Smoke and Mirrors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Disbelief Can Be Deadly

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. – Jude 1:5-8 ESV

Jude wastes no time getting to the point of his letter. He has already made it clear that he is writing in regards to a group of individuals who are having a negative impact on the local body of believers. And he describes them as “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 1:4 ESV). Jude isn’t interested in making friends with these people. He is out to expose them for what they were: A danger to the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ. In fact, Jude flatly states that they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Those are serious words that clearly reveal Jude’s disdain for these people and the perverted message they were preaching.

And, having exposed the perpetrators of the false doctrine that had infiltrated the church, Jude provides a wake-up call to all those within the church. He wanted them to understand the gravity of the situation and to recognize their need to resist falsehood at all costs. For Jude, this was all about the issue of belief. Were they going to believe God and take Him at His word, or listen to the lies of those who were preaching and teaching heretical and dangerous half-truths?

To drive home the gravity of the situation, Jude used a well-known historic event: The exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. But what is interesting is that Jude places Jesus in the midst of that Old Testament context, claiming, “Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5 NLT). Revealing his belief in the deity and divinity of Jesus, Jude stresses that it was He who rescued the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But it was also Jesus who destroyed an entire generation of Israelites because they failed to believe the promises of God. Rather than entering into and taking possession of the land of Canaan promised by God to Abraham, the Israelites let their fear of the occupants of the land to replace their faith in God. The chose to disbelieve God and, as a result, that generation died in the wilderness.

Next, Jude brings up the story of the angels who chose to side with Satan in his attempt to make himself god. The book of Isaiah records this event:

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

In his attempted rebellion, Satan was accompanied by angels, who were later cast out of heaven by God. Jude states that God’s fate concerning these rebellious angels was they be “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6 ESV). Many of these fallen angels were placed in confinement in a place called the Pit or the Abyss. And, as Jude alludes to, the day is coming when they will be released. The book of Revelation associates this event with the 5th trumpet judgment.

He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. – Revelation 9:2-3 ESV

These fallen angels or demons will wreak havoc on the earth, tormenting mankind for five months during the period of time called the Great Tribulation. But Jude’s emphasis is on their current state of incarceration in the pit, because they refused to believe God. Rather than believe in and trust God, they had sided with Satan in an ill-fated attempt be overthrow God. They failed to believe in the power and sovereignty of God. They failed to believe in the judgment of God against all who rebel against Him. And, as a result, they found themselves living in exile from God.

Next, Jude brings up the infamous Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had become icons for sin and rebellion. They had also become the symbols of God’s wrath against sin. He completely destroyed them and they remain unoccupied to this day. Jude reminds his audience that the occupants of these two large cosmopolitan enclaves had “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 1:13 ESV). They were wicked beyond belief. Their sin was so eggregious, that God decided to wipe them off the face of the earth. One of the angels who visited Lot in order to rescue he and his family from the cities before their destruction told him, “we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13 ESV). Once again, the issue was one of belief. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not believe in or worship God. And so, God destroyed them. But Peter tells us that God “rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT).

Jude is attempting to drive home the danger of disbelief. Failing to take God at His word can have devastating, even deadly, consequences. The disbelieving Israelites died in the wilderness. The disbelieving angels were locked away for all time, until God chooses to release them during the Tribulation. And the people of Sodom and Gomorrah disbelieved that God hated their sin, and they died as result.

When Jude addresses the topic of belief and disbelief, he is not necessarily talking about salvation. The Israelites who died in the wilderness believed in the existence of God, but they failed to believe the expressed word of God. And it would seem that Jude is attempting to stress the disbelief of these “ungodly” people. He is addressing their actions, not making a sweeping judgment about their salvation. They were guilty of teaching doctrine that was in conflict with the expressed word of God. As we will see, they were guilty of adding to the gospel, something to which Jude and the apostle Paul were vehemently opposed.

This little history lesson by Jude is intended to set the stage for his attack against these false teachers who were negatively impacting the faith of the church. Jude accuses them of “relying on their dreams,” a direct attack on the veracity of their teaching. These men were not teaching the Word of God, but the thoughts of man. Jesus had some strong words for those in His day who did the same thing:

“Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:9 NLT

As a result of their twisting of and adding to the Word of God, the individuals of whom Jude spoke ended up defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and blaspheming the glorious ones. While all of this has an ominous tone about it, Jude doesn’t clarify what he means by these things. But he will.

