Thursday, July 31. Isaiah 16 – 18

In this section of oracles against the nations, Isaiah 15 brings us to the nation of Moab and the prophet devotes two chapters to them.

On a map, Moab was the land beginning about half way down the east shore of the Dead Sea to the southern end of the sea – or between the Arnon and Zered rivers. Though there were a number of land disputes between Israel and Moab, there were also peaceful relations between them and Israelites and Moabites moved quite freely between the countries.

Like most of the nations mentioned in this section, Moab’s problem was her great “overweening pride and conceit” (16:6).

The Moabites were descendants of Lot and therefore relatives of Israel. As such, God had a special place in his heart for them – despite the fact that they weren’t His people and did not worship Him. Though Moab deserves the punishment she will receive, the heart of the prophet is the heart of God and He weeps and laments for her people. He even calls on Israel to provide Moab refuge from the punishment of God. Isn’t that strange? Like a parent grieving parent, watching a child make bad decisions, the Lord grieves over the people of Moab and hopes someone will be able to help them.

The Church has a history of “writing off” the wayward. “Too bad,” we say. “But you know, they never were that committed.” And on we go. But please note this is never the attitude of God. One suspects, reading chapter 16, God never really gets over the lostness of the lost.

Wednesday, July 30. Isaiah 13 – 15

Isaiah 13 begins a long section of oracles against the nations surrounding Israel. The prophet begins with Babylon which is a little strange. Isaiah is an 8th century prophet and Babylon has yet to become the powerhouse it would be two hundred years later. This difficulty has led some scholars to believe that (at least this part of) the book was written not by Isaiah but by someone much later.

This is only a problem if you don’t believe God is actually the one speaking and disbelieve God is controlling history. In fact, God is making this latter point in the section. He is in control of the nations and the foretelling of the destruction of a major power that has yet to even become a major power is proof of that. The heading of chapter 13 says it was written by Isaiah. There is no evidence to the contrary.

In chapters 7 – 12, the major enemy of God’s people is Syria. Ahaz (who was king of Judah), rather than appeal to the Lord for help, instead appealed to Assyria. The result, according to Isaiah, was destruction for Ahaz. At the other end of our section of oracles against the nations, we have the story of Hezekiah. Oppressed by the Assyrians, the king trusts in the Lord and is rewarded for his faith. In between these two stories, we have this section in which God affirms that He and only He is the one His people should trust because, in truth, God holds the fate of all nations in His hands and all of them are headed for destruction.

Our future is not dependent on our government. It is dependent solely upon the Lord. When we act as though all our hope is lost because of the failure of our political system, it demonstrates that our faith is not supremely in the Lord. He will see to the destruction of whatever we have put in His place – even our nation.

Tuesday, July 29. Isaiah 10 – 12

Isaiah 11 is such a Christian passage don’t you think?

Referring to Jesus, Paul, in Romans 15:12 writes: “Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”

The idea of the Spirit resting on Jesus in Luke 4:18. His concern for the needy. His ruling with a rod. His drawing all nations to him. It all sounds very much like Jesus.

And yet, if Paul is thinking of Isaiah 11, he doesn’t make it plain. What he offers, rather, is not a quote from Isaiah, but a summary of His teaching. Jesus is really the only logical subject for this chapter, and yet it is not quoted or referred to directly in all of the New Testament.

The writer is offering his readers a glimpse into the future, and he uses terminology they will understand. The time promised will be like no other – when the hunter and prey live together in peace, when the innocent are not harmed by their innocence, when all the earth knows of the Lord, and all yield to His rule.

It’s God’s dream.

It will be made possible by the work of Jesus, but it has yet to happen. It is the time John wrote about in Revelation, when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet and the plan of God is accomplished – “just as he announced to his servants the prophets,” prophets like Isaiah.

One should not imagine that God will just “flip a switch” and this glorious time will appear. It will appear slowly, as the people of God, made possible by the Son of God, live lives of holiness like God, and call all mankind to follow them into His presence. But until the people of God embrace the dream of God and begin to live it in their lives, it will remain only a dream in a world mostly characterized by nightmares.

Monday, July 28. 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.

Sunday, July 27. 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 the 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.

Saturday, July 26. Isaiah 1 – 3

Isaiah 3 presents the picture of an upside down world. Things are not as they should be. Youths oppress the people, women rule over them, guides lead them astray. The leaders of the people have ruined the nation.

It is true that life evolves. No one should deny this. It is not true however that life is the result of evolution. Life is the result of intelligent creation. This latter being true, life itself should not be allowed to play out naturally – whichever way time and circumstance leads or requires. God has created an order to things. That order must be respected and consciously followed.

