God Is Faithful. Are You?

1 These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. You have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the Lord your God. And when you came to this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon and Og the king of Bashan came out against us to battle, but we defeated them. We took their land and gave it for an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of the Manassites. Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.

10 “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14 It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, 15 but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. Deuteronomy 29:1-15 ESV

At this point in his address to the people of Israel, Moses seems to take a break from his recitation of the law, the blessings, and the curses. In a sense, the preceding passages in Deuteronomy have been a recounting of the covenant made by the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Moses has been reminding them of God’s law and their covenant obligation to keep that law if they expect to enjoy His presence, power, and blessings upon entering the land.

Exodus 19-23 records the event at Mount Sinai in the wilderness when God made His original covenant with the people of Israel. It had been a spectacular occasion, accompanied by fire, smoke, lightning, and thunder, as God descended upon Mount Sinai. He delivered His law to Moses, who then communicated it to the people.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

With that statement, they had ratified the covenant and communicated their willingness to keep their part of the agreement. After offering blood sacrifices to God to seal the covenant, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient’” (Exodus 24:7 ESV). So, once again, they expressed their determination to abide by the covenant requirements as outlined by God.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:8 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 of chapter 29 is actually the last verse of chapter 28. It concludes Moses’ recitation of the covenant and his reminder to the people of the blessings and curses that would accompany either their obedience or disobedience.

Now, Moses appears to present a break in the narrative, providing a historical overview of Israel’s relationship with God. His primary objective is to stress the covenant faithfulness of God. Yahweh had done all that He had promised to do. And they had been eyewitnesses to the mighty acts of God. The truth is, most of the people in the audience that day were too young to have experienced God’s deliverance from Egypt. Their mothers and fathers had been the ones to see all that God had done “to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land” (Deuteronomy 29:2 ESV). They had seen firsthand “the great trials…, the signs, and those great wonders” (Deuteronomy 29:3 ESV).

And, over time, they would have shared the details of their remarkable experience with their children. Moses would have made sure the next generation was fully aware of all that God had done to deliver their people from captivity, lead them through the wilderness, and deliver them to the land of promise. And Moses includes the younger generation when he delivers this stinging indictment:

“But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” – Deuteronomy 29:4 ESV

In spite of all they had heard about God’s past dealings with their ancestors and all they had seen God do in their own lifetimes, they still didn’t get it. They remained clueless when it came to their understanding of God’s covenant faithfulness. He had guided them through the wilderness for 40 years. And during all that time, God had miraculously provided for all their needs. Amazingly, their clothes and sandals never wore out. Evidently, after four decades of wandering through the wilderness, they were still wearing the same garments they had one when they left Egypt.

And God had fed them with manna, quail, and water from the rock. They had no access to bread, wine, or strong drink. Their very existence had been dependent upon God. He had been their sole source of sustenance for nearly half a century.

Then, when they had finally arrived at the borders of Canaan, God had given them victories over Og and Sihon, two kings whose kingdoms were located east of the Jordan and outside the land of promise. God had helped Israel defeat these two nations, providing their land as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of the Manassites. This had all been the work of God.

“But to this day the Lord has not given you minds that understand, nor eyes that see, nor ears that hear!” – Deuteronomy 29:4 NLT

God had given them everything except the ability to comprehend the significance of His actions on their behalf. In a way, this is a somewhat sarcastic statement meant to reveal just how stubborn the people of Israel had been. It is silly to think that God would have to give them the capacity to understand just how faithful He had been. They had seen it with their own eyes. They had heard all the stories with their own ears. But they remained unimpressed and ungrateful for all that God had done on their behalf.

So, Moses has to make it a point to remind them that, because God had been faithful to keep His end of the covenant agreement, they were going to have to keep the commitment they had made at Mount Sinai: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7 ESV).

And Moses reminds them that their commitment to keep the covenant would require the participation of every single member of their community, including “the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water” (Deuteronomy 29:10-11 ESV). No one was exempt. No one got a free ride. God had made His covenant with the entire nation of Israel, and every single one of them had personally enjoyed the blessings that came as a result of His covenant faithfulness.

The entire nation was expected to ratify the covenant before they entered the land of promise, and Moses tells them why.

“…that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:13 ESV

This covenant stretched back more than 40 years, to the first generation of Israelites who had stood at the base of Mount Sinai and committed themselves to keep the commands of God. But the covenant was to be a timeless document that reached into the future, impacted generations of Israelites to come.

“But you are not the only ones with whom I am making this covenant with its curses. I am making this covenant both with you who stand here today in the presence of the Lord our God, and also with the future generations who are not standing here today.” – Deuteronomy 29:14-15 NLT

God is eternal. He exists outside time and space. And His commitment to the people of Israel was not bound by the limitations of years, decades, or centuries. What He had promised to do, He would do, regardless of how much time passed by or how many generations came and went. Abraham was long gone, but God was keeping the promises He had made to His servant. Moses would soon be gone, but God would remain faithfully committed to doing what He said He would do. Generations of Israelites would come and go, but God would never abandon His covenant commitment. He would be true to His word, but what about 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

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The People of God

1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”

Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. 10 You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.” Deuteronomy 27:1-10 ESV

Moses finally concludes his recitation of the law to the people of Israel. And having completed this important task, he provides them with a final set of instructions. First, he adds one last command to the long list he has given them: That they obey every one of the laws. And to help them keep that commitment, Moses instructs them to build a memorial and an altar to God. The memorial would be made of stones covered in plaster, on which they were to inscribe every single one of the laws God had given them. We’re not told if this was simply a synopsis consisting of only the Ten Commandments or if it included the entire code found in the book of Deuteronomy. But the important point is that the law given to them by God was to be permanently recorded in stone and placed on Mount Ebal, where all could see it.

This site would become a symbol of Israel’s sacred covenant relationship with God. He had set them apart as His own and given them His law as their official code of conduct. Even the Canaanites living in the land would see this memorial and know that the Israelites were a different kind of people who lived according to a distinctively different set of rules. And they worshiped one God. That is why Moses also instructed the Israelites to build an altar to God right next to the memorial. And we know from the book of Joshua, that they followed Moses’ instructions to the letter.

At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. – Joshua 8:30-32 ESV

As the book of Deuteronomy comes to a close, it mirrors the life and legacy of Moses. He has been denied the privilege of entering into the land of promise. And knowing that his days are numbered, Moses is beginning the handoff of his ministry and leadership to Joshua, God’s chosen successor for Moses. It was important to Moses that with their entrance into the land of promise, the people of Israel got off on the right foot. He knew that the key to their success would be their adherence to the law which would be dependent upon their reverence for God. The memorial, made from plaster-covered stones inscribed with the law, would remind them of God’s expectations of them. The altar of uncut stones would remind them that their God was holy and righteous.