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

Clay In Need of a Potter

8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
    and remember not iniquity forever.
    Behold, please look, we are all your people.
10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
    Zion has become a wilderness,
    Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and beautiful house,
    where our fathers praised you,
has been burned by fire,
    and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
12 Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord?
    Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?
Isaiah 64:8-12 ESV

Isaiah, fully aware of the corporate sins of the people of Judah, and his shared guilt as one of their number appealed to God to intervene. He knew that there was nothing they could do about their circumstances. They were facing God’s just and righteous judgment. He also knew that the likelihood of the people changing their rebellious behavior on their own accord and through their own strength was negligible. It wasn’t going to happen. And he had a long history of evidence to use in support of his premise.

So, Isaiah called out to God. He begged God to “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 54:1 ESV). He knew the only hope they had was the supernatural intervention of God on their behalf. Unless He showed up like He did in Egypt when He released them from their captivity, the people of Judah would continue to live as slaves to sin and face their own exile in the land of Babylon.

And to paint an even bleaker picture, Isaiah Judah as being filled with sinners. In a rather blunt assessment, Isaiah states, “we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5 NLT). Even if they were to dress up in their best efforts, wearing them before God like garments of righteousness, they would appear as filthy rags to God. In other words, Isaiah knew that the people of Judah were not going to earn their way into God’s good graces by self-produced righteousness. 

So, Isaiah addresses God as their Heavenly Father. He appeals to God’s divine parental instincts, and he utilizes a metaphor intended to illustrate God’s sovereignty and man’s dependency. Isaiah compares God to a potter and the people of Judah to a lifeless lump of clay. The relationship between the two, while symbiotic, is anything but co-equal. This real-world illustration is meant to juxtapose power with passivity and willfulness with submissiveness. And Isaiah wasn’t the one who came up with this compelling analogy. God had used the potter/clay comparison to drive home a point to the prophet Jeremiah.

The Lord said to Jeremiah: “Go down at once to the potter’s house. I will speak to you further there.” So I went down to the potter’s house and found him working at his wheel. Now and then there would be something wrong with the pot he was molding from the clay with his hands. So he would rework the clay into another kind of pot as he saw fit. – Jeremiah 18:1-4 NLT

Jeremiah was given a visual lesson on God’s sovereignty over His chosen people. Like a potter who fashions a lump of clay, God has the prerogative to do with His people as He sees fit. If He sees a flaw, He has every right to remake them according to His divine will. He doesn’t have to ask them for permission. It would be utterly ludicrous for a potter to seek advice from the clay. In fact, earlier in his book, Isaiah points out the absurdity of that image to the people of Judah.

How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

And the apostle Paul picked up on the very same thought in his letter to the believers in Rome.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? – Romans 9:20-21 NLT

We have no business casting doubt on God’s goodness or questioning His motives or intentions. But, like Isaiah, we can appeal to His sovereign will and humbly submit ourselves to His intervention in our lives. After all, as Isaiah puts it, we are all the work of His hands. He made us and He has every right to do with us as He sees fit. And we can rest in the fact that God does nothing in regards to us that is void of His love. As the author of Hebrews makes clear, “the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT).

Isaiah acknowledges that God has every right to be angry with His rebellious people. They had repeatedly turned their backs on, practicing every imaginable form of idolatry. They had been unfaithful, and God was wholly justified in His anger towards them. Which is why Isaiah pleads with God, “Don’t be so angry with us, Lord. Please don’t remember our sins forever” (Isaiah 64:9 NLT). And He asks God to look down on their situation and recognize the sorry state of their condition. But all of what Isaiah describes had not yet happened. He is painting a picture of Judah’s future as pre-ordained by God and prophesied by his very own lips. He describes their holy cities already as lying in ruins. Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple was a burned-out shell of its former glory. All that had once been beautiful was an eyesore.

The fate of Judah was dark. And the hope of Judah was dim unless God intervened. So, Isaiah intercedes on behalf of his people, begging God, the potter, to take matters into His own hands.

After all this, Lord, must you still refuse to help us?
    Will you continue to be silent and punish us? – Isaiah 64:12 NLT

It is as if Isaiah had read Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans:

…even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy. – Romans 9:22-23 NLT

Isaiah was counting on God’s patience and mercy. He was putting his hope in God’s character as a loving Father, and believing that He would once again make the riches of His glory shine bright on the people of Judah. No, they didn’t deserve it, but isn’t that the essence of mercy? It is God’s unmerited or undeserved favor, poured out by a loving God who does for His own what they could never have done for themselves.

