Smoke and Mirrors

12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

Jude continues his unrelenting barrage against the false teachers, and he uses symbolic imagery from the realm of nature to do it. These less-than-flattering comparisons leave no doubt as to his opinion of these individuals and the negative influence they were having on local congregations.

His reference to them as hidden reefs reveals his concern that they were operating out-of-sight which made them all that more dangerous. Like a reef lying just beneath the surface of the water, unseen by the pilot of a ship, these individuals existed within the body of Christ, but somewhat hidden from view. And, for Jude, it was important that their presence be exposed so that the church could avoid spiritual shipwreck. It is often the case that those who promote false doctrines choose to remain in the background, quietly promoting their error in relative obscurity. Rather than seeking the main stage and the power of the pulpit, they wield their influence one-on-one, slowly spreading their lies like cancer.

Jude describes them as using the love feast as a platform for their propaganda. The love feast was a regularly occurring feature of the New Testament church. It was a time when the church gathered to share a common meal, centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. This intimate gathering provided the perfect venue for these people to share their views in a relaxed and unassuming atmosphere of mutual love. People would have naturally let their guard down on these occasions because they were gathered together with those they loved and with whom they shared a mutual love for Christ. And these false teachers used those regular gatherings to disseminate their views with no reverence or regard for the Lord’s Table itself. For them, it was nothing more than an opportunity to make their views known. Rather than celebrating and commemorating the truth surrounding Christ’s sacrificial death, they were interested in promoting their lies.

Their interests were purely selfish. Which made their presence at the love feast all that more egregious. They were self-promoters who only cared about making their views known so they could increase their influence over the flock of Jesus Christ for their own personal gain. Which is why Jude refers to them as shepherds who feed themselves. They had no care or concern for the flock. Their actions were motivated by love of self, not love for others. This imagery of the selfish shepherd would have resonated in the agrarian culture. And it would have been very familiar to any of the Jews within the congregation because of its use in the Old Testament Scriptures. God had used this same indictment against the spiritual leaders of Israel.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?” – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

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

These men cared more about their views than they did for the people of God. They had a higher regard for their own personal opinions than they did for the flock of God.

Next, Jude compares them to waterless clouds. In a land where rain could be rare, the presence of a cloud was a sign of hope. It carried with it the possibility of refreshment. But the kind of cloud to which Jude is referring was one that came and went without offering a single drop of rain. They were blown by the wind and disappeared almost as quickly as they came. Their words sounded good, and their teaching seemed to offer hope but, in time, the truth would be known. They were all talk with no substance. They were like clouds that brought no rain. While they might offer temporary relief from the scorching heat of the sun, they would eventually blow over, leaving nothing but parched ground and spiritual thirst in their wake. What a hateful thing it is to offer hope, but no help. What could be crueler than teasing the spiritual thirsty with thoughts of relief, only to leave them in disappointment and despair?

God had strong words regarding all those who attempt to slake spiritual thirst through man-made means.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

The false teaching of these individuals offered false hope. Their words were like a hand-dug cistern riddled with cracks that made it incapable of offering any form of relief.

And Jude is far from done. He calls them fruitless trees. Once again, the point seems to be that they offered hope, but without delivering. A tree, barren of fruit, was of little use. And to make their uselessness obvious, Jude describes them as “doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots” (Jude 1:12 NLT). In other words, they will never bear fruit. His reference to the Autumn was intended to convey the thought that they were in the wrong season for producing fruit. It was impossible. But what made matters even worse was that these “trees” had been pulled up by the roots and were physically incapable of fruit-bearing, regardless of the time of year. The church was never going to receive any benefit because these false teachers were spiritually dead.

As far as Jude was concerned, these people were nothing more than trouble-makers. They stirred up dissension and discord like waves stir up debris and throw it onto the shore. These people were relentless in their efforts, like the repetitive nature of waves breaking on the sand. With each successive wave of their teaching, more lies get deposited into the hearts and minds of the people, with no sign of relief.

Finally, Jude refers to them as wandering stars. Unlike fixed stars that provided seaman and travelers with a constant source of guidance and direction in their journeys, these individual were like planets whose position in the sky was constantly changing. They had the appearance of stars but were unreliable as a navigational point of reference. Depending on the season, they could appear in different locations in the sky, making them completely useless for determining your location or reaching your destination.  Jude describes them as being “doomed forever to blackest darkness” (Jude 1:13 NLT). They were going nowhere. Their fate was sealed, sand the future was certain. Their lies and deceit would leave them marred in their own falsehood and deception, incapable of seeing the truth and experiencing the joy that God offered.

The danger was real, but it was subtle and sinister in its appearance. It tended to remain hidden from view, and when it did appear, it was attractive, offering what appeared to be true hope and help. But it was all smoke and mirrors. And Jude wanted his audience to recognize the false teaching of these people for what it was: A dangerous and deadly threat to the spiritual well-being of the church.

