Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 237: Jeremiah 22, 23 and 24

Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness. (Jeremiah 22:13)
What condemnation for the rich and powerful of Judah, who had exploited the poor and the weak to build their fortunes. And it wasn't that the exploiters were just scratching out a meager existence, trying to feed their own families. They were driven by a lust for luxurious living and lost no sleep about bleeding the poor to maintain their own comfort.
It's probably no surprise that the throne did not make one immune to this materialism sickness: Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar (v. 15)? The prophet reminded Jehoiakim that better kings before him had been content with having enough to eat and drink, and were not driven by the hunger for excess.
Are we any different? Does it matter to us where the clothes we wear or the toys we play with are manufactured? And under what conditions? Does getting a shirt for a few dollars less make exploiting God's children okay? And if we don't pay close enough attention to know for sure, can't we claim plausible deniability? My kids are warm and well-fed. I'm not responsible for other people's kids. But would we want them to say the same about our kids if the roles were reversed?
Why is the more I have the more I want? How much is enough? And am I my brother's keeper?

Day 236: Jeremiah 19, 20 and 21

Whoever stays in this city will die. (Jeremiah 21:9)
Have you ever been the bearer of bad news? This was Jeremiah's lot in life. His was the unpopular job of sounding the death knell for Jerusalem. Once, after sharing a warning from God, he was confined in stocks for 24 hours because of it. That ought to shut him up! Upon his release, he started right in again (20:1-6).
Then Jeremiah prayed a prayer of protest to God: I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long (20:8). It cost Jeremiah dearly to preach God's word.
So how did Jeremiah feel when messengers came to him again asking, on behalf of King Zedekiah, for a good word about the impending Babylonian attack? God has delivered us before. What kind of miracle does he have up his sleeve for us this time? I wonder of Jeremiah was tempted to soften the blow. What he said must have hit the king like a sledgehammer: This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: . . . I myself will fight against you (21:4,5).
Today Jeremiah is one of the most respected of all God's prophets. In 590 BC... not so much. A follower of God cannot measure his success by how much he's liked. Might as well accept it; ministry is not a popularity contest.
When's the last time you spoke an unpopular truth and suffered the consequences?

Day 235: Jeremiah 16, 17 and 18

You have behaved more wickedly than your fathers. (Jeremiah 16:12)
When people asked why God had turned his face against them, Jeremiah was instructed to give this response: It is because your fathers forsook me and followed others gods and served them and worshiped them . . . But you have behaved more wickedly than your fathers (vv. 11,12).
It's easy to blame previous generations for all the ills of the world. After all, I never took part in the crusades; I never owned a slave; I never turned a black man away from my place of business; I never sold guns to warlords or criminals; and I never dumped toxic wastes in a wildlife refuge. Don't blame me for the crimes perpetrated by those who came before me!
But the writers of the Bible don't let us off that easily. We all, like sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Part of growing up is taking responsibility for our own actions and attitudes. Kids blame everyone else for their troubles. Adults don't have that luxury. In The Bait of Satan, author John Bevere writes: There is a false sense of protection in harboring an offense. It keeps you from seeing your own character flaws because the blame is deferred to another. [1]
Can you ask God to reveal where you might be culpable?
[1] John Bevere. The Bait of Satan. rev. ed. (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2004), 60.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 234: Jeremiah 13, 14 and 15

When the enemy attacked, a woman with seven sons felt faint because they would all die. (NCV, Jeremiah 15:9)

Having seven sons was a Hebrew word picture of perfect security. A mother's retirement plan was her sons - with her husband gone they would care for her in her old age. But during the seige of Jerusalem her sons would be KIA, and her social security would be no more.

The Scriptures are replete with warnings about putting our trust in the wrong things. Hezekiah reassured the kingdom during the Assyrian seige a hundred years earlier: With [them] is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles (2 Chronicles 32:8). The psalmist wrote: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7). Jesus warned us not to put our trust in treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19).

There are many securities in which we can put our trust: a bank account, insurance, a job, a spouse (and, of course, these are good things), but they can all fail us. When our trust is in the Lord, though everything else in our world should fall apart, God will never let us down. When everything else is gone, God will still be on our side.

In what (or in whom) have you placed your trust?