Not only were they unwilling to change, but they were also incapable. Judah was were little more than a lump of clay in need of the hands of the potter. And Isaiah longed to see God refashion His people into vessels for honorable use (2 Timothy 2:20). He knew that their transformation would only happen through God’s power and, that way, God alone would get the glory. As Paul told the believers in Corinth:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 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 Corporate Confession

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Isaiah 64:1-7 ESV

Isaiah continues his passionate prayer to God, temporarily abdicating his role as God’s messenger in order to speak to God on behalf of his people. In a sense, Isaiah reversed his role and became an emissary for Judah to God, pleading with the Almighty to leave heaven and invade their circumstance with His divine presence and power. He wanted God to show up on the scene and prove to the stubborn and sin-blinded people of Judah that He was real and that His promises to save them could be trusted.

Isaiah’s graphic description of how he envisioned God showing up on the scene reflects his understanding of how God had appeared to the people of Israel in the past. When God first appeared to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in the wilderness, Moses had used similar terminology to describe the scene.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

Isaiah longed to see the very same thing because he knew that his rebellious friends and neighbors would have a hard time ignoring a God who revealed Himself in such a dramatic and undeniable way. With that kind of entrance, even the most jaded among the people of Judah would have to sit up and take notice. They would have no excuse to ignore God anymore. In essence, Isaiah is asking that God move from being transcendent to immanent. It is not that God is one or the other at any given time. He exists outside of time and space and is only knowable by men when He chooses to reveal Himself to them. But God has done just that. As Paul states in his letter to the believers in Rome, “what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT).

Over the centuries, God had revealed Himself to men in a variety of ways. On several occasions, God appeared to Abraham and spoke with Him. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. In the wilderness, He revealed Himself to the people of Israel in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. Later on, Moses would make a request of God: “show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18 NLT). And, in response, God gave Moses the following instructions:

“Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”  – Exodus 33:21-23 NLT

Isaiah longed for a similar experience. He had obviously talked with God, but now he expressed His desire to see God with his own eyes. And this yearning was driven by a longing to see God intervene on behalf of His people so that the nations would know that the God of Judah was truly powerful. Not only did Isaiah want the people of Judah to see their God for who He really was, but he also wanted their enemies to shake in their boots at the sight of God Almighty. So, he begged God, “to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:2 ESV).

Isaiah knew that God stood alone. He had no competitors and there were no other gods who could be compared with Him. But he was looking for tangible, palpable proof. He wanted to see God in action with his own two eyes, and he wanted to see Him do “awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations” (Isaiah 64:3 NLT).

But Isaiah knew there was a problem. God was holy and they were not. There were certain requirements that God had placed upon His chosen people. And Isaiah articulated them.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways. – Issaiah 64:5 NLT

God demanded righteousness. He expected holiness. He had chosen the people of Israel and set them apart for His glory. They were to live their lives according to His laws and they were to reflect His holy character to a lost world. Even back in Midian,  when God appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush, He had warned him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Later on, when God allowed Moses to see His glory, He denied Moses the right to see His face. God is holy and He expected His chosen people to live holy lives. But Isaiah knew that was a major problem. 

But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved? – Isaiah 64:5 NLT

Here we have Isaiah aligning himself with the people of Judah and asking as their corporate representative. He includes himself as one of the guilty, describing their state as sinners who deserve no salvation from God. And Isaiah doesn’t attempt to minimize the depth of their sinful state. He lays it out in graphic terms that reveal his understanding of their corporate culpability and well-deserved condemnation.

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

This was not a new recognition by Isaiah of the guilt of he and his fellow Judahites. From the day God had called him, he had expressed his realization that they all stood condemned before a holy God. In fact, he had clearly stated, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5 NLT). But it’s essential that we notice what prompted this incredible confession from Isaiah. Chapter six opens up with the words, “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple” (Isaiah 6:1 NLT). Isaiah had seen God. He had been given a vision of God. In that vision, Isaiah had seen the seraphim surrounding the throne of God and had heard them proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2 NLT).

