November 21, 2015
Scripture and Comments, November 22-28
Mal. 3, Acts 6
Mal. 4, 2 Titus 1
The Jews long to see the Day of the Lord. They believe it will be a day of devastation and destruction of the Gentiles. But Malachi says the Day of the Lord begins with judgement on the house of Judah. God will be a refiner’s fire to His own people (2-5), He will burn away their impurities the way a super-heated furnace burns the impurities out of gold and silver.
The casual attitude of the people is well expressed in verses 6-9, which tell us many have stopped offering the sacrifices and tithes called for in the Law. They keep God’s portion for themselves, to increase their own wealth while the house of God is empty. This probably means they have also stopped attending the Temple and synagogue, preferring to spend their time, as well as their money, on their own pursuits rather than God’s. God calls this robbing Him.
Why have the people stopped attending the Temple and synagogue? Why have they stopped worshiping God with the tithe? Why have they fallen back into the very sins that caused God to turn them over to the Babylonians? Because they say, “It is vain to serve God.” It does them no good they say. There is no profit in it for them. Remember that, in their own minds, they are righteous. They believe they have done everything the Covenant requires, but God has not. They have been entirely faithful to the Covenant, but God has broken it on every count by not giving them the wealth and peace He promised and they deserve. They have fallen back into the idea that God is only concerned about “religious” things. He only cares about the outward forms of sacrificing animals and saying liturgies. He does not care about personal morality, and He does not care about loving Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds. So they went through the motions of worship without engaging their hearts. When God did not bless that, they stopped going through the motions, and accused God of breaking His promises to them.
In reality, it is they who have broken the Covenant and turned away from God. Their worship is empty and revolting to God. They do not care about God, but expect God to care about them. They call the proud (those who despise God) happy. They say those who tempt God, by open sin and blasphemy, are the ones who are delivered from the problems of life. It does often appear that the wicked prosper at the expense of the righteous. Thus, it is natural to conclude it is better to be wicked than righteous. But God promises that the wicked will be punished, while those who turn to Him in faith will be saved from the wrath to come. Otherwise, there is no hope.
The wicked are compared to stems of wheat that are left after the grain is harvested. Such stubble is dry and easily burned. It can also be gathered into bundles and burned for heat. It is as fuel for the furnace that the wicked are referred to here. God is the furnace. He will gather them and consume them in the unquenchable fire of His wrath. The wicked are not getting away with their oppression and immorality. God sees, and God will consume them.
The Sun of Righteousness is God (2). His Righteousness will rise on the faithful like the sun on a new day. He will accomplish all that He has promised them. Ultimately, He is Christ, who is risen from the grave with healing for our souls in His wings. In His death, our sins are crucified. In His resurrection, our souls are healed. In His return, His righteousness will rise like the sun, and cover the whole creation. All evil will be punished, and His people will inherit the earth. We will go forth as calves from the stall, joyful and happy to be free.
As they return to God, the Jews are reminded to keep the law of Moses (4). They have fallen into sin again, so God calls them to keep the law. This is a call to be the Covenant people again.
Elijah (5) will be known as John the Baptist. He will be the forerunner of the Messiah. Through his preaching, many will be turned to God again, and many will embrace the Messiah in faith.
Isaiah 1, Acts 7:1-30
Isaiah 2, Titus 2, 3
Isaiah is a wealthy priest who began his ministry in the year King Uzziah died, about 742 B.C. He is the king's pastor, and is possibly a member of the royal family. Well educated and a faithful minister of God, his book is a warning to people who have turned away from God. The heart of the chapter is expressed in the words of God, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (2). This verse sets the tone for the entire book of Isaiah. Everything after this verse is either a plea from God to repent and be blessed, or a revelation of the terrible price to be paid for sin.
The Jews find these words offensive. They are the chosen people, and they are outwardly very religious. They are very conscientious about observing the ceremonial regulations of feasts and fasts and animal sacrifices. But their hearts are far from God. Thus, God is “full” of their burnt offerings and has no delight in the blood of bulls and goats (11). When God says He is “full," He does not mean He is satisfied as a person would be after a good meal. He means He is overfull. He is like a person who has eaten far too much, and is violently sick because of it. He is so sick of their insincere worship that the very thought of it makes Him nauseous.