Day 233: Jeremiah 10, 11 and 12

Do not learn the ways of the nations. (Jeremiah 10:2)
When my son Ben was about 4 years old (now 18), he witnessed a little girl launch a tantrum to assert her will over her parents. I could see the wheels turning in his little head: Brilliant! He tried it a couple times but found out it wouldn't work with us.
On more than one occasion I have counseled my children: Be a good influence on your friends; don't let them be a bad influence on you.
Perhaps a similar sentiment can be found in God's heart for his people Judah as communicated through the prophet Jeremiah. The indictment is that Judah has been persuaded to walk in the ways of its neighbors and follow their gods.
It is a dangerous thing to brush shoulders with those who do not hold our values and beliefs. We are called to be the salt of the earth, but salt must contact the food to season or preserve it (Matthew 5:13). As Christ's ambassadors we have to ask ourselves, Am I rubbing off on society - or is society rubbing off on me? How can we live in the real world without getting sucked in?
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).
How can we be a good influence on society without society being a bad influence on us?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 232: Jeremiah 7, 8 and 9

The whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart. (Jeremiah 9:26)
God's message delivered by Jeremiah to Judah is an indictment of its arrogance and stubbornness. Even animals know to whom they are accountable for the seasons and their sustenance (8:7). But of Judah it is said the people are too stiffnecked to know when they are beaten (7:26), following the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts (7:24).
According to Rabbi Abraham Heschel, God's anger is always measured and for a purpose. There is no divine anger for anger's sake. Its meaning is . . . instrumental: to bring about repentance; its purpose and consummation is its own disappearance. [1]
The point is that people should have the good sense when confronted by God's anger or discipline to change their ways. But a lesson we can take from Jeremiah is that too often we doggedly march on to our own destruction when a simple change of course would make all the difference. We may be lost but we're making good time.
Physical circumcision was supposed to be a symbol of the inward circumcision of the heart - resulting in submission of the whole person to the sovereignty of God.
When you try to be the boss, how's that work out for you?
[1] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 286.

Day 231: Jeremiah 4, 5 and 6

Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:13,14)
A hundred years earlier the grandparents of these same people were convinced the Assyrian army was going to overrun the city. Panic was running rampant, but Isaiah told them to hold fast - that God would deliver them. And God came through. Isaiah's reassurance and the eventual outcome of those events were congruent with the prevailing Zion theology. Yahweh is the greatest God; He lives in the temple; the temple is in Jerusalem. Therefore, Jerusalem is invincible.
Now it was Jeremiah's unenviable task to convince the people that Jerusalem would in fact be destroyed by the Babylonians - the new superpower on the block. He was speaking in opposition to not only Zion theology, but also to the established priesthood and the politically correct temple prophets who said, Don't worry; be happy.
At the root of Jerusalem's troubles was a very real problem - its rejection of the first commandment and its treatment of the poor. Religious leaders refused to acknowledge the gravity of the nation's sinfulness. While they were saying, These societal wounds aren't serious; let's put on a clean band-aid and cover up the ugliness, Jeremiah was warning that Jerusalem needed surgery... and that surgery was going to be provided by the Babylonian army.
Denial never healed anything. Are you ready for real treatment?

Day 230: Jeremiah 1, 2 and 3

My people have done two evils: They have turned away from me, the spring of living water. And they have dug their own wells. (NCV, Jeremiah 2:13)
I've never dug a well, but I have dug trenches for footers and water lines. It's hot, dirty work. Put yourself in Jeremiah's place. It's a hot, dry day. You offer someone a pitcher of pure, refreshing water, but rather than accept your life-saving, thirst-quenching gift, they raise their hands in the international symbol for stop, and declare, No, I'm going to dig my own well. Not only will the work be physically exhausting, but the muddy water they're going to get (if any) is hours, maybe days away. And the taste won't even compare. Sure, it might keep them alive, but that's about all.
Who would make that choice? We do. Why is it when God freely offers us his best, we go digging for something inferior?
We're like hemoglobin. (How's that for a left turn?) Did you know that if the hemoglobin in our red blood cells is given the choice, it prefers to bond with carbon monoxide rather than oxygen? That means if hemoglobin has an empty seat, and both an oxygen molecule and a carbon monoxide molecule are waiting on the curb, the hemoglobin will pick up the carbon monoxide almost every time. It seems to make the hemoglobin happy... and then we die.
Will you dig for muddy water this week, or accept Christ's gift of living water?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 229: Isaiah 64, 65 and 66