And the immediate impact of that vision on Isaiah was a recognition of his own unholiness. Standing before the perfectly holy God, Isaiah was fully and painfully aware of his own unrighteousness and undeservedness. He had no right to be in the presence of God. He was guilty of sin and unclean as a result. And he knew that the only thing he deserved from God was condemnation and death. Yet, God had sent one of the seraphim with a burning coal from the altar to touch the lips of Isaiah. And the next thing Isaiah heard was the incredible news, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7 NLT).

That experience had left Isaiah a changed man. He would never be the same again. And now, years later, he was pleading with God to reveal His holiness to the people of Judah. Why? Because he longed for them to have the same life-changing experience that had transformed him from guilty to forgiven.

Yet, in spite of their undeniable sin and guilt, Isaiah is shocked to admit that “no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy” (Isaiah 64:7 NLT). There was no one willing to confess, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.” And, as a result, Isaiah sadly acknowledges the state of affairs in Judah.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins. – Isaiah 64:7 NLT

Isaiah was the only one willing to admit the obvious. They were sinners and deserved every ounce of judgment God was bringing upon them. They were a people of unclean lips, but because they refused to admit it, there would be no burning coal to cleanse them and provide forgiveness. Instead, they would face the loving discipline of God. Because they refused to repent of their rebellion against Him, he would punish them for it. But Isaiah was not going to give up. His prayer was not quite finished. He knew what it was like to stand before the holy, righteous God of the universe, and have his life radically altered. And he would not be content until he had interceded with God on behalf of his people.

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

Then They Remembered…

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will not deal falsely.”
    And he became their Savior.
In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10 But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.
11 Then he remembered the days of old,
    of Moses and his people.
Where is he who brought them up out of the sea
    with the shepherds of his flock?
Where is he who put in the midst of them
    his Holy Spirit,
12 who caused his glorious arm
    to go at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
    to make for himself an everlasting name,
13     who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
    they did not stumble.
14 Like livestock that go down into the valley,
    the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So you led your people,
    to make for yourself a glorious name.

15 Look down from heaven and see,
    from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
    The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
    are held back from me.
16 For you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us,
    and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.
17 O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
    and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
    the tribes of your heritage.
18 Your holy people held possession for a little while;
    our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary.
19 We have become like those over whom you have never ruled,
    like those who are not called by your name. Isaiah 63:7-19 ESV

After hearing God’s grand plan for the future redemption of His people, Isaiah responds with a somewhat nostalgic recollection of all of God’s great and gracious redemptive activities on behalf of the people of Israel. And he does so in the form of a prayer.

He starts by recalling the myriad examples of God’s merciful kindness or favor. Throughout this prayer, Isaiah will focus on the undeserved nature of God’s love for the people of Israel. They have been the undeserving recipients of God’s unmerited favor. Every single incident involving God’s love toward Israel “he has granted according to his mercy and love” (Isaiah 63:7 NLT). The Hebrew word for mercy is racham, and it can be used to refer to a mother’s womb. From Isaiah’s perspective, the children of Israel have been cared for and protected by God like a baby in its mother’s womb. An unborn baby does nothing to earn its place of safety and security, but enjoys nourishment and protection because of the gracious actions of its mother. And Isaiah did not come up with this comparison on his own. He had heard it from the lips of God Himself.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb (racham).” – Isaiah 46:3 ESV

Of His own accord, God had made the people of Israel His children and He had every right to expect them to live up to their position as His sons and daughters. God had agreed to be their Savior, providing them with protection and rescue when necessary. In return, He asked that they not deal falsely with Him. He expected them to remain faithful to Him.

Isaiah recounts the history of his people, recalling the many times in which God stepped into their circumstances and rescued them. He describes God as suffering along with them. When the found themselves experiencing difficulty, God was empathetic, but also immediate in His response.

he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
    He lifted them up and carried them
    through all the years. – Isaiah 63:9 NLT

But how had they responded to God’s gracious acts of redemption? By rebelling against Him and, by doing so, grieving His Holy Spirit. As a result, they would find their relationship to Him becoming antagonistic rather than affectionate. From their vantage point, God would appear more like their enemy than their gracious, loving Father. But God was not the one who had reneged on the relationship. The fault was all theirs.

Their unfaithfulness to God would result in His loving discipline of them. They would discover the painful consequences of their willful decision to violate their covenant with God. Their failure to remain faithful to Him would cost them. Their choice to worship false gods would cause them great pain and suffering. And Isaiah recounts the many times the people of God had called out to the very one they had abandoned, in the hopes that He would rescue them yet again.

