The Valley of Decision

Proclaim this among the nations:
Consecrate for war;
    stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
    let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

11 Hasten and come,
    all you surrounding nations,
    and gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
    and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the surrounding nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. Joel 3:9-16 ESV

This entire section contains a call to the nations of the earth to prepare for war. The day of the Lord is coming and it will include an epic battle of unparalleled size and scope – like nothing the world has ever seen before. It will involve all the nations of the world, but rather than fighting against one another, they will join forces against God and His people.

The scene Joel depicts is set far into the future, but it grows closer with each passing day. This is not a description of some battle from history-past, but a prophecy concerning the coming day of the Lord and, more specifically, the conflict that will take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Since there is no valley by that name in the region around Judah, this appellation is likely a reference to the battle God fought on behalf of King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. In that conflict, God miraculously defeated the enemies of Judah, without them having to shoot a single arrow or throw a solitary spear. The victory was completely His doing. He judged the nations who had risen up against Judah and blessed His people in doing so.

In these verses, the Valley of Jehoshaphat becomes the valley of decision. This will be a place where God will pass judgment on the unregenerate nations of the earth by sending His Son to defeat them in battle. And God states that He “will sit to judge all the surrounding nations” (Joel 3:12 ESV). God the Father will watch as His Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords returns to earth in order to complete the redemptive plan of God.

But what Joel is depicting is the moments leading up to this decisive battle. In fact, he calls out to God, “Bring down your warriors, O Lord” (Joel 3:11 ESV). And he issues a call to the nations, challenging them to “stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:12 ESV). It is there that God will mete out His judgment on the nations. He will harvest the grapes and tread them in the winepress of His wrath. This is an image of God gathering up the overripe grapes (sinful men) and crushing them (judging them). We see this same imagery used in the book of Revelation, when John is given a vision of God’s pending judgment of the world.

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. – Revelation 14:14-16 ESV

And later on in the same book, John records yet another vision, revealing the second coming of Christ to judge the nations.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. – Revelation 19:15 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah gives us a description of Jesus after the battle in the valley of decision is complete.

Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.” – Isaiah 63:2-4 ESV

This future battle is also known as the Battle of Armageddon, which will take place at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation. Jesus Christ will return to earth and do battle with the nations of the earth which will have joined forces against Him, under the leadership of Antichrist. Once again, the apostle John was given a vision of this battle, and he recorded it in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Joel describes the winepresses as full and the vats as overflowing, because the sin of the people is great. In Revelation, John puts it this way: “the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (Revelation 14:15 ESV) and “its grapes are ripe” (Revelation 14:18 ESV). John uses two different words that are both translated as “ripe” in English, but they carry different meanings in Greek. The first is xērainō, and it means “dried up” or “withered.” It describes grain that has been left in the field too long. It is of no value. The second word, used in reference to grapes, is akmazō and it means, “fully ripe.” It actually describes grapes that are overripe or about to burst. Both words are used to illustrate the unredeemable nature of mankind because they are literally bursting with sin.

Joel describes some amazing meteorological events accompanying this battle. He states that the sun and moon will become darkened and the stars will cease to shine. Himself Jesus echoed these words when He told His disciples:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. – Matthew 24:29 ESV

The Tribulation will be marked by incredible atmospheric disturbances and never-before-seen cosmic signs as God brings His final judgments upon the earth. The book of Revelation describes seas turning to blood, mountains, and islands disappearing, 100-pound hailstones falling from the sky, and long periods of darkness. And while many find these signs and wonders difficult to believe and write them off as nothing more than literary metaphors and spiritual symbolism, there is no reason for us to reject their authenticity. For God, nothing is impossible. And since we are talking about the final days of the earth, it would only make sense that God is going to reveal His power in unprecedented ways during those days.

Yes, the picture Joel paints is unbelievable.

The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake. – Joel 3:16 ESV

But faith requires belief in the improbable and impossible. And Joel calls on the people of Judah to trust in the Lord. He challenges them to believe in the One who can do the unbelievable and perform the impossible.

But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. – Joel 3:16 ESV

God was on their side. And while their immediate future did not look particularly good, they could trust that God had a plan in place that would include His eventual redemption and restoration of them. As the prophet had told the people of Judah hundreds of years earlier when they were facing a similarly bleak future, the people living in Joel’s day could rest in the faithfulness of the Lord.

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV

God has a way of seeing His people through the valleys. He shows up in our darkest moments and rescues us when we are helpless and hopeless. And our enemies stand no chance against the God of the universe. They can turn their plowshares into swords, and their pruning hooks into spears. They can declare, “I am a warrior.” But they will prove to be nothing more than withered grain and overripe grapes in the hand of the Lord.

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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A Message from the Lord

1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:

2 Hear this, you elders;
    give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
    or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
    and let your children tell their children,
    and their children to another generation.

What the cutting locust left,
    the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
    the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
    the destroying locust has eaten. – Joel 1:1-4 ESV

As the name of the book implies, its author was an individual known as Joel. His name means “Yahweh is God,” so it would be easy to assume that his parents were faithful Israelites who raised their young son to worship the deity who had chosen the descendants of Abraham to be His prized possession. We know little about Joel, except for the name of his father, Pethuel. Joel did not come from a well-known or influential family. He had no apparent pedigree or status as a religious leader among his people. He simply introduces himself as “Joel, the son of Pethuel.”