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

Advertisements

Called, Loved, Kept

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:1-4 ESV

This very short book bears the name of its author, Jude. In the Greek language in which this letter was originally written, the name is actually, Judas. Over the centuries, most English translations changed to name to Jude in order to eliminate any risk of confusing the author with the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The traditional view on the author’s identity is that he was Judas, the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew introduces us to these two characters. When Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth, His neighbors had remarked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55 ESV).

Judas would have been his Greek name. But in Hebrew, he would have been called Judah, which means “praise.” Jude was a Jewish Christian, but, like his brother James, would have been considered a Hellenized of Greek-speaking Jew from the region of Galilee. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his family had a difficult time reconciling His claims to be the Son of God. John records in his gospel account that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). We know that Jude and James both came to faith in Christ at some point because they are listed as being in the crowd that had gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came.

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. – Acts 1:14 ESV

The author even introduces himself as the brother of James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. These men would have been highly influential in the early days of the spread of Christianity. Their relationship with Jesus would have given them strong credibility among the people. And the greeting of this letter clearly reveals that Jude was writing to “those who are called” – a reference to believers in Jesus Christ. This was a common designation when referring to Christians, in part because of the words of Jesus Himself.

“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me…” – John 6:44 NLT

Jesus clearly taught that salvation was a work of God. Without His direct involvement, no man would come to faith in Christ. Jesus went on to say, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me” (John 6:65 NLT). And Jesus claimed that He came to earth in order to do the will of His Father, and He clearly articulated what that will involved: “…this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me” (John 6:37 NLT).

Years later, Jesus prayed in the garden, just hours before His death. And He talked to His heavenly Father about those He had called and given to Jesus to His followers.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory.” – John 17:9-10 NLT

The apostle Paul also spoke of this calling by God.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul told the Corinthians believers: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV), and he reminded the believers in Rome that God’s “call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:29 NLT).

But not only were those to whom Jude wrote called by God, they were “beloved” by God. They were literally wrapped in or surrounded by the love of God. And they were preserved in that love by Jesus Christ. Again, back to the garden on the night Jesus was betrayed, He prayed to the Father, “During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost…” (John 17:12 NLT). And Jesus continues to guard and protect His own, through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. Not a single one whom called has called will ever have to fear the loss of God’s love, because he is kept in that love because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And Paul comforted the believers in Rome with these words:

And I am convinced that 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. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Now that Jude has established his identity and reminded his audience of who they were in Christ, he lets them know what he desires for them.

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. – Jude 1:2 ESV

These three things are non-negotiables for the believer in Christ. We cannot survive, let along thrive, without them. Because of our sin natures, we will continue to wrestle with the desire to disobey God. We will need His mercy all along the way. Our growth in Christlikeness will require His undeserved kindness and good will. We will fail, but His love never will.

And life in this fallen world will leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. We will struggle with a sense of confusion as we attempt to live our lives in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us. But Jude assures his readers that God can and will give them His peace – a miraculous calm in the midst of the storms of life.

And none of us can fully enjoy the Christian life without a growing understanding of just how much God loves us. That increasing awareness of being loved by God will translate into a selfless, sacrificial love for others. We will love because we have been loved. And it seems that Jude’s desire for these three indispensible, God-produced virtues, was based on his knowledge of the particular circumstances his audience  faced.

There was a growing problem taking place within their local congregations and Jude wastes no time in addressing it.

…some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:4 NLT

Jude had intended to write a much more comforting and encouraging letter dealing with their common unity in the faith. But he had become aware of a dangerous heresy invading their congregations and he felt compelled to deal with it. In the rest of his letter, Jude will call his fellow believers “to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 1:3 NLT). There was a false teaching being spread within their local faith communities that threatened the very foundation of the gospel message. It was raising questions regarding the grace of God and the manner in which Christians were to live out their faith in everyday life. And, as far as Jude was concerned, it was not to be tolerated.

And Jude isn’t in an accommodating or compromising mood. He isn’t out to have a discussion on the particular views of these people. In fact, he boldly declares that these so-called Christians “have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 NLT). Not exactly politically-correct language. But Jude knew the danger of this kind of teaching. It sounded appealing, but it would have a deadly impact on the gospel message and the spiritual health of the church. So, Jude will level a stinging indictment against its proponents and charge the believers to whom he is writing to stand firm and remove this cancer from their midst.

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

Reason to Rejoice

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Philippians 1:12-18 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about Paul is his attitude of selflessness and total lack of self-obsessiveness. While he held the title of apostle and had been hand-picked by Jesus Christ Himself, Paul never saw himself as better than those to whom he ministered. He knew he was a leader and took seriously the responsibilities that came with his position. It was as if he lived by the counsel given to elders in the church by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. – 1 Peter 5:2-3 NLT

But unlike the average elder, Paul had responsibility for a much larger and geographically dispersed flock. He had helped plant churches throughout Asia, Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia. And even though he was writing this letter while under house arrest in Rome, he didn’t make it all about himself. In fact, his focus is clearly on those to whom he is writing. And he seems to be aware that they were upset over news of his imprisonment and pending trial in Rome. But rather than milk their sympathy and make it all about his less-than-ideal circumstances, he assured them that everything was okay. He attempted to assuage their concerns over his well-being by giving them a rather up-beat appraisal of his situation.