“Then they remembered…” (Isaiah 63:11 NLT). It took the very real presence of trials to get them to recall the true identity of their Savior. It had been God who had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt. It had been God who had brought the plagues upon the people of Egypt. And it had been God who had provided them with a path across the Red Sea, allowing them to escape the armies of Egypt. They remembered and they cried out.

Now, Isaiah cries out. He turns His recollections of God’s past mercies into a call for His immediate intervention into their current state of affairs.

Lord, look down from heaven;
    look from your holy, glorious home, and see us.
Where is the passion and the might
    you used to show on our behalf?
    Where are your mercy and compassion now? – Isaiah 63:15 NLT

Isaiah begs God to do as He has done so many times before. He knows that they don’t deserve God’s favor, but he pleads with Him to extend His mercy and compassion yet again. Like Moses and the Israelites standing on the shore of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them, the people of Judah found themselves in a similar situation. They were in trouble. The enemy was bearing down on them and they had no way of escape. The only hope they had was God.

And Isaiah addresses God as their loving Father, appealing to His sense of responsibility for His children.

Surely you are still our Father!
    Even if Abraham and Jacob would disown us,
Lord, you would still be our Father.
    You are our Redeemer from ages past. – Isaiah 63:16 NLT

Isaiah knows that God is faithful. He is not questioning God’s commitment to His covenant promises or raising doubts about God’s everlasting love. He is simply appealing to God’s unchanging nature. He is the very same God who has rescued the people of Israel time and time again, in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him. So, Isaiah is simply asking God to respond to their current situation with the same sense of mercy and grace.

Isaiah had a healthy understanding of the sovereign will of God. He knew that nothing happens in this life apart from the will of God, including the rebellion of the people of God. When Isaiah asks the question, “why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?,” he is not blaming God for the sins of the people of Judah. He is simply acknowledging that God could have prevented their unfaithfulness, but chose not to. To put it another way, God gave them free rein to practice free will. He allowed them to live according to the desires of their hearts. The apostle Paul provides us with a powerful reminder of what it looks like when God “abandons” men and women to live according to their own desires, and it is not a pretty picture.

…instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. – Romans 1:23-24 NLT

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. – Romans 1:28 NLT

God does not cause us to sin. James makes that point perfectly clear.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

God was not responsible for the sins of the people of Judah. But Isaiah knew that the only way they could have remained faithful would have been through the intervention of God. And the only way they were going to return to God was if He acted on their behalf. They didn’t have it in them to do so on their own accord. Which is what led Isaiah to plead: “Return and help us, for we are your servants, the tribes that are your special possession” (Isaiah 63:17 NLT).

Isaiah knew their only hope of salvation was God. They had no other options. If He did not intervene on their behalf, they were doomed. Isaiah knew the his own people well and realized that if repentance, as evidenced by changed hearts, was the only way God would rescue them, it would never happen. They were far too stubborn for that to happen. And Isaiah includes a sad expression of his outlook on their current state of affairs.

Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you,
    as though we had never been known as your people. – Isaiah 63:17 NLT

This was his honest opinion. As he looked at the circumstances surrounding the people of Judah, it was as if they had never been chosen by God. Things had deteriorated so badly, that they were unrecognizable as God’s chosen people. They looked no different than any other nation on the planet. Their distinctiveness had long ago dissipated. Rather than living as set apart by God, it appeared as if they had been set aside. But Isaiah was not willing to give up, as the rest of his prayer will reveal.

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

Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance.

Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind;
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
11 We all growl like bears;
    we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
    and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

14 Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Isaiah 59:9-15 ESV

Where is God? If He loves me, why isn’t He doing something about my situation? If He’s so powerful, why won’t He fix my problem?

How many times have those kinds of questions been asked over the centuries? From believers and unbelievers alike.  And in this chapter, Isaiah has revealed that the people of Judah were asking these very kinds of questions because of their dire circumstances. They had concluded that either God was too weak to deliver them or simply hard of hearing. But Isaiah would not allow them to blame God for their dilemma. He laid the responsibility squarely on their shoulders.

…your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers. – Isaiah 59:2 NET

Now, Isaiah positions himself as one of their own, addressing them as a fellow Judahite who finds himself suffering alongside them. Even though he had been faithfully trying to turn them back to God. Picking up where he left off in verse 2, Isaiah adds, “For this reason deliverance is far from us and salvation does not reach us” (Isaiah 59:9 NET). Notice that Isaiah now includes himself in their predicament. Rather than addressing them as “you,” he uses the plural pronoun, “us.” Because of the sins of the many, even the faithful would suffer.

