December 2, 2011

And His Name Will Be Called . . .


Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7


Year after year, I find myself returning to the marvelous prophecy of Isaiah at during the Christmas season. Isaiah, who, writing in the 7th century B.C., provided the ancient Israelites very important prophetic insight about the Messiah Whom God the Father would send to His people.


Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.      Isaiah 7:14
6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 
7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.                                                                    Isaiah 9:6-7

Like other peoples of the Middle East in early history, the Israelites put a lot of thought into picking names for their children. The names tended to be descriptive of the child’s heritage or the parents’ (in some cases, God’s) hopes for him or her.

Some examples:

Abigail (first wife of David) in Hebrew means “Father’s Joy” (lit., “my father has made himself joyful”)

Elisha—“God Is Salvation”

Elijah—“Jehovah is God”

Gideon—“Great Warrior” (lit. “One Who Cuts Down”)

Daniel—“God Is My Judge”

Abram—“Exalted Father”

Abraham—“Father of a Multitude”

Isaac—“Laughter”

Joshua—“Jehovah Saves” (pronounced “Yeshuah”); this is the Hebrew form of the name “Jesus”: Matthew 1:21:  “and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”).

Most of Isaiah’s prophecy deals with a terrible calamity taking place in Israel, as Israel is overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians.  But Isaiah does not stop with the message of calamity. He encourages his readers—and us—about God’s promises of a redeemer, a future king from heaven who would rule the world . . . the Messiah or Savior. Isaiah gives us what we may call a “foreshortened” view of the prophetic future—foretelling both the first advent of the Messiah and the second advent, without always clearly distinguishing between the two in the text. His message, however, is that the calamity about the envelop Israel is not permanent. God will send His Messiah. And eventually the Messiah will rule the earth.

The Messiah’s Identity

He would be humble leader who is “God with us” (Hebrew: Immanuel), and He would come as a child—“For unto us a Child is born”—The future king would be the child Isaiah first mentioned in 7:14 . . . a miraculous birth of a Son who would be Immanuel (“God with Us”). The name “Immanuel” applied to the future Messiah is a key theological statement in that Isaiah correctly identifies the future Messiah and King as God Himself coming to be among mankind.

Isaiah’s prophecies are the first to communicate the humble nature of the advent of God on earth.  He pictures the Messiah as a both humble servant and everlasting king. Rather than dealing just with the Messiah’s first advent, however, Isaiah also shows us the Messiah as the future ruler who is the one having the birthright to assume the throne of David (9:7).

Isaiah Tells Us What the Messiah Would Be Like


"Wonderful" or "Wonderful Counselor"


There is some debate about whether this designation constitutes one term (“Wonderful Counselor”; i.e., an adjective modifying a noun) or two (“Wonderful” and “Counselor”; i.e., two distinct qualities). There is no punctuation in Hebrew text, so this is an issue we cannot resolve from a study of the text itself. However, the difference is not something that radically changes the meaning. The term “wonderful” in Hebrew is used only to describe God. It is used 21 times in the Old Testament, every time referring to the work of God. For example, Isaiah 28:29 reads: “This also comes from the LORD of hosts, Who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance.”



The Hebrew term "wonderful" refers only to “the ability to accomplish something that cannot be accomplished; to do or show marvelous works and miracles; to do the works only God can do.” Thus, the ability to perform miracles was the commonly accepted “sign” of God or God’s work and hence was referred to by the term used only for God and His works: “wonderful.”

So when Isaiah identifies the Messiah as “wonderful,” he is telling us that the Messiah would be God Himself; that is, corresponding to the term “Immanuel” (God with us) in 7:14. This theme is found throughout the Bible. For example, John the Baptist sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  Jesus answer was, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:20-22).  In other words, the miracles He performed proved He is God.

“Counselor”

The Hebrew terms means “a guide, teacher, or intercessor.”  It can be taken here to mean all three—guide, teacher, and intercessor. “Counselor” is a term associated with government. Every king had many counselors who were experts in their fields to advise him. So when we see the Messiah as the “Wonderful Counselor,” we know Him as a miracle worker, and miracle of God the Father Himself, a counselor or teacher who does powerful works only God can do.

But, we say, aren’t these roles of the Holy Spirit?  Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who is our Counselor and Guide? Yes, but as two of the three persons of God, the Son and the Spirit are one.

Look at John 14:15-17: “15 ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper (“Counselor”), that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

Jesus is teaching the disciples that He will not always be with them, and when He is gone, the Father would send them another Counselor (also translated “Helper”).  The word “another” here means literally “another exactly like.”  So Jesus is indicating that at that time He was filling the role of Helper or Counselor, and another exactly like Him—that is, a person of God—would follow and be present with believers once Jesus was gone. This Helper—the Holy Spirit—would be with us, live in us, and fill the purpose of being our guide and teacher, just as Jesus had done when He was physically present with His people.  And, in fact, Jesus works together with the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with God the Father.

"Mighty God"

Isaiah is emphasizing that the Messiah would be God Himself—reiterating the identify He gave Him in 7:14 (Immanuel— “God with us”).
In Scripture, this truth is repeated in different ways. For instance, in Colossians 2:9 we read “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (lit., “in bodily form”).” In other words, the Messiah is God Himself, or as we refer to Him, one of the three persons of God or the Godhead.  In addition, we have Jesus’ own words: “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father” and Paul’s description in Colossians 1:15-16: “15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”

The Messiah is consistently identified at God Himself throughout Scripture—the image of the invisible God, the creator, the one in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily; “Immanuel.”

Isaiah does not describe the future Messiah only as God, but uses the adjective “mighty,” the Hebrew term meaning giant, strong, valiant, chief; one who excels. Isaiah wanted to stress the power and might of the Messiah as Immanuel, God of infinite power dwelling among His people. He uses this phrase “Mighty God” to refer both to the coming Messiah and to the Father. For example, we read in Isaiah 10:21: “The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God.”

"Everlasting Father"

The Hebrew term here would be literally translated “Father of Eternity” and can mean not only the eternally existing God, but also the One who gives His people access to eternal life. The Septuagint translates the term “Father of the world to come.”

“Father” in the context of Isaiah’s time and culture included a whole bundle of attributes inherent in the father role: protector, provider, the one whose name the children bear. The term was used more widely than to refer only to the father of a family unit. The king was regarded as the father of his subjects (protector and provider).  Also, various spiritual leaders of the Israelites—Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, to name a few—were at times referred to as “father.”

Describing the Messiah as “Eternal Father” also emphasizes the Messiah’s identity with and sameness with the Father—both always were and always will be. Jesus attested to this also in John 14:8-11: “8 Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”

"Prince of Peace"

When the Bible speaks of peace through Christ, it refers to “peace with God,” rather than the absence of strife among men. For instance, Romans 5:1 tells us “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Peace” is that familiar Hebrew term “shalom,” which literally means harmony, wholeness, well-being. Jesus came to bring peace (peace with God, reconciliation with God) to those who would trust in Him. There also may be a dual emphasis in this name for the Messiah, also. The prophecies of the Messiah in Isaiah do not clearly differentiate between the first and second advent of the Messiah. Therefore, the Messiah is described both as a babe and a powerful king. In his foreshortened view of the advent of the Messiah, Isaiah’s use of the identify “Prince of Peace” can reasonably be understood in terms of the first advent (Jesus enabled mankind to find peace with God) and the second advent (when Jesus returns to bring peace, in a fundamentally changed physical world where there will be no strife).

When the heavenly host sang “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14)—they were singing of the Father’s goodwill and peace toward mankind, made real by His sending the Son, the Messiah, as the means of restoring peace with Him.

September 11, 2011

Thoughts on September 11, 2001



A sermon I preached on September 16, 2001, five days after the 9/11 tragedy. I was reminded of these thoughts this week as the nation marks the anniversary of the attacks.



Most of us have been glued to our televisions and radios this week, watching and listening to details of the horror that visited our shores on Tuesday, September 11. We’ve been hoping and praying for more survivors and mourning the thousands of dead with the rest of the nation, all the while asking ourselves how such evil acts could have happened.


We’ve been inundated with commentary and video replays. One Muslim representative on National Public Radio commented the only way the west could appease the Muslim fundamentalists would be not to exist at all, while another said no cause justifies the immoral and inhumane acts that occurred on Tuesday. Palestinians in Israel were shown celebrating the terrorists’ success in the streets, and the Afghan government advised its citizens to prepare for a holy war and said that it is an honor and a holy service to die fighting the United States.

A few well-known conservative Christian television personalities offered the opinion that our nation has sinned against God, and He no longer protects it . . . and they said that’s why the horrendous tragedies occurred. But we must remember that our nation is not a chosen people in a covenant relationship with God, as was Israel. Every Christian, no matter his or her nationality, is bound by Scripture to honor his or her relationship with God by faithfulness and righteousness. It is a personal, not a national, relationship. As to why the attack occurred, a National Public Radio commentator summed it up simply: It happened because the United States supports Israel, he said.

As we have sought this week to internalize the events and their meaning and impact, perhaps the lament of a volunteer rescue worker in New York City, in a short interview on MSNBC states the relevant theological truth: This world is evil. This world is evil, he said, shaking his head sadly.

Our sense of security has been shaken. No longer do our shores and borders seem safe from the hatred and violence in the world. Suddenly, we don’t just observe from afar the dangers people face in parts of the world torn by terrorism and violent persecution. We how experience the same fear and daily uncertainty as people living in countries of the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world. It’s not that hatred and violence is new. Indeed, the Bible teaches the wickedness of the unregenerate human heart beginning in the earliest chapters. But it is new to most of us experientially, and that has changed our thinking profoundly.

As Christians, we must not lose sight of three eternal truths as we ponder and respond to the awful acts of terrorism in our country: (1) our future is in Christ and not in the world, (2) God judges evil and will triumph over evil, and (3) while the battle rages in our midst, God wants us to live in the light of eternity.


Our future is in Christ and not in the world

Regardless of good or evil circumstances affecting us, the focus of our lives, as Paul put it, is Christ Jesus our hope (1 Timothy 1:1). Nothing that has happened this week and nothing that will happen will change the things that matter to us most as Christians. Those things are our relationship with God, our future home in heaven with God and with all our loved ones who have known Christ, and theforgiveness and lovingkindness God has shown us and continues to show us.

Jesus . . . HE is the issue for us, HE is our purpose and our goal, HE is what matters, not our circumstances.

And what about the sudden and violent loss of our sense of safety and security? In the world, there are no guarantees we will be safe. But there is the guarantee for Christians that we are loved, and that is the real security. Here is how God, through the inspiration of the Apostle Paul, describes it in Romans 8:34 & 35:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Always remember in every circumstance, whether positive or negative, that your future is in Christ, not in the world, and while there are no guarantees we will be physically safe, there is the guarantee that God loves us.

God judges evil and will triumph over evil

Seeing video of the airliners crashing into the World Trade Center towers and the thousands of relatives on the streets searching for their loved ones, many of us have asked ourselves how such evil can prevail. Despite the evil acts we witness, we must remember that evil does not and shall not prevail. In the resurrection, Christ defeated death itself and gave us eternal life with Him.

God has a will and a plan to punish evil in the present. That is the very reason He established human governments--to reward righteousness and to punish evildoers. Knowing this, now as much as ever we should pray without ceasing that our national leaders will show the wisdom and the courage they will need to accomplish the task before them in ridding the world of the evil of terrorism. Here is God’s will and plan, as shown to us in Romans 13:1-4:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath, to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

God also has a will and a plan to judge evil in the future for all eternity. Here is the scene revealed to John in Revelation 20:7-21:8:

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand of the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city He loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.


Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
 He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything new! Then he said, Write this dow, for these words are trustworthy and true.
 He said to me: It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars--their place will be the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Remember as you ponder the tragedy our nation is experiencing . . . we may witness evil acts, but we can be assured that evil shall not prevail in the present or in the future.

While the battle rages,
God wants us to live in the light of eternity

Many, many times in Scripture, God gives us the assurance He will judge evil and reward righteousness. In the light of eternity, we may wait patiently for Him to act. Here is how God inspired David to assure us about this in Psalm 37:1-9:

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.


Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

How plainly God has given us His plan! We are not to fret (literally in Hebrew, the term means do not burn with anger) because He will cut off evil people and their deeds and reward the people who hope in Him. Our task is to commit our own way to the Lord and to trust in Him. The Hebrew term translated trust in this passage also is quite specific to our current circumstance: the Hebrew term literally means feel safe.

God also is our refuge in the times we have tough questions about the evil around us, in times of uncertainty and insecurity, and in times of fear. In Psalm 46, He puts it this way:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, thought its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.


There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts.


The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.


Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire. Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Remember what we have discussed today: As Christians, we must not lose sight of three eternal truths as we ponder and respond to the awful acts of terrorism in our country: (1) our future is in Christ and not in the world, (2) God judges evil and will triumph over evil, and (3) while the battle rages in our midst, God wants us to live in the light of eternity.

As a closing thought in our consideration of the new circumstances we in the United States find ourselves in, the church would do well to observe that we as a society have not seemed to prosper and grow spiritually in our times of material prosperity and sense of national security. Yet there are many Christians in other cultures where persecution, violence, and death are a way of life, and inevitably those Christians have grown in spiritual maturity, have seen the urgent need to expose the unsaved to the gospel, and whose churches are bursting at the seams. Our society has been lulled by its prosperity and strength into a sense of security, but now that sense of security has been shattered. We now have the opportunity to share our faith with those around us who are more ready than ever to hear about God’s plan of salvation and security for them. Let us hold each other accountable to begin sharing the good news of Christ to the people around us more urgently than we have ever done before!

May 13, 2011

Two Covenants, One Grace: Romans 11:1-36


1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Ba’al.” 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 Just as it is written:
        “God has given them a spirit of stupor,      Eyes that they should not see      And ears that they should not hear,      To this very day.” 9 And David says:
       “Let their table become a snare and a trap,      A stumbling block and recompense to them.      10 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see,      And bow down their back always.” 
11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
16 For if the first fruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
        “The Deliverer will come out of Zion,      And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;      27 For this is My covenant with them,      When I take away their sins.” 28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
       34 “For who has known the mind of the LORD?      Or who has become His counselor?”      35 “Or who has first given to Him      And it shall be repaid to him?” 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

Introduction

From Genesis through Malachi God pictured a savior, told about a Messiah, promised a Messiah. As we work our way through our series in the Old Testament histories, it's easy to lose sight of that fact, as well as the fact that at just the right time the Messiah came; and that He was rejected by the very people God had so long ago chosen for His own. So today I want to look at Romans 11 to show that while there were two covenants, God's grace has been the saving and preserving factor in both periods.

We have seen a real problem with the Israelites especially apparent when they were in the wilderness on their way to the promised land: They grew increasingly proud of the fact that they were, after all, the chosen people . . . and increasingly arrogant; No one, they proudly boasted, could know God except an Israelite.

This led to the attitude that regardless of the laws God had given them, they could pretty much live as they wanted, because God had chosen them, and that was that.

In the time of the judges, their periods of repentance and peace in the land seemed to be motivated by wanting to escape from oppression by their enemies rather than motivated by their love for God and desire to do His will. And then, after the time of the judges, over the following centuries, the Israelite religious leaders evolved a systematic code of conduct, despite the urging of the prophets to simply turn back to their God.

The attitude developed that being a people of God involved merit. There was growing belief among the Israelites that He chose them because they deserved it. An increasingly complex rabbinical code of conduct evolved, and by the first century A.D. there was a kind of curious confusing doctrine among the Jews. On the one hand, there was that centuries-old arrogant attitude that no one possibly could be a child of God unless he or she had been born an Israelite. But on the other hand, while they prided themselves that they were the chosen people of God, they also believed that one must earn God's favor by strictly adhering to the complex rules administered by the spiritual leadership—the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The point is that even as early as the period of the book of Judges and as late as first-century Israel, we find little awareness among the Jews that God's love for His people was unconditional and that their communion with Him came by grace through faith.

Right after the resurrection, almost all of the church was made up of Jews who believed in Jesus as the promised Messiah. These Jewish Christians accurately saw Jesus as the Messiah and the New Covenant as the latest and final covenant God offered to His people—not by their merit, but by grace through faith.

The writer of the book of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes this when he lists the motivations of what we call the Old Testament heroes in Hebrews 11—by faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice, by faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, by faith Noah prepared an ark, by faith Abraham obeyed God . . . by faith Isaac, by faith Jacob, by faith Moses, by faith the walls of Jericho fell, by faith Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets were God's servants.

It was that truth—by faith alone through grace alone—that existed from the beginning and which the Israelites seemed to miss, except for these spiritual leaders. And it was on this same basis—by grace through faith—that the church was established.

As we know, as time progressed in the early days of the church, there was increasing opposition from the Jews. Look at Acts 18:5-6 to see how Paul finally reacted:

5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. 6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

One thing led to another, and pretty soon the Jews were rioting against Christians. Jews who became believers were disowned by their families and by their Jewish neighbors. And to make matters worse, from the standpoint of the Jews, the Christians reached out to gentiles and preached salvation to them.

In Romans 11, Paul deals with this attitude.  The non-believing Jews were hostile to him because he preached salvation to both Jews and gentiles.  And while the Jewish Christians did not blatantly oppose Paul, even they were a little uneasy about gentile believers and had lots of questions about whether God was rejecting the Jews; they struggled with some of these ideas because their cultural conditioning.

Paul summarizes in Romans 11 a whole lot of history and doctrine, demonstrating that God's plan has been consistent over all these centuries.

Paul raises several points in chapter 11 to deal with their concerns.

God didn’t reject His people; His people rejected Him (1-6)

We know the story of Elijah, in 1 Kings 19: He won a huge victory over 400 prophets of Ba’al, and then ran from one angry woman, Jezebel, and hid in a cave until God coaxed him out and asked him what in the world he was doing there. Elijah told him, maybe with a little whine in his voice, (1 Kings 19:14) "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." God replied to Elijah: (1 Kings 19:18) “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Ba’al and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

Just as there was in that time an unseen remnant of the faithful, God knows the faithful remnant today that has not bowed the knee to righteousness by good works, but righteousness through the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Elijah needed to open His eyes to the work God was really doing, just as the Jews in the first century needed to open their eyes to see the work God did through Jesus. As a nation they were so caught up in external righteousness by obeying the law that they missed the internal righteousness God offered through Jesus. And even as God told Elijah to anoint another to take his place, the Jews found themselves unable to obtain God’s favor through their own merits, and that rejection brought with it a result.

The Israelites’ rejection of Jesus led to their blindness (7-10)

Why do the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah? In these verses, Paul says they earnestly desired to be God’s people but didn’t achieve it (“Let their table become a snare,” David wrote).

The first quotation is a combination of thoughts from Deuteronomy 29 and Isaiah 29. The word for stupor actually is from a word meaning “to prick” like a needle. The idea is that Israel has had so much stimulation and spiritual sensation, that they have become apathetic and their sensations dulled just like you would when a callous forms on your skin: tough, hard, and without feeling. They were so devoted to doing the law, they could not sense (see or hear) the grace of God.

The second quotation here is taken from Ps 69, in which David was praying against his enemies. Their feasts were special times of idolatry and blasphemy and so David prays that these would be used to entrap them. Jesus said, and I’m paraphrasing, “you study the law because in it you think you have life, but that life you want is found only in Me.” The same pictures of dulled senses and limited usefulness are presented. The Greek word “always” (some trans. “forever”) commonly means “continually.”  The idea is that they are continually hardened and continually in bondage to the law. No wonder David said “their backs bent forever. Who can bear under the weight of the obeying the law to get right with God?”

Later Paul would write (2 Corinthians 3:15-16):  “But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.  Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” That “veil” keeps them from understanding that Jesus is the Messiah. Jews will tell you that the Messiah is supposed to do three things: bring peace to the world, gather the Jewish people from their exile, and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t do any of those things, they say, so He can’t be the Messiah. The Messiah is to be three things – king, priest, and prophet – Jesus is all three, but He fulfills those roles not in a way that the Jews expected.

Even today, here’s how one Jewish web site defines Judiasm:  “The obligation in Judaism is to follow G-D's statutes and his laws.  Man is judged by his deeds, not by his faith.  In synagogue, you will find that the rabbi's sermon usually will stress deeds, community, social involvement, or the observance of the Sabbath, etc.  You will not hear a Rabbi's sermon on salvation through faith.”  (http://www.messiahpage.com)

So what do we do? Lambaste the Jews for rejecting Jesus? Unfortunately, that’s what many Christians have done down through the ages, citing the Israelites' works orientation in the Old Testament and their rejection of the Messiah. But that is not the response God wants us to have.

Christians should show God’s love to everyone, including the Jews (11-16)

There is hope for the Jews—the same hope as for everyone, both Jews and gentiles. Many have come to know Jesus as their Savior. Today there are movements of Jewish believers, such as Jews for Jesus. Jewish believers bring the rich history, heritage, culture, and knowledge of the Old Testament with them.

Once God takes the church from the earth, He will lift that veil that Paul talks about off the Jewish nation, and many of them will come to Christ, becoming powerful, anointed believers.

When we study the O.T. and see the legalism of the Israelites, we need to keep reminding ourselves that the Jews are not cast-offs, we should seek to understand how they can enrich our own experience with Jesus.

We share common roots with Israel (17-21)

Some Christians adopt an arrogant attitude of superiority over the Jews, as well as gentile unbelievers. That is the wrong attitude and in prideful and arrogant. Instead, we need to keep in mind that we have been grafted in to something God was already doing through them.

What a wonderful heritage we have! All that Abraham and Moses and David went through . . . we now share in that history; we are now a part of that family.

God has included us in what He started through Israel (22-24)

God is adamant that only through Jesus will we find Him. But the point here is this:  once a Jewish person realizes he has been cut off from God and has come back through Jesus the Messiah . . . how natural it is.

The Jewish hardening is only temporary (25-27)

So what is the trigger for the Jews to recognize their Messiah? It is when “the fullness of the gentiles has come” (25) Paul calls this a mystery. The most popular interpretation is that this will be when the last gentile chosen for salvation by God accepts Jesus as Lord.  More broadly, it is simply when the end of the church age comes—that is, upon Jesus’ return at the start of the tribulation, when God will remove the church from the earth and remove the veil from Israel.

People are saved by grace through faith, Jew and gentile alike (28-36)

Paul is just amazed at the intricacy of God’s plan: We were disobedient to God, and received mercy; then the Jews rejected the Messiah the Father sent to them, becoming disobedient in the process; and now in that same disobedience that we were in, they can come to God in the same way – through realizing their disobedience and receiving mercy – not by works, not by the law, but by the grace of God through the sacrifice once for all of His Son Jesus.

Does all this sound a little confusing? Don’t worry about the big picture – just worry about faithful daily living with God. He’ll take care of the big picture. We must not feel smug.  At the same time we that feel secure in His care, we must not get all puffed up about it. Instead, we should realize the awesome privilege we have been given, of being grafted in as a wild branch to the root.

All interpretation of Scripture must be seen through the lens of Jesus. Hebrews 1:1-2: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

In recent months we have spent a lot of time in the Old Testament. Always remember to see the Israelites and their history in light of the promised Messiah and our Lord's unchanging offer . . .  by grace through faith. Some Jews will see this. When Paul came to Rome (years after writing this letter) he met with Jewish leaders and they discussed Jesus as the Messiah. At the end of the discussion it says this (Acts 28:24): “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.”

May 4, 2011

Hope for Judah: The Future King--Isaiah 7-12



Review

You will remember that chapter 1 gives a stern message to the people of Judah: accusations regarding their rebellion despite past judgments from God; their futile, empty worship; the call to repentance; and two promises: (1) those who repent will be restored, and (2) those who continue in rebellion will be judged

Two weeks ago we discussed how chapters 2-5 continue this message, while at the same time adding a new message of hope for the future. Delivering the word from God, Isaiah describes at length Judah’s inglorious present and how God will deal with His people’s rejection of Him. But then he prophesies about a contrasting glorious future, when He once more dwells and rules in Jerusalem (Isaiah 4:2-6):

2 In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious; And the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing for those of Israel who have escaped. 3 And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, 5 then the LORD will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. 6 And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.


Chapter 5, you will remember, is a song or poem from the Lord about the vineyard He had planted (Judah). It is similar to a lament: the vineyard He cultivated and cared for did not bear cultivated fruit, but only wild grapes. He cultivated justice and righteousness, but the vineyard produced oppression, bribery, greed, arrogance, with His people seeking only pleasure, while taunting Him and His prophets to accomplish His will. Worst of all, the people grew to call evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness. Therefore the vineyard will be laid waste. Judgment will come, in the form of strong nations invading the land to conquer and carry away their prey, and the vineyard will be laid waste, because it has not produced good fruit; the people of God have hated and rejected Him. And until the Messiah comes, no longer will the light shine in the land; it will be dark and desolate (Isaiah 5:30: “In that day they will roar against them like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and sorrow; and the light is darkened by the clouds.”)

Think for a moment about the messages of the prophets and also the messages of Jesus. God does not want merely outward expressions. He wants our hearts and minds. Like the Judeans, we can see in our culture some of the same attitudes and cultural pressures as God saw among His people Judah: greed, injustice, oppression, arrogance.

If the only word of God we had were the first five chapters of Isaiah, we still would know His will for His people: to know Him, to be faithful, to have the courage to live for Him and call evil evil and good good. A genuine person of God is simply one who not only believes in His revealed word, but also lives in and obeys His will.

Chapter 6 deals with Isaiah’s call to prophesy and includes the account of the response that is an example for all Christians: “Here am I! Send me.”

And today, we are going to zip through chapter 7 and complete the first major section of the book, the prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem. We have already learned what God thought about the sinful state of Judah, and we will not dwell on the messages about their sin today. Rather, I want to take a look at the section in general, and the prophecies of the Messiah in a little more detail.

Isaiah is sent to King Ahaz (7:1-12)

1 Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2 And it was told to the house of David, saying, “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.” So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub[a] your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, 4 and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”— 7 thus says the Lord God:
        “ It shall not stand,
      Nor shall it come to pass.
       8 For the head of Syria is Damascus,
      And the head of Damascus is Rezin.
      Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken,
      So that it will not be a people.
       9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
      And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son.
      If you will not believe,
      Surely you shall not be established.” 
10 Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”

Chapter 7 is a historical narrative of the advice the prophet Isaiah gave to Ahaz, king of Judah.

Ahaz reigned for three years, 735-732 B.C. During this time, Jerusalem was under threat of invasion from Syria and Israel in the north, for refusing to join them in their fight against the invading Assyrians. Now, with the Syrians threatening Jerusalem, Ahaz was tempted to seek help with alliances with the Assyrians and the Egyptians.

The word of the Lord through Isaiah to Ahaz was to rely on the Lord and not on unholy alliances, and not to worry, because the Syrians and the Israelites will not prevail in their invasion. In fact, the northern kingdom of Israel will itself be defeated and broken (verse 8: “. . . Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, so that it will not be a people”).

In verses 10-13, Ahaz is invited to ask for a sign from God, but refuses. I see some hypocrisy here—the king who has rejected his God and who leads a people who rejected God refuses to test his God, perhaps out of fear of the God he has rejected.

The sign of Immanuel (7:10-16)

10 Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”
13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. 15 Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.

Despite Ahaz’s refusal to ask for a sign, the Lord through Isaiah delivers the prophecy of a sign to come. While the sign is to be given specifically to the “house of David” (verse 13, the descendents of King David)—a broader audience also is in mind: all Judeans and perhaps all people of Judah and Israel, who are in a sense related, all being descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The prophecy is that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son (the word means an unmarried young woman, a virgin; never used of a married woman) . . .
and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (which means “God with us”).

Verse 16 seems to give pastors and theologians fits, with theories of all kinds over the centuries. Some reason that the child in verse 16 is the child to be born to Isaiah, due mainly to a similar prophecy in Isaiah 8:4. However, the point should not be in question. The context is not ambiguous: the child of verse 16 is the same child in verse 14 (“Immanuel”), who would be conceived miraculously and literally to be “God with us.” The phrase that has given some theologians fits (“before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good”) is simply a colloquial expression of the culture, meaning “quite soon” or “sooner than you expect.”

The remainder of chapter 7 (verses 17-25) deals with the coming judgment of Judah and desolation of the land. The very nations Ahaz was ready to call upon for assistance (Assyria and Egypt) would take part in the judgment against Judah. There is an interesting allusion in verse 20—the Lord, using a “hired razor” (invading nations) will shave the head, legs, and beard of the land (i.e., remove them from the land). Verses 23-25 reveal that the once-cultivated land will produce only briars and thorns.

Isaiah mixes judgment with hope

Note how so far in the prophecy we have seen Isaiah delivering a message of both judgment and hope.

The judgment is against a people who have turned willfully and persistently from their God and have sought instead to pursue the pleasures of the cultures around them—wine, sexual promiscuity, greed, oppression of the poor, and worshipping idols.

So far, we have seen the hope God is offering them in two ways. First, there are frequent references to the remnant, a small number who would be preserved due to their faithfulness. And second, we find references to what we might call the “grand hope” of Judah—the future advent of the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us.

Chapters 8 through 10 deal mainly with more prophecies of judgment, but in the first seven verses of chapter 9, Isaiah again jumps ahead to prophecies of the coming Messiah. In addition, there are verses in chapter 10 dealing with the returning remnant of Israel and the promise of restoration and preservation of God’s people in the land that He gave them. We will look at these chapters next week.

April 25, 2011

"I saw the Lord": Isaiah 6


1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

3 And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

The whole earth is full of His glory!”

4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

5 So I said:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King,

The LORD of hosts.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;

Your iniquity is taken away,

And your sin purged.”

8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,

And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

10 “ Make the heart of this people dull,

And their ears heavy,

And shut their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes,

And hear with their ears,

And understand with their heart,

And return and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered:

“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,

The houses are without a man,

The land is utterly desolate,

12 The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

13 But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

In chapter 6, Isaiah pauses briefly in his written prophecy to describe his experience of his call to ministry. In chapter 1, Isaiah calls his prophecy a “vision . . . which he saw” (1:1); now, in chapter 6, is fills in some details. Today we will consider Isaiah’s vision (1-4), his reaction (5), his forgiveness (6-7), his commission to prophesy (8), and the message God gave him to preach to a hard-hearted people (9-13).

One remarkable aspect of Isaiah’s account of seeing the Lord is that John notes in John 12:27-41 that the vision Isaiah saw was the glory of Jesus Himself:

27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

34 The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:

“ Lord, who has believed our report?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[f]

39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:

40 “ He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,

Lest they should see with their eyes,

Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

So that I should heal them.”

41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.


Isaiah’s vision (1-4)

Isaiah gives us the date of his call: the year King Uzziah died, which historians pinpoint to 739-740 B.C. In addition, he reports his ministry spanned the time of four kings—Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This is about 50 years, from about 739 B.C. until about 689 B.C.

The first part of chapter 6 is Isaiah’s account of his vision and call to prophesy. In writing this record of his call to prophetic ministry, Isaiah interrupts his prophecy. He may have chosen to interrupt briefly the prophecies to reinforce, by his testimony, how God called him and inspired him to speak.

“Sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (6:1)

In the vision, Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple, perhaps a vision of the temple in Jerusalem or a heavenly temple. Since Isaiah does not go further in his description, my view is that he sees the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem. Most of his readers had been in the temple, and simply noting that he saw the Lord in “the temple” would have been sufficient. The Lord and his throne were “high and lifted up,” a position of power and judgment, like a king on his throne or a modern-day judge in a courtroom.

Isaiah saw Seraphim (2-3) around God. Seraphim are a class of servants or attendants at God’s throne. Their main role seems to be to worship and offer praise. All we know about seraphim comes from Isaiah 6:1 and 6:6. They are beings with six wings, two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two for flying. Their position is above and around the throne. All we can infer from these two verses that the seraphim are a type of attendant hovering over and around God and praising Him.

Seraphim are not to be confused with cherubim, which are mentioned numerous times in the O.T. and N.T. Cherubim carry out missions given by God and are seen carrying Him on His throne. In Genesis 3:24, we find that God sent cherubim to prevent mankind from re-entering the garden of Eden. In Exodus 25:18-21, gold statues of cherubim with outstretched wings were placed on the top of the ark.

The seraphim are most likely the “four living creatures” of Revelation 4:8. In both places in scripture, we find them worshiping and praising with the words “holy, holy, holy” giving emphasis to His sinless perfection and His position above His creation.

Isaiah says the seraphim’s cry of praise to God shook the doorposts, and the temple was filled with smoke. I think this may be the glory cloud, which represented the Lord’s presence to the Israelites in the wilderness. Regardless, however, the scene Isaiah saw was magnificent and captivating to him.

Isaiah’s reaction to the vision of being in God’s presence (5)

Isaiah had an immediate and full realization and understanding of his guilt before holy God (Verse 5—So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.”).

He fully realized his sinfulness by just experiencing the vision of being in God’s presence. He knew he was unworthy before God—unworthy to be in His presence, unworthy to join the seraphim in praise, and unworthy to be His prophet.

The forgiveness and purification of Isaiah (6-7)

The forgiveness of Isaiah’s sins is symbolized in the text by one of the seraphim taking a live coal from the altar of incense and flying to him to touch the live coal to his lips. The incense was a symbol of the prayers and intercession of the people going up to God as a sweet fragrance, a symbol that people could approach Him. In the temple in Jerusalem, the altar of incense was made of gold and positioned just in front of the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was located. God instructed (Exodus 30: 1-10) the priests to keep incense burning in the altar all the time, symbolic of the pleasing aroma of His people’s prayers. The incense was put on smoldering coals brought from another altar, where burnt offerings were given for forgiveness of sins. The symbolism is a little complex—sins forgiven (the burnt offerings) related through use of the same smoldering coals to the burning of incense, which symbolized the sweet aroma of prayer and communion with God.

The seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with the smoldering coal, declaring “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged” (purged could be translated “atoned for” or “removed”).

With his sins forgiven, Isaiah could now serve His Lord as holy and pure

Isaiah’s commission as prophet (8-13)

God asks the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Note that even here, the true nature of God is affirmed as one God in more than one person or nature—who will go for Us. This is a truth consistent throughout scripture. In Genesis 1:26, God says “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .”; John 1:1, 14 tells us: “the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . “

Isaiah’s response: “Here am I! Send me.” In the vision, Isaiah had seen God’s power and holiness and experienced His complete forgiveness. He was free from guilt and ready to serve. His ministry was to deliver God’s word to a people whom God knew would not respond:

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

10 “ Make the heart of this people dull,

And their ears heavy,

And shut their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes,

And hear with their ears,

And understand with their heart,

And return and be healed.”

How many people would tell others about their faith if they knew in advance they would never listen? How many missionaries would go to the mission field if they knew in advance that when they retired, not one person would have been converted from their ministry? God is telling Isaiah that they will hear but not understand. His words will make their hearts dull, their ears heavy (tired of listening), and they will shut their eyes to the truth. They will do this on purpose and willingly for the purpose of not seeing, not hearing, not understanding, and not being reconciled to their Lord.

So the question comes to mind: Why bother to preach to people God Himself has told me will never listen, that all of my efforts to get them to turn away from their sin will be rejected? The reason is that so when the time for judgment comes, those who willingly turn away will know why they were being judged. Even more important, since we know “the rest of the story” from scripture, there are always a few people—the Bible calls them a remnant—who are listening.

Isaiah asks “Lord, how long?” (11). There is a sense of anguish. Isaiah seems to be horrified that the people will willingly turn their backs on their Lord in the face of the coming judgment.

2) Verses 11 and 12 give a brief summary of the judgment to come to the nation—cities laid waste and abandoned, desolate land, the people sent into exile (“removed . . . far away,” v. 12), the land forsaken:

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered:

“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,

The houses are without a man,

The land is utterly desolate,

12 The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

Verse 13 gives both despair and hope:

13 But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

The bad news is that even if 10% of the Judeans remain, they, too, will fall prey to the invaders. My guess is this refers to a kind of “mopping up” operation by an army that has invaded and conquered.

The good news is that out of the few “stumps” left, the “holy seed” will come, the Messiah. (An alternate interpretation of the “holy seed” is that it refers to the remnant of faithful Jews, who will return to the land and faithfully follow their Lord. I do not subscribe to this interpretation, which is not the majority interpretation.)

If you are a little confused in v. 13, welcome to the club! It is difficult to interpret in Hebrew, let alone translate to English! The main message in verse 13 is that while God would judge His nation because they willingly turned from Him, He will not abandon them totally and forever. There will be a few stumps left, even after the land is laid desolate.