One of the very first things they were to do after crossing over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, was to offer sacrifices to God. And the altar upon which those sacrifices were to be made was to be distinctively different from the altars of the pagan nations that filled the land. It was to be constructed with whole stones, untouched by iron tools. The focus of the altar was to be God, not the beauty of the well-crafted stones or the handiwork of the stone-carver. Moses didn’t want the people to be impressed with the structure. He wanted them to be attracted to the holiness of God.

God requires the obedience of His people. But obedience is only possible when God’s people love and worship Him for who He is. Without the motivation that reverence for God produces, obedience will become nothing more than a self-manufactured adherence to a set of religious rules and regulations. It turns heartfelt submission to God’s will into little more than legalistic, fear-based adherence to a list of dos and don’ts. And that kind of behavior has a short shelf-life.

It is important that we recognize Moses’ instructions for building a memorial and a place of worship. They were to keep God’s law in mind at all times, but they were also to maintain a healthy reverence and respect for God. Otherwise, they would find themselves forgetting who God was and why His law was worthy of being kept.  God had told the people of Israel, “You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own” (Leviticus 20:26 NLT). Their holiness would be based on their obedience to God’s laws. But the motivation behind their keeping of the law was to be the holiness of God. Because He was holy, they were to be holy, and the law was a black-and-white description of what holy behavior was to look like.

A law to remember and a God to reverence. The two were to go hand in hand. They were inseparable and interdependent. And God provided a description of what obedience divorced from true worship looked like.

“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

Heartless obedience is ultimately nothing more than self-effort masquerading as worship of God. It is insincere and wrongly motivated. It is not based on an accurate view of God and so, it ends up creating a false form of worship that is based more on self-merit than the worthiness of God.

The law was to be a constant reminder of God’s expectations for mankind. But the altar was where men came to express their love for and dependence upon God. They were to bring their burnt offerings and peace offerings to God. A peace offering was also known as a fellowship offering, and was intended as a means for the people of Israel to offer praise to God for His goodness, mercy, and grace. It was not associated with sin but was tied to the generosity and compassion of God. It was a voluntary sacrifice and the book of Leviticus provides a description of what it entailed.

This is the law of the peace offering sacrifice which he is to present to the LordIf he presents it on account of thanksgiving, along with the thank offering sacrifice he must present unleavened loaves mixed with olive oil, unleavened wafers smeared with olive oil, and well soaked ring-shaped loaves made of choice wheat flour mixed with olive oil.  – Leviticus 7:11-12 ESV

The sacrifice was to be eaten by the one who gave it. So, it was offered as a form of thanksgiving to God, but the giver was allowed to enjoy in the blessing God had bestowed.

The burnt offering was typically tied to sin and man’s need for forgiveness. It involved the complete destruction of the animal, which served as a stand-in or substitute for the one making the offering. The smoke that ascended from the offering was to be “a soothing aroma to the LORD” (Leviticus 1:9), propitiating or satisfying the righteous anger of a holy God for the sins committed by the one making the offering. It was intended to renew the relationship between Holy God and sinful man.

The altar was to be a place marked by confession, forgiveness, and rejoicing. And Moses reminds the people that, when they come to the altar, they were to rejoice before the Lord their God. They were to find joy in His provision for all their needs and His forgiveness of all their sins. He would provide them with food to assuage their hunger and a sin-substitute to satisfy His righteous judgment. God was going to give them plenty of reasons to rejoice, but it would begin with their adherence to His law, which would be based on their reverence for His holiness.

Which is why Moses cautions the people: “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:9-10 ESV). This statement is associated with the completion of the reciting of the law. God’s expectations have been clearly communicated. Their first responsibilities upon entering the land have been articulated. The covenant has been ratified and renewed, once again setting apart the people of Israel as God’s chosen possession. They belonged to Him and they were to live like it – from that day forward.

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

Live Out My Law

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— 10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ 11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.– Deuteronomy 4:9-14 ESV

Moses knew what the Israelites were going to need if they were to be successful in conquering and possessing the land of Canaan. This was not going to be about strength of numbers, military prowess, or well-planned battle strategies. Their only hope of possessing the land and enjoying the many benefits it offered was tied to their relationship with God. And Moses knew that they were going to struggle with faithfulness and obedience. After all, as their leader for the last four decades, he had watched them repeatedly dishonor and disobey God. Moses realized that their entrance into the land would be only the first phase of their journey. God had commanded them to take full possession of the land, which would require that they completely dispossess all its current occupants. There were to be no exceptions, no treaties, and no compromises.

But the people of Israel had a track record of doing things their way. They had a penchant for taking the easy path and doing so always required a compromise of their convictions and a disregard of God’s commands.

So, Moses reminds them of the day when God gave them His Law – the Ten Commandments. It took place at Horeb or Mount Sinai. It was there, in the early days after their exodus from Egypt, that God delivered to them a legally binding set of rules designed to establish His expectations of them. These laws would establish for them a black-and-white, non-negotiable code of conduct – a set of regulations and requirements that would set them apart from all the other nations on the earth.

But before God delivered His Law to Moses, He gave him the following message for the people of Israel:

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”– Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

God had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt and had set them apart as His own. But it was not because they were unique or special in any way. They had not earned His mercy and they did not deserve their unique status as His treasured possession. In fact, Moses would later clarify the undeserved nature of their status as God’s chosen people.

“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. 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. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and the fulfillment of that covenant involved the Israelites – the descendants of Abraham. By rescuing the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, God was keeping the commitment He had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land…” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

God had been faithful. He had done all that He had promised to do, but the people of Israel were still on the wrong side of the Jordan River. They needed to cross over and take possession of the land. Which is why Moses took the time to remind them of that momentous day at Mount Sinai, when God delivered His to them His Law.

Most of the people to whom Moses was speaking would not been alive at the time this event took place. They were the new generation of Israelites. So, Moses went out of his way to describe for them the scene on Mount Sinai that day. And the book of Exodus provides us with even greater details.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. – Exodus 19:16-20 ESV

It was at the top of that mountain that God met with Moses and delivered to him the Ten Commandments, carved into tablets of stone by the very finger of God Himself. And while Moses had been at the top of the mountain, the people of Israel had stood at the base, watching a spectacular display of God’s power. Moses says, “the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom” (Deuteronomy 4:11 ESV).

The people of Israel heard the voice of God, but God Himself remained invisible to them. And Moses recounts the content of what God had to say to the people that day.

