The Lord Is Their Inheritance

1 “The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord’s food offerings as their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. And this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons for all time.

“And if a Levite comes from any of your towns out of all Israel, where he lives—and he may come when he desires—to the place that the Lord will choose, and ministers in the name of the Lord his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand to minister there before the Lord, then he may have equal portions to eat, besides what he receives from the sale of his patrimony. – Deuteronomy 18:1-8 ESV

The nation of Israel was made up of 12 tribes, but one of these tribes, the Levites, enjoyed a special relationship with God. They had been set apart by Him to care for the tabernacle and to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. But for us to fully understand the unique nature of their relationship with God, we have to go back and look at the history of this tribe. Their path to becoming God’s chosen ones has a rather surprising and bumpy beginning.

Back in the book of Genesis, there is recorded an encounter between Jacob, the father of the 12 sons who would later become the tribes of Israel, and Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite. This story took place when Jacob was still living in the land of Canaan, long before the famine forced him and his family to seek food and shelter in Egypt.

The Genesis account relates that Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, went to visit some of the other young girls who lived in the area. “But when the local prince, Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, saw Dinah, he seized her and raped her” (Genesis 34:2 NLT).

When his lust turned to love for Dinah, he begged his father to seek permission from Jacob for her hand in marriage. But when Jacob’s sons “were shocked and furious that their sister had been raped. Shechem had done a disgraceful thing against Jacob’s family, something that should never be done” (Genesis 34:7 NLT).

Hamor, the father of Shechem, pleaded with Jacob to allow the marriage to take place. In fact, he suggested that their two families form an alliance by encouraging additional marriages between their sons and daughters.

“…let’s arrange other marriages, too. You give us your daughters for our sons, and we will give you our daughters for your sons. And you may live among us; the land is open to you! Settle here and trade with us. And feel free to buy property in the area.” – Genesis 34:9-10 NLT

Shechem begged Jacob and his sons to allow him to marry Dinah, promising to pay whatever they demanded as a dowry. Their response must have caught Shechem and his father off guard.

“We couldn’t possibly allow this, because you’re not circumcised. It would be a disgrace for our sister to marry a man like you!  But here is a solution. If every man among you will be circumcised like we are, then we will give you our daughters, and we’ll take your daughters for ourselves. We will live among you and become one people.” – Genesis 34:14-16 NLT

It was all a ploy designed to provide an opportunity to seek revenge against the Hivites for the rape of Dinah by Shechem.

Shechem convinced all the men in his family to undergo the rite of circumcision by promising them that this alliance with the family of Jacob would have long-term benefits. But just three days after the men had undergone the procedure, and while they were still recovering, Simeon and Levi “took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there, including Hamor and his son Shechem. They killed them with their swords, then took Dinah from Shechem’s house and returned to their camp” (Genesis 34:25-26 NLT).

Simeon and Levi were the full brothers of Dinah, having been born to Jacob’s wife, Leah. Their close relationship with their sister must have motivated the extreme nature of their response. But while they were the two sons of Jacob responsible for slaughtering all the men of the Hivites, their 10 brothers took full advantage of their actions by plundering all the wealth of the town, even taking all the wives and children of the Hivites as plunder.

When news reached Jacob of what Simeon and Levi had done, he was appalled.

“You have ruined me! You’ve made me stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. We are so few that they will join forces and crush us. I will be ruined, and my entire household will be wiped out!” – Genesis 34:30 NLT

And years later, when Jacob was on his death bed and pronouncing blessings upon his 12 sons, he would have this to say about Simeon and Levi:

“Simeon and Levi are two of a kind;
    their weapons are instruments of violence.
May I never join in their meetings;
    may I never be a party to their plans.
For in their anger they murdered men,
    and they crippled oxen just for sport.
A curse on their anger, for it is fierce;
    a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob;
    I will disperse them throughout Israel.” – Genesis 49:5-7 NLT

Jacob pronounced a curse on these two sons and their descendants. Even years after the slaughter of the Hivites, Jacob recalled the treacherous and deceitful nature of their actions. But fast forward to the day when Moses descended from the top of Mount Sinai with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments in his hands. He arrived back in the camp of Israel only to find them worshiping a false god in the form of a golden calf. In his anger, Moses called out to the people:

“All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.

Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” – Exodus 32:26-29 NLT

The Levites redeemed themselves. The tribe that had been under their father’s curse for their slaughter of the Hivites were used by God to enact His judgment against the wicked and unfaithful among the Israelites. They became God’s instruments of justice. And, as a result of their faithful service to God, He set them apart and ordained them for His service.

While Jacob pronounced a curse on the descendants of Levi, decreeing that they would be scattered among the other tribes, God turned this curse into a blessing. He would graciously provide for the needs of the Levites, rewarding them with 48 cities in which to live, scattered among the other 11 tribes of Israel.

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can flee for safety. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. In all, forty-eight towns with the surrounding pastureland will be given to the Levites. These towns will come from the property of the people of Israel. The larger tribes will give more towns to the Levites, while the smaller tribes will give fewer. Each tribe will give property in proportion to the size of its land.” – Numbers 35:6-8 NLT

While Jacob’s curse would ultimately be fulfilled, God sovereignly orchestrated events in such a way that the tribe of Levi would prosper as a result of its fulfillment. It recalls another interaction between Jacob’s sons and their long-lost brother, Joseph. Out of jealousy over his close relationship with their father, they had sold him into slavery. But years later, when Jacob had become the second-highest-ranking official in Egypt, and his brothers found themselves standing his presence, he told them:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” – Genesis 50:20 NLT

God had been working behind the scenes, orchestrating events so that the treachery of Joseph’s brothers would result in good, not evil. And, in the same way, God used the Levites, who had been cursed by their very own father, to bring about good among the people of Israel. He would redeem and restore them, setting them apart for His use. And God would provide for their needs. While they would never own a single acre of land in Canaan, God would make sure they had cities and homes in which to live and plenty of food to eat. He would be their provider and protector. But even more importantly, He would be their inheritance.

“They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.” – Deuteronomy 18:2 ESV

At one point, the Levites had been cursed and condemned. But they had answered the call of Moses and avenged the glory of God. They had aligned themselves with the righteous cause of God Almighty, and He had graciously redeemed and restored them.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Adam 2.0

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. – 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 ESV

Adam, whose name in Hebrew means “man,” was the first of his kind. The book of Genesis tells us exactly how God made the first human being: “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). Adam was created by God, but not on a whim or in some kind of prideful display of His power. Adam, like the rest of creation, was intended to bring God glory. But unlike the rest of the creative order, Adam was made in the image of God.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate as to the exact meaning of that phrase, “in his own image.” Theologians and scholars have wrestled with the significance of what it means to be made in the image of God. Some have argued that Adam’ creation in God’s likeness meant that he was given immortality, a will, and the capacity to love. He was also provided with the responsibility to care for the rest of creation, having been commanded by God to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). No other living creature was given this mandate. But one other aspect of the image of God breathed into Adam by God was his endowment with righteousness or, to put it another way, holiness. Adam had been created without sin. And when God had completed His creative process, He pronounced His satisfaction with all that He had made.

God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31 ESV

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used to describe God’s satisfaction is towb and it can refer to beauty, but also to moral perfection. In fact, in the very next chapter of Genesis, the word is used again to describe the one tree and its fruit that had been deemed off-limits by God.

And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. – Genesis 2:9 ESV

In this passage, the words “good” and “evil” are set in direct contrast from one another. They are intended to represent polar opposites. Three verses later, the same Hebrew word is used to describe the gold found in the garden of Eden. It was towb or good, because it was without blemish or free from impurities. That is the essence of Adam’s post-creation nature. He was made pure and holy by God. He was free from any kind of flaw. He was a sinless reflection of God’s glory and given the responsibility to care for the pristine and defect-free creation God had made.

But Adam and Eve sinned. They listened to the lies of the enemy and chose to satisfy their own natural appetites rather than obey the will of God. They used the intellect and the free will with which they had been endowed by God to choose evil rather than good. And, in doing so, they permanently marred the divine image given to them by God. Their intellect was darkened. Their formerly free wills were now enslaved to sin. They were no longer free to choose righteousness. In fact, the Scriptures make it painfully clear that righteousness was no longer an option for them or for their descendants.

As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” – Romans 3:10 NLT

But as 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us, God was not about to let the sin of Adam be the final act in His plan for the world. While the creation He had deemed good was now permanently damaged by Adam’s sin, God had a plan of redemption already in place, and it involved a second Adam.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul addresses the role of Jesus as the second Adam or to put it in more modern terms: Adam 2.0. While Adam was born a living being, having been created by God, Jesus was born a life-giving spirit. While Adam brought death to mankind, Jesus came to bring life. But it’s important to note that the first Adam had been given the very breath of God.

