Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Grace in the Shadow of Judgment: Isaiah CH 6

Continuing my study of Isaiah

 In the year that King Uzziah died,

This is 740 BC and we read about King Uzziah in II Chronicles 26. He was a good king. He ascended the throne at 16 and reigned 52 years. He led in such manner as the Lord prospered him. Under his rule, Jerusalem became rich and powerful. But just as Judah had done in Ch 1-5- Uzziah becomes a tragic, real life symbol of a fall. Uzziah, in haughtiness, entered into the temple and tried to burn incense. He was confronted by the high priest and 80 other priests. Uzziah, full of pride and now anger at the confrontation stretched out his hand in defiance and was struck in leprosy. He had to be exiled and lived the rest of his life as an outcast.

Many scholars agree that Isaiah and Uzziah were related. I tend to see this chapter ( and some of it is speculation) as Isaiah grieving over the fall of this great King and kinsman. Possibly compounding his despair over the decay of culture as well.

But in this time of darkness (remember the end of CH 5:30b "behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds.") Isaiah is given a bright light to say the least.

 I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne;

The Lord (Adonai- ruler/ in authority) is on the throne. It is like The Lord shows Isaiah....yes, the earthly throne is in chaos- but I am still in control.

How could Isaiah 'see' the Lord? The Bible indicates that no man can see God and live. This is a Theophany or more precisely, a Christophany- see the vision of Christ in Rev 1 and the description of the heavenly throne room in Rev 3/4 for parallel comparisons.

The best argument that this 'Adonai' is the transfigured Christ is found in John 12: 37-41. After quoting Isaiah, John writes, "Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him ." I believe the pronoun refers to Christ.

God reveals Himself in ways to us to grasp the ungraspable and perceive the unperceivable. For example, the TRINITY is mysterious, but gives us some handles understanding the transcendent. This is likely a 'vision'- but it is real and represents and even greater reality.

 and the train of his robe filled the (temple).  

The longer the train... the greater the King. This train fills and is ever filling the temple/palace.

Is this a temple or a palace? The Hebrew word can be either one. A throne would indicate a palace- but the altar in vs. 6 would indicate a temple.

The Bible clearly divided the King from the priest in man's government.... this is what Uzziah's act violated. BUT IN CHRIST- He unifies the office of Prophet, Priest, and King.

Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 

Seraphim are 'burning ones'- blazing heavenly creatures- but notice that the HOLINESS and BURNING of Adonai even affects the seraphim. They cover their faces......even they cannot look at such. They cover their feet (Moses, take off your sandals, in front of the burning bush) and they fly (hovering...but not touching). We treat holy things with way too trifle a manner.

 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

We know this- THIS IS THE ONLY THRICE USED ADJECTIVE phrase in the Bible. There is pit/pit in Genesis, gold/gold in Solomon's temple, peace/peace in Isaiah 26, truly/truly in New Testament... but only GOD"S HOLINESS is 3 fold. 

There are two aspects to holiness. "Alien" or nor like us or TRANSCENDENT. God is not like us and the more we get a picture of how big and awesome He is- the better it is for us. This is the Creature/Creator distinction that Dr. Van Til so often referred to.

A second aspect of holiness is purity. But we cannot even contemplate how pure is this purity. We can only think of it in a negative sense... without sin- but this does the idea no real justice.

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

Earthquakes, fire, smoke are frequently linked to the presence of God among men. Oh that the Lord would us shake and be on fire for Him!

 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

The very first recorded words of the prophet... "WOE" is me. The word woe has already been used multiple times in the first 5 chapters. We often see it in relation to the sin of others... but it is most applicable to the sin in our lives. This is the 'best' that creates true contrition and humility.

This is a natural response when men encounter the living God. They fall to the ground. Think of all the great Biblical heroes who were 'knocked down' in humility to be picked up by the Lord for great ministry. Jacob walked with a limp after losing his fight with the Lord. Moses was resigned to 40 years in the wilderness and had a lowly estate when the bush began to burn. Peter fell to the ground and exclaimed "Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.". Paul was struck down and blinded.  