“You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.” – Deuteronomy 4:12-13 ESV

God had demanded that the people keep the commands He was giving them. These were to be binding commands, not helpful suggestions. They were not up for debate. And Moses makes it clear that God had given him the responsibility to teach these commands to the people, “that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess” (Deuteronomy 4:14 ESV).

In other words, the commands written on tablets of stone were to make their way into the hearts of the people, transforming the way they lived their lives. They were to be the guiding force in their lives, determining their relationship with God and with one another. While the God of Israel was invisible, His regulations regarding their conduct were not. They were carved into stone. And these laws were not man-made, but God-ordained. Therefore, they were righteous and holy.

While the people of Israel could not see their holy God, they could demonstrate His glory through their own holy conduct. By living according to His revealed Law, the people of Israel could display His glory and goodness to the nations around them. Their compliance to His Law would set them apart from all the other people groups on the face of the earth. They could make the invisible God visible by living in accordance to His commands. And, as Moses stated earlier, by watching Israel live in obedience to God’s commands, the nations would express their awe and wonder. Which is why Moses called the people to obey them willingly and completely.

“Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:6-8 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

 

 

 

God’s Will Done God’s Way

26 “So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon the king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying, 27 ‘Let me pass through your land. I will go only by the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left. 28 You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink. Only let me pass through on foot, 29 as the sons of Esau who live in Seir and the Moabites who live in Ar did for me, until I go over the Jordan into the land that the Lord our God is giving to us.’ 30 But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. 31 And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.’ 32 Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. 33 And the Lord our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. 34 And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. 35 Only the livestock we took as spoil for ourselves, with the plunder of the cities that we captured. 36 From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, as far as Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. The Lord our God gave all into our hands. 37 Only to the land of the sons of Ammon you did not draw near, that is, to all the banks of the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, whatever the Lord our God had forbidden us. – Deuteronomy 2:16-25 ESV

Forty years earlier, when the people of Israel had been poised to enter the land of Canaan, they had received news from the spies that it was occupied by giants and its cities were “great and fortified up to heaven” (Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV). This news had caused the Israelites to reject God’s command to occupy the land. In their minds, the odds were stacked against them and the enemies they faced were more powerful than the God they served. So, they had walked away from the land flowing with milk and honey and had wandered in the wilderness for the next four decades. 

Now, a new generation had taken their place and stood on the eastern side of the Jordan River, with the land of Canaan lying before them. But before they could possess the promise, they would have to obey the promise-maker. God had a preliminary step they would have to take before they could begin their official conquest of the land.

After having declared the land of the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites as off-limits and unvailable for conquest, God told Moses to attack the land belonging to King Sihon of Heshbon.

“Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle.” – Deuteronomy 2:24 ESV

God clearly commanded Moses to lead the Israelites into battle against Sihon and his forces. Yet, we read that Moses sent messengers to Sihon with words of peace, asking Sihon to allow the Israelites to pass through his land unhindered. Moses promised to restrict his people to the main road and even offered to pay Sihon if he would provide the Israelites with food and water. But Sihon refused to grant Moses and the people of Israel access to his land. Instead, he attacked the Israelites.

The parallel passage outlining the details of this story is found in Numbers 21. Neither here in Deuteronomy or in Numbers are we given an explanation as to why Moses decided to make peace overtures to Sihon. It seems quite evident that God expected the Israelites to do battle with the people of Heshbon. God had told Moses to “content with him in battle.” He had not instructed Moses to broker a peace agreement.  Was this a case of disobedience on the part of Moses? Was he guilty of second-guessing God and coming up with an alternative strategy that would circumvent the need for bloodshed? We’re not told. But it would appear that God was unwilling to risk Sihon accepting the peaceful alternative offered by Moses. Moses himself wrote:

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. – Deuteronomy 2:30 ESV

Perhaps Moses had been looking back on the ease with which they had passed through the lands of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. It only made sense to do whatever it took to avoid unnecessary risks or the loss of life. After all, the land of Heshbon was on the wrong side of the Jordan and not part of the land of Canaan, so why go to war when you could simply broker a peace agreement?

But regardless of the solid logic behind Moses’ thinking, he didn’t know what God had in mind. He was oblivious to God’s plan regarding the lands belonging to Sihon. He was also unaware that God was going to use Israel’s defeat of Sihon and his troops to send a message to the people occupying the land of Canaan. Once He had given the Israelites victory over Sihon, the news would travel fast and the people living west of the Jordan River would become disheartened.

“This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.” – Deuteronomy 2:25 ESV

We don’t always understand God’s ways. To our minds, God’s plans often appear illogical and unnecessarily difficult. So, we attempt to come up with an easier alternative. We choose to help God out by coming up with a plan of our own. Abraham and Sarah did just that when they determined that God’s promise to give them a son was not going to work out. After all, they were both advanced in years and Sarah was barren. So, Sarah came up with a Plan B,  offering her handmaiden to Abraham and demanding that he impregnate her with their future heir. Like any red-blooded male, Abraham eagerly listened to his wife and took her up on her offer. The result was the birth of Ishmael. But Sarah’s Plan B was not God’s will. Ishmael was not to be Abraham’s heir or the son through whom God was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

And God wasn’t interested in a peace treaty with Sihon. So, He hardened Sihon’s heart and caused the pagan king to reject the peace overtures of Moses. And the result was a rousing victory by the Israelites.

And the Lord our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. – Deuteronomy 2:33-34 ESV

Yet, even now, we read this story and we immediately sense what appears to be the needless destruction of innocent people. Why did King Sihon and his people have to die if they people of Israel were not even going to settle in their land? Why would God order the senseless and seemingly barbaric slaughter of innocent women and children?

As recorded above, the defeat of Sihon and the people of Hesbon was meant to send a message to the people occupying the land of Canaan. It would let them know that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites was all-powerful and that His people were fully capable of defeating anyone who stood opposed to them. What would appear to us as a senseless, unnecessary slaughter was actually part of a divine strategy for fulfilling God’s covenant promise.

If we fast-forward to the point in the story when Israel made its first foray into the land of promise, we discover the two spies who had entered the city of Jericho to assess its strength and document its defenses. They were given shelter by a prostitute named Rahab. When they prepared to leave her home and return to the camp of Israel, she pleaded with them to spare her life and those of her household. And here is why she was so adamant that they promise to protect her:

For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. – Joshua 2:10-11 ESV

The news about Israel’s victory over Sihon would spread. The annihilation of the people of Heshbon would send shudders of dread and fear among the nations living west of the Jordan. Israel’s victory over Sihon would put the fear of God into the people of Canaan. But there was a second purpose behind God’s command for Israel to destroy Heshbon. The land that once belonged to King Sihon would eventually become part of the land awarded to the tribes of Gad and Reuben, and half of the people of the tribe of Manassah. This land was perfect for raising livestock and these three tribes were predominantly herdsman by trace. So, God allowed the settlement of these three tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan. But why?