That’s why Isaiah drives home the unpopular message that it was their sins that separated them from God. And God’s seeming unavailability was a matter of disobedience, not distance. God had not gone anywhere, otherwise Isaiah would not have been doing what he was doing. Every word the prophet shared was from the lips of God. He wasn’t silent. They just weren’t listening. God wasn’t gone, but they had most definitely left Him.

And now, they were suffering the consequences of turning their backs on God. They longed for light, but found themselves surrounded by darkness. They kept waiting for the brightness of day, but seemed to be in a perpetual state of living in dusk turning to more darkness. There was no dawn on the horizon. Their cloud had no silver lining. And not that the light or darkness really mattered. Because they were like blind men groping along and oblivious as to whether it was midnight of the middle of the day. In a sense, they were so spiritually blind, they wouldn’t recognize the brightness of God’s glory if it appeared right in front of them.

The powerful growl like bears over their sorry state of affairs. They grumble and complains. The weak, like doves, mournfully call out, unable to do anything about their condition. They all “look for justice, but it never comes” and “for rescue, but it is far away” (Isaiah 59:11 NLT). Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance. Neither does anyone any good. Justice that doesn’t ever get meted out isn’t justice at all. Rescue that never shows up is nothing more than disappointment, not deliverance. But again, the problem was not that God was lacking in justice and incapable of rescue. It was their sins. And, Isaiah makes that point quite clear, once again using the plural pronoun, “we” that allowed him to speak as one of their own. He was no longer addressing them as the prophet of God pointing his condemning finger of judgment. He was a brother who longed to see them wake up to the reality of their situation and recognize the gravity of their problem.

For our sins are piled up before God
    and testify against us. – Isaiah 59:12 NLT

They had a long track record of transgression against God. Their sins, like witnesses in a trial, testified against them, condemning them as guilty before God. And Isaiah will not allow them to play the innocent, wrongly accused victim.

we know what sinners we are.
We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord.
    We have turned our backs on our God.
We know how unfair and oppressive we have been,
    carefully planning our deceitful lies. – Isaiah 59:12-13 NLT

It’s as if Isaiah is saying, “Let’s stop fooling ourselves. We all know we’re guilty, so let’s just own up to it and confess it.” Attempting to hide or deny their sin was getting them nowhere with God. He knew. He saw. And now He was sending them His judgment. But they could avoid His wrath if they would only admit their guilt.

But while they were longing for justice from God and demanding that He deliver them, they were busy practicing injustice and taking advantage of the weak and helpless among themselves. They were expecting God to do for them what they refused to do for one another. They wanted God to rescue them out of their troubles and trials, while they were busy dragging the innocent into court and treating their brothers and sisters like prey to be devoured rather than family to be cared for.

No, things were not good in Judah. And their circumstances were a direct result of their sinfulness. As the old maxim goes, they had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it.

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

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

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

No Peace

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood
    and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
    your tongue mutters wickedness.
No one enters suit justly;
    no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
    they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
They hatch adders’ eggs;
    they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
    and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.
Their webs will not serve as clothing;
    men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
Their feet run to evil,
    and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
    no one who treads on them knows peace.
Isaiah 59:1-8 ESV

Judah’s sorry state of affairs was not an indictment against God’s power to save. He was fully capable of bringing them relief. After all, He was the very source of their current condition. It was God who had chosen to use the Assyrians as His instruments of judgment against His rebellious people. And He was the one who had warned that future judgment would come in the form of the Babylonians. The circumstances in which the people of Judah found themselves were, in a sense, self-inflicted. They had brought it on themselves because they had refused to listen to God’s calls to acknowledge their sin and return to Him. They had repeatedly stiff-armed God’s prophets, including Isaiah, rejecting their messages and stubbornly maintaining their love affair with false gods.

So, in this chapter, we see Isaiah delivering a message to his fellow Judahites that leaves them without excuse. He will not allow them to blame God. He refuses to let them cast God as the villain and themselves as the innocent victims. This was not a case of divine parental abuse or abandonment. They were the cause of their own pain and suffering. And Isaiah conveys that message in stark terms.

It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.
    Because of your sins, he has turned away
    and will not listen anymore. – Isaiah 59:2 NLT

They had abandoned God. Not the other way around. In fact, God had patiently and persistently called on them to repent. He had rescued them time and time again from the consequences of their own sinfulness. He had lovingly disciplined them for their unfaithfulness, welcoming them back with open arms. But they had responded to His grace with ingratitude and continued infidelity. And the prophet Jeremiah describes their stubborn refusal to repent with a sense of shock and surprise.

O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
    but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
    but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
    they have refused to repent. – Jeremiah 5:3 ESV

That the people of Judah were guilty was beyond debate, and Isaiah reveals why. He provides a list of evidence that is both lengthy and appalling. It includes murder, depravity, lying, injustice, perjury, dishonesty, and violence. And these manifestations of their own wickedness were showing up in every area of their lives – from their homes to their courts of law. Iniquity was ubiquitous. And while not every member of their society was equally complicit, they all stood equally condemned. There was a corporate culpability shared by all, from the youngest to the oldest and the richest to the poorest. At some level, every single individual in their community stood before God as guilty, having committed their own fair share of sins against Him.

The list Isaiah shares is similiar to one that the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Colossae. He reminded them that, even as Christians,  they needed to continue to purge their lives of those sins which mark the lives of each and every human being who walks this planet.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. – Colossians 3:5-6 ESV

Mankind, apart from help from God, is hopelessly addicted and attracted to the very things that bring the wrath of God. We can’t help it. And Paul warned the believers in Rome how a holy God must deal with those who continue to live lives of unholiness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 ESV

But not only does a life of ungodliness and unrighteousness bring the judgment of God, it breeds destruction. Isaiah describes the people of Judah as hatching adders’ eggs. Their evil actions were going to produce some seriously negative consequenes. And it doesn’t take a herpetologist to understand that hatching the eggs of a poisonous snake brings more of the same.

And Isaiah compares their sinful actions with the weaving of spider webs.  You can’t expect to produce clothes with that which is ephemeral and fragile. The life of ungodliness can produce nothing of lasting value. It may appear attractive but, in the end, it leaves you with nothing tangible or beneficial from all your effort.

Just how bad was it in Judah? Isaiah is unsparing in his assessment.

All their activity is filled with sin – Isaiah 59:6 NLT

Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

They think only about sinning… – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

Not exactly a flattering picture. Their lives were inundated by sin and rebellion. It permeated their community. It influenced every facet of their corporate experience, from the halls of the king’s palace to the lowliest peasant’s hut. And, as a result, they were all experiencing the consequences that come from living in open rebellion against God and pursuing a way of life that is in direct violation to His call to holiness.

They don’t know where to find peace
    or what it means to be just and good.
They have mapped out crooked roads,
    and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. – Isaiah 59:8 NLT

No peace. No joy. No justice. No righteousness. Without God, none of these things are achievable. You can’t walk away from Him and expect to find what only He can deliver. A life of sin is a dead end. It offers hope, fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace. But it can’t deliver on its promise. Pursuing the false gods of this world may appear attractive, but they will never produce a single promise they offer. God was offering His people peace. They could be restored to a right relationship with Him and enjoy peace with the One who had made them. They could enjoy peace in their community as they allowed God to guide their actions and change their attitudes. But as long as they continued to refuse Him and choose their own paths, they would find themselves living in turmoil and in constant pursuit of the one thing for which all men long: Peace.

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

Sinners In Need of a Savior

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

Verse 13 ended with the promise:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, God delivers the amazing news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk By the Light of Your Fire

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
    He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
    Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
    the moth will eat them up.

10 Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.
11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
    who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
    and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
    you shall lie down in torment. Isaiah 50:4-11 ESV

Judah’s sin against God will be answered by His well-justified judgment. He will punish them for their rebellion against Him and for their stubborn refusal to heed His calls to repent. One day, they will find themselves in captivity and blame God for their circumstances, accusing Him of abandonment. But God makes it clear that their captivity in Babylon will be because they left Him, not the other way around. In verse 1,  He tells them, “you were sold because of your sins.” He could have saved them from their fate, but when He called, “there no one to answer” (Isaiah 50:2 ESV). They had ignored His warnings and refused His pleas that they repent. 

Yet, God assures them that He has the power to deliver. He is the Creator-God, who spoke the universe into existence. There is nothing too difficult for Him. And, as if in response to God’s declaration of omnipotence and saving strength, verse 4 opens up with the voice of the servant of God, the Messiah.

