January 2, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday through Saturday, Week of the First Sunday after Christmas


Thursday

Morning – Ps. 66, Is. 64, 1 Jn. 3:13
Evening – Ps. 34, Is. 65:8-16, Heb. 4:14-5:14

Isaiah 64 continues a deep and moving prayer for redemption of the people of Judea.  Much of the prayer confesses the sins of Israel, but much of it also expresses the faith that God is willing to help His people.   Chapter 63 asked God to remember that He is the “Father” and God of the Jews, and to remember mercy even in His very just anger.  The Jews in Babylon would read these words, and, by the grace of God, some of them would understand that their captivity was God’s just response to their sin, meant to correct them and to call them back to God’s gracious blessings.  God does cleanse and chastise His people.

By faith Isaiah sees that God will do more for  the Jews than simply return them to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  He will send the Messiah, who will ultimately deliver them into a Kingdom that is far greater than they can imagine (vs. 4).  The most earnest prayers for relief are worthless without real sorrow for and turning away from sin, and in verse 6 the prophet is moved to a prayer of humble confession and repentance for all of Judea.  The prayer will be read by the captives in Babylon, many of whom will be moved to confess their own sins, and to really and truly seek God.

The evening reading shows God’s merciful response to those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel.  There will be blessings for them (65:8).  They will inherit the holy mountain, meaning Jerusalem and the Temple mount, and, ultimately, the Kingdom of the Messiah (65:9).  Places now barren wasteland will blossom with abundance (65:10).

The blessings will not come before repentance, and repentance will not come before chastisement.  Thus God says again that the sword will come to Jerusalem.  Verses 11-16 tell of both wrath and grace.  Some will be saved from the sword and will repent and return to God.  How sad that they would not repent before the sword came to them.

Friday

Morning – Ps. 92, Is 65:17, 1 Jn. 4
Evening – Ps. 91, Is 66:1-13, Heb. 6:1-12

The Jews returning to Jerusalem will be under the special protection of God.  They will be delivered from war, and life will not be cut short or hampered by battle.  The Lord will answer their prayers before they pray, and the land will enjoy a time of peace and rest.  But the language of this passage obviously looks for more than just the restoration of Jerusalem.  Isaiah is supernaturally enabled to see far into the future to the new heavens and new earth, which God will bring into existence in the Kingdom of the Messiah. Like us, the prophet sees this dimly, as through a smoked glass. He describes it in terms of earthly blessings, using things we understand to describe things we cannot really understand while we live in this world.   So, as wonderful as the Messiah’s reign sounds in Isaiah’s words, its reality will be immeasurably greater in every detail.  His Kingdom will not be completed until the end of time, but it has begun already.  We in the Church have begun to reap the fruit of it.  One day we will see it fully.  We will walk in its streets and know its joy more fully than we now know the present world.  We now call that Kingdom “Heaven.”  One day we will call it “Home.”

Isaiah 66 takes up a different subject.  There are those, in both Israel and the Church who attempt to mix the pure Gospel with the unbiblical views and practices of the people around them.  In the time of Isaiah and the Jews, they mixed Biblical teaching with pagan religion.  Today it is more likely to be mixed with pop psychology and humanistic ideas of self-fulfillment and personal happiness.  Either way, God is dethroned and man becomes the center of his own religion.  In Isaiah’s time, pagan people believed their deities lived in houses built for them by people, and ate as food the sacrifices offered to them.  Many Jews applied the same ideas to God, the Temple, and the Sacrifices.  God explicitly denies any dependency on people (66:1-2).  He owns all things, so, people can really offer Him nothing.  Furthermore, anything offered unto God under such false understandings or motives is absolutely rejected by God.  An ox sacrificed to God in such a way (even with the greatest sincerity and best intentions) is as bad as murdering a man and offering him up on the altar of God  (66:3).   A lamb offered in this way is no better than a dog.  This passage is a clear and desperate call to true repentance and to Biblical faith and practice.  Those who truly repent will be welcomed to God as a loving mother welcomes her beloved child.  Even Gentiles are welcomed into the love of God.  “As one whom his mother comforteth, so I will comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13).

Saturday

Morning – Ps. 144, Is. 66:18-23, 1 John 5
Evening – Ps. 29, 98, Is. 49:1-7, Lk. 3:15-22

This morning’s reading from Isaiah 66:18 and following is a continuation of Is. 66:1-16 and cannot be understood apart from those verses.  The passage actually begins in verse 14, which tells of God’s grace toward His servants and His indignation toward His enemies.  Verse 15 begins to reveal how grace and indignation will be executed.  God will come with fire, chariots, and whirlwind, meaning the destruction and killing of military conquest (66:16).

Two kinds of enemies of God are portrayed.  First is Jews who have departed from the faith.  Verse 17 pictures them participating in pagan rites and worshiping idols.  Most Jews did not leave their religion behind to join pagan cults.  Instead they imported elements of paganism into their own faith.  At times, even the Temple of God was filled with pagan idols.  It halls rang with their prayers and altars ran with the blood of their sacrifices.  Those who have done these things will be consumed as by a consuming fire (17).

With these things firmly in our minds we are ready to look into our reading for today.  Verse 18 refers back to 17 as justification for God’s wrath.  He knows the works and thoughts of idolatrous Jews.  He has seen them give His glory to idols and attribute His providence to inanimate objects.  He knows they have followed gods that blessed their sins, rather than live the pure and holy life He demands of them.  They have even persecuted Jews who would not join their sin (66:5). They and their gods will be consumed.

The second group of God’s enemies consists of Gentiles who come to make war on Israel.  They lift up their sword against God’s anointed people, and that is the same as lifting up their sword against God Himself (Ps. 2:2).  The Church is the Body of Christ, and he who persecutes it persecutes Christ (Acts 9:4&5).  As the Gentile empires come to make war on Israel, they find themselves also falling to the sword.  We see in the history of the Jewish people a parade of conquerors taking the land, each conqueror conquered by another, which is also conquered by another.  From Assyria to Babylon, from Persia to Greece, and even mighty Rome, empires have come and gone while Israel, both old and new, remains.

Not all Gentiles are destroyed, for the grace of God extends to them as well.  Many survive the judgment of God and are brought into His Kingdom of Grace.  The Jewish people often enjoyed a steady stream of Gentiles coming to God and becoming members of the Covenant People.  Converts often took their new faith back to their own countries and people (66:19).

Seeing the application of this chapter to the Jews of the Babylonian era and beyond, we again come face to face with an important part of the book of Isaiah, namely its Christological meaning. The events of these verses cannot possibly be fulfilled by a simple return of the Jews to Jerusalem and Judea.  They can only find their ultimate meaning in the Kingdom of the Messiah and the establishment of His Kingdom in the hearts and minds of people of every race and nation, and in their elevation into the New Heaven and earth, which is the glorious fulfillment of all the promises of God in Heaven forever.).