Because God had promised to give Abraham far more land than that occupied by the Canaanites. In the book of Genesis, we have recorded the exact words God spoke to Abraham when He detailed the extent of the land to be inherited by Abraham’s offspring.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward,  for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

And God went on to provide even greater detail.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:18-21 ESV

Notice the vast size of this land grant. It extends from the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates. It is massive in scale and includes the land of Heshbon. God had originally intended to give Israel far more land than they ever occupied, even under the kingships of David and Solomon. And just so we understand why God would take this land from one nation and award it to another, Moses later explains the method behind God’s seeming madness.

“After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:4-6 NLT

We may not understand or even approve of God’s ways, but it is important that we trust Him. He is the sovereign God of the universe and His ways are always just and right. From our limited perspective, it may not always appear that way, but we must trust that He knows what is best. His plan is perfect and His ways are always right.

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

 

 

 

Burden and Strife

“At that time I said to you, ‘I am not able to bear you by myself. 10 The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11 May the Lord, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are and bless you, as he has promised you! 12 How can I bear by myself the weight and burden of you and your strife? 13 Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.’ 14 And you answered me, ‘The thing that you have spoken is good for us to do.’ 15 So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ 18 And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” – Deuteronomy 1:9-18 ESV

Moses is standing on the edge of the land of Canaan, addressing the next generation of Israelites who have arrived at the border and are facing the prospect of have to do what their predecessors had failed to do: Enter the land.

As part of his speech to the people, Moses recounts their journey from Mount Sinai, where God had made His covenant with them. It was there that God had given them His law and had instructed them, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodcus 19:5 ESV).

Unlike the covenant God had made with Abraham concerning the land, this covenant, sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Covenant, was bilateral and conditional. In other words, it was a covenant that required a commitment from both parties. Each had to keep their end of the agreement. If the people obeyed God’s law, He would bless them. They would be His chosen possession. But if they failed to obey, there would be serious ramifications. 

And Moses subtly reminds them that God had kept His covenant commitment to Abraham. He had promised to make of Abraham a great nation and all they had to do was look around for the proof of God’s faithfulness.

“The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven.” – Deuteronomy 1:10 ESV

God had greatly prospered them. In fact, in the opening verses of the book of Exodus, Moses provides the historical context that when Jacob and his family had fled to Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, there had been seventy of them. But by the time Joseph had died and God sent Moses to deliver the people from their captivity in Egypt, we’re told that the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7 ESV).

The faithfulness of God to keep His covenant commitment to Abraham was clearly visible in the sheer number of Israelites who stood before Moses that day. He reminded them that their God had kept His word and had made them exceedingly fruitful. So much so, that the people in Canaan feared the people of Israel, even before they set foot in the land. When Joshua eventually sent two spies to reconnoiter the city of Jericho, a resident of the city confessed to them:

I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” – Joshua 2:9-11 ESV

God had multiplied them. He had delivered them from captivity. He had led them across the wilderness; feeding, clothing, and protecting them along the way. And He had given them victories over their enemies on the east side of the Jordan. Now, it was time to cross over and take possession of the land.

But there was a problem. God’s blessing had become a burden for Moses. There were so many of them, that he was overwhelmed. But it wasn’t their numbers that was the cause of his headaches. It was their tendency to whine and complain. In fact, Moses put it even extremely blunt terms: “But you are such a heavy load to carry! How can I deal with all your problems and bickering?” (Deuteronomy 1:12 NLT).

This had been a problem from day one. Ever since Moses had led the people out of Egypt, they had displayed a strong propensity to express their displeasure. They complained about anything and everything – from the manna and quail God miraculously supplied for food to the man God had provided to lead them. And Moses reminded them that there had been a day when his father-in-law had given him some wise counsel. He had advised Moses to “choose from the people capable men, God-fearing, men of truth, those who hate bribes, and put them over the people as rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exodus 18:21: NLT). And Moses had done just that.

But while the people had agreed with the decision made by Moses, it’s clear that they continued to grumble and dispute. Even with the apppointment of additional judges, there were too many disputes to handle. And this speaks volumes regarding the spiritual state of the people of Israel. They were a disgruntled people because they were a disobedient people.

Jesus summed up the entire law with the following statement: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).

The people of Israel were failing to live up to the law of God. They were not loving Him or loving one another. They were too busy disputing and disagreeing with one another. And their lack of love for one another was a reflection of their lack of love for God. The apostle John put it this way: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT).

Moses had clearly and repeatedly  communicated God’s expectations. But he was so busy handling disputes and disagreements among the people that he had been forced to appoint additional “referees” to deal with the volume of issues taking place. How in the world were they going to possess the land if they couldn’t even get along with one another? What good were their formidable numbers going to be against their enemies if they couldn’t even stop from fighting among themselves?

The promised land lay before them. But their greatest obstacle wasn’t going to be the occupants of the land. It was going to be the members of their own faith community. What God had intended as a blessing, they had turned into a burden. Rather than enjoying the camaraderie of godly community, they experienced conflict and strife. And, instead of Moses spending his time leading the people in battle against their enemies, he was wasting his time solving disputes among brothers.

And, as we’ll see, the track record of God’s people was far from stellar. There were other issues that Moses will raise as he recaps the less-than-flattering history of Israel to this point. The promised land lay spread before them but a litany of broken promises lay behind them. Were they ready to change? Were they prepared to obey God and keep His commands? He was faithful. But would they be?

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

 

 

 

What Are You Waiting For? Rejoice!

“Before she was in labor
    she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
    she delivered a son.
Who has heard such a thing?
    Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
    Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
    she brought forth her children.
Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?”
    says the Lord;
“shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?”
    says your God.

10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
    all you who mourn over her;
11 that you may nurse and be satisfied
    from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
    from her glorious abundance.”

12 For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
    and bounced upon her knees.
13 As one whom his mother comforts,
    so I will comfort you;
    you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
    your bones shall flourish like the grass;
and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants,
    and he shall show his indignation against his enemies. Isaiah 66:7-14 ESV

As the book of Isaiah comes to a close, we see God attempting to assure His chosen people that they have reason to hope. In spite of all that was presently taking place around them and the judgment God had promised to bring on them, they had reason to rejoice. Because God was not going to forget them. He would not completely abandon them. And to drive home His point, God reminds them of just how quickly they had become a nation. He describes Zion as a pregnant woman. Zion is synonymous with Jerusalem, the city of God, and Mount Zion is where the city of Jerusalem is located.

