Reading Through the Bible, Monday, August 1. Isaiah 18-20

    Chapter 18 is one of the more complicated chapters of Isaiah, but it is a prophecy made about Ethiopia (the land of Cush).

    First notice the promise of God to raise His “banner,” His flag.  It is a sign of sovereignty.  Though the people of Cush are valiant soldiers, feared far and wide (they are mentioned in chapter 20 as part of Egypt’s army), they are no match for God.  He silently watches what they do.  Though they may not see Him, He is as present as heat in sunshine and dew in harvest.  And at just the right moment, God will send his judgment.

    The result will be that people of Ethiopia come to Jerusalem and worship the Lord of all nations, the God of Israel.

    This chapter occurs in the section of 13-24 in which God judges the nations.  The point of the section is to emphasize that God is the great decider in the affairs and governments of men.

    So when did the people of Ethiopia come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices?

    That’s not the point of the text.  The point is simply to affirm that God wants all people to worship Him, and one way or another, they will.  Christians would do well to keep in mind that the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18-20 was in the mind of God eight centuries before in the days of Isaiah.  We might also remember a specific fulfillment in Acts 8 when the Treasurer of Ethiopia came to worship — but this is not a specific prophecy of that.

Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, July 31. Isaiah 14-17

    “ God rules in the affairs of men to accomplish His will and nations are but tools in His hands to accomplish His purposes.”

    That was the point we made in our last blog post.  This lesson is emphasized in Isaiah 13-27 as the Lord promises judgment against Babylon, Assyria, Moab, Syria, Ethiopia (Cush), Egypt, Edom, Phoenicia (Tyre), and yes, even His own people, Judah.

    It is significant that the Lord begins his judgment with Babylon.  Historically, at the time of Isaiah, Babylon is not much of a threat.  But she will become one and long after Isaiah himself is dead, when Babylon is a power to be reckoned with, readers will remember that Isaiah said that day was coming.

    It is important to note that these nations are not judged because they failed to “keep the law,” that is, the law of Israel.  They are not condemned for failing to be good Israelites.  They are condemned for not recognizing God or His people.  Babylon will be condemned because of pride.  Her king said: “I will ascend into the heavens.  I will raise my throne above the stars of God.  I will make my throne like that of the Most High (10:13-14).  For his insolence and disrespect, God will destroy Him and His nation.

    The King James Bible references “Lucifer” in 14:12 and points to his demise.  Historically, Christians have used this text to talk about the fall of Satan.  But the context has nothing to do with Satan at all – only with the king of Babylon.

    Nations do not stand condemned because they are not “Christian.”  They stand condemned because they fail to recognize and respect the Lord.

    

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, July 30. Isaiah 10-13

    Don’t forget the circumstances of the book of Isaiah.  Judah, the people of God, the Southern Kingdom, has become rebellious against the Lord.  Politically, they’ve found themselves in deep trouble with their neighbors to the north.

    But God, through Isaiah, assures His people that they should not fear the enemy they see (Israel and Syria).  Instead, they should fear Him.  God will deliver them from their neighbors, but that’s not a sign their troubles are over.  God is bringing against them the Assyrians – a far more formidable foe.  Assyria is the ‘rod of God’s anger,’ the ‘club of God’s wrath.’

    The king of Assyria of course does not realize that he is the Lord’s puppet.  He thinks he is simply conquering nations.  But when the Lord is finished with him, the Lord will redirect His wrath to destroy the Assyrians (10:25-26).

    The message of chapter 10 points to the sovereignty of God.  He rules in the affairs of men to accomplish His will and nations are but tools in His hands to accomplish His purposes.

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, July 29. Isaiah 7-9

    Isaiah 7 contains one of the best known texts in that book, used by Matthew to point to the coming of Jesus: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (vs.  14).

    But you should keep two things in mind: First, the word “virgin” can also be translated “young woman” and second, the message Isaiah is giving originally had nothing to do with Jesus.

    The situation is that the Northern Kingdom of Israel has allied herself with Syria (called Aram).  Together, these two nations have marched on the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  Judah and her king, Ahaz, is petrified.  But God speaks to them through Isaiah and tells Ahaz: “Keep calm.”  The opposing army will not succeed.  Before a young woman can conceive and bear a son and that son grow to know the difference between right and wrong, the enemies he faces now will cease to exist.