The significant thing about Joel is not his name or his background, but the message he delivered. Even more importantly, it is the one who gave Joel the message that provides this book any weight and makes Joel someone worth giving the time of day.  He claims to be delivering “the word of the Lord.”

The Hebrew word translated as “Lord” is actually the tetragrammaton YHWH. The ancient Hebrew language in which the book of Joel was written used only consonants and no vowels. So, the name of God was written with the four letters: YHWH. When translating the Hebrew text to English, the name of God has been translated as Jehovah, Yahweh, or as it is here, Lord. The ancient Hebrews held God’s name in such high regard that they refused to speak it out loud, even when reading the Scriptures. So, when they came to a passage where the tetragrammaton YHWH was found, they would substitute the word Adonai (“Lord”).

Joel is establishing from the outset that his message has been given to him by Yahweh, the God of the Jews. And it would appear from the context of the book’s content that God’s message is directed primarily at the southern kingdom of Judah. Determining a date for when Joel penned this message is difficult and has been hotly debated over the centuries. The disagreements all revolve around the period known as the exile – referring to the time when the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated by Babylonians, and the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the city destroyed. The city and its beautiful temple, built by King Solomon were ransacked by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 586 B.C. And it is around this year that the debate regarding the dating of the book of Joel swirls.

Basing their discussions around the exile or the time in which the people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon, some argue for an early pre-exilic dating, while others defend a mid-pre-exilic timeline. Still others promote a late pre-exilic date. But the one thing they all share in common is the pre-exilic designation. In other words, they all believe that Joel wrote his book before the nation of Judah fell, and its people were taken captive to Babylon. But there is a fifth opinion out there that puts the date of the writing of Joel after the exile, designating it as being post-exilic in terms of its timing.

It seems that many who hold to the post-exilic view do so because they reject the prophetic nature of the book. In other words, because Joel’s message contains what appear to be predictions of Judah’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, he must have written it after the fact. Therefore, it is not really a book of prophecy, but a book of reflection, written in retrospect. Yet, one of the main themes in the book is the sovereignty of God. It is not meant to be a looking back at what God has done, but a revelation of what God is going to do. God is delivering through Joel a message of judgment against the nation of Judah for their unfaithfulness. They had repeatedly broken their covenant with Him, and now He was warning them what was going to happen as a result. If you adopt the post-exilic dating, the calls to repentance found in the book seem out of place and even unjust on God’s part, because if the people have already been taken captive and restored to the land, there is no opportunity or need for their repentance.

So, it would make much more sense to see this book as having been written before the fall of Jerusalem. It is prophetic in nature, containing God’s message for the people of Judah, warning of His coming judgment, calling them to repentance, and assuring them of His mercy should they do so.

But Joel opens his book with a stern message directed at the leaders, but intended for the ears of each and every citizen of Judah.

Hear this, you elders;
    give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
    or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
    and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation. – Joel 1:2-3 ESV

The land of Judah had suffered from a devastating wave of successive locust infestations. Joel describes what appear to be four different kinds of locusts: cutting locusts, swarming locusts, hopping locusts, and destroying locusts. But it is likely that he is only trying to illustrate that the destruction took place over time, with the locusts doing increasing degrees of damage with each successive infestation.

And Joel poses the question, “Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers?” This is a rhetorical question requiring no response. The answer is obviously, “No.” This was devastation on never-before-seen scale and Joel wants his readers to not miss the significance of what they have just experienced. They were to spread the word and retell the story for generations to come. And this command from Joel reflects the words of Psalm 78.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders. – Psalm 78:1-4 NLT

They were not to hide the glorious deeds of the Lord from their children. And in this case, Joel commands them to tell their children about the judgments of God as well. And the Psalmist goes on to provide the rationalization behind this disclosure of God’s power and mighty wonders.

   …teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God. – Psalm 78:5-8 NLT

God’s people are to paint a clear and comprehensive picture of Him. He is not one-dimensional and is not to be presented in a lopsided or incomplete manner. God is love, but His wrath cannot be overlooked or ignored. He is holy and righteous and stands in opposition to all that is unholy and unrighteous. God blesses, but He also curses. His rewards can come in both positive and negative forms, depending upon the actions of the one He is rewarding. Sin brings His condemnation and judgment. Obedience brings blessing.

Joel is issuing a stern wake-up call, demanding that the people of Judah assess their circumstances and recognize that hand of Almighty God. They could allow the devastating judgment they had just endured to draw them back to God, or they could grow “stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.”

The choice was theirs. But Joel will spend the next three chapters calling on the people of Judah to wake up and smell the coffee. He will plead with them to repent and return. He will warn of future judgment to come should they refuse. The message he was delivering was from the Lord, and it would be best if they listened.

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

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

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

 

The Lord is Faithful

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

To Paul, the Christian life was anything but independent. He constantly stressed the vital interrelationship between believers within a local fellowship, and between different congregations that found themselves separated by distance and cultural differences. A good example of this is the fund Paul raised from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia to minister to the needs of the financially strapped and predominantly Jewish congregation in Jerusalem.