So, in verse seven, God describes Zion as having given birth to a son. But in verse eight He clarifies that the son is representative of a nation or people. And the birth of this nation was extremely quick and relatively free from pain. Like a woman who gives birth before her labor pains start, the nation of Israel came on the scene in a relatively short period of time and without a great deal of emotional or physical travail. This does not mean that the nation of Israel had a pain-free path to becoming a major force in that area of the world. They fought many battles and faced a variety of enemies, but God brought them to power and prominence in a relatively short period of time. It was His doing and, therefore, it was a miracle.

And yet, here they were facing the very real threat of destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. God had clearly told them that their city would be defeated, their temple destroyed, and their people deported to Babylon as captives. Which is why God reminds them that what He did once, He could do again.

“Would I ever bring this nation to the point of birth
    and then not deliver it?” asks the Lord.
“No! I would never keep this nation from being born,”
    says your God. – Isaiah 66:9 NLT

Yes, they were going to fall to the Babylonians and they would be removed from the land. But God was promising to restore them one day. They would be reborn as a nation. And while this prophecy would be fulfilled in part when the remnant returned to Judah under the leadership of Ezra and Zerubbabel, then later under Nehemiah, there is much about God’s promise that remains unfulfilled.

While a remnant did return to Judah and Jerusalem after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the nation of Israel has never experienced anything remotely similar to the former glory it enjoyed under the reigns of David and Solomon. There is no king in Jerusalem. And, while the Jewish people once again live in the land of promise and occupy the city of Jerusalem, they are surrounded by enemies and under constant threat of attack. Yet, God tells the people of Judah in Isaiah’s day to “Rejoice with Jerusalem! Be glad with her, all you who love her and all you who mourn for her” (Isaiah 66:10 NLT). What a strange thing to say to a people who are facing inevitable defeat and deportation. Why would God tell them to rejoice over a city that is facing destruction? Because He has plans in store for the city and the nation of which they were unaware. And He outlines the nature of those plans in two short verses.

“I will give Jerusalem a river of peace and prosperity.
    The wealth of the nations will flow to her.
Her children will be nursed at her breasts,
    carried in her arms, and held on her lap.
I will comfort you there in Jerusalem
    as a mother comforts her child.” – Isaiah 66:12-13 NLT

This is where the as-yet nature of this promise can be seen. He promises peace and prosperity. He describes a day when the nations will flow to Jerusalem to honor her, not destroy her. And it is clear that these things have not yet taken place. They remain unfulfilled. But just as Zion gave birth to a nation once before, it will experience another miraculous and pain-free delivery of God’s covenant people. In a remarkably short period of time, God will repopulate Zion with His people and when they see it happen, they will rejoice. In fact, God says, “Everyone will see the Lord’s hand of blessing on his servants – and his anger against his enemies” (Isaiah 66:14 NLT). 

The scene being described here is eschatological in nature. It involved end-times events that remain as-yet unfulfilled. But God is promising His people that they will happen. Their inevitability is assured and, therefore, even the people of God in Isaiah’s day had reason to rejoice. The prophet Jeremiah records the words of God assuring His people of His intentions to restore them. In a sense, they will be born again, all according to His grace and mercy.

“Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see all the good I do for my people, and they will tremble with awe at the peace and prosperity I provide for them.” – Jeremiah 33:6-9 NLT

Three times in this passage God says, “I will….” He promises to heal, restore, rebuild, cleanse, and forgive. And He describes a day when the city of Jerusalem and the people of Israel will once again bring Him joy, glory, and honor. And Isaiah recorded similar words of promise earlier in his book.

The Lord will comfort Israel again
    and have pity on her ruins.
Her desert will blossom like Eden,
    her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found there.
    Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air. – Isaiah 51:3 NLT

And Isaiah’s words were not wishful thinking, but were based on the promise of God.

“My mercy and justice are coming soon.
    My salvation is on the way.
    My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my powerful arm.” – Isaiah 51:5 NLT

And Isaiah is so convinced of God’s faithfulness, that he pleads with Him to fulfill His promise sooner than later.

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.
Are you not the same today,
    the one who dried up the sea,
making a path of escape through the depths
    so that your people could cross over? – Isaiah 51:9-10 NLT

He knew, based on past history, that God was fully capable of doing all that He had promised. It was just a matter of when He would do what He said He would do. And as far as Isaiah was concerned, he wanted God to fulfill His promises in his own lifetime. But, whether Isaiah lived to see God’s promises fulfilled, he was convinced they would happen just as God had said they would.

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 51:9-11 NLT

While the fulfillment of these promises has not yet taken place, the rejoicing should be. All those who have placed their hope in the reality of a living, all-powerful God should find reason to rejoice in the promises of God. While He has done great things and His past exploits are deserving of our praise, there is much that remains yet to be done. But God is faithful. He is a covenant-keeping God who never fails to do what He has promised to do. And with all that He has said He will do clearly articulated for us by Isaiah, we have more than enough reason to rejoice – even now.

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

Here I Am!

Isaiah 65:1-7

Isaiah has prayed. Now, God responds. And the first thing God does is leave the people of Judah without excuse. Ever since the creation of the world, God has made Himself known to all mankind, not just the people of Israel.  The apostle Paul drives home this point in his letter to the Romans.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

And Paul goes on to conclude, “So they are without excuse.” God revealed His invisible attributes to mankind, but they chose to worship the creation rather than its Creator. So, God would later reveal Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and directing him to the land of Canaan. Abraham was given a greater revelation of God, beyond that which the rest of the world had enjoyed. And God even made a covenant with Abraham, promising to create from him a great nation, the people of whom would occupy the land of Canaan for generations. And God fulfilled that promise, and by the time Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name, the descendants of Abraham had been living in the land for centuries. But as we have seen, although God had continued to give His chosen people further revelations of Himself through His law and the sacrificial system, their behavior made it appear as if they didn’t know Him at all.

And in the opening verse of this chapter, God indicates that He had a purpose behind His decision to make the nation of Israel His precious possession. When He had given them the law, God had told them that if they obeyed it, “you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT). Notice that they were to have been his own special treasure from among all the peoples of the earth.  They were to have been His priests, representing Him before all the peoples of the earth. They were to have been His holy, set-apart nation among all the other nations of the earth. In other words, they were to have been witnesses as to what it looks like to have a right relationship with the Creator-God of the universe.