…the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

Adam had been given life by God, but rather than glorify God with that life, he chose to disobey and dishonor God through his actions. And the result was the entrance into the world of both physical and spiritual death. The creation itself became infected by the sin of Adam and Eve, and everyone of their descendants would inherit their propensity to sin. They would become slaves to sin.

But the second Adam came to change all that. Jesus became a man, just like the first Adam, but He lived in complete obedience to His Father’s will. As Paul writes in Philippians, Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). And it was His willingness to become the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind that made restoration to a right relationship with God possible.

And one of the most important aspects of Paul’s words, found in 1 Corinthians, is his hopeful reminder, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49 ESV). Yes, we were born into sin, having inherited the sin nature of Adam. And we have inherited the same flawed, sin-prone body of flesh that will one day face not only physical death, but the even more heinous reality of spiritual death – eternal separation from God.

But Jesus came to change all that. And He makes it possible for sinful men and women to have the image of God, lost as a result of the fall, permanently restored. And while Paul speaks of us as one day bearing the image of the man of heaven, the second Adam, we have the joy of experiencing that restored image even now. That is the joy of sanctification. God has made it possible for those who were once dead in their trespasses and sins to be restored to the pre-fall state of righteousness. And the author of Hebrews reminds us of this wonderful reality.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:14 ESV

Those who are in Christ have been perfected, but are also being perfected. We have been deemed righteous by God because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the second Adam. But we are being transformed, day after day, into His likeness.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

The second Adam has given fallen mankind a second chance to image God in this world.

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., Caro l Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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

 

I Will Restore

18 Then the Lord became jealous for his land
    and had pity on his people.
19 The Lord answered and said to his people,
“Behold, I am sending to you
    grain, wine, and oil,
    and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
    a reproach among the nations.

20 “I will remove the northerner far from you,
    and drive him into a parched and desolate land,
his vanguard into the eastern sea,
    and his rear guard into the western sea;
the stench and foul smell of him will rise,
    for he has done great things.

21 “Fear not, O land;
    be glad and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things!
22 Fear not, you beasts of the field,
    for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit;
    the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

23 “Be glad, O children of Zion,
    and rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given the early rain for your vindication;
    he has poured down for you abundant rain,
    the early and the latter rain, as before.

24 “The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
25 I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.

26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.” Joel 2:18-27 ESV

In these verses. Joel communicates a much-needed message of hope to the people of Judah. It begins with the word, “Then….” Joel appears to be writing from a vantage point where he looking back and recollecting the response of God to the solemn assembly of the peoples, their mourning and fasting, and their cries of sorrow for their sin. But it could also be true, that Joel is speaking of future events, recording what God will do if and when the people truly repent. The problem of interpreting the first two verses of this section hangs on the Hebrew perfect verbs used by Joel. They can be translated into English as either past or future verbs. So, it is somewhat difficult to determine exactly which perspective Joel is writing from. But the context and the content of the chapter provide us with insight into the timing of God’s message.

God had already brought devastation to the land via the locust plague. He has warned the people of Judah that a great army is coming from the north that will make the destruction of the locusts pale in comparison. And He has called the people to turn to Him in repentance. Now, God assures them that, if they return to Him with all their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and if they rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:12), He will show them pity. Why? Because “he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:14 ESV).

And God tells them exactly what He is going to do, if and when they do repent.

“Behold, I am sending to you
    grain, wine, and oil,
    and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
    a reproach among the nations. – Joel 2:18 ESV

There appear to be two different aspects to God’s promise. The first has to do with the damage done by the locusts. This entire section is full of references to horticulture. God mentions grain, wine, oil, pastures, fields, trees, and vines. He refers to threshing floors full of grain and vats overflowing with wine and oil. It is a picture of abundance and blessing that stand in stark contrast to the conditions described in chapter 1. There, Joel painted a much bleaker image depicting barren vines, stripped fig trees, dried up fields, and fruitless harvests.

Chapter one describes the justified consequences of the peoples’ rebellion against God. Chapter two, verses 18-27 describe the mercy and grace of God in response to true, heartfelt repentance. God had brought His divine judgment upon the people of Judah, and He had warned that more was to come – if they refused to repent. But here He is telling them what the fruit of repentance looks like.