…the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. – Romans 15:26-27 NLT

This cooperative concern for one another was encouraged continuously by Paul. He knew the strength of the body of Christ was founded on God’s grace-filled love for each believer and demonstrated through selfless, sacrificial love for one another. Even the believer’s ability to love comes from God, as the apostle John makes clear.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

And one of the highest expressions of the mutual love believers are to share with one another comes in the form of prayer. Paul prayed faithfully for each of the churches he had helped to found, and he coveted their prayers for him. He fully believed in and relied upon the power of prayer, and took to heart the words of James.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. – James 5:16 NLT

And Paul was not embarrassed to ask the Thessalonians to pray for him. But notice the nature of his request. It’s not personal or self-focused. He doesn’t ask them to pray for his healing from a sickness or for deliverance from a difficult situation.  No, Paul is very specific, asking for prayer “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 ESV). You might conclude that this is a personal prayer because Paul seems to be asking that God bless his work, but his real focus is on the spread of the gospel. Paul wasn’t in it for the glory. He wasn’t interested in how many converts he had made or whether he was getting all the credit.

At one point, while in prison in Rome, Paul had received news that there were others preaching the gospel out of jealousy and rivalry.  They were taking advantage of his situation and stepping into the gap his absence had created. And Paul was fully aware that some of these preachers had impure motives, stating, “They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me” (Philippians 1:17 NLT). Yet Paul was able to respond, “But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NLT).

Paul didn’t care who got the credit. But he did care that the gospel message was preached. And he wanted the Thessalonians to join him in prayer with that goal in mind. And knowing that the gospel was going to encounter opposition, Paul asked that they prayer for their protection.

Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. – 2 Thessalonians 3:2 NLT

Again, this request has a personal element to it, but Paul’s primary concern is about the spread of the gospel and the spiritual battle that raged against it. As the Thessalonians well knew, the good news of Jesus Christ was not always met with open arms. They had experienced first-hand the kind of animosity the gospel could engender.

But almost as if saying, “enough about me,” Paul suddenly turns his attention to the Thessalonians, declaring to them, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV). This statement exudes Paul’s confidence in God, and it reflects his understanding that the believer’s dependence must ultimately be in God. He is the faithful one. He is the one who strengthens, guards, guides, and protects. Paul is not diminishing the need for or power of their prayers. He is emphasizing the undeniable nature of God’s role in the believer’s spiritual well-being.

And don’t miss what Paul says next: “we have confidence in the Lord about you” (2 Thessalonians 3:4 ESV). Notice that he doesn’t say, “We have confidence in you.” He wasn’t telling them, “You’ve got this!” He wasn’t inferring that they had their spiritual act together and were handling their walk of faith well. No, Paul’s confidence was in the faithfulness of God. And he knew that God was the one who behind the past, present, and future obedience of the Thessalonians. Any spiritual success they had enjoyed had been God’s doing, not their own.

Which brings us back to the topic of dependence. The Thessalonian church and every individual who belonged to it was totally reliant upon God for their salvation, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Their placement within the body of Christ had been the work of God. And it would be God who kept them there, all the way to the end. Which is exactly what Paul had written to the believers in Philippi.

He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 BSB

And Paul shared the same comforting words with the believers in Corinth.

He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. – 1 Corinthians 1:8 NLT

Their future was in God’s fully capable hands. He had called them, and He would sustain them. He had chosen them, and He would keep them – all the way to the end. And knowing that to be true, Paul prays on their behalf: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 ESV). This isn’t a request for God to do something He doesn’t want or intend to do. Paul is praying that God’s will be done on behalf of the Thessalonians. Paul’s inclusion of this prayer in his letter to them was intended to remind them that their hearts remain focused on God’s remarkable love for them. He was not going to abandon them. As Paul had told the believers in Rome, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 NLT).

They needed to keep their hearts and minds firmly focused on God’s unwavering and unstoppable love for them. And, they needed to use the endurance of Jesus as motivation to remain faithful to the end. Jesus was loved by God, but He had to suffer to fulfill the will of God. God had chosen Him to serve as a ransom for many. The Father sent His Son to die on behalf of sinful mankind. And the suffering Jesus endured in His earthly life was not a sign that God had fallen out of love with Him. It was actually evidence of their love for one another, and proof of God’s love for us.

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 BSB

And Paul challenges the Thessalonians to focus on the steadfastness, the endurance that Jesus modeled in His earthly life. He remained dedicated and determined to fulfill the will of God – all the way to the end.

…he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:7 NLT

So, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to use Jesus as their model for endurance. Which is exactly what the author of Hebrews would have them do.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 BSB

And God makes it all possible. He provides us with the strength we need to model the perseverance and faithfulness of Jesus. And it is His incredible love for us that should motivate us to do as Jesus did.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

A City Not Forsaken

1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
    and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
    and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
    and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
    and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
    and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
    so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
    so shall your God rejoice over you.

On your walls, O Jerusalem,
    I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
    they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance,
    take no rest,
and give him no rest
    until he establishes Jerusalem
    and makes it a praise in the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand
    and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain
    to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink your wine
    for which you have labored;
but those who garner it shall eat it
    and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
    in the courts of my sanctuary.”