But they had proven to be lousy priests and poor witnesses. Rather than bringing God glory by living holy lives, they had profaned His name among the nations, leaving God the job of reclaiming the glory His name deserves.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And in verse one, God indicates that He has been calling out to the nations, “Here I am, here I am.” He has been extending an invitation to all the nations “not called by my name,” and the people of Israel had been His chosen means of communicating that message. The apostle Paul used this very passage to let the Gentile believers in Rome understand that God had always intended to use the people of Israel as His means of sharing His grace and mercy with the world. Paul will repeatedly quote from the book of Isaiah to build his case that God’s plan in choosing Israel had far greater implications than just their personal enjoyment of His blessings. God had something much grander in mind.

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. But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have:

“The message has gone throughout the earth,
    and the words to all the world.”

But I ask, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said,

“I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation.
    I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles.”

And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,

“I was found by people who were not looking for me.
    I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.”

But regarding Israel, God said,

“All day long I opened my arms to them,
    but they were disobedient and rebellious.” – Romans 10:16-21 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of what Paul is saying here. The very people whom God had chosen to be His means of reaching a lost world had to be constantly invited by God to come back to Him. Rather than doing what He had called them to do, they had proven to be disobedient and rebellious. And God describes their rebellion as anything but subtle. They flaunted it in His face, worshiping false gods right in front of Him. They had disregarded His laws concerning sacrifice, offering inappropriate and unclean gifts in unacceptable ways. They practiced necromancy, a form of divination through attempted communication with the dead. They were guilty of involvement in the occult and witchcraft. Their unholy actions had left them an unholy people, no longer set apart for God and no longer able to be His witnesses to a lost world.

All their religious activity had left them feeling puffed and prideful. And while they would brag about their holiness, God describes them in less-than-flattering terms.

These people are a stench in my nostrils,
    an acrid smell that never goes away. – Isaiah 65:5 NLT

God finds all their religiosity repulsive. While He had been calling out to them with open arms, they had been embracing false gods and pursuing other loves. And the apostle Paul tells us what happens to all those who replace a personal relationship with God with religion.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

They were religious but lacked the one thing God was looking for: godliness. Their actions failed to reflect their status as His chosen people. So, God was obligated to punish them for their rebellion. He could not and would not allow them to continue to drag His name through the mud. Their disobedience demanded His divine discipline. And when God says, “Behold, it is written before me,” He is referring to the covenant He had made with them. There was a legally binding agreement between God and His people that spelled out their obligations and His. It clearly articulated what God expected of them and what He would do if they kept or broke their part of the covenant. And while they had failed to do what they said they would do, God would prove faithful to His covenant promise. He vows to bring upon them all the curses He had warned them about.

“I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
   both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together.” – Isaiah 65:6-7 ESV

It is important to remember that God had warned them what would happen if they failed to be His priests and His holy nation. He had let them know well in advance what the ramifications would be if they failed to be His witness to the nations. They would end up scattered among the nations, worshiping gods they never knew before.

For the Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations, you will find no peace or place to rest. And the Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. – Deuteronomy 28:64-64 NLT

They would lose their witness. Their role as a light to the nations would fade because they had failed to remain faithful to the call of God. But as we have seen all along in the book of Isaiah, God would remain faithful to them because He had plans to bring salvation to the world through them. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, would be born as a Jew and would become the Priest who lived a perfectly holy life and offered a completely holy sacrifice on behalf of the sins of all mankind.

 

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

My Lord Has Forgotten Me

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
    in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
    to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
    on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
    and behold, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.”

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
18 Lift up your eyes around and see;
    they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the Lord,
    you shall put them all on as an ornament;
    you shall bind them on as a bride does.

19 “Surely your waste and your desolate places
    and your devastated land—
surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants,
    and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children of your bereavement
    will yet say in your ears:
‘The place is too narrow for me;
    make room for me to dwell in.’
21 Then you will say in your heart:
    ‘Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
    exiled and put away,
    but who has brought up these?
Behold, I was left alone;
    from where have these come?’”

22 Thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
    and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their arms,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your foster fathers,
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
    and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”

24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
    or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
25 For thus says the Lord:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
    and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
    and I will save your children.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
    and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
    that I am the Lord your Savior,
    and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” Isaiah 49:8-26 ESV

In these verses, God acknowledges the feelings of His chosen people. His judgments against them will leave them feeling forsaken and alone. When the prophecies Isaiah has been sharing have taken place, the people will assume that God’s anger with them has caused Him to abandon them completely. Displaying His omniscience, God reveals the future thoughts of the people of Judah as they languish in captivity in Babylon. He does so by portraying Zion, the city of Jerusalem, speaking on their behalf.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.” – Isaiah 49:14 ESV

Yet, God responds to this false assumption in strong terms.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you. – Isaiah 49:15 ESV

God cannot and will not forget His own. They are His chosen people with whom He has made a binding covenant. The people of Judah are the direct result of God’s blessings upon Abraham and Sarah. They are the byproduct of God’s miraculous intervention into the affairs of this elderly couples, allowing the barren Sarah to conceive and bare a son, Isaac. But even before Isaac drew his first breath, God had told Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1-2 ESV). God was calling Abraham to a life of holiness or set-apartness. He was to be God’s possession and all his future offspring would belong to God, just as Isaac would. Then God went on to expand on the nature of the covenant He was making with Abraham and, by extension, with Abraham’s offspring.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

Now, centuries later, God was dealing with the descendants of Abraham who had failed to walk before Him and remain blameless. For generations, the people of Judah had refused to live their lives set apart to God. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, having given their adoration to a litany of false gods. And yet, in spite of all they had done to offend a holy God, He was reassuring them that He would not forsake them.

In fact, He describes for them a day when they will find the land of Judah too small to accommodate all the children they will bear. One day they will again experience God’s promise of fruitfulness.

“Even the most desolate parts of your abandoned land
    will soon be crowded with your people.
Your enemies who enslaved you
    will be far away.
The generations born in exile will return and say,
    ‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’ – Isaiah 49:19-20 NLT

And this inexplicable outcome will leave the people of Judah wondering what is going on. They will question how their lot in life changed so dramatically.

“Who has given me all these descendants?
For most of my children were killed,
    and the rest were carried away into exile.
I was left here all alone.
    Where did all these people come from?
Who bore these children?
    Who raised them for me?” – Isaiah 49:21 NLT

The elderly among them will find themselves back in the land of promise experiencing the joy of watching their lineage spread through the lives of their children and grandchildren. Their enemies will be long gone.  But not before those very same enemies are finished transporting the people of Judah back to the land, even carrying their children in their arms.