    But instead, there will come another enemy: Assyria.

    Why?  To punish God’s people (Judah) for their sins.

    You will see a similar sign pointing to the same thing in chapter 8.

    Old Testament prophecies sometimes have two meanings: the one intended when the prophecy occurred, and a more distant one revealed by the New Testament.  You know the first one by context, but the only way you know the second one is when it is actually revealed in the New Testament. 

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, July 28. Isaiah 4-6

    As we journey through Isaiah 1-12, three things will be repeated:

1 – God will bemoan and describe the spiritual illness that has befallen His people, and tell why it has happened.

2 – God will describe the punishment that is to come upon His people because of their guilt.

3 – God will look to a day when the punishment will be over, and His people will have turned from their sins and be cleansed.

    As you continue the journey, keep a notepad handy.  Write down all the reasons God is upset with His people.

    Thus far, God has complained of His people’s lack of concern for the helpless (1:17, 23).  He is upset because of their inattention to justice, made evident by an increasing crime rate (1:21).  His people have assimilated His commanded religious practices with those of the people around them (2:6, 8) and they have become a people focused on wealth and its trappings (2:7) and are more interested in how they look than what they are (3:16).

    God does not intend to dwell among these people – even though they are His.  They will not cease to be His people, but God will see to it they will cease to be.  In their place will rise new people who have learned the lessons of the past, will live righteously, and God will once again take up residency among them.  At the end of chapter 4, the Lord uses figures of His presence from the Exodus identifying better times to come.

    It is true that Isaiah is written to a national people, but modern readers must not look at Isaiah as a call to their nation to “clean up.”  As we shall see, God cares nothing for nations of the earth.  Isaiah is, instead, a call to the Church – a Church that has become entirely too much like the world about it.

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, July 27. Isaiah 1-3

    Isaiah, a priest in Jerusalem, began his work during the final twenty years of the northern kingdom’s history.  During that time, Israel’s greatest political threat was Assyria.  Isaiah writes, however, not to Israel, but to Judah.  He uses Israel as an object lesson.  For twenty years he will decry her wicked ways, urge her to turn to God, assure her of God’s love for her, and warn her of the penalty for failure.  When Isaiah’s book is finished, the southern kingdom knows that what Isaiah has been saying to the north has been true.  At that time, the south’s great enemy is Babylon.  Isaiah then turns his message to the south and, fundamentally, speaks the same thing to Judah.

    Isaiah is divided into three parts.

I)    Chapters 1 – 35 are poetry.  It deals with the Assyrian threat and urges Israel to trust neither in her enemies nor her allies, but in God.  There are three sections (1-12, 13-27, 28-35) and each ends with a poem of praise to God.

II)    Chapters 36 – 39 are prose and tell the story of God’s deliverance of His people from her enemies and emphasize the importance of trusting God.

III)    Chapters 40 – 66 are poetry and are divided into three parts (40-48, 49-57, and 58-66), each ending with a warning of judgment against the wicked.  The section emphasizes the great will of God to save those who will turn to Him and his determination to judge those who will not.

    Isaiah’s relevance for the Christian Church has been largely limited to foretelling of the coming of Christ, and yet, that is a minor concern for the prophet.  He is supremely interested in God’s people coming to trust in God.  Those who will trust the Lord can be assured of God’s favor and protection.  Isaiah 25:6-9 is but a sample of many texts that could be cited to illustrate this point:  “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare  a feast of rich food for all peoples,  a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.  On this mountain he will destroy  the shroud that enfolds all peoples,  the sheet that covers all nations;  he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears  from all faces;  he will remove the disgrace of his people  from all the earth.  The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say,  “Surely this is our God;  we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in him;  let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”  (See also Isaiah 28:16; 30:18; 40:29-31; 43:1-2; 49:13-23;65:24).

    If Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter in the Bible, and Romans the great faith book of the New Testament, then surely Isaiah has to be the great faith book of the Old Testament.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, July 26. Song of Solomon 6 – 8

    At least four points are worth noting from this book:

    First, when it comes to couple relationships, sex is an important aspect.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s the way God intended for things to work.  But God has placed certain boundaries on the sexual.  It is foolish for people to believe that couples forming and nurturing their relationships will not have sexual thoughts and feelings.  The Song of Solomon reminds us that God has known this, planned it that way and has spoken to the issue.  Faithful people will pay attention to what God has said and keep within the boundaries of what God has said is proper.