In this world of lifting self esteem and avoiding hard truth- the Bible is very counter-intuitive. An exalted man sins... a humble man serves the Lord for much good.

 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.

On this declaration of contrition- the burning one 'flies' to Isaiah. God is quick to apply mercy and He rushes to the truly repentant. But notice.. GOD initiates the process. He revealed Himself and He applies the grace. All Isaiah added to justification was sin.

This is why I titled this post: GRACE in the SHADOW of Judgment. God's grace is most fully applicable when His transcendence/majesty/holiness most manifest. The greatest love verse in the Bible is in context of eternal judgment- For God so loved the world that He gave His Son that whoever believes in Him WILL NOT PERISH but have eternal life.

Of course it is also noteworthy how thorough the cleansing is- Your guilt is taken away and your sin is covered (atoned for). WOW- what a gracious Savior!


God's mercy is applied by the initiation and act of God. Isaiah responds to grace by a willingness to now cooperate/serve God.

 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

We do not believe in faith plus works to merit salvation... we believe in a grace THAT works.
James and Paul were not opposites... they were unified. Look at Ephesians 2:8-10
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Do I say to God- Here I am, send me? If not, I need more grace, I need to see God and His holiness more, OI need to pay much closer attention to my salvation....

Then we see this strange ministry that Isaiah is called to:

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
 Make the heart of this people calloused;
    make their ears dull
    and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

WHAT? G.K. Beale has long helped us to understand this language. In the Bible, sensory organ malfunction (that is figurative) is always in context of idolatry. It is the natural result of idolatry to become blind and deaf, hardened and more lost.

We see this very clearly in Isaiah 42 and 44- Psalm 135 says that we become like the idols we worship. Beale states it this way: What we revere, we resemble, either to ruin or to restoration.

The people of God have forsaken God and now have become like their idols- deaf, mute, blind- of no use at all.

And now, the judgement that God promised in Genesis, in Deuteronomy, all throughout the institutions of the covenant is now going to be certain in the course of Isaiah's 50 years of 'ministry'. He is going to preach and have a 90% failure rate.....

 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
    and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
    and the fields ruined and ravaged,
 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
    and the land is utterly forsaken.
 And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

Dr. Ortlund speaks of how this hardness takes root:

Every time you hear the word of God preached- you come away from that exposure either a little closer to God or a little hardened- but you are not the same.
The same message that is enliving you to Christ is hardening someone else. James 1:21 “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul”

His application to this passage goes like this:

If your heart does not leap at God’s grace in Christ- what you need is more grace. Nothing can save us from our own deadness. We should fear the hardness of our heart more than anything else. Beware of rigidity, beware of a demanding spirit- beware of an unmelted heart that is NEVER satisfied- beware of a mind that that looks for excuses to not believe- beware of the impulse that always finds a reason to delay a response- beware of thinking how a sermon applies to someone else-

Is 66:2 But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be Isaiah. For 50 years, you were going to pronounce judgment over a proud and prosperous nation who were blind to the truth. Extra-biblical accounts say that he was sawn in two as a result of this 'preaching'.

Even though King Uzziah died in 740 BC- the actual destruction and exile did not happen until 606 B.C. Like the days of Noah, the people would not listen. Just as the parable of Jesus, they will not believe even if someone were to rise from the dead.

Where are we today?

Remember WHY God said the land was going to be laid waste?

Isaiah 5:24(b) "for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts and they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel".

Oh Father, please apply your mercy. May we see you and humble ourselves. May we find more grace to soften our dead hearts and our idolatrous ways. May your word be accepted and not rejected. May we love and not despise your truth! Please shower more grace because we see the clouds of judgment gathering!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A Powerful Prologue- Isaiah 1-5

I have admired the Book of Isaiah for so many years. Though not always pleasant to read, it seems like every section has solid, deep, concrete content written in stylistic and literary excellence.