“…what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” – Philippians 1:12 ESV

Basically, Paul assured them that “it’s all good!” There was nothing for them to worry about because God had His hands all over Paul’s circumstances. And Paul even seems to brag that everybody in the Emperor’s Imperial Guard was now aware that Paul was in prison because of His faith in Christ. It’s important to remember that the whole reason Paul was in Rome was because he had been accused of bringing a Gentile into the restricted area of the temple, and in doing so, violating Jewish religious laws. This was a crime worthy of death. And Paul had appealed for a hearing before Caesar because he knew he would never get a fair trial in Jerusalem, where the Jewish religious leaders were out to get him.

So, when Paul states that even the Roman guards had figured out that his imprisonment was due to Jesus Christ, it was because he had been busy sharing Christ with each and every guard he met. In the book of Acts, Luke records, “When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier” (Acts 28:16 NLT). In other words, Paul was under 24-hour watch, with a litany of Roman soldiers taking turns to guard him. And you can only imagine how Paul took advantage of this captive audience to relate the good news of Jesus Christ. As a result, the gospel was spreading throughout the Imperial Guard and the court of Nero.

From Paul’s perspective, as long as Jesus Christ was lifted up, that was all that mattered. And he was stoked that his imprisonment had actually emboldened the believers in Rome to step up their game and increase their influence over the pagan culture in Philippi. He joyfully related that, “because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear” (Philippians 1:14 NLT).

And Paul revealed that he was unconcerned and unaffected by the news that there were others preaching the gospel in his absence. In fact, he was glad to hear it. Yes, he realized that there were some who were doing it for the wrong reasons. He describes them as being motivated by envy and rivalry. These individuals were jealous of Paul and his notoriety. They saw him as competition and were taking advantage of his incarceration to elevate themselves to positions of power and prominence. But, as long as the gospel was being shared, Paul was joyous, not jealous. He also knew that there were others who preached the gospel with pure motives, and he rejoiced in their work as well.

“…the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” – Philippians 1:18 NLT

Remember the context. Paul is under house arrest in Rome. He is under 24-hour guard and facing a trial before Nero, the Roman Emperor and a notorious enemy of the followers of the Way, or Christians. It had been several years since Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his hearings before the local authorities on trumped up charges.

He had no idea what the future held for him. But he will later allude to the only two options that seemed possible: Acquital or death.

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

And Paul was willing to accept either outcome. If God chose to release Paul, the apostle would simply return to his work of sharing the gospel just as he had been doing. But if the divine decision required Paul to die, he would do so gladly, fully believing that “to die is gain.” But Paul’s main concern seems to be for the Philippian believers. He wants them to be encouraged, not discouraged. He doesn’t want them to worry about him or to lose sleep over the possible failure of the gospel. Paul’s imprisonment was not going to bring the spread of the good news to a screeching halt. There were other messengers.

And Paul wanted the believers in Philippi to know that they too had a job to do. His forced absence should motivate and mobilize them, not lead to despair and defeat.

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. – Philippians 1:27 NLT

Paul gave a similar charge to the believers living in Colossae.

“We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” – Colossians 1:9-10 NLT

Imprisonment was not an impediment for Paul. He saw it as just one more way to spread the gospel to those who desperately needed to hear it, including Roman guards. And Paul didn’t want the Philippian believers to let his incarceration to cause them consternation. As far as Paul was concerned, it was all part of God’s will and part of the divine plan to spread the gospel around the world. And, as long as Jesus Christ was being proclaimed, Paul had more than enough reason to rejoice – even while under house arrest.

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

No Place For Pride

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
    and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
    and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man;
    he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood;
    he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
    and their soul delights in their abominations;
I also will choose harsh treatment for them
    and bring their fears upon them,
because when I called, no one answered,
    when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my eyes
    and chose that in which I did not delight.”

Hear the word of the Lord,
    you who tremble at his word:
“Your brothers who hate you
    and cast you out for my name’s sake
have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified,
    that we may see your joy’;
    but it is they who shall be put to shame.

“The sound of an uproar from the city!
    A sound from the temple!
The sound of the Lord,
    rendering recompense to his enemies!” Isaiah 66:1-6 ESV

As human beings, we tend to put a lot of significance in those things that we have made with our own hands. We take great pride in our achievements. We boast in our accomplishments.  In short, we celebrate our own success. And there is no better example of this kind of self-exaltation than the pride-filled words of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” – Daniel 4:30 ESV

And it’s interesting to note that Nebuchadnezzar’s beautiful city was located in the same area where Nimrod and his followers had attempted to disobey God and build a city for themselves, complete with a huge construction project as a permanent monument to their own self-importance and significance.

“Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves.” – Genesis 11:4 NLT

But there plans were contrary to God’s will and He confused their language and scattered them to the four winds. And before the sound of his own pride-filled voice had died away, Nebuchadnezzar would receive some ego-diminishing news straight from God’s throne room in heaven.