“The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. – Joel 2:24 ESV

God is assuring them He has the capacity to restore all that had been destroyed.

“I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.” – Joel 2:25 ESV

The key to their restoration was their repentance. All that prevented them from enjoying the manifold blessings of God was their willingness to return to Him in humility and contrition. He wasn’t looking for some kind of mock sorrow or insincere statement of remorse or regret. God wanted true repentance, marked by a rejection of their formal lifestyle of sin and a child-like submission to the will and ways of God. Hundreds of years earlier, God had told them exactly what they were to do if He  “shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you” (2 Chronicles 7:13 ESV).

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

But notice the phrase, “seek my face.” The Hebrew word baqash carries the idea of desire. It conveys a sense of longing and a willingness to continue seeking until you find what it is you desire. It was God’s desire that they desire Him more than anything else. More than their overflowing vats of wine, fields full of ripe grain, fine clothes, comfortable homes, and yes, false gods.

God had communicated a similar message to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 29:11-14 NLT

Again, don’t miss the conditional nature of God’s promise. “If you look for me wholeheartedly” or with all your heart. God wasn’t interested in a form of repentance that looked more like regret and a veiled attempt to escape His discipline. He wanted them to want Him more than they wanted relief from judgment. He wanted them to desire Him more than they desired His blessings. Their wholehearted seeking was to be for Him, not for what they could get from Him.

But there is a second part to God’s promise. Not only will He restore their land to fruitfulness. He promises that He will “remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard into the eastern sea, and his rear guard into the western sea” (Joel 2:20 ESV). In other words, their repentance will result in the removal of the threat of foreign invasion. Remember, God had told them that “he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13 ESV). He has the power to do whatever He chooses to do. But His relenting was directly tied to their repenting.

All of this had to have sounded like great news to the people of Judah. And it got even better. God promised them great days ahead.

“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.” – Joel 2:26-27 ESV

Two times God promises that they will never again be put to shame. The pain, suffering, humiliation, and feelings of having been abandoned by Him will never be felt again. But has this promise been fulfilled? Even a cursory glance at the history of Israel reveals that they have a long association with shame. The army from the north did eventually show up and destroy their capital, demolish the temple, and take their people captive. And over the centuries, the Jewish people have experienced their share of shame, humiliation, sorrow, and subjugation at the hands of foreign enemies.

But God promises them that He has plans for them. And as Jeremiah recorded,  “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope…” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). God was offering them restoration and rejuvenation – if they would repent. But He also promised future redemption, even if they didn’t. God knew His people well. And He was fully aware that true repentance on their part was not going to happen. Therefore, His judgment would come. The Babylonians would show up, the kingdom would fall, and the people would be taken captive.

God had warned them to repent, but they won’t. But He had promised to restore, and He will. And, as we will see, God promise of restoration will include more than just the people of Judah, because He says,  “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Joel 2:28 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

 

A Thirst For God

13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
    wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
    O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
    are withheld from the house of your God.

14 Consecrate a fast;
    call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
    and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord.

15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
    and as destruction from the Almighty[c] it comes.
16 Is not the food cut off
    before our eyes,
joy and gladness
    from the house of our God?

The seed shrivels under the clods;
    the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are torn down
    because the grain has dried up.
18 How the beasts groan!
    The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
    even the flocks of sheep suffer.

19 To you, O Lord, I call.
For fire has devoured
    the pastures of the wilderness,
and flame has burned
    all the trees of the field.
20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you
    because the water brooks are dried up,
and fire has devoured
    the pastures of the wilderness. – Joel 1:13-20 ESV

The consequences of sin are not always self-evident. They don’t always show up at the point the sin is being committed. But in due time, the sinner always reaps what he sows. We can attempt to hide our sin or act like it never happened, but it will eventually get exposed. As God warned the tribes of Reuben and Gad, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23 ESV).

And the people of Judah were experiencing the painful consequences of their sin against God, in the form of the devastating aftermath of the locust infestation that had left their land devoid of fruit and grain. For generations, they had thought they had gotten away with their repeated rebellion against God, but their sin had found them out. He had been watching and waiting. Now, judgment had come and they had no grain to make bread and no grapes with which to produce wine. And, on top of that, they had no way of offering the grain and drink offerings required as part of the sacrificial system established by Yahweh.