10 Go through, go through the gates;
    prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway;
    clear it of stones;
    lift up a signal over the peoples.
11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed
    to the end of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
    “Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.”
12 And they shall be called The Holy People,
    The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
    A City Not Forsaken. Isaiah 62:1-12 ESV

From forsaken to becoming God’s delight. From desolate to becoming God’s bride. That is how this passage describes the remarkable transformation that awaits God’s people in “that day” – the eschatological day when He redeems the nation of Israel from their seemingly endless period of spiritual exile. What is outlined in these verses is nothing short of a total transformation of the corporate character of God’s people. What we see promised here is not just a physical return to the land of Judah, but a spiritual reformation of the hearts of those who had grown callous and cold toward God. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this God-ordained and orchestrated metamorphosis of God’s people, and he provided God’s explanation for making it happen.

“I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

But again, this is not just about the return of the people to the land. Yes, God clearly promises to restore His scattered people to the land of Judah.

“I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” – Ezekiel 36:24 NLT

But there is more. In the very next line, God tells what else He is going to do.

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

Their physical return to the land will be accompanied by the spiritual restoration of their hearts. God will transform His unfaithful and unrepentant people into obedient children who long to do His will. And their transformation will be so complete and so readily apparent that God promises, “The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory” (Isaiah 62:2 ESV).

Back in the book of Ezekiel, we have recorded God’s stinging words of indictment against His people, charging them with bringing shame to His name among the nations because of their unrighteousness and unfaithfulness. But God also reveals that He is going to rectify that situation by showcasing His holiness through His miraculous transformation of their character.

I will show how holy my great name is – the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord.” –Ezekiel 36:23 NLT

God’s restoration of Israel will be for His own glory, not theirs. When He gathers His dispersed and disobedient children from the four corners of the earth, and returns them to the land of Canaan, it will be nothing short of a miracle. But when He completely and radically transforms their inner natures, that will be something at which all the world will notice and marvel. Even the pagan nations of the earth will recognize the divine nature of Israel’s conversion.

And, according to verse 2, their change in character will be accompanied by a change in name. Actually, they will receive two new names: Hephzibah and Beulah. The first means, “My delight is in her” and the second means, “Married.” These two names would have carried a great deal of significance to the people of Judah because of all was about to happen to them in the years ahead. God had already told them that He was going to bring about their destruction.

“I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever.” – Jeremiah 25:9 NLT

That last sentence is repeated throughout the book of Jeremiah, as a stark reminder to the people of Judah that their status as God’s chosen people was about to radically change. And, later on in the book of Jeremiah, God would convey a message to all those who eventually ended up as exiles in the land of Babylon.

“In every nation where I send them, I will make them an object of damnation, horror, contempt, and mockery. For they refuse to listen to me, though I have spoken to them repeatedly through the prophets I sent.” – Jeremiah 29:18-19 NLT

The once proud nation of Judah would become a laughing stock to the nations. They would be ridiculed and their God would be declared impotent and irrelevant. But God is going to change all that. He will one day restore His people and reestablish the integrity of His own reputation among the nations. It will be a joyous occasion, like a groom gathering his bride for their wedding.

And with this promise of future restoration in mind, God encourages His people to stay faithful and eagerly expectant, regardless of what may happen in the days ahead.

Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord.
Give the Lord no rest until he completes his work,
    until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth. – Isaiah 62:6-7 NLT

God had established watchmen on the walls, a remnant of men and women who remained faithful to God and who anxiously waiting to see His deliverance. And they were basing their hopes on the promise of God.

“I will never again hand you over to your enemies.
Never again will foreign warriors come
    and take away your grain and new wine. – Isaiah 62:8 NLT

And God tells them to prepare for the inevitable. They were to get ready for the eventual fulfillment of His promises. It was going to happen and they were to live as if it could happen any day.

Go out through the gates!
    Prepare the highway for my people to return!
Smooth out the road; pull out the boulders;
    raise a flag for all the nations to see. – Isaiah 62:10 NLT

This is a call for the people of God to live with their eyes focused on the future. While their immediate circumstances may leave them feeling as if God has abandoned them, they were to place their hope in the character of God and the trustworthiness of His word. Which is why God charges them to: “Tell the people of Israel, ‘Look, your Savior is coming. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes’” (Isaiah 62:11 NLT). And, just to drive home the incredible nature of the transformation awaiting them, God reveals the new names that will accompany their future state: The Holy People. The Redeemed of the Lord. Sought Out. A City Not Forsaken.

As bad as things appeared, their future was secure. While their immediate fate was going to be characterized by judgment and the loving discipline of God, their future would be characterized by God’s gracious and miraculous restoration and transformation.

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

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

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

Your Savior and Redeemer

1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.

Who are these that fly like a cloud,
and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall hope for me,
the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring your children from afar,
their silver and gold with them,
for the name of the Lord your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel,
because he has made you beautiful.

10 Foreigners shall build up your walls,
and their kings shall minister to you;
for in my wrath I struck you,
but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
11 Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut,
that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
with their kings led in procession.
12 For the nation and kingdom
that will not serve you shall perish;
those nations shall be utterly laid waste.
13 The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary,
and I will make the place of my feet glorious.
14 The sons of those who afflicted you
shall come bending low to you,
and all who despised you
shall bow down at your feet;
they shall call you the City of the Lord,
the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

15 Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,
with no one passing through,
I will make you majestic forever,
a joy from age to age.
16 You shall suck the milk of nations;
you shall nurse at the breast of kings;
and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Isaiah 60:1-16 ESV

Ever since the fall and the entrance of sin into the world, mankind has been living in spiritual darkness. And yet, the apostle John tells us, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:9 NLT). So, each generation has made a willful choice to live in darkness. And their decision to reject God was in spite of the fact that God had made Himself known. The apostle Paul reveals that their choice of darkness over the light had been driven by obstinence, not ignorance.