God will not endure this forever. If the people repent He will feed them with the good of the land, but if they refuse they will be devoured with the sword (19-20).
The chapter is summarised well in two phrases. The first is found in verse 24. The "adversaries" and "enemies" of God are outwardly religious people who do all the religious things specified by the Old Testament ceremonial law. But, somehow they have separated faith from life. They keep the Sabbath with meticulous detail, but oppress and mistreat their brethren throughout the rest of the week. The concept of Godliness in every aspect of life, from work to recreation to home and church is foreign to them. But God demands Godliness in all things. He demands to be Lord of your home as much as of your church, and Lord of your morals as much as of your worship. The plan of God for Israel was for them to love God, to worship Him in Biblical worship and faith, and put that faith into practice in every aspect of life. So there is no part of life that is separate from "religion." God is Lord of all of life. The same is true for the New Testament Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ.
The second phrase that summarises this passage is in verse 25. The image of this verse is the refining furnace, which burns away impurities from precious metals. God is telling the people of Judea He is going to put them through the refining fire. He is going to burn away their dross in the fire of His wrath. He is going to purify them through suffering, much of which will come through brutal military conquest of their land.
Isaiah 2 looks beyond the refining fire of the Babylonian conquest and the trials of this life to a day when God Himself has healed His people and brought peace to them forever. In that Day all nations will walk in His ways and there will be no more war. This is the time of the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ. That Day is not here in its full sense, but it is here in part in the Church. It would be good to think about how the Church fulfills this passage (or falls short of it) as we read this passage.
The people in Isaiah 2 have a problem. It is not a problem of poverty or hunger, for there is no end of their treasures (7). Their problem is that they have forsaken the greatest treasure of all, God. Forsaking God, they have turned to false gods. Why would they turn to idols? Because it is easier to fall for a lie than to stand for the truth. To put it another way; idols are easier to serve than God. We can create an idol to be anything we want. We can dictate to it what kind of god it will be and what we will give to it. But God refuses to be dictated to. God always demands that we change to conform to Him. He never changes to conform to us. Do people today try to change God to make it easier to serve Him? On what do you base your answer?
Is. 3, Acts 7:31-60
Is. 4, Philemon
Isaiah 3 is another sermon and warning about the judgement of Judah. Always deeply aware of the sins of the Gentiles, the Jews are happily unaware of their own. Always looking for God to punish the Gentiles, they never seem to think God’s wrath will burn against them, also. But chapter 3 details many of the ways God will punish the Jews. Of particular notice is the unlearned and foolish who become leaders and major influences of thought and culture. Verse 4 describes them as children and babes. Manasseh became king at the age of 12. His incompetence and wickedness did immeasurable harm to the Jewish people, and was a major cause of their moral religious collapse. But people of mature years can be like children in their understanding and selfishness. Incompetent people are often elevated to positions of great power, where their childish understanding and behaviour cause disaster for many others. Because of their sin, the destruction of Jerusalem is stated as though it is an accomplished act (8). “Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen” is an accurate statement of the theme of this chapter.
Isaiah 4 looks past judgment to the redemption and restoration of Judea. The reforms under King Hezekiah and the restoration of the Jews after the Babylonian Captivity are the first applications of this passage. But it looks beyond these things to an event that is immeasurably greater than both of them, and of which they are symbols and representations. That event is the advent of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christ is the Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious. The salvation of souls and the Kingdom of Christ is the fruit He brings forth by His suffering and resurrection. In Him, Jerusalem (the Church) is holy. In Him the filth (sin) of the daughters of Jerusalem (people who receive Him as Lord and Saviour) is washed away. Through Him the cloud of smoke and fire (the presence of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit) descend to Mt. Zion (the Church) and her assemblies (meetings for worship). He is the Tabernacle, the shelter from the heat, storm, and rain (the results of our sins). Note that a shelter protects us by bearing the storm for us.