We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
Submitting to the hands of the Potter is a matter of trust. The Bait of Satan author John Bevere writes: When you know God would never do anything to harm . . . you, and whatever He does or does not do in your life is in your best interest, then you will give yourself freely to Him. [1] Only then can we trust Him to work out the best for us and in us.
The question is: Do we trust God? Do we believe He has our best interests at heart? If so, then we can give ourselves to the Potter trusting that what He forms in us will be better than what we could come up with left to our own devices.
In the course of Isaiah's writings Jerusalem had been threatened by Assyria and delivered from that threat, but not delivered from destruction at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar a hundred years later. Exiled to Babylon, the people waited 70 years for their deliverance. Once that deliverance came and the population was restored to Jerusalem, Isaiah helped them move beyond the past as they looked once again to the future.
Let us be reminded one last time that Isaiah speaks to restoration beyond judgment. We can always trust God because not even failure... not even death is final.
What's God doing in your life this week?
[1] John Bevere, The Bait of Satan (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 1997), 105.

Day 228: Isaiah 61, 62 and 63

For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:11)
The prophet paints a beautiful picture of God's redemptive plan for humanity. As natural as the growth of a new plant will be the spread of his kingdom (righteousness, peace and joy - Romans 14:17) overflowing the nations. And how will God's righteousness spread to the nations? Through conquest? Through domination?
By preaching good news to the poor, by binding up the brokenhearted, by proclaiming freedom for the captives, by releasing those prisoners held in darkness, and by proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor (Isaiah 61:1,2).
Just as holiness is part of God's DNA and our birthright as his children (Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. - Leviticus 19:2), so also the kingdom of God inches its way across the landscape and into the hearts of God's children (Your kingdom come, your will be done. - Matthew 6:10).
And the best part is that God allows us to participate in his plan to bring righteousness and praise to the world (...and you will be my witnesses. - Acts 1:8). It's more about who we are than it is about what we say. We are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) through whom he chooses to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
How will you share the good news of God's favor this week?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 227: Isaiah 58, 59 and 60

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen? (Isaiah 58:5)
The final eleven chapters of Isaiah bring us once again into a new setting and focus. Whereas chapters 1-39 dealt with the Assyrian threat (late 8th century BC), and chapters 40-55 were situated in Babylon awaiting God's deliverance (ca. 540 BC), chapters 56-66 find the exiles back in Jerusalem, working out life in community (ca. 520 BC). [1]
In Mark 12:30-31, when Jesus was challenged as to the most important commandment, his familiar response was: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength [2] . . . [and] Love your neighbor as yourself. [3]
Centuries before Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine, these commands were the sticking point between God and his people. The prophets repeatedly took Israel and Judah to task over precisely these issues: breaking the first commandment (loving someone or something more than God), and injustice toward weaker neighbors (loving self more than others).
Then the prophet outlines a proper fast: loose the chains of injustice . . . to set the oppressed free . . . to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter . . . [and] to clothe him (58:6,7).
It seems we still struggle with the same things.
How do you offer a fast that is pleasing to God?
[1] Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 170.
[2] Deuteronomy 6:5; Exodus 20:3
[3] Leviticus 19:18

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 226: Isaiah 55, 56 and 57

Foreigners who have joined the Lord should not say, 'The Lord will not accept me.' (NCV, Isaiah 56:3)
When Jesus cleared the temple of the money changers and lamb salesman, he was thinking of today's expanded passage. Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers' (Mark 11:17). The Bazaar of Annas was in the temple area set aside for foreigners. The Sadducees' entrepreneurial scheming erected a barrier between God and the people coming to worship him. It made Jesus angry for the alien and the poor to be exploited in the name of God.
Isaiah made it clear that the blessing of Abraham was not reserved for the Hebrews, but was for people of all nations. Here he lets the alien know that whether one is born a Jew or a Gentile has no bearing on being accepted by God; all are accepted the same. Foreigners are accepted the same as nationals. Outsiders are accepted the same as insiders. Damaged are accepted the same as whole.
We may be tempted to think there is some reason God would not accept us, but that is absolutely false. Neither do people have to be just like us in order to be accepted by God. As Bill Hybels says: You've never locked eyes with anyone who doesn't matter to the Father. [1]
Do you accept others as Christ has accepted you?
[1] In Mark Mittelberg, Building a Contagious Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 37.