“It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.” – Daniel 4:31-32 NLT

Which brings us back to Isaiah 66. God opens up this section of His address to the people of Judah with the reminder: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1 ESV). He was reminding His covenant people that He was the sovereign ruler over all, including them. He was the King and all glory and honor was due to Him and no one and nothing else. And yet, God exposes a pride problem among His people. They were guilty of placing far too much value on the temple they had built for Him. It had become the symbol of their own significance. They treated it like a box they had built in which to contain the God of the universe. And yet, as God had said in response to King David’s plan to build the temple:

Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” – 2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV

God didn’t need or ask for a temple to be built. What He desired was a people who would worship and obey Him. As the prophet Samuel had told David’s predecessor: “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 NLT). But the Jews had become enamored with their temple. Its very presence among them gave them a false sense of security and an over-confident belief in their own spirituality. They had come to value the temple they had created more than the Creator for whom they had built it.

So, God gives them a stark reminder of His criteria for measuring spirituality.

“But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2 ESV

Notice that God looks for humility and contriteness in His people. But what do these two words mean? The Hebrew word translated “humble” means “poor, afflicted, humble, wretched.” It conveys the idea of need and abject dependence. But it also reveals an awareness that the one who is humble fully recognizes his or her condition. There is no false sense of pride or arrogance about them. The word translated “contrite” means “stricken” or “smitten” and seems to indicate the reason for the individual’s lowly condition. It provides the “why” behind their humble estate. They have been brought low by some circumstance of life and their condition has left them a clear sense of need. Which is why God describes them as trembling at His word.

A humble or poor person has nothing to bring to God. They are in no condition to offer the God of the universe anything and they recognize it. A contrite or stricken person understands that any suffering they experience is deserved. Even their righteous deeds are little more than filthy rags to a holy God. As sinners, they understand that they deserve little more than judgment from God. Which is why they tend to turn to God in fear and trembling, treating Him with the honor He deserves. They desire to do what He commands them to do.

But the people of Judah put a lot of stock in their keeping of the various religious rituals associated with their temple worship. God mentions the slaughter of an ox, the sacrifice of a lamb, and the offering of grain and frankincense. But then He turns around and labels these so-called acts of worship as little more than murder, animal cruelty, abomination and idol worship. In other words, even worship, when done in pride and with an attitude of self-righteousness, is unacceptable to God.

Yes, they were keeping God’s commands by offering the appropriate sacrifices at the proper times and according to the temple calendar. But God says, “they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV). Even their adherence to His commands concerning sacrifices was tainted by their refusal to live in submission to Him in the rest of their lives. They were disobedient and disingenuous. And so, God warns them what is going to happen next.

I will send them great trouble—
    all the things they feared.” – Isaiah 66:4 NLT

But don’t miss the reason behind God’s declaration of judgment. He says that when He had called, they had refused to answer. When He spoke, they had failed to listen. Instead, He says, “They deliberately sinned before my very eyes and chose to do what they know I despise” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV).

And to make matters worse, these very same people mocked the faithful remnant of God. These prideful and pompous individuals turned their anger and arrogance on those who had chosen to remain obedient to and reliant upon God. In their hatred for these faithful few, the majority of the people of Judah chose to cast them out of their midst. They wanted nothing to do with them. But God assures His remnant that justice is coming. He will bring shame to all those who stand pridefully opposed to Him and who treat the faithful with contempt. God was going to bring judgment on the people of Judah in the form of vengeance on behalf of all those who were humble and contrite.

God was going to humiliate the non-humble. He was going to strike down the non-contrite. Their religious play-acting was not going to save them. Their pride in their own achievements and over-confidence in their self-righteous activities were not going to protect them from the wrath of God. They were missing the one thing God was looking for: Humility. And James, in the letter that bears his name, reminds us that God “gives greater grace.” And then James goes on to remind us that God’s grace is reserved for the humble. “Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.’ So submit to God” (James 4:5-6 NLT).

Submit to God. There is the key. But submission requires an admittance of God’s superiority and our own inferiority. He is greater and more glorious and fully deserves our humble and contrite submission to His will. And when we come to Him in humility, we receive His grace – free of charge and fully apart from any merit on our part.

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

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

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

My Year of Redemption

1 Who is this who comes from Edom,
    in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he who is splendid in his apparel,
    marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
    mighty to save.”

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.
I looked, but there was no one to help;
    I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me salvation,
    and my wrath upheld me.
I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
    I made them drunk in my wrath,
    and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Isaiah 63:1-6 ESV

In this passage, Isaiah is provided with a vision of a divine warrior who will come and act as God’s agent of deliverance on behalf of the people of Israel. He is shown coming from the east, from the land of the Edomites, the perennial enemies of Israel who were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. These close relatives of the Jews had been a thorn in their side for generations. And their combative relationship had been predicted by God long before the two patriarchs from they descended were even born. God had told Rebekah:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

And her two twin sons, born just moments apart, would end up in a lifelong struggle for power and control. God had ordained that Jacob, the younger of the two, would rule over his older sibling, breaking with the normal protocol that required the blessing and birthright go to the oldest male child. The ensuing struggle between Jacob and Esau would foreshadow the ongoing conflict that would exist between their future descendants.

But there is far more at play here than the internecine struggle between two brothers and their offspring. It would appear that Edom is meant to represent all the enemies of Israel. As Babylon came to represent any nation that uses its power and prominence to take advantage of the people of God, Edom became the symbol of all the other nations of the world who take delight in the fall of God’s people, the Israelites. Edom was not a world power. They were not a dominant military force in that region, but they took great pleasure in seeing God’s people suffer at the hands of more powerful nations like Babylon.

It was an Edomite, who become known as Herod the Great, who was later named King of the Jews by the Romans. And it was he who attempted to eliminate Jesus as the rightful King of Israel by ordering the execution of all male babies under the age of two in the region around Bethlehem.

It must be noted that Jesus was a descendant of Jacob, not Esau. It would be through the line of Jacob that the Savior of the world would come. The gospel of Matthew makes this point clear.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers – Matthew 1:1-2 ESV

Jacob was given a vision from God, confirming that he would be the son through which the covenant promise made to Abraham would come.

“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.” – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

It would be through a particular descendant of Jacob that all the earth would be blessed: Jesus, the Messiah. In His incarnation, Jesus would be born a man, through the lineage of David, tracing all the way back to Jacob. And He would enter the world as the rightful King of the Jews, but they would refuse to acknowledge Him as such. In fact, the sign that was hung above His head as He died on the cross stated the crime for which He was being executed: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 ESV).

Jesus was crucified because He had claimed to be the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. But the Jews refused Him as their King, choosing instead to see Him crucified for blasphemy. And while they put Him to death for what they believed to be a crime, He actually died so that men might be made right with God. With the sacrifice of His sinless life, He was able to satisfy the just demands of God. He became the atonement for the sins of mankind. And all those who placed their faith in His death in their place would receive forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.

Now, in the 63rd chapter of the book of Isaiah, we get a glimpse of Jesus’ second coming. As He promised His disciples, there would be a day when He returned. And Isaiah sees Him coming from the east, from Bozrah, the capital city of Edom, where He has defeated the enemies of Israel and God. His garments are described as splendid, like royal robes. And He arrives on the scene with great strength. What a dramatic contrast this scene provides from the physical state of Jesus as He hung, weak and virtually naked, on the cross. On that fateful day, Jesus was bruised, beaten and covered in His own blood. But what Isaiah sees is something altogether different.

Jesus arrives on the scene like the King He is, and He is victorious, having defeated His enemies. In fact, His robes are stained red, as if He has been treading grapes and Isaiah asks for an explanation. Jesus replies, “I have been treading the winepress alone; no one was there to help me. In my anger, I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury I have trampled my foes. Their blood has stained my clothes” (Isaiah 63:3 NLT). Jesus reveals that He has been doing what no one would or could do. He has personally defeated His enemies, all those who have stood against Him and who have chosen to align themselves against His chosen people, the Israelites. Remember, God had told Abraham that He would bless all those who blessed him and curse all those who cursed him. And now, Jesus is seen as having fulfilled that promise.

This imagery of grape harvesting is found throughout the Scriptures and is used as a symbol of God’s coming judgment against the nations. The prophet Joel records:

“Swing the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Come, tread the grapes,
    for the winepress is full.
The storage vats are overflowing
    with the wickedness of these people.” – Joel 3:13 NLT

And thousands of years later, the apostle John would pick up this theme in his book of Revelation. He would be given a vision of God’s coming judgment, executed by Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

“Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle. – Revelation 14:18-20 NLT

And John would later describe the victorious Jesus, dressed in a robe dipped in blood.

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 19:13-16 NLT

Like John, Isaiah is being given a glimpse into the future, where He sees the Messiah back on earth, but this time He is the conquering King, not the suffering servant. And Isaiah hears Jesus declare the sad state of affairs at His second coming.

“I was amazed to see that no one intervened
    to help the oppressed.
So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm,
    and my wrath sustained me.” – Isaiah 63:5 NLT

At the end of the seven years of Tribulation, the condition of things on the earth will have reached an all-time low. Satan will have set up his false messiah, the Antichrist, having given him his power, authority, and throne (Revelation 13:2). And this man will have not only made himself the supreme political and military ruler over the world, but he will also have made himself god, demanding that all the world worship him in place of the one true God. But the day is coming when Jesus will return to earth and deal with all those who oppose the rule of God, including Satan and his false messiah. And according to Jesus, the end for the enemies of God will not be a pretty or pleasant one.

“I crushed the nations in my anger
    and made them stagger and fall to the ground,
    spilling their blood upon the earth. – Isaiah 63:6 NLT

This passage reveals that Jesus Christ is longing for this day. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, and He waits patiently for the pre-ordained moment when He can consummate the divine plan of redemption and restoration of all things.

“For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.” – Isaiah 63:4 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

God Will

15 The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
18 According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
    to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19 So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
    and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
    which the wind of the Lord drives.

20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:15-21 ESV

The people of Judah were between a rock and a hard place. They were guilty of sinning against a holy God and were suffering the consequences. And their sinful state left them incapable of doing anything about their condition. They were like blind men groping around in darkness, with no sense of where they were or what to do. Even the prophet’s calls to repent were met by deaf ears and a stubborn determination to continue living their lives just as they had for centuries. In fact, they had fooled themselves into believing that they were righteous because they still made a vain attempt to keep maintain the religious rites and rituals of their faith. But their hearts were not in it.  They were simply going through the motions.

And while they demanded justice and deliverance from God, their lives were marked by injustice and the misuse of their rights that resulted in their abuse of the weak and helpless among them. It was so bad, that Isaiah pictures God looking down from heaven and was far from happy with what He saw.

The Lord looked and was displeased
    to find there was no justice.
He was amazed to see that no one intervened
    to help the oppressed. – Isaiah 59:15-16 NLT

The spiritual state of affairs in Judah had reached an all-time low. And while there were those in the country, like Isaiah, who remained faithful to God, the reality was that the vast majority of the people were living in open rebellion to Him.

This indictment against the spiritual condition of Judah is echoed in the words of God recorded by the prophet Ezekiel. It is yet another case revealing the the divine disappointment of God with the state affairs among His chosen people.

“I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one. – Ezekiel 22:30 NLT

God could find no one to stand in the gap. He could find no one practicing justice and intervening on behalf of the oppressed. And it wasn’t as if God had not made His requirements known to them. The prophet Micah had declared the expectations of God quite plainly and succinctly.

O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, had said virtually the same thing.

This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:3 NLT

And Hosea had recorded the words of God expressing His expectations of His people.

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:6 NLT

But sadly, there was no one in Judah willing to do what God wanted. They were all busy living according to their own agendas and  pursuing their own selfish passions and desires. Justice was nowhere to be found. Love of self had replaced love for others.

But God was not willing to allow things to remain as they were. While there was no one to step in the gap and rebuild the walls of righteousness, He was not content to leave things in that sorry state. And Isaiah describes God’s determination to do what no man was willing to do.

…then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him. – Isaiah 59:16 ESV

God was not going to accept the status quo. He was not about to leave His chosen people in a state of helplessness and hopelessness. What is important to see here is that God was about to intervene on behalf of the weak. The people of Judah, while guilty of their sin, were helpless to do anything about it. They were incapable of living in keeping with the laws of God. They were unable to obey the commands of God. And they were helplessly succumbing to the attacks of the enemy. So, God determined to enact His form of divine justice and intercede for them. And Isaiah describes God as a warrior preparing for battle.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. – Isaiah 59:17 ESV

The result will be justice in the form of God repaying each and every oppressor of Judah for their mistreatment of God’s people.

He will repay his enemies for their evil deeds.
    His fury will fall on his foes.
    He will pay them back even to the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 59:18 NLT

God will leave no sin unpunished. Every inequity will be dealt with and the justice of God will once again be established in the land. If God could not find a man to rebuild the walls of righteousness, He would do it Himself. If He could not find a single individual to dispense justice, He would take care of it.

And when all is said and done, the world will fear the name of the Lord and give Him glory. It will be painfully obvious that God has done something great and totally beyond the capabilities of mere men. This passage is obviously prophetic in nature, speaking of an event sometime in Judah’s future. And it was fulfilled in part with the coming of Jesus. God sent His Son into the world in order to redeem the world from its slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that came as a result of their rebellion against God. But the Jews rejected their Messiah, eventually demanding that He be crucified. But God is not done with His chosen people. There is a day coming when He will fulfill all that Isaiah has recorded in this chapter.

God will put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he will put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrap himself in zeal as a cloak. And He will bring justice to the land of Israel and to His people. He will restore His helpless and hopeless people to a right relationship with Him, doing for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves.

“The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem
    to buy back those in Israel
who have turned from their sins,”
    says the Lord. – Isaiah 59:20 NLT

And the result of all this will be a radically new relationship between God and His chosen people. He will deliver them from their rebellion and restore them to prominence as His people. And He provides them with the following promise as a guarantee of His faithfulness and an encouragement to trust Him – even now.

“My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 59:21 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

The Choice Is Yours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Will Not Be Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

who formed you from the womb – vs 24

who alone stretched out the heavens – vs 24

who spread out the earth by myself – vs 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I, the Lord…I Am He

1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
    let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
    let us together draw near for judgment.

Who stirred up one from the east
    whom victory meets at every step?
He gives up nations before him,
    so that he tramples kings underfoot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
    like driven stubble with his bow.
He pursues them and passes on safely,
    by paths his feet have not trod.
Who has performed and done this,
    calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, the first,
    and with the last; I am he.

The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
    the ends of the earth tremble;
    they have drawn near and come.
Everyone helps his neighbor
    and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
    and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
    and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
    shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.”

14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
    you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
    new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. – Isaiah 41:1-20 ESV

Judah was in an unenviable position, in both a physical and spiritual sense. It seems that they were located in the very epicenter of a region that attracted conquering nations like honey draws bees.

Assyrian domain.jpgIf you look at any maps that reveal the extent of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, you find Judah positioned precariously in the middle of all the action. The threat of defeat at the hands of more powerful nations was a constant reality. If it weren’t the Assyrians, it would be the Babylonians.

Babylon's domain.jpgAnd God has already warned Hezekiah that Jerusalem would eventually fall to the Babylonians, who weren’t even a major player on the scene at the time.

But even more unenviable than Judah’s geographic location was its position in respect to Yahweh. They had been unfaithful to the Faithful One. They had repeatedly disobeyed Him and dishonored His name by worshiping false gods. And God, by virtue of His holiness and righteousness, was obligated to punish His people for their serial spiritual adultery.

And yet, God has provided His rebellious people with a somewhat surprising message of assurance, saying, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1 ESV). In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend a holy God, they would find Him to be compassionate and gracious. He promised to one day restore them.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

It would have been easy for the people of Judah to look at their circumstances and lose heart. They were a seemingly insignificant nation surrounded by more powerful enemies who were intent on their destruction. What was Judah when compared to the world-dominating power of Assyria? What hope did they have when the ten tribes of Israel to the north had fallen to Sennacherib and his forces? But in chapter 41, God assures His people that they have nothing to fear from these other nations. They were mere pawns in His hands, and their power was insignificant when compared with His.

God summons as witnesses all the Gentile nations of the world. Like a prosecuting attorney in a court of law, He addresses them, delivering in no uncertain terms a defense of His sovereignty.

“Who has stirred up this king from the east,
    rightly calling him to God’s service?
Who gives this man victory over many nations
    and permits him to trample their kings underfoot?
With his sword, he reduces armies to dust.
    With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind.
He chases them away and goes on safely,
    though he is walking over unfamiliar ground.”– Isaiah 41:2-3 NLT

In response to these questions from God, the Gentile nations would have most likely stated that the pagan gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible for their victories. But God’s questions are intended to be rhetorical, and He provides the only correct answer: “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he” (Isaiah 41:4 ESV).

And yet, the pagan nations continue to place all their hopes in their false gods. They attempt to manufacture some semblance of security just as they manufacture the idols they worship.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

But these man-made totems will prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. They have no power. And any power that the kings of these pagan nations wield has been given to them by God. As God revealed to Daniel in a dream:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

So, God turns His attention to the people of Judah, reminding them of their unique position as His chosen people. Of all people on the earth, they were to be envied, despite all that was happening around them. The nations beyond the seas had no god to save them. Their idols would prove powerless in the face of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. But Judah had no reason to fear because they belonged to God.

“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 41:10 NLT

If they looked at their circumstances, they were bound to experience fear and discouragement. But, as God’s people, they were to look to Him. They were to trust in Him. Because He had promised to do what no other god could do: To strengthen them, help them and hold them up. They had nothing to fear, even though they were surrounded by more powerful enemies because God was in control and was on their side.

Those who attack you
    will come to nothing.
For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” – Isaiah 41:12-13 NLT

Notice what God tells them. They would be attacked. Their enemies were real, and the prospect of warfare was as well. God didn’t promise them freedom from warfare, but the assurance of His help. And the apostle Paul reminds us that we can expect warfare in our lives as well.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God promises the people of Judah that a day is coming when the tables will be turned. They will become the victor rather than the victim. The lowly “worm” will become the aggressor, wreaking havoc on its enemies and gladly glorying in the greatness of God.

Then you will rejoice in the Lord.
    You will glory in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 41:16 NLT

God tells them that, just when things are looking like they couldn’t get any worse, He will show up.

“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
    and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
    I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.” – Isaiah 41:17 NLT

At their greatest moment of need, their great God will show up. And He will provide for them in ways that are beyond their imaginations. He will work a miracle that leaves no doubt that their salvation was divinely ordained and orchestrated. And God tells them why He is going to act on their behalf.

“I am doing this so all who see this miracle
    will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel who created it.” – Isiah 41:20 NLT

God’s greatest works always appear at our greatest moments of need. It is in our periods of most intense crisis that God reveals His power and proves His faithfulness to us. It is when we need Him most that God tends to show up best. It is in those times that He intervenes and says, “I, the Lord…I am He.”

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

Yet I Will Praise Him

A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:

10 I said, In the middle of my days
    I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
    for the rest of my years.
11 I said, I shall not see the Lord,
    the Lord in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
    among the inhabitants of the world.
12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
    like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
    he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
13     I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
    from day to night you bring me to an end.

14 Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
    I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
    O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
15 What shall I say? For he has spoken to me,
    and he himself has done it.
I walk slowly all my years
    because of the bitterness of my soul.

16 O Lord, by these things men live,
    and in all these is the life of my spirit.
    Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17 Behold, it was for my welfare
    that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
    from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
    behind your back.
18 For Sheol does not thank you;
    death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
    for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living, he thanks you,
    as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
    your faithfulness.

20 The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.

21 Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.” 22 Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” – Isaiah 38:9-21 ESV

Hezekiah had been severely ill, and the prophet Isaiah had given him the divine prognosis that his illness would end in death. In his despair, Hezekiah prayed to God and received the news that he would be healed and his life would be extended an additional 15 years. The book of 2 Kings provides additional details concerning Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery.