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:20-23 NLT

Mankind’s rejection of God was driven by personal preference, not a lack of awareness. As John put it, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). They preferred to live in darkness because it allowed their sins to remain hidden. But nothing is hidden from God. He knows all and sees all.

And in the midst of this darkness-drenched humanity, God raised up a people, the people of Israel, to act as His lights to the world. They were to have been His personal emissaries, revealing to the rest of the world what it looks like to live in a restored relationship with the Creator-God. The nation of Israel had been God’s personal creation, the result of His covenant promise to Abraham. From one man God had raised up descendants “as numerous as the stars of the sky” (Genesis 26:4 NLT). He had set them apart as His own possession, pouring out His love in the form of tangible blessings. Through them, God had chosen to reveal to the world what it looked like to worship the one true God. He had provided them with His law as a clear indication of His expectations concerning their conduct. He had established the sacrificial system as a means of obtaining forgiveness and cleansing for the sins they would commit by violating His law. They had everything they needed to live in harmony with God and to act as lights the lost world around them. But the apostle Paul reveals that they were missing something.

You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. – Romans 2:17-20 NLT

They were hypocrites. They said one thing and did another. They claimed to be following the laws of God and took pride in their status as the people of God. But Paul went on to accuse them of living a lie.

Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.” – Romans 2:21-23 NLT

What had been true in Paul’s day had been true at the time Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name. Israel was living in spiritual darkness, just like the pagan nations that surrounded it. They had long ago given up their role as God’s emissaries and agents of change. Rather than influencing the darkness around them, they had been asborbed and consumed by it. So, Isaiah reveals a significant promise from God that tells of what is going to happen in the future. God was going to do something amazing and new. He would eliminate the darkness by raising Israel back to their original status as His lights to the world. This section of Isaiah speaks of the Millennial Kingdom, a future period of time when Jesus Christ will return to earth and set up His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign for a thousand years.

And God let’s His people know that there will be a change in their circumstances because He is going to restore them to a right relationship with Himself. And He calls them to prepare for that future day as if it had already arrived.

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
    For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
    but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
    mighty kings will come to see your radiance.” – Isaiah 60:1-3 NLT

At that time, the pervasiveness darkness of sin that engulfs the world will be eliminated by the light of God’s glory as revealed through the restored lives of His people. A remnant of the Jews will be redeemed by God and enter with Him into His Millennial Kingdom, where they will rule and reign alongside Him. And the nations will be attracted to the light of righteousness and justice that eminates from His glorious Kingdom.

Isaiah describes people coming from all over the world. Jerusalem will be the capital of the earth and the place where Jesus Christ reigns in righteousness. Jews from around the world will flock back to the promised land and the nations of the earth will be attracted to the light of the glory of God. And Isaiah tells His Jewish audience that “They will honor the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has filled you with splendor” (Isaiah 60:9 NLT). What a remarkable difference. At the time Isaiah wrote this message, the people of Judah were surrounded by their enemies and the splendor of Jerusalem was about to be destroyed by the Babylonians. But God had long-term plans for His people and for the city of Jerusalem.

While He was going to bring His judgment upon His people, the day would come when He would reverse their fortunes in an incredible way. The tables would turn and the people of Israel would be the recipients of tributes from the nations. They would be honored and revered, not threatened and destroyed. And it would all be God’s doing. And He tells them, “Though you were once despised and hated, with no one traveling through you, I will make you beautiful forever, a joy to all generations” (Isaiah 60:15 NLT).

And God reveals the why behind all of this.

“You will know at last that I, the Lord,
    am your Savior and your Redeemer,
    the Mighty One of Israel.” – Isaiah 60:16 NLT

For the first time in their long relationship with Yahweh, they will know and understand the significance of who He is and all that He has done for them. He will be their Savior and Redeemer, the very one they had chosen to reject and resist all those years. In spite of their unfaithfulness to Him, He will maintain His covenant promises and do all that He has said He will do.

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

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

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

Your Maker Is Your Husband

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait For the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob’s Redeemer

1 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
    Israel whom I have chosen!
Thus says the Lord who made you,
    who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
    another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
    and name himself by the name of Israel.”

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides
me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.[
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God
besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any
.” Isaiah 44:1-8 ESV

Just as He had at the beginning of chapter 43, here God addresses His people by the two names of the son of Isaac: Jacob and Israel. Jacob had been his original name, given to him at birth, and it meant, “holder of the heel, supplanter, or layer of snares.” This name had to do with the circumstances surrounding the births of he and his brother.

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:24-26 NLT

That was how Jacob came by his somewhat strange, but highly descriptive name. And this rather bizarre birth narrative reflects a message that God had given to Rebekah even before the boys were born. She had been barren and unable to give Isaac any children, so he had “pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife” (Genesis 25:21 NLT). And God heard his prayer and enabled Rebekah to become pregnant with twins.

But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:22-23 NLT

Jacob, though technically not the first-born, was going to end up having dominion over his brother. And later on in the story, Esau. in an act of impulsiveness, driven by physical desires, would trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. And not long after that, when their father, Isaac, was on his deathbed, Jacob and his mother would trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Jacob was a deceiver. And his actions brought the wrath of his brother down him, forcing him to run for his life and live in exile in Paddan-aram. But God eventually arranged for Jacob’s return, and that event was accompanied by a God-ordained name change

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel. – Genesis 35:10 NLT

So, why is any of this important? Because God opens this passage by using both names of this man as a designation for the people of God. The first name, Jacob, is an apt description of the people of God. They were deceivers and supplanters, having replaced the one-true God with false gods. But the name Israel means “God prevails.” It describes the undeniable reality that God was going to use the people of Israel, in spite of the people of Israel.

His will for them would prevail, not because of them, but because He was a faithful God. All throughout his life, Jacob had tried to fulfill the will of God by using trickery, deceit, and his own human efforts. God had already told Rebekah that the older son would serve the younger, but she and Jacob were both guilty of trying to accomplish God’s will through human means. But in Isaiah 44, God seems to be reminding the people of Judah that it is He who will bring about their preferred destiny. He is the one who had made and chosen them. They had nothing to do with it.

And almost as if He is addressing Jacob himself, God assures him, “Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen!” (Isaiah 44:2 NLT). God was going to do all that He had promised to do.

When Jacob had been forced to flee the land of Canaan in order to escape the vindictive wrath of his brother, God had visited him in a dream and made a covenant promise to him.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

And here is Isaiah 44, God is reaffirming that promise to the people of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. He uses another name by which to refer to them: Jeshurun. It means “upright one” and seems to be used to describe the ideal character God expected of His chosen people. And this is not the first time God used this particular name for Israel.

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with
abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to
gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
– Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

They had abandoned God, the one who gave the birth. They had gotten fat and happy, content with their lifestyle, and turned their backs on the one who had made them what they were.

And yet, here is God promising to bless them.

“For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.”
– Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God describes a future day when His people will once again take pride in being His children. Rather than boasting in their false gods, or taking pride in their wealth and material possessions, they will declare their job at being God’s chosen possession.

“One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”
– Isaiah 44:5 NLT

And just to ensure that the people of Judah understand just who it is that is going to bless them, God refers to Himself as “the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 44:6 NLT). He is the Lord, Jehovah, “the existing one.” He is their King and sovereign. He is their Redeemer, actually their ga’al or kinsman-redeemer, who will ransom them out of slavery to sin. And He is the Lord of hosts, the commanders of the armies of heaven. With these four designations, God sets Himself apart from all other gods.

“I am the first and I am the last,
there is no God but me.
Who is like me? Let him make his claim!”
– Isaiah 44:6-7 NLT

It’s a rhetorical question that requires only one answer: No one. But just to make sure they understand the answer, God expands on it.

“Don’t panic! Don’t be afraid!
Did I not tell you beforehand and decree it?
You are my witnesses! Is there any God but me?
There is no other sheltering rock; I know of none.”
– Isaiah 44:8 NLT

They have nothing to fear because they are the people of God. Their future is in His hands and not tied to their own ability to live up to His exacting standards. They had already proven their incapacity to remain faithful. They had repeatedly shown their propensity to rebel against Him. They were deceivers and tricksters, always ready, willing and able to supplant the one true God with a wide array of false gods. But God assures them that He remains Jacob’s Redeemer. Just as He restored Jacob from exile, He will restore the people of Judah from exile. And He has even greater plans in store for them when His Son returns again.

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

A Lesson Unlearned

18 Hear, you deaf,
    and look, you blind, that you may see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
    or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated one,
    or blind as the servant of the Lord?
20 He sees many things, but does not observe them;
    his ears are open, but he does not hear.
21 The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious.
22 But this is a people plundered and looted;
    they are all of them trapped in holes
    and hidden in prisons;
they have become plunder with none to rescue,
    spoil with none to say, “Restore!”
23 Who among you will give ear to this,
    will attend and listen for the time to come?
24 Who gave up Jacob to the looter,
    and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned,
    in whose ways they would not walk,
    and whose law they would not obey?
25 So he poured on him the heat of his anger
    and the might of battle;
it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand;
    it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart. –
Isaiah 42:18-25 ESV

There are times in life when it might be easy to conclude that God is either blind or oblivious to our condition. In the darkness of our circumstances, it may appear that God is nowhere to be found. It may feel as if He has abandoned us. It is almost natural and normal to struggle with those kinds of feelings when we are going through difficult days. And the people of Judah were no different. But the one thing God will not tolerate is His people placing blame for their condition on God while refusing to take ownership for their own sin.

So, in this closing section of Isaiah 42, God addresses the people of Judah directly and bluntly. And He addresses them as His servant. God opened up this chapter by referring to another servant He would send – the Servant/Savior or Messiah. The day was coming when God would restore the nation of Israel by sending His Son back to earth to redeem of them and to set up His Kingdom on earth.

But here, God stresses the point that Israel should have been His servant on earth. He had chosen them. He had set them apart as His own. He had blessed them and provided them with His law. On top of that, He had given them the sacrificial system, in order that they might remain in a right relationship with Him by having their sins atoned for on a regular basis. Back in chapter 41, God also addressed the people of Israel as His servant.