So, Joel calls on the priests of God to put on sackcloth, lament, and wail. Rather than wearing their priestly robes and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, they were to spend their nights in sorrow, “Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1:13 ESV). Joel addresses them as “ministers of the altar” and “ministers of my God,” clearly pointing out how they had abdicated their responsibility as the spiritual leaders of Judah. They were to have led the nation in the worship of God, bringing the sins of the people before the altar and helping to restore them to a right relationship with God.

When God had set apart the tribe of Levi to assist Aaron with the duties associated with the tabernacle, He had told them, “They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:8 ESV). The priests in Joel’s day had failed to keep guard over the people. They had stood back and watched as the people disobeyed and dishonored God by their sinful behavior. Yes, they continued to offer their grain and drink offerings. They kept bringing their sacrifices and fulfilling all the feast days and festivals. But their hearts were not in it. God’s feelings regarding the outward obedience of His people were made quite clear in His words recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”says the LORD.

“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the bloodof bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony. Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.” – Isaiah 1:11-13 NLT

God was fed up. He had had enough. So, He demands that the priests assemble all the people at the temple and declare a nationwide fast and period of mourning.

Announce a time of fasting;
    call the people together for a solemn meeting.
Bring the leaders
    and all the people of the land
into the Temple of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to him there. – Joel 1:14 NLT

The Hebrew word used for this kind of gathering is `atsarah, and it was typically used to refer to an assembly of the people for the keeping of a feast or festival. But there would be no feasting at this assembly. It was a fast, a willing abstaining from food on order to focus all their attention on God. And they were already experiencing a forced fast because there was no bread to eat or wine to drink. As is self-evident, this was not going to be a joyous occasion. They were expected to cry out to God in confession and repentance, placing themselves at His mercy and hoping that He will show them grace.

And Joel doesn’t want them to miss the seriousness of this occasion. He describes the time in which they live as “the day of the Lord.” And he points out that “Our food disappears before our very eyes. No joyful celebrations are held in the house of our God” (Joel 1:16 ESV). They are under divine judgment and its effects are all around them.

The seeds die in the parched ground,
    and the grain crops fail.
The barns stand empty,
    and granaries are abandoned. – Joel 1:17 NLT

Even the animals in the fields are experiencing the consequences of Judah’s sin and God’s judgment. The pastures are barren and the flocks are starving. In all of this, Joel seems to be pointing out how Judah’s sin was impacting not only the economy, but the sacrificial system. Not only was there no grain or wine for use in the offerings, the herds and flocks that would have been the source of sacrifices were suffering from starvation. The entire sacrificial system, designed to provide forgiveness from sin and a restored relationship with God, was struggling for its existence. Joel describes the flock of sheep as suffering, but the Hebrew word he uses is ‘asham, which means “to suffer punishment due to guilt.” Even the sheep, which were the primary means of substitutionary atonement for the sins of the people, were suffering as if guilty. Their lack of adequate food had made them unfit for sacrifice.

These were dark days. And it wasn’t because of the locusts. It was because of sin. And the judgment against Judah’s sin had not stopped with the devouring by the locusts. Joel describes fire as having scorched the fields, leaving any remnant of grain completely wiped out. And, on top of that, the brooks had dried up, leaving the animals in the fields searching for anything to slack their thirst.

The imagery of animals desperately seeking for something to slack their thirst is meant to picture the spiritual state of the people of Judah. They are dying spiritually, and in need of someone to quench their unbearable thirst for satisfaction. And, through the prophet Isaiah, God offers them an invitation.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food. – Isaiah 55:1-12 ESV

The situation is desperate, but are the people of Judah? Are they ready to give up their wicked ways and turn to God? Has the devastation of the locusts left them ready to seek God and serve Him faithfully? Time will tell. But Joel warns them that things are going to get worse before they get better. If they don’t repent, the day of the Lord will come. He is offering to quench their spiritual thirst and alleviate their suffering, but they must confess their sin and return to Him in humility and contrition.

Again, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, reminding the people of Judah what it was He wanted from them. And His words reveal the choice that the people of Judah had to make.

“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.” – Isaiah 66:2-3 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

 

What Are You Waiting For? Rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile.
Are you not the same today,
    the one who dried up the sea,
making a path of escape through the depths
    so that your people could cross over? – Isaiah 51:9-10 NLT

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

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 51:9-11 NLT

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

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

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

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

Glory to God

They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks;
    foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord;
    they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
    and in their glory you shall boast.
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
    instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
    they shall have everlasting joy.

