompanied by unexpressed thoughts of fear. They were wrestling with questions about what was going to happen when the Babylonians showed up on the scene in overwhelming strength and numbers. So, God asks them, “So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear?” (Isaiah 51:12 NLT). “Will you remain in constant dread of human oppressors? Will you continue to fear the anger of your enemies?” (Isaiah 51:13 NLT). Faith and fear make lousy playmates. They don’t go well together. Fear is horizontally focused and fixated on the temporal, while faith is vertically focused and centered on the eternal. As the author of Hebrews put it:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

And the apostle Paul put the same thought in his own words.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

God was revealing to the faithful remnant in Judah that He had plans for them that they could not see. They were blind to the salvation strategy He had in place for them. And, while they might find themselves oblivious to His plans, they could rely upon His character. He was their God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

For I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea, causing its waves to roar.
    My name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 51:15 NLT

The seeming reality of our circumstances is nothing when compared to the unquestionable actuality of God’s matchless power and unwavering faithfulness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson