Isaiah 53

This must surely be one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of the heart of Christianity.

Lots of sheep metaphors, so affecting because sheep are so vulnerable.

This poetry links the old teaching about sacrifice for sin with the “new thing” Isaiah has started to describe. God has prepared Israel for this step by having them mindfully slaughter sacrificial sheep for generations. But the idea is still a huge leap.

To compare the mighty creator God we’ve met so far: the firey cloudy pillar guiding us through the wilderness, shaking mountains and carving his words on the rock, to a lamb; one being passively slaughtered, is almost incomprehensible.

The servant is beaten, whipped, his striped scars heal us.

Then killed. And in that paradox, the mightiest God submitting to humiliation and destruction, is my sin absorbed.

For we are also like sheep, wandering off, helpless, incapable of following instructions or caring for ourselves.

Such a complete and clear description of my beliefs, the years melt away.

Hundreds of years between Isaiah and Jesus, thousands of years between Jesus and me. All the scar tissue of my own 55 years, I am a new creation again. For me it requires no rationalisation, it is simply truth which has stood and will stand forever.

When I step back from the moment and realise what I am reading, I get a chill. The holy spirit, surely. These ancient writings, so beautiful, predicting Jesus so accurately and so meaningfully. Speaking right to my heart. Loving, saving. The voice of my God.

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Isaiah 52

We’re entering the most detailed servant/Messiah chapters. It’s the “new thing” the book has been building to with its layers of imagery.

It is double prophetic from Isaiah’s time. He’s writing (if it is him, which some doubt) before the people have been conquered and sent into exile, about the time when they shall be returned from exile.

But then it’s also triple prophetic, because it’s about so much more than the return from the exile they aren’t even in yet, because by describing the Messiah he’s talking about God’s eternal salvation plan for the whole world.

This chapter starts with hype about the salvation/ return from exile.

Jerusalem is to “awake awake”.

That is be aware that they are God’s people, and that he loves them. They actually have become cynical about God, and have no respect for him. Understandably perhaps because Egypt, then Assyria, then Babylon owned them.

There is a play on worthlessness. They feel worthless because they got conquered and the conquerors paid no price for destroying the chosen people. But God is also going to save them at no cost to them, for free. We’ll find later is because he’ll pay the price.

He talks about the messengers of this good news having “beautiful feet”. I love this, it’s God’s news, but we are the physical bearers of it. We have time and a physical being, and God finds it beautiful when we use our body and time to share the blessing we have.

Then they are to “depart depart”.

Leave the place of exile, of sin, and come to a place of holiness, of being cleaned and blessed by God and useful to him.

Then after the hype, in the last few verses, we get to the servant, the means of this salvation.

He’s king of kings… Wiser, more exalted than earthly Kings. They shut up when they see him.

He’s the mistreated servant, beaten beyond.  recognition. Remember sometime had to pay a price?

He is an unprecedented occurrence, and the incomprehensible made clear.

Isaiah is coming together!

Isaiah 51

A chapter of comfort. God’s voice.

He refers to his strength, his history, describes himself as the rock from which they are hewn. And promises comfort.

There is a section on listening, because God is acting, making things right and saving them.

Listen to him above all else because he will outlast the other voices … It returns to the “worn out clothes” metaphor from the last chapter. There is a repeated refrain that his salvation lasts forever.

Then a section with a repeated call to wake up, to respond with faith in the permanent, saving God who brings comfort; rather than with fear of the oppressors, who will pass away.

God’s promises, his strength, his salvation, our response of faith. All of that should give us a long term perspective on our present situation.

The Israelites had aggressive invaders at the gates. I’m waking up on new year’s Day, on holiday during a long lazy summer.

I’m marking the years, feeling optimism, wariness and a sense of life passing. The “wake up and listen” bits of the message are certainly resonating. I’m currently pretty comfortable!

The distractions will start up again soon. May I remember that whatever the year holds, it will pass. I will be here again, between the hours, remembering that God’s salvation is eternal, and I pray, having lived the intervening days from that perspective.

Isaiah 49

Half the chapter is about Isaiah’s figure the servant of the lord. All the elements are there: he is from God, a means of judgement and salvation, despised by people yet used not only for salvation of Israel but of all nations.

Again you do the loop where it is impossible to visualise anyone but Jesus.