“But as for you, Israel my servant,
    Jacob my chosen one,
    descended from Abraham my friend,
I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
    saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
    and will not throw you away.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:8-10 NLT

God had promised not to abandon them. He had promised to be with them and to provide them with strength and victory over their enemies. But they had proven to be a lousy servant. They had been rebellious and reluctant to live as He had called them to live. Rather than serve God as a faithful servant, Israel had chosen to live according to its own selfish agenda. Rather than being a light to the nations, a tangible example of what it looks like to live in fellowship with the God of the universe, Israel had profaned the name of God. They had drug his reputation through the mud by living as unfaithful servants. Which is what had led Him to declare through the prophet Ezekiel:

“I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

That is not what God had planned. It had not been His desire for the people of Israel. In fact, all the way back when they were making their way from Egypt to the promised land, Moses had told them:

“Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy. 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 4:5-8 NLT

But they had failed to obey God’s laws. They had refused to remain faithful to Him alone, choosing instead to worship the false gods of the people of Canaan. And God describes them as blind and deaf. It is not He who is oblivious and out of touch. It’s them.

“You see and recognize what is right
    but refuse to act on it.
You hear with your ears,
    but you don’t really listen.”
– Isaiah 42:20 NLT

And God was not surprised by this. Their reaction is exactly what He had warned Isaiah to expect.

“Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”
– Isaiah 6:9 ESV

One of the greatest sins a child of God can commit is to know His will and then choose to ignore it. God had revealed Himself to the nation of Israel and provided them with insights and instructions into His character and His expectations regarding their behavior. They knew exactly what He expected of them. They had been told. He had made Himself perfectly clear. And they had heard, but had chosen not to heed what He had to say. Now, they could not plead ignorance. They couldn’t say, “We didn’t know!”

God had been gracious enough to give them His law.

The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious. – Isaiah 42:21 ESV

And because they had chosen to disregard and disobey His law, they found themselves “robbed and plundered, enslaved, imprisoned, and trapped” (Isaiah 42:22 NLT). They were “fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them, no one to take them back home” (Isaiah 42:22 NLT). Their sorry state was their own fault. They had chosen to turn a blind eye to the commands of God. They had claimed not to have heard His righteous decrees. But Isaiah will not allow them to portray God as the unfaithful one in this relationship. Yahweh was simply giving them what they deserved.

Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt?
    It was the Lord, against whom we sinned,
for the people would not walk in his path,
    nor would they obey his law.
– Isaiah 42:24 NLT

And their actions were unprecedented. In fact, God claimed that the degree of their unfaithfulness was unmatched by any other nation.

“Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones,
    even though they are not gods at all?
Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God
    for worthless idols!”
– Jeremiah 2:11 NLT

“You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey my decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you.” – Ezekiel 5:7 NLT

With privilege comes responsibility. The people of Judah enjoyed the privileged position of being God’s chosen. They were His prized possession. For generations, they had enjoyed the privilege of His presence and power. He had protected them and provided for them. He had given them a land in which to live. He had provided them with victories over enemies who were more plentiful and powerful. He had shown them how to live in keeping with His commands, and then provided them with a means to be forgiven when they failed to do so. God had been faithful. But they had a track record of unfaithfulness. And, as God warned through the prophet Ezekiel, there is a limit to how long He will allow His people to drag His name through the mud

“As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord God: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 ESV

And the saddest statement in this entire section of Isaiah 42 is found in its final verse.

Therefore, he poured out his fury on them
    and destroyed them in battle.
They were enveloped in flames,
    but they still refused to understand.
They were consumed by fire,
    but they did not learn their lesson.
– Isaiah 42:25 NLT

They didn’t learn their lesson. Time and time again, God had brought His loving discipline upon the people of Israel and Judah. But before He had, He had sent His prophets to warn them and to call them to repentance. Isaiah was such a prophet attempting to convey to convey just such a message. But the people were stubborn and obstinate. They were blind and deaf. And they were quick to blame God for their difficulties, but reticent to take responsibility for their own sin.

But as the chapter opened up, God was still going to remain faithful. He was still going to send His servant. He was still going to redeem a remnant of His people. In the face of their persistent unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful to His covenant promises. He was going bring judgment upon His people, but there is a day was coming when He will bring redemption and restoration, all for the sake of His glorious name.

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

Prayer Changes Us, Not God

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.

“This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined. – Isaiah 38:1-8 ESV

A key to understanding chapters 38-39 and their place in the chronology of the book of Isaiah is the first three words of verse one of chapter 38: “In those days…” This is a clear reference to the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem as described in chapters 36-37. Isaiah is providing additional information that will help shed light on all that took place in those dark days, but he is also prefacing the remaining chapters of his book.

During the height of the Assyrian invasion of Judah, King Hezekiah became deathly ill. We are not told the extent of his condition, but the prophet Isaiah delivered a divine prognosis that was anything but good news.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’” – Isaiah 38:1 NLT

So, along with the pending invasion of the Assyrian forces and the likely fall of Jerusalem, Hezekiah had to deal with the threat of a terminal illness. All of this had to have weighed heavily on Hezekiah’s heart. He must have been confused by this unrelenting wave of bad news. After all, he had been one of the few kings of Judah who had tried to do the right thing, instituting a series of drastic religious reforms in an effort to restore the peoples’ worship of Yahweh.