Then Isaiah said, “Make an ointment from figs.” So Hezekiah’s servants spread the ointment over the boil, and Hezekiah recovered! – 2 Kings 20:7 NLT

Sometime after these events, Hezekiah composed a poem commemorating the occasion and recording the diverse range of emotions he had experienced.

Hezekiah had been rocked by the news of his pending death. It was unexpected and had caught him completely by surprise. Like anyone facing the prospect of an untimely death, Hezekiah thought about all those he would leave behind.

“Never again will I see the Lord God
    while still in the land of the living.
Never again will I see my friends
    or be with those who live in this world.” – Isaiah 38:11 NLT

He couldn’t help but feel that he was being robbed of life, and denied the joy of experiencing all the pleasures that come to the living. Like all men, he had a difficult time imagining what existence beyond death might look like. He refers to his soul being confined to Sheol, the abode of the dead. The ancient Jews did not have a well-developed understanding of the afterlife. Their concept of the blessings of God was closely tied to life on this side of death, not beyond it. Which led Hezekiah to wonder whether his premature death was the result of his own sin. He couldn’t help but consider that he had somehow displeased God and his terminal illness was a form of divine punishment. For the Jews, disease was viewed as a sign of God’s displeasure. The apostle John records a scene from the life of Jesus that reflects this common misperception.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” – John 9:1-2 NLT

The disciples were reflecting the commonly held view that blindness was a curse, not a blessing. So, this man or his parents must have done something that angered God and brought about his blindness.

Hezekiah shared this mindset and saw his illness as a curse from God. Which led Hezekiah to pray incessantly, his voice sounding like the coos of a dove as he moaned out his pleas for God’s mercy. And yet, he somehow believed that his calls for healing would be ineffectual.

“But what could I say?
    For he himself sent this sickness.
Now I will walk humbly throughout my years
    because of this anguish I have felt.” – Isaiah 38:15 NLT

His illness was God’s doing, and there was nothing he could do about it. But his poem takes a dramatic turn at this point. Suddenly, Hezekiah begins to reflect his gratefulness for the dark night of the soul he experienced.

“Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.” – Isaiah 38:15-17 NLT

God provided healing and the assurance that his life would be extended another 15 years. Hezekiah’s sorrow was immediately replaced with joy. His despair was replaced with delight in God’s mercy and unmerited favor. God was allowing him to live and, not only that, forgiving his sins in the process. Because Hezekiah believed his illness was the result of sin, his healing could only have happened if God forgave his sin.

You can sense Hezekiah’s rather earth-bound and limited view of life and the afterlife. From his human perspective, life was essential if one were going to praise God.

“For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.” – Isaiah 38:18 NLT

He shared the commonly-held view that this life was where God’s blessings were to be enjoyed and where our devotion to God was to be displayed. You see this mindset reflected in the psalms.

The heavens belong to the Lord,
    but he has given the earth to all humanity.
The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
    for they have gone into the silence of the grave. – Psalm 115:16-17 NLT

Even King David had shared this view of life and death.

Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
    Save me because of your unfailing love.
For the dead do not remember you.
    Who can praise you from the grave? – Psalm 6:4-5 NLT

From Hezekiah’s perspective, long life provided an opportunity to praise God. “Only the living can praise you as I do today” (Isaiah 38:19 NLT). And he intended to take advantage of every single moment God was going to give him on this earth.

I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 NLT

Hezekiah’s desire to spend his remaining years praising God is commendable. His ecstatic reaction to the news of his healing is natural and normal. He had been facing certain death and, suddenly, he had been given a new lease on life. In the excitement of the moment, Hezekiah expressed his desire to repay God by dedicating his life to the praise and glory of God. And again, this reaction by Hezekiah is commendable, but it raises some unavoidable questions: Are we only willing to praise God when He gives us the desires of our heart? Had God not chosen to heal Hezekiah, would the king have praised the Almighty anyway? Would he have accepted the will of God even when it seemed to contradict his own human understanding of what it means to be blessed by God?

The prophet Habakkuk provides us with a much more balanced illustration of how we, as humans, should understand and respond to the seeming incongruities of life.

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! – Habakkuk 3:17-18 NLT

The apostle Paul shared this same viewpoint, declaring to the believers in Rome that, even in the face of trials and troubles, we have ample reason to praise God.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. – Roman 5:3-5 NLT

In Hezekiah, we have reflected a similar but significantly different sentiment.

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live! – Isaiah 38:16 NLT

The question is whether we, as those who believe in the sovereignty of God, are willing to accept both the good and the bad of life as coming through His hands. It was right for Hezekiah to rejoice in God’s healing. It was appropriate for him to respond with praise and adoration at his miraculous restoration by God. But the fact is, God does not always heal. Things do not always turn out for the better. Those with terminal illnesses do not always receive an additional 15-years of life. But those facts do not alter the goodness of God. They do not do anything to diminish the divine sovereignty of God. In our greatest moments of darkness and despair, our attitude should be that of Job who, when facing the loss of all that he had, was able to say:

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

Praising God in the good times is easy. Praising Him the difficult times requires faith and a strong belief that His will is always right and His plan, while not always clear to us, has our best interest in mind.

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