Is. 5, Acts 8:1-25
Is. 6, Hebrews 1
Isaiah returns to the theme of judgment. The vineyard is Judah. Called and blessed by God, she has refused to bear the fruit of righteousness. Thus, she is left to be overgrown by thorns and weeds, which are sins and worldly cares that choke the word of God out of the vineyard. In another sense, the thorns and weeds are the enemies who will conquer and rule the Jewish people. The enemies will flourish and choke out the vines.
Future generations will see the Messiah, the true vine, but most will reject Him. They, too , will be overrun with weeds of unbelief, and turned over to the weeds and thorns. The same can happen to professing Christians, churches, and denominations. Neglect of the word and house of God allows the weeds and thorns to grow and flourish in us. If not uprooted, they can take over, and choke the faith out of us.
The Word of the Lord in Isaiah 6 is a terror to the prophet. He was commissioned to proclaim the Word to Judea, but he is told that the people will not understand or receive it. Instead, his preaching will make their hearts fat, their ears heavy, and their eyes shut, that they may not hear and convert and be healed. The prophet probably remembers the warnings of God's anger, which he has already been preaching to the people. Those warnings were coupled with a promise of forgiveness to those who repent. But now Isaiah is told by God that the majority of people will not repent. Most will not even understand or receive his message. Instead of hearing it with faith and repentance, their ears and hearts will become calloused to it. It will fade into the background noise, like music in a mall.
Perhaps a similar thing has happened to people today. The Bible is the ideological foundation of Western civilisation and culture. It formed our ideals and our world, and gave us our values of justice and freedom. We have rarely come close to actually living up to its teachings, but it has always been a force to reckoned with, even when we have strayed from it. Today, after 2,000 years, people are no longer listening to it. It is there. Even the most secularised people listen to Christmas carols, and most people have at least some knowledge of the Bible’s message. But they are not paying attention. It has become background noise to them. It puts them to sleep, even those who believe it is true. God help us to hear it.
Is. 7, Acts 8:26-40
Is. 8. Hebrews 2
Ahaz is Uzziah's grandson. He is a comparatively good king who actually attempts to accomplish some reforms in Judah. In chapter 7 Israel, which separated from Judah and formed its own country after the death of Solomon, has joined forces with Syria to fight against him. How tragic that part of God’s people have joined unbelievers to fight against another part of God’s people. God’s message to Ahaz is that He will not allow them to defeat him. He offers to give a sign, which Ahaz refuses. So God gives the sign, but not just for Ahaz; for all people. A virgin shall be with Child (14).
Doubtless, this verse has a direct application to Isaiah and Ahaz. But its actual fulfillment comes in the Virgin Birth of Christ. It looks forward to an event more than seven hundred years in the future, when the virgin Mary will conceive the Messiah, Immanuel. Christ literally and actually fulfills the words of this prophecy.
Chapter 8 speaks Immanuel’s name in great sadness. The sadness comes because the land of Judah, Immanuel's Land, will be occupied and conquered by an army so vast and powerful its lines will "fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel." Chapter 8 is given first as a promise of security to Ahaz and the people of Judea. It is the good news of the fall of their enemies. Rather than conquering Judea, they will be conquered by Assyria (7). This will be a temporary deliverance for Judea, and during this time they will have a time of partial reformation and faith as Hezekiah attempts to move the people back towards God. But, the reforms will be incomplete, and many of the people will resist them. Therefore, even Judah will be troubled by the Assyrians, and, eventually fall to the empire that conquers Assyria, Babylon.
Is. 9, Acts 9:1-23
Is. 10:1-18, Heb. 3
The coming Messiah is promised clearly in verses 1-7. The constant sin and punishment of the Jews points to the need of a Deliverer who is able to do far more than protect the Jews from Gentile invaders. The Jews, and Gentiles, need a Deliverer who is able to save them from their sinful patterns, and to accomplish their eternal forgiveness and reconciliation to God. They walk in the darkness of sin, and they need to see the great Light of God. Fortunately, that is just what God intends to do (2). Since this Deliverer must do what no man can do, He must be far more than a man. He must be, and is, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace (6). We know Him as Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and coming again to judge the quick and the dead.