I considered how there have been numerous other servants of the lord, Moses fits quite close. And the kingship was designed to be humble in Moses’ law, David dancing before the ark more than Solomon in a palace. It’s a biblical pattern, a truth about God’s way, but specifically it is so Jesus.

The second half is about Israel being glorified. With all the servant talk, especially the bit about being for all the world, Israel might think “so what are we?”

But God assures them they always have a special place like the place a child has for a parent. He also describes them as like a tattoo on his hand.

It finishes with a classic old testament scene of retribution… The enemies of Israel starving to the point of canabalism while all the exiles and all the world beats a path back to the promised land to share in glory.

Which, given the original audience was probably on the verge of being conquered and dragged away into exile from the land, was very comforting hyperbole.

It’s like “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need”.

What they want is the promise of relief from their political and military victimhood, which they will get eventually, but not soon enough, and not before things get a lot worse.

What they need is what Isaiah calls the “new thing” this global salvation plan for all mankind, hundreds of years in the future but acting retroactively and prospectively for all.

Isaiahs big task is starting to explain, and it’s not easy. Even with my perspective I still keep doing double takes. The whole Bible is an odd story!

Isaiah 7

A story of the options of trusting or not trusting God when you are scared, and how many steps ahead God really is.

Isaiah lived in the smaller Southern Israelite kingdom of Judah. They faced an attack by an alliance of the Northern kingdom, Israel, and Syria. The king and the general population were in mortal terror.

Isaiah meets the king, Ahaz, and through Isaiah God says he’s got it sorted.

The threat is all smoke and no fire. Ahaz is given a promise… The child of a woman who conceives and gives and gives birth will not be yet eating solid food before the threat is disposed of. Max 2 years, problem solved.

But the king does not trust God. In the end he makes an alliance with Assyria, giving them most of the kingdom’s treasure for protection.

They prove to be an unreliable partner, and eventually Judah is attacked by both them and Egypt at the same time, a far worse result than the original attack the alliance was designed to avoid.

The simple lesson is “trust God”.

You can sometimes still get good stuff by trusting yourself, like love, wealth, good times.

But God is mightier, stronger, more able to bless, and ultimately loves you more than you could love yourself, so you are better off trusting him.

The twist is that Isaiah knew the king would not trust God. To his meeting he bought his son, whose name “a remnant will survive” pointed to the outcome, and the ultimate fate of Judah.

Furthermore, remember the sign about God saving them by the time a child was eating solid food? It has a familiar cadence that jumps out at you in the text “a virgin will give birth to a son, and he shall be called ‘Immanuel'” ( God with us)…

That prophesy had a near and far meaning, being quoted when Jesus was born.

Because God is always several jumps ahead of our fear and our plans. And his salvation is eternal.

2 Kings 12

The reign of Kings Jehoash – raised in the temple, king for 40 years from the age of 7. He didn’t remove the cancer of worshipping other gods – the high shrines, but he rebuilt the temple.

Its a delicate story, only very sketched in.  He was raised by priests, and he gave them the job of rebuilding the temple but after 23 years, nothing had been done.  The passage details how he overcame their mismanagement without seemingly judging them.

Ironically the mismanagement of the building program for a period of decades may have contributed to the treasury of the temple being well stocked with gold which, he uses to buy the safety of Jerusalem when it is later attacked. But that is not viewed as god’s provision, and the writer then flatly notes that he was assassinated.  I’m sure there is quite a story there, but the writer of Kings is not interested.

The narrator is looking for God’s intervention, and seems to find none in Jehoash’s story other than the way he became king.

Its like a sense of despair has settled over the kingship.  They were excited about God’s hand in making sure the line of David didn’t actually die out, but there is no general hope for the people coming from this story of the long reign of even a quite godly king.

2 Kings 11

The lamp becomes a flicker

One theme that runs though the of testament is the live of David, Jesus’ line. In kings it is called the lamp of Judah.

It’s a very slow and often frail salvation plan, and here it comes down to just one hidden boy.

Last chapter king Jehu of Israel – not a godly man, but the means of judgment – aggressively usurped and stamped out evil king Ahab’s line. He missed his daughter who was mother in law of the king of Judah. When her son the king is killed she rules herself for a number of years and keeps power by mercilessly killing the heirs of David, some of her own grandchildren.