Hezekiah had ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of King Ahaz, who was the poster-boy for unfaithfulness and apostasy. The book of 2 Chronicles gives a summary of some of his exploits.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

But when Hezekiah took the throne at the age of 25, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT). One of the first things he did was to reopen the temple and recommission the Levites so that the sacrifices to Yahweh could begin again. He also revived the celebration of Passover and called the people to worship Yahweh alone. As a result, “they smashed all the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and removed the pagan shrines and altars” (2 Chronicles 31:1 NLT). 

Yet, in spite of all his reforms and his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah, God sent the Assyrians.

After Hezekiah had faithfully carried out this work, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified towns, giving orders for his army to break through their walls. – 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

And to make matters even worse, Hezekiah was told he was going to die. If anyone had the right to ask God, “Why?” it was Hezekiah. But rather than questioning God’s actions or doubting His love, Hezekiah simply asked that his acts of faithfulness be remembered.

“Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” – Isaiah 38:3 NLT

Hezekiah was not bragging or boasting, but merely expressing his confusion over this latest bit of bad news. Isaiah describes the king as weeping bitterly. He was devastated by all that was happening to him and around him. The nation of Judah was under siege. It was just a matter of time before the Assyrians arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem. And now, he was facing imminent death. It was all more than he could handle. So, he took his hurt, confusion, and despair to God. And his prayer was heard. God gave Isaiah a second message for Hezekiah.

“This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. Yes, I will defend this city.” – Isaiah 38:5-6 NLT

This raises the often-debated question: “Can the prayers of men change the mind of God?” Was God’s prescribed will somehow altered by the prayer of Hezekiah? The text is clear that, as a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God extended his life by 15 years. So, it would appear that Hezekiah’s death date was postponed because he prayed. But at the heart of the question lies the sovereignty of God. There is also the issue of God’s omniscience. He knows all. There is nothing that escapes His notice or that lies outside His awareness. While there are many occasions recorded in Scripture where it appears that God “changed His mind” because of the prayers of men like Moses, Abraham, David, and others, it is essential that we understand that God’s will is never altered by anyone. In fact, the book of Numbers tells us that God never changes His mind.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

So, what is going on here? Why did God determine to extend Hezekiah’s life? One of the things we need to always bear in mind is God’s complete and unwavering knowledge of all things. God knew Hezekiah’s heart. He was fully aware of how Hezekiah would respond to the news of his pending death. Hezekiah’s prayer didn’t change the heart of God, it changed the heart of Hezekiah. The king, faced with the news of his terminal illness, unknowingly prayed within the will of God, revealing his desire that his life be extended because he cared for the glory of God and the good of the people of Judah. God, because He is all-knowing, knew exactly how Hezekiah was going to respond and His “decision” to extend the king’s life had been part of His will all along.

God used the announcement of Hezekiah’s death to bring the king to the point of total dependence upon Him. The terminal prognosis was meant to get Hezekiah’s attention, not God’s. It was intended to bring the king to a place of total reliance upon the will of God and to remind the king of his own faithfulness. So much of this is about perspective. We see things from our limited vantage point as human beings. From our earth-bound, time-controlled view, we are incapable of seeing into the future. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But God does. He knew all along that Hezekiah was going to live an additional 15 years because He knew how Hezekiah was going to respond to the news of his illness. Hezekiah didn’t change the mind of God, but Hezekiah’s mindfulness of God was dramatically altered. God wanted Hezekiah to know and not forget that faithfulness was the key to God’s graciousness. In a time when it could have been easy for Hezekiah to turn away from God and restore the former alters to the false gods, he remained faithful to Yahweh. He did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them.” – 2 Chronicles 28:22-23 NLT

In a sense, the news of Hezekiah’s terminal illness had been a test. Not of God, but of Hezekiah. And God knew that Hezekiah would pass the test with flying colors. Hezekiah’s death date did not really change. But his view of God did. And in the remaining verses of this chapter, Hezekiah will reveal the profound impact this situation had on his life and his heart. He was drawn closer to God. His reliance upon and love for God deepened. And this enhanced understanding of God’s love and faithfulness was going to be needed in the days ahead.

One of the more interesting aspects of this story is the proof that God gave Hezekiah to assure that all He had said was true.

“‘And this is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!’” So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps. – Isaiah 38:7-8 NLT

We know from the parallel story found in 2 Kings, that Hezekiah had asked God for a sign.

“What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me?” – 2 Kings 20:8 ESV

This was not necessarily an expression of doubt on Hezekiah’s part, but a request for some form of reassurance on God’s part. The news was almost too good to be true. So, Hezekiah asked God to provide him with a tangible sign that what He had promised would indeed take place. And God graciously and miraculously obliged.

What’s truly interesting is that God used something built by and named after wicked King Ahaz to provide faithful King Hezekiah with proof of His word. God caused the shadow of the sun to reverse itself. In a sense, time reversed itself. We are not told whether the sun itself moved backward in the sky or whether the shadow moved contrary to the position of the sun. In either case, God provided a miracle, a supernatural sign that provided Hezekiah with all the proof he required. And again, the impact of all of this on Hezekiah was profound, resulting in his penning of a poem of praise to God.

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