For I the Lord love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
    and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
    that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations. Isaiah 61:4-11 ESV

As God’s servant, Jesus will be the means by which He brings about the future redemption and restoration of His people, Israel. While God would be forced to punish Israel and Judah for their rebellion against Him, He promised through Isaiah that a day was coming when the tables would turn and His anger with them would be replaced with His favor being poured out upon them. And just as Jesus was the mechanism through which God brought salvation to the world, Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah, will be the one to redeem God’s chosen people. The apostle Paul assured the predominantly Gentile recipients of his letter to the church in Rome:

Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy. – Romans 11:30-31 NLT

God will extend His mercy to the people of Israel, in spite of their blatant rejection of His Son at His first advent. In fact, Paul makes it clear that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews is what led God to show mercy on the Gentiles. Jesus had come to His own, but His own received Him not (John 1:11). And yet, God has not turned His back on the people of Israel. In fact, Paul points out that God is only waiting “until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25 NLT). Evidently, God has a specific number of Gentiles that He has ordained for salvation, and when that full number has been achieved, He will turn His attention to His chosen people. This is not to say that Jews cannot and have not come to faith in Christ since His death and resurrection. Many have and many more will. But it is indicating that God has a specific plan for Israel as a nation. And Paul points out that, for the time being, “Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts” (Romans 11:26 NLT). But when God deems the time to be right, He will focus His mercy and favor on His chosen people. “And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26 NLT).

In this chapter, Isaiah provides us with some insights into what will happen when that time comes. And he uses terms like, “build up,” “raise up,” and “repair” that speak of the restorative nature of this coming day. The once devastated land of Israel will be brought back to a state of beauty and vitality. Isaiah describes strangers tending the flocks of Israel, illustrating the irenic state of affairs that will mark the world. Even Israel’s former enemies will serve them willingly and gladly. There will be no fear of harm and men will live free from the threat of war or hostility. These foreign nations will refer to the people of Israel as “ the priests of the Lord” and view them the ministers of God. The people of Israel will find themselves fulfilling the role had always longed for them. They will be lights to the nations. They will be His ambassadors.

And God will replace the shame and dishonor they once knew with honor and prosperity. For the first time in their long and storied history with God, they will know everlasting joy. It will not be a fleeting, ethereal joy that changes depending upon which direction the winds of adversity blow. No, this will be a permanent, never-ending joy.

But why will God do all these things for unrighteous Israel? What possible reason could He have for showering this rebellious and stubborn people with His mercy and favor? Because He loves justice and hates robbery and wrong. God will do the right thing because He is a righteous God. He will restore things back to the way they began before the fall took place. And He will remove all remnants of evil that manifests itself in robbery and wrongdoing. Sin will be eliminated and righteousness, elevated. And He will do it on behalf of His people, Israel. His undeserved blessing of His chosen people will get the attention of the nations. They will marvel at the grace He extends to the people of Israel and “will realize that they are a people the Lord has blessed” (Isaiah 61:9 NLT).

And Isaiah states that “The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world” (Isaiah 61:11 NLT). But how will God do that? By dressing His people “with the clothing of salvation” and draping them “in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10 NLT). He will shower His people with His unmerited favor and display His justice by keeping the covenant promise He has made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God will do the right thing and the nations will sit up and take notice. And the result will be that “Everyone will praise him!” (Isaiah 61:11 NLT). Every Jew and every Gentile will honor God for who He is and what He has done. His faithfulness will be on display. His unwavering love will be there for all to see. God will redeem the seemingly irredeemable. He will restore His wandering sheep to His fold. He will bring healing to the sick and hope to the helpless and hopeless.

As Isaiah so descriptively puts it: “so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:11 ESV). God will use His once rebellious people, Israel, to display His righteousness to the nations. The world will stand back and watch as God accomplishes a redemptive miracle among His people, transforming them from a dry spiritual wasteland to a rich and fertile valley overflowing with righteousness and justice.

Isaiah used this metaphor of fruitfulness earlier on in this same letter, comparing God’s future restoration of Israel like rain falling on the crops of a field.

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.” – Isaiah 55:10-15 NLT

God will get all the glory because God will be the one who does all lthe work. And even the Gentile nations will recognize the hand of God and give honor and praise to the name of God.

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

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

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

Your Savior and Redeemer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And God reveals the why behind all of this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Maker Is Your Husband

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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