Day 225: Isaiah 52, 53 and 54

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. (Isaiah 53:7)
Did Isaiah prophesy that Jesus was the Suffering Servant? Some readers will say, Absolutely! How could anyone not see it? And others, No, that doesn't fit with the general nature of prophecy; there must be another explanation!
The reason that some scholars question the assumption that Isaiah had Jesus in mind is that most predictive prophecy regards the near future, not a future many generations removed from the original audience. We find what God is speaking to us by first determining what God was speaking to the original audience. Isaiah's audience was concerned with one thing and one thing only: returning to Jersualem. Where did Christ's ministry and death enter into that story?
Yet let's acknowledge: He was led like a lamb to the slaughter sure sounds like Jesus. As does, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Psalm 22:1)? The answer might be found in Matthew's temptation narrative (4:1-11). Regarding his first temptation, Jesus' answer is straight from Deuteronomy 8:3. His final two responses are from 6:7 and 6:13. In his actions and words, Jesus is showing that whereas Israel was God's unfaithful son, he is the faithful Son.
Jesus identified with these Old Testament pictures. In the case of the Suffering Servant, Israel was the servant, albeit imperfect. Jesus took that role upon himself, becoming not only the perfect Son, but also the perfect Servant.
How do the Suffering Servant songs minister to you? [1]
[1] Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9 and 52:13-53:12.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 224: Isaiah 49, 50 and 51

I will not forget you. See, I have [carved] you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:15,16)
In their Babylonian captivity, no doubt many Jews wondered if God had given up on them. Maybe some of them, in their despair, gave up on God.
We read in Isaiah 49:14, Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.
But God makes it clear such is not the case. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget [as unlikely as that is], I will not forget you. See, I have [carved] you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:15,16).
But God is forgetful about one thing.
I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
God forgets your sin, but he'll never forget you!
Have you ever felt forgotten by God?

Day 223: Isaiah 46, 47 and 48

If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. (Isaiah 48:18)
In these chapters the writer, speaking for Yahweh, makes it clear that Babylon was his tool, employed to discipline Judah, not to destroy it (47:6). Her harshness toward Judah will result in her own punishment. The virgin daughter of Babylon will live as a princess no longer (47:1).
Then God explains to those who will listen: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you (48:17). He says that if Judah had listened in the first place, the discipline enacted upon it would not have been necessary. How many times have we said that to our kids? How many times have we heard that ourselves?
The fruit of discipline is obedience. The fruit of obedience is peace. Therefore, when God disciplines us, he really is doing it for our own good.
It seems to be our nature to challenge the limits. As long as we think we can get away with it, we'll try. But just like we can't play with fire very long without getting burned, we cannot go on living in disobedience without paying the consequences.
Better to live according to God's plan and know peace than to struggle against what we perceive as restraints, but are really boundaries for our protection.
Have you ever had to admit that God really does know best?

Day 222: Isaiah 43, 44 and 45

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. (Isaiah 43:18,19)
We've detailed Judah's defeat by Nebuchadnezzar. Over 60 years has past since the first exiles were marched from Jerusalem to Babylon, and over 40 years since the city was overrun - its walls and temple razed.
A generation has been born with no memory of Zion. Parents try to tell their children that being a displaced people is not normal.
There are whispers of a new military power, rumors that Babylon's place in the world might be temporary. And then the prophet breathes words of hope: I am doing a new thing. The new thing, according to Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs, is restoration which takes the place of the old thing - destruction and exile. [1]
After the passage of time, things and events that bulldozed through our existence can stake out their own claim in our lives as normal. Perhaps this is a God-given defense mechanism, designed to keep us from being tyrannized by the past. But placing those things on the back burner doesn't mean they don't still negatively affect us.
God doesn't want us dominated by the hurts of the past. At the same time, he doesn't want us to label them as normal. He wants to do a completely new thing, and take us into the freedom of his restoration.
From what thing that you've come to accept as normal does God want to free you?
[1] Brevard Childs in Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 167.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 221: Isaiah 40, 41 and 42

Proclaim to [Jerusalem] that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for. (Isaiah 40:2)
The wild ride from chapters 36 to 40 is enough to give the most hardened biblical scholar whiplash. In chapter 36 the biggest threat the people of Judah could imagine was the inevitable defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. Chapter 37 told of Assyria's withdrawal and Judah's deliverance. In chapter 38, Hezekiah gets deathly ill. Although Isaiah warns him the end is near, the king won't take death for an answer. He prays for healing and is given fifteen more years. Chapter 39 brings us a harbinger of things to come. An envoy from Babylon arrives in Jerusalem ostensibly to wish the king continued health. The chapter ends with Isaiah scolding Hezekiah for his naivete regarding Babylon's intentions.
Between the end of chapter 39 and the beginning of chapter 40 lies an extended silence. Hezekiah is long dead with seven kings after him. Jerusalem has been destroyed and its people exiled to Babylon.
After 150 years, a new voice writing in the name of Isaiah begins his message: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. . . . her hard service has been completed, . . . her sin has been paid for (40:1,2).
As Walter Brueggemann puts Isaiah's message: inescapable judgment reliably followed by generous restoration. [1] Defeat isn't final. Even when things look hopeless, we can still hope.
And what are you hoping for?
[1] Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 170.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 220: Isaiah 37, 38 and 39