What God is revealing here is a miraculous, future events that only He could bring about. While this prophecy would be fulfilled in part when King Cyrus decreed the return of the people to the land of Judah, there are aspects of this prophecy that remain as yet unfulfilled. God describes the kings and queens of the earth serving and caring for the people of God. He portrays them as bowing down before the people of Judah, licking the dust from their feet in a display of abject submission. He even promises, “I will feed your enemies with their own flesh. They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood” (Isaiah 49:26 NLT). One has to ask whether any of this taken place. Has this promise been fulfilled? And the answer would be, “No.” But it will be. And God reveals just how He will bring it about. 

He will do it through His servant, the Messiah. He will raise up His chosen one to redeem the people of Israel and restore them to a right relationship with Him. And God speaks to His servant, assuring Him that the seeming delay in His redemptive plan for Israel is coming to an end.

“At just the right time, I will respond to you.
    On the day of salvation I will help you.
I will protect you and give you to the people
    as my covenant with them.
Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel
    and assign it to its own people again.” – Isaiah 49:8 NLT

This statement seems to be in direct response to the words of the servant as expressed in verse 4:

“But my work seems so useless!
    I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
    I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT

The servant is portrayed as wrestling with feelings of frustration over what appears to be His incomplete and seemingly unsuccessful work. This imagery is not meant to display Jesus as somehow struggling with feelings of futility or anger over His earthly ministry. It is intended to reveal to the people of Judah that when the Messiah comes, He will not complete all His work at His first appearance. When Jesus stated on the cross, “It is finished,” He was referring to the commission God had given to Him at His first advent. He had been sent to die on behalf of sinful manking, as payment for the sin debt they had accrued with God. And He successful completed that mission. But He rose again and, just before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven, He assures His disciples He would be coming back. He had unfinished business.

And, in Isaiah 49, God is describing events associated with Christ’s second advent, His second coming. He will return to earth and He will enact the final judgment of God against the nations of the world. He will defeat all the enemies of God, including Antichrist, the false prophet, and Satan himself.

In the book of Revelation, John is given a vision of this coming day, when the kings of the earth, in league with Antichrist and Satan, will attempt to do battle with Jesus, the Lamb of God. And it will not go well for them.

“The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive ruling authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.” – Revelation 17:12-14 NLT

They will be defeated. In fact, John is given further insight into the lopsided nature of this battle later on in his book.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

As a result of this resounding victory over the enemies of God by the Lamb of God, a remnant of the nation of Israel will experience God’s unmerited favor and the fulfillment of His covenant promise to Abraham. They will be restored to a right relationship with Him and will reign alongside Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom in Jerusalem. God has not and will not forsake them. He has a plan in place for them and when that plan finally comes to fruition, God says, “All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel” (Isaiah 49:26 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

You Will Not Be Forgotten

21 Remember these things, O Jacob,
    and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you; you are my servant;
    O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
    and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.

23 Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
    shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains,
    O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
    and will be glorified[c] in Israel.

24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
    who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
    who alone stretched out the heavens,
    who spread out the earth by myself,
25 who frustrates the signs of liars
    and makes fools of diviners,
who turns wise men back
    and makes their knowledge foolish,
26 who confirms the word of his servant
    and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
    and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
    and I will raise up their ruins’;
27 who says to the deep, ‘Be dry;
    I will dry up your rivers’;
28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
    and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
    and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’”
– Isaiah 44:21-28

By now, we have seen that God has a number of things in store for the people of Judah. One involves their impending destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. God has already informed King Hezekiah that this would happen.

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” – Isaiah 39:6 ESV

And to make matters worse, God informed Hezekiah that some of his sons would “be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 39:7 ESV). But God had also revealed that, while Judah would “receive double for her sins” (Isaiah 40:2 ESV), He would not abandon them completely. Yes, they would face His righteous wrath in the form of their defeat and exile, but He would once again show them His unmerited favor. Isaiah was to say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” He was to assure them, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might” (Isaiah 40:9-10 ESV).

In chapter 41, God reminded the people of Judah that they belonged to Him and, no matter what happened, they had nothing to fear. He was going to care for them, even in their greatest times of distress.

“‘You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off’;
fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:9-10 ESV

“For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.’”
– Isaiah 41:13 ESV

In chapter 42, God revealed His plans to send His Servant, who would one day “bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1 ESV). This obvious reference to Jesus, the Messiah, lets the people of Judah know that God has something remarkable in plan for them in the future.

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
   to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
– Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV

But God has more to say about the matter. In chapter 43, He let them know that there was even more good news coming. Their exile would be followed by a second exodus from captivity and a re-entrance into the land of promise.

“Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”
– Isaiah 43:6-7 ESV

God was not going to forget Judah. Yet, when the Babylonians began invading their territories and commenced the slow and methodical pillaging of their cities and towns, it was going to feel as if God was nowhere to be found. They would assume He had abandoned them, leaving them powerless and defenseless before their enemies. But, once again, God assures them that nothing could be further from the truth.

“Remember these things, O Jacob,
    and Israel, for
you are my servant;
I formed you; you are my servant;
    O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
    and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
– Isaiah 44:6-7 ESV

Not only would God not forget them, but He would also forgive them. He would remove their sins from them. All He asked is that they would remember that He alone is God. He called on them to recognize the futility and foolishness of false gods. An idol made by the hands of a man was incapable of remembering or redeeming. A false god can’t forgive sins. Only God can do that.

In response, Isaiah calls on the whole creative order to praise God for His salvation of Israel. And his statement regarding Israel’s glorious restoration by God is in the past-tense, as if it has already happened.

For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
    and will be glorified in Israel.
– Isaiah 44:23 ESV

And the following verses seem to provide an explanation for this amazing act of redemption and restoration. God is described as the Lord, Jehovah, their Redeemer. And that description is followed by a series of statements that all begin with the word, “who,” which provides further explanation of God’s character.

who formed you from the womb – vs 24

who alone stretched out the heavens – vs 24

who spread out the earth by myself – vs 24

who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners – vs 25

who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish – vs 25

who confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers – vs 26

who says of Jerusalem, “She shall be inhabited,” and of the cities of Judah, “They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins” – vs 26

who says to the deep, “Be dry; I will dry up your rivers” – vs 27

who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose” – vs 28

All of these statements set apart God as distinct and wholly different from any other god. He is the one true God. These are statements of authority, sovereignty, and unparalleled power. So, when God says of Jerusalem, “‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’” (Isaiah 44:28 ESV), it is guaranteed to happen. The people of Judah would end up in exile in Babylon, because God had decreed it. But they would also be restored to the land, because God had declared it. And here is God, revealing that He will use Cyrus, a Persian king, to fulfill His will for Judah. This remarkable prophecy was fulfilled to the letter when, after Judah had spent 70 years in exile in Babylon, King Cyrus issued is decree giving them royal permission and provision to return to the land and rebuilt their city and temple.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:1-4 ESV

God did not forget. And He did blot out their sins, allowing them to return to the land of promise. His grace arranged it all, including the king’s decree, the provision of funds, the rebuilding of the city and its walls, and the restoration of the temple and the sacrificial system. He proved Himself faithful. And this amazing story of God’s covenant-faithfulness should encourage us today. He always follows through. He always keeps His word. He never forgets and He never forsakes.