    Second, you will notice in the Song of Solomon that “looks” play an important role in the attraction between the sexes – both to men and women. It is important that after marriage, both husband and wife understand that, and seek remain attractive to their spouse.

    Third, though looks are important, husbands and wives see one another differently from the way they see others.  The woman of Shulam did not think she was as pretty or as cultured compared to the queens of Solomon’s harem (1:5-6).  But Solomon saw her with different eyes.  In every successful marriage, the wife must know from her husband that he sees her differently from the way he sees other women – different even from the way she sees herself – and that he loves what he sees in her.  The wife views her husband differently from the way she views other men – and she loves what she sees in him.

    Finally, notice that Solomon and his bride communicate to each other their appreciation for one another.  In modern relationships, pride often gets in the way of doing this, but successful marriages as God intended are relationships where husbands and wives continually communicate how they value how they feel about each another to each other, and they do so in positive ways.

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, July 25. Song of Solomon 3 – 5

    In the Hebrew Bible, the Song of Solomon is called the “Song of Songs” or, “The best of songs.”  This book “celebrates the dignity and purity of human love . . . It came to us in this world of sin, where lust and passion are on every hand, where fierce temptations assail us and try to turn us aside from the God-given standard of marriage.  And it reminds us, in particularly beautiful fashion, how pure and noble love is.”

    The great love expressed in the Song of Solomon is between a man and his bride, in this case, Solomon, and a woman from the town of Shulam in northern Palestine.  The book is presented very much like a play, divided into scenes.

    Scene I – The bride is brought to the chambers of the King’s banqueting house.  A chorus is sung by the “damsels of Jerusalem” and Solomon and the woman praise each other’s beauty (1:1 – 2:8).

    Scene 2 – The bride’s dream of her husband to be (2:9 – 3:5).

    Scene 3 – The marriage (3:6 – 5:10).

    Scene 4 – The marriage festival (5:2 – 8:4).

    Scene 5 – The couple visit the former home of the bride (8:5-14).

    Historically, Christians have been somewhat reluctant to discuss the role of intimacy between men and women, but the Song of Solomon is a very intimate book.  In an effort to avoid the issue, the book has been misinterpreted as referring to the love Jesus has for the Church – this despite the fact that the book is not cited anywhere in the New Testament.  Some of our hymns are based on this interpretation (eg. “Jesus Rose of Sharon” and “I have Found a Friend in Jesus”).

Reaqding Through the Bible, Sunday, July 24. Ecclesiastes 11 – Song of Solomon 2

    As we reach the end of Ecclesiastes, chapter 11 continues to provide us with some perspective – and some advice. 

    As he has written so often before, there are some things you just can’t do anything about.  Furthermore, you can spend so much time waiting for the right time that you lose opportunity (that’s what verse 4 is about).

    There will always be information you don’t have.  You will never know everything about everything to make a totally perfect decision (vs.  5).

    Then, things happen to interrupt our plans (vs.  3).

    So, in light of all this, do something.  That’s the business of casting your bread on the waters.  The book of Kings tells us that Solomon sent trading ships to sea and it took three years for their return.  You have to take chances (verses 1 & 6).

    Diversify what you do.  My mother would say: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  That’s verse 2.

    But whatever you do, don’t forget God.  Take Him into your plans, and plan only what He would approve, for God is the ultimate judge of success or failure (verse 9).

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, July 23.

    With Ecclesiastes 6:11, we begin the last half of this book.  There are a total of 222 verses, and 6:10 completes the first 111 of them.  This last half is characterized by the questions “who knows?” and “who can tell?”

    As chapter 7 begins, the writer once more approaches the idea of adversity: death, mourning, sorrow, rebuke, being made angry – all these are a part of our lives and nothing can be done about any of them.  It is as if God has made them.  In fact, Solomon says God has.

    The question is: “how will we deal with them?”

    Solomon suggests that adversity provides an opportunity to consider how we are living and to learn from the difficulties we face.

    I like this verse: “Do not say, ‘Why were old days better than these?’  For it is not wise to ask such questions.”  The reason it is not wise is that the “old days” we too often regard as ‘better’ because they had less troubles.  But if God has made the bad times too, they we should not regret them, but use them to enhance our lives.