One boy is hidden in the temple by a wise and bold woman Jehosheba the wife of the priest . It’s sort of a tale of two women. 

After 7 years the priest and other godly people run a coup that installs the boy as king. It’s a great story.

The lamp flickers but doesn’t go out. A new leaf is turned over.

When Jesus talks about faith the size of a grain of mustard I think of this woman’s act. Grace pops out all over in these stories – when the kings are worst, the most blessed prophets arise.  In a forest of evil, a good person plants one seed of salvation against all odds. Never give up hope on what is right, never.

2 Kings 5

When Elisha asked for double the spirit Elijah had, God really answered.

This part of Kings is absolute gold for finding out the character of God.

Here, God cures a leper. The mode of cure is washing, the water of the Jordan washes away the corruption of the flesh, a physical metaphor for sin being washed away.

The recipient is a military commander from a neighbouring country. He heard of Elisha because his wife was a captive from Israel taken in battle.

God’s healing is for all the world, for enemies.

Elisha refuses payment. Namaan who was cured knows the event is theological and recognises that he has found the one true God, who he promises to worship the rest of his life. God is above all other Gods and more valuable than any wealth.

He is very candid and asks forgiveness for times he anticipates helping his king in religious rituals for another God, and Elisha accepts it. It’s about what is in the heart.

This candor is contrasted with the dishonesty of Elisha’s servant who tells a lie to in fact get some payment from Namaan, and gets leprosy. A life devoted to materialism above God will corrupt your soul and destroy you, and you can’t lie to God about it.

Worst mass shooting ever in the US today.

Minds become unhinged, and this shooter had a cultural response to becoming possessed by evil that is all too familiar in the US.

As society grapples with this reality, layers of more complex evil, hypocrisy motivated by greed and power will interpret the event various ways. Fingers will be pointed, self serving spin will be exaggerated.

Here I read of the powerful simplicity of that washing in the river, the sure love of God that pares away all the dishonest layers. Glad I’ve found the true God today, its all we have.

1 Kings 15

4 kings, 2 southern, of Judah, 2 northern, of Israel.  The first and foremost fact we must know about each is whether they were lovers of Jehovah, or doers of evil in God’s eyes.

Only one, Asa the second King in Judah is faithful to Jehovah and takes action to stamp out the worship of foreign Gods.

God’s hand is behind their rise and fall.  The line of the Kings of Judah (South) is protected by God because as we now know, it was important that David’s line continue, it was the line of the Messiah. So he does not judge the first, faithless King of Judah, Abijam as harshly as the Northern kings, of Israel.

The first Norther, Israel King mentioned, Nadab, is the heir of Jeroboam, who’s line was doomed in the last chapter by a prophet.  And indeed the next King Baasha is not related and destroys all of Jeroboam’s line.  ….And does evil in God’s eyes anyway.  All those Kings are judged not only for the sin they commit, but what they lead the people into.

Asa the God fearing King enters an alliance that strengthens the smaller Judah kingdom against a near decisive blow by Baasha in the civil war from the kingdom of Israel, thereby preserving – barely – the “Lamp of David” as the Judah royal line is called, in the South.

Asa has to sell the rest of the family gold and silver to do it.  In Deuteronomy it warned the King of the chosen people against amassing wealth, now 2 kings later, all the wealth of Solomon is gone.

Judgment in the north, salvation slowly being worked out in the south.

I’ve had this feeling before. You wonder if things that happen in your life are just you being superstitious, or spiritualising events.  God knew us intimately before we were even born.  His hand is everywhere.

 

Exodus 5

Sometimes you have to admit you are in slavery.  

We are told to turn the other cheek, to cope. 

But if the truth is that your situation is a disaster that will destroy you, coping is dishonest, enabling a lie.

Moses makes everything much worse by confronting Pharaoh. He digs his heels in and makes life far worse, impossible, for the people. 

They hate Moses, he’s disillusioned by God. We understand why he was so unwilling to obey God’s command to speak for them.

But it’s only making real what was already there. The Israelites are in a dead end death trap. Appeasing their masters will just keep them there. 

This had to happen. In life things often have to get worse so they can get better.

It’s called faith. And praise be, God doesn’t really need it to save us.