Four times in eight verses, the servant refers to God as “the Sovereign Lord.” The Hebrew is ‘Adonay Yĕhovih and can be translated “Lord God.” In the Old Testament, the name, ‘Adonay is used only of God. It is a term of honor and respect, acknowledging Him as Lord or Sovereign over all. And the servant links it with the proper name for God, Jehovah. He is the Lord God, the Sovereign God who reigns and rules over all. And, as such, He deserves the obedience and worship of all.

The servant introduces himself as one who has the right to speak on behalf of God.

“The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught.” – Isaiah 50:4 ESV

He describes himself as a disciple who has listened to the words of the Sovereign Lord and learned well.

“Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened.” – Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT

Unlike the rebellious people of Judah, the Messiah has paid attention to the words of God, listening carefully to what He has to say and faithfully obeying His commands. And he boldly, but not boastfully claims, “I have not rebelled or turned away” (Isaiah 50:5 NLT). As proof of his willing obedience, the Messiah prophetically relates His treatment at the hands of men at his crucifixion.

“I offered my back to those who beat me
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
    from mockery and spitting.” – Isaiah 50:6 NLT

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ trials reveal the truth behind these words.

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him… – Matthew 26:67 NLT

Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and beat him with their fists. “Prophesy to us,” they jeered. And the guards slapped him as they took him away. – Mark 14:65 NLT

The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. – Luke 22:63 NLT

But, in spite of these harsh treatments at the hands of men, the Messiah will remain resolute in his determination to do the will of the Sovereign Lord.

“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
    determined to do his will.
    And I know that I will not be put to shame.” – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

Don’t miss what is going on here. The Messiah is describing his harsh and unjustified treatment at the hands of sinful men. But he does not blame God or accuse Him of abandonment. He trusts in the sovereign will of his Father, resting in the knowledge that God has a plan in place for his life. And the less-than-satisfactory circumstances surrounding his life were part of that plan. What a dramatically different perspective than that of the people of Judah. They were blind to God’s plans for their future. All they could see was the suffering and humiliation of the moment.

Yet, the Messiah knew that, in spite of all that would happen to him, the Sovereign Lord would vindicate and rescue him. He boldly and confidently declares, “ the Lord God helps me” (Isaiah 50:9 ESV). His accusers and abusers will all pass away like a moth-eaten garment, but he will stand secure and blameless.

In a sense, the servant is expressing the words that should have flowed from the mouths of the people of Judah.

“All my enemies will be destroyed
    like old clothes that have been eaten by moths!” – Isiah 50:9 NLT

God was going to vindicate and avenge them on day as well. And He would do it through His servant, the Messiah. But the people of Judah refused to take the Sovereign Lord at His word. So, the Messiah calls out to them, begging them to listen to what he has to say. He wants them to follow his example and place their trust in God

“If you are walking in darkness,
    without a ray of light,
trust in the Lord
    and rely on your God.” – Isaiah 50:10 NLT

As Isaiah has made clear already, the day was coming when the spiritual darkness surrounding the people of Judah would be illuminated by a great light.

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:2 NLT

And, in his gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophesy, when he quoted from it at the moment Jesus entered into the regions of Zebulun and Napthali in Galilee.

…so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:14-16 ESV

Jesus, the servant of God, would claim to be that light  – “the light of the world (John 8:12). And the apostle John described Jesus as not only the light, but the source of life.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5 ESV

And John would go on to declare that the light would shine in the darkness, but the people would reject the light, preferring instead to remain in spiritual darkness.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21 ESV

The light came into the world, and he did so that he might expose the deadly nature of man’s sin and offer himself as the true source of life. But, for the most part,  the world would reject his offer. Instead, they would rely on their own dim lights, attempting to remove the darkness that surrounded them through self-effort and acts of self-righteousness. And the Messiah warns them of the futility of it all.

“But watch out, you who live in your own light
    and warm yourselves by your own fires.
This is the reward you will receive from me:
    You will soon fall down in great torment.” – Isaiah 50:11 NLT

Their lights would prove insufficient. Their acts of righteousness would fail to meet God’s exacting standards. Failure to accept God’s light would leave them in perpetual, everlasting darkness. But for all those who see God’s light and embrace it, the future would be markedly different, just as Jesus, the servant had promised.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 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