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

Living With the End in Mind.

When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

“How the oppressor has ceased,
    the insolent fury ceased!
The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
    the scepter of rulers,
that struck the peoples in wrath
    with unceasing blows,
that ruled the nations in anger
    with unrelenting persecution.
The whole earth is at rest and quiet;
    they break forth into singing.
The cypresses rejoice at you,
    the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
    no woodcutter comes up against us.’
Sheol beneath is stirred up
    to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
    all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
    all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will answer
    and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
    You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
    the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
    and worms are your covers.”  – Isaiah 14:3-11 ESV

As the opening verses of this chapter suggest, God is a covenant-keeping God. He keeps His word. And all that He promised to Abraham will come to pass. And much had already taken place by the time Isaiah was writing the book that bears his name. God had made of Abraham a great nation. The people of Israel were living in the land of Canaan, just as God had promised they would be. But they were a divided nation. Due to their unfaithfulness to God and, particularly, the unfaithfulness of Solomon, God had split their nation in two, leaving them with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both nations had experienced a succession of kings who had each proven to be far-from-godly in terms of their leadership. They had promoted idolatry and modeled unfaithfulness to their people. So, while God had kept His part of the covenant, the people had failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Because there was a second covenant made between God and His people, and we find it recorded in the book of Exodus.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV

Unlike the covenant made with Abraham, this covenant was conditional. Notice the word, “if.” They were going to be required to obey God’s voice and keep His covenant. And part of that covenant would include the Ten Commandments, which were given by God a short time later. The whole purpose behind this covenant was to set apart the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. They were to be distinctive and different. Their lives were to be ruled by a different set of standards, provided to them by God. And by living according to this divine standards, they would be separated or sanctified from the pagan nations surrounding them. And through their willful obedience to God’s law, the people would be assured of God’s blessings.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But if they failed to keep their end of the covenant agreement, they would experience the curses that come from disobedience to His law.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

The lists of blessings and curses are lengthy and quite specific. And sadly, by the time Isaiah had begun to prophesy, the people of Judah and Israel had begun to experience more curses than blessings. They were reaping the rewards of their unfaithfulness to God.

But what makes this section of Isaiah so remarkable is that God is reminding His people that He will continue to be faithful to them in the midst of their unfaithfulness. They may have failed in their obligation to keep the law of God, but He would not fail to keep His promises to Abraham. It’s interesting to note that, when Moses had delivered the covenant requirements to the people of Israel in the Sinai wilderness, they had eagerly and enthusiasticaly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). But little did they know that their promise would fall far short of reality.

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because in these verses we find God committing Himself once again to save His people, not because of them, but in spite of them. He predicts a day when the people of Israel will taunt the king of Babylon, casting dispersions against the one who had destroyed their once-great city and taken them captive. Keep in mind, all of this was being disclosed to the people of Judah long before the events themselves had taken place. God is providing them with a glimpse into their future – a future that will include devastating judgment, but also merciful and undeserved restoration. They will experience the curses of God because of their disobedience, but also the blessings of God because of His covenant faithfulness.

In spite of all that was going to happen to them, they would one day find themselves in a position to flaunt their newfound freedom in the face of their former oppressors.

And, as we have seen before, this prophecy must be examined closely in order to determine if it has fully taken place. Has it been fulfilled some time in the past? Or is there some aspect of what God is promising that is “not yet”?

First of all, God promises a future time marked by “rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve” (Isaiah 14:3 ESV). While the people of Judah would return from Babylon after 70 years in captivity, their tenure in the land from that point forward would be far from restful and free from pain and suffering. Yes, they would rebuild the city of Jerusalem, restore the temple and repopulate the land, but they would have no king and find themselves the 80-pound weakling on a block full of much bigger and more powerful bullies.

And yet, God speaks of a day when “the oppressor has ceased” and He has broken the staff of the wicked. He describes a whole earth that is “at rest and quiet.” Verse eight seems to describe a time of peace, because the trees rejoice in the fact that they will not be chopped down to make weapons of warfare. The forests will stand intact, no longer falling to the axes of the enemies who use their wood to build seige engines and fuel their fires.

Everything about these verses seems to speak of a time that has not yet come. While there are aspects of this prophecy that have been fulfilled in part, God is describing a time far into the future that remains as yet unfulfilled. His timeline if far lengthier than ours. His prophetic calendar goes well beyond centuries or millenniums of time. While we focus on the here-and-now, God has His sights set on the hereafter. He knows how the story ends. His plans for Israel and Judah extend far beyond the days of Abraham, Moses, David, or Elijah.

One of the amazing things about the Word of God is the way it paints a comprehensive and cohesive picture of God’s redemptive plan. The Bible is one book containing a single story of God’s plan for the world He has created. It provides us with a complete overview of His entire strategy, from start to finish. And, in the book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse into “that day” when much of what we read in Isaiah 14 will actually be fulfilled. John writes:

After all this I saw another angel come down from heaven with great authority, and the earth grew bright with his splendor. He gave a mighty shout:

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:1-3 NLT

While we view Babylon as little more than a once-great city whose fame is little more than ancient history, God knows that it will play a significant part in the future. It is far than just a city, it represents all that is opposed to God in this world. It is the poster-boy for pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, immorality, idolatry, materialism and human achievement. This former icon of man’s power and prestige will show up again in the end times, reviving the same attitude that marked the people of Babel when they tried to build a tower to the heavens. Rather than multiply and fill the land according to God’s command, they had determined to build a city and a reputation for greatness.

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Some things never change, like the pride and arrogance of man. But God reveals that a day is coming when His people will rejoice over the demise of Babylon. And He is speaking of far more than an ancient civilization that has been long-gone. He is letting us know that there is a day coming when another Babylon, a far greater and more powerful nation, will also suffer defeat at His hands.

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

And just as He told the people of Judah they would one day rejoice over the fall of ancient Babylon, they will also rejoice over the fall of the Babylon that is to come.

Rejoice over her fate, O heaven
    and people of God and apostles and prophets!
For at last God has judged her
    for your sakes. – Revelation 18:20 NLT

God always has the end in mind. And the thing we have to constantly remember is that the end God has in store will fulfill each and every promise He has ever made.

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