In verse 8, the Northern kingdom of Israel is boasting that it will rebuild. Chapter 8 warned that Israel would be defeated by Assyria. In chapter 9 this has already happened, yet the people will not turn from their sins to God (9:13). They boast that if they don't have bricks they will build with stones. If good, sycamore wood is unavailable they will build with cedar. Their attitude is very much like that expressed in the poem, "Invictus." Because of this, the wrath of God will be as darkness upon the land, and the people will be as fuel for the fire (19).
The Lord continues to warn Judea of His approaching wrath. Notice the disintegration of Jewish society which causes God's anger to burn against them. Israel was called to be one people. They were to be like a good family, walking together in love to God and love to one another. Instead of love they have given hate. They have trampled the rights of the poor. They buy and sell "justice" with bribes and threats. They prey on widows and rob orphans. Thus, they will become prisoners and casualties. God has set them aside to become fuel for the fire. If He punished Samaria, capital of the Northern tribes of Israel, shall He not also punish Jerusalem, capital of the Southern tribe of Judah?
God pronounces woe on the swindlers and deceivers in Judah and Jerusalem (1-4). Of all people, they will suffer most in the coming invasion (4). Truly, God requires justice and truth among His own people.
Verse 5 turns to the Assyrian conquerors. True, God will allow them to destroy Israel and trouble Judah, but their deeds are still evil. They are being used by God to chastise His people, but they are still wicked people, and God will not let them go unpunished. He will bring judgment and wrath upon them as surely as He has done upon His own chosen people. "Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?" Who is the ax and who heweth therewith? Assyria is the ax, but it is God who heweth.
Is. 10:19-34, Acts 9:24
Is. 11, Heb. 4
Here we read of God’s inexhaustible grace. Though His own people habitually despise Him and prostitute themselves to gods that are not even real gods, He will not utterly destroy them. A remnant will be saved to carry on the mission for which Israel was called. God cannot fail. His purpose for Israel will not be stopped by worldly enemies, or even by sin in His own people. His work of Redemption, by which He brings His own to Himself in everlasting peace, and by which He restores His creation to its original glory will be unfailingly accomplished. He will continue His work through Israel. He will bring the Saviour into the world through her. Through Him, He will complete the great work of Redemption, until all enemies are put under His feet, and all of His people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are safely gathered into His eternal peace.
Judah is cut down. Once a great tree, luxuriant and well watered, it is shown here as a dying stump. Years of war have leveled it. Future conquests, coupled with internal decay, will wear even the stump away. But a Branch will grow out of its roots. Seemingly tender and weak, it will grow to be mighty and great. In it all the promises of the chapter come to pass.
In one sense, the chapter refers to the Jews after the Babylonian conquest. The tree represents Judah and Jerusalem, cut and worn away to nothing but roots. But a branch, representing the Jews returning from Babylon after being released by Cyrus the Great of Persia, sprouts from the roots. The post captivity Jews are few and weak. They are surrounded by enemies, and their survival looks doubtful. But they will survive, because God is their protector, and He will ensure their continuation.
In an even greater sense, the Branch is the Kingdom of God. Often battered by the world, and decayed by heresy and sin, its survival looks doubtful, and many have confidently predicted its death. Yet it survives. Why? Because Almighty God wills it. It is God’s Church, God’s people, God’s Kingdom, and He will protect and ensure its continuance. No matter how weak it looks, or even if it appears to be completely gone, God will always have His faithful remnant. One day He will cause this branch to inherit the earth, and its enemies will pass away.
In a still greater sense, the Branch is Christ Himself. He comes to earth through the root of Judah, being born of the Jewish people in the town of Bethlehem. An insignificant infant in an insignificant family, in an insignificant town looks small and weak to us. Can He continue the work of the Kingdom? Can He be the personification of it. Can He be its Lord and God? Can He complete the great plan of Redemption, which God formulated before He laid the foundations of the earth? He can, because He is God with us. He is Immanuel. The world, and the Kingdom were created by Him and for Him, and He is far stronger than all His enemies. He is able and He is willing to accomplish all that He has promised, and threatened, in the Bible.