The more I study the Book, the more convinced I am that the first 5 chapters of Isaiah represent a type of prologue, introducing the main themes of Isaiah's 50 years of prophetic and faithful ministry.

After the prologue, in CH. 6 we meet the man Isaiah and his powerful vision of Christ that marks his call and commission as a prophet.

If you have ever been to a musical, you know the importance of a prologue. It is that part, before the curtain opens, where all of the music that will come later is introduced to the audience. It brings memories to those who know the musical, and it tunes the ears of those who are new.

I attended a high school presentation of Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella last year. It is quite different from the Disney version. I had not heard those songs for a number of years, but when my daughters were young, we watched the video quite often.

Sitting in the audience that night, our excellent orchestra hit a few bars of each of those familiar songs... and though I had not heard them in years, I immediately remembered the lyrics and tunes and was looking forward to hearing them in a fuller sense later.

This is what you get in the first 5 chapters of Isaiah- a prelude to the great Book:

A Broken hearted God, Resolute in Judging Sin

The word translated "Ah" in 1:4 communicates both a warning and a lament. Over and over, you have this promise from God to judge sin, but it is not capricious, careless, or without feeling. In fact, God presents Himself as a father who has to give grievous consequences to a loved, but wayward son.

A Foolish and Rebellious Nation

Judah and Jerusalem is thoroughly convicted of forsaking God and breaking His covenant promises.
And the worst part of it is that they suffer the results of their own choosing.  5:4 'for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel." And the result?
Rebellion- Laden with iniquity- Sickness - Desolate and burned out- over thrown- ritualistic religion that is of no value- violence- oppression- sexual immorality- crime- loss of leaders- back room bribes- mysticism- syncretism with foreign gods- greed- pride- injustice- famine- depression- lack of discretion- decay- addiction- substance abuse- false witness- calling evil good and good evil- and a coming army of invaders.

The Sin of Pride

Pride/Arrogance/ and Haughtiness seems to rise in the ashes of sin and rebellion like an especially wicked attribute with an equally strong response from the Lord.

Several times the Lord has Isaiah write: "Man is humbled and each one is brought low."

The Sin of Idolatry

Idolatry is when anything other than God is elevated to an ultimate thing. You get introduced to forms of idolatry in the first 5 chapters (fortune telling, alcoholism, consumerism) but this theme isn't as clear until later on. In Ch. 6, you get the eventual impact of idolatry- sensory organ malfunction- blind eyes, deaf ears- as part of Isaiah's calling. But the sin of idolatry ranks up there with pride and will be expounded on later in the 66 chapters of the Book.

The Woes of Life When God is Forsaken

This one is clearly spelled out in Ch. 1-5. The word woe is used 9 times and outlines how difficult life in when one is weighed down in sin. Isaiah 5 has a particularly poignant verse 18:

Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes,
The prophet himself will utter "WOE" when he sees the high and lifted LORD.

The Coming Judgement

It is scary when God closes the door of mercy and says, "No more delay".  Though it may not be as suddenly as we suspect- he pronounces it at it WILL come.
 And the process is something like this:

JUDGEMENT- all warnings are over. He will now keep His word.
ABANDONMENT- a withdrawal of His divine protection and provision
FAMISHED…..FAMINE- the decay is gradual, but evident. Signs of cursing grow exponentially.
WEAKNESS- No leaders, no fertile land, no productivity
OVERTHROW- In comes the invading army- hungry, disciplined, and destructive.

The Promise of Salvation

But the promise of salvation- even if to a remnant remains......

There are beautiful passages of the future kingdom to those who remain.

CH 1
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”    says the Lord.“Though your sins are like scarlet,    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,    they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient,    you will eat the good things of the land.

CH 2
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,    to the temple of the God of Jacob.He will teach us his ways,    so that we may walk in his paths.”The law will go out from Zion,    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations    and will settle disputes for many peoples.They will beat their swords into plowshares    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,    nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob,    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

CH 4
 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.  Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem.  The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.  Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy.  It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.

If you like a few bars of this prologue...wait until the curtain comes up!