Because, however, life among God’s people has turned contrary to God’s created order, God promises to mix it up even more. He’s really going to turn things topsy turvy and in their desperation, God’s people will turn to anyone they think might be able to lead them out.

Anyone, that is, but God.

Abject failure will be the result and that which was once beautiful and proud will be covered in ruin.

Living before God takes direction (God’s), intentionality, and persistence. As water wears away stone, so time and circumstance, if we are not vigilant, wear us down until we are less than God calls us to be. This is the result of careless inattention as well as deliberate wilfulness, but God is neither pleased nor will he accept this. If we do not move to correct it, He will move to make us wish we had.

Friday, July 25. Song of Solomon 6 – 8

The husband addresses the insecurity of the bride with an affirmation of his love for her in chapter six. He begins with her head.

Having moved in his admiration for her the length of her body from top to bottom, he explains his absence: he’s been tending to business.

In chapter seven he turns once again to his admiration for the bride by describing in exquisite detail her body; this time from feet to head. The bride replies that she would be willing to go with him to work and they could examine the crops together but in her reply, she picks up on his description of her mouth as the best wine and offers her mouth (wine) to his. She is delighted their separation has come to an end.

Why is the husband so interested in her looks rather than her mind – or one of another countless things she thinks is so important?

Because that’s the way guys are. We are visual.

We’re also a little blind. Women pay attention to their appearance because that’s the way women are (and looking in a mirror, a woman can be fairly critical (see chapter 1 verse 6 for how the Shunumite sees herself). A man pays attention to a woman’s appearance because that’s the way men are. Unfortunately, men are a little blind when it comes to their own appearance. You will seldom see a man admiring himself in a mirror, but when you do, trust me, he’s not seeing what a woman sees. He sees a hunk – no matter what he looks like. And we like to hear a woman say she sees us as we see ourselves.

Friday, July 25. Song of Solomon 6 – 8

Midway through chapter five, something comes between the newlyweds and we find them parted.

The bride is crushed at his departure.

There is a bit of tension in chapter six. It would appear that the bride doesn’t know where her man has gone – only that he has left. When asked by her friends if they can help look for him in chapter six, the wife reveals she knows where he is. Perhaps she does. Or perhaps she only thinks she does. Wherever he has gone, he hasn’t taken her.

Our differences, male and female, often cause perplexing separation. Men, at times, just want to be alone. We need to think about stuff. Wives, faced with our moodiness and distance, believe something must be wrong with the marriage – perhaps they’ve done something wrong or displeasing. Or worse – perhaps there is another woman. Is this what the bride means when she says he has gone to “browse among the lilies”? What could possibly be the problem that they two couldn’t work out together?

Sometimes, it’s just he can’t figure out why the motorcycle won’t start.

In this case, the husband simply went to the fields to check on the crops (see vss. 11-12). Marriage is a growth process in which both parties must become secure in their relationship roles. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Thursday, July 24. Song of Solomon 3 – 5

Reading the Song of Solomon, I often wonder precisely what the author is saying. The young man speaks to the girl: “Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon.” He calls her his “garden,” a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain. But later he writes “I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.”

What does he mean?

I think the best thing to do with this poem is to allow your imagination to flow freely. What do you think is happening?

Remember, this is an erotic poem. Surely the man is speaking candidly of his sexual desire for his beloved. It is a desire that is intense, but still, restrained. At this moment anyway, her garden is locked up, her spring enclosed. But however restrained, desire burns.

What strikes me about this poem is the imaginative and beautiful imagery used to convey eroticism. In a world where sex language is so often synonymous with words for violence, mistake or regret, the language here gives sex the beauty of planning, refreshment, and joy.

It is the way God intended it to be.

Monday, July 7. Psalms 140 – 142

“No one is concerned for me . . . no one cares for my life.”

These words from Psalm 142 are some of the saddest in all of scripture.

The heading of the Psalm helps us to understand the poem in context. David was running from Saul who was trying to kill him. Many saw David as a rebel leader, and a fugitive. Righteous people, not knowing the whole story, were not likely to support him. And so, everyone “in distress, or in debt, or discontented, gathered around him.” They looked on David as a savior. David looked on them as baggage. If they would rebel against the king, they would rebel against him. They were his army, but they were totally unreliable and cared for him only as long as he could provide resolution from their problems.

And so, surrounded by malcontents, David felt utterly alone. He turned to God, the only one he could truly trust and prays for deliverance. He knows, if God will grant him his request, he can have a different set of companions – the righteous.

Reputation is important. Reputation is not who we are. It is who people think we are, and what they think is important. When our reputation falters, no matter what the reason, our real friends are not those who support us and excuse us. Our real friends are always the righteous, and it is their acceptance and company we should seek. The only way to receive it, is through the company of God. We should seek Him first.