Hezekiah received [the field commander's] letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple . . . and spread it out before the Lord. (Isaiah 37:14)
Chapters 36-38 contain three communications from the Assyrian field commander meant to demoralize and destabilize the people of Jerusalem. The Assyrian military certainly has the track record to back up his taunts, but he has never before encountered Yahweh. We could say he doesn't know who he's up against.
On what are you basing this confidence of yours (36:4)? Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria (36:18)? Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered (37:11)?
And how did Hezekiah respond to these threats? He went up to the temple . . . and spread it out before the Lord.
We also have an enemy set on destroying us. He will use any means available to capsize our faith and replace it with fear. He wants to demoralize us and destabilize our defenses even though he's still on the other side of the brick wall huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf.
Let's take a lesson from Hezekiah. Now is not the time to panic. Now is the time to spread it out before the Lord.
Why raise a white flag when our God is coming to the rescue?

Day 219: Isaiah 34, 35 and 36

The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing. (Isaiah 35:10)
Chapters 34 and 35 are seemingly out of place in this portion of Isaiah. Most of Isaiah 1-39 deals with the challenges of the 8th century BC, whereas these chapters anticipate the return from exile almost 200 years later. While the original portions of the book are credited to Isaiah ben Amoz (the same Isaiah who had the incredible vision in chapter 6), other portions are often attributed to followers of Isaiah who wrote in his name centuries later. This was not an unusual (or unethical) practice in ancient times.
The question for us, since we were not around to read the original warnings of Isaiah ben Amoz, or to have a conversation with those who may have subsequently written in his name is: What does the finished form of these writings say to us? After all, we benefit from the complete Isaiah as part of our biblical canon. We must read the book in its entirety, rather than get too caught up in the individual details. Let's not miss the forest for the trees.
We have received an Isaiah in which the writers look beyond the troubles of 701 BC (the Assyrian seige) and 586 BC (destruction by Nebuchadnezzar) to the eventual and inevitable fall of Babylon. Remember, Isaiah always looks beyond judgment to restoration.
If there's trouble on your horizon, anticipate God's grace not far behind!
What are you afraid of?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 218: Isaiah 31, 32 and 33

The fruit of righteousness will be peace. (Isaiah 32:17)
Isaiah writes of a coming turmoil, a frenzied panic from which no man or earthly power can save Judah. While the women of Jerusalem are complacent in their denial of what's coming, the writer says that in less than a year their misplaced confidence will be shattered. Where is peace?
In chapter 33 the question is asked: Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with the everlasting burning (v. 14)? This is not talking about the fires of hell, but the presence of God. Note the answer: He who walks righteously and speaks what is right (v. 15).
This passage brings to mind Psalm 15: Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous (vv. 1,2).
These passages tell us the way to peace is through right living. Too often we bring trouble on ourselves, and then pray for peace as if it were an entitlement. We think it will come without any change in how we live. But peace is the fruit of a disciplined life. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who are trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).
If in your heart of hearts you are experiencing more turmoil than peace, what are you going to do about it?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 217: Isaiah 28, 29 and 30

You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay. (Isaiah 29:16)
Though we have affirmed earlier writings in Isaiah were addressed to Judah during the reign of Ahaz, the current chapters are more likely targeted to his son Hezekiah. Israel was on the verge of falling to Assyria, even though their drunken revelry makes it appear they were not aware their flower was fading (28:1-4). Despite their differences, the population of Judah would be shaken to the core to see its sister kingdom Israel destroyed and its people exiled to the far reaches of the empire, never to return.
Chapter 29 advises that Jerusalem is not immune to the troubles which have beseiged Samaria (Israel's capital). But chapter 30 also cautions that running to Egypt for protection is not the answer.
Isaiah acknowledges that his prophetic message is not getting through. Their spiritual blindness and deafness has infected every area of their lives including their worship. These people . . . honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (29:13).
In today's focus verse, the prophet warns that just because they are blind doesn't mean they should assume God is blind too. They make the mistake of thinking God is created in their image. Who's the potter? And who's the clay?
It's one thing to confess God with our lips; quite another to confess him with our lives.
Have you ever tried to recreate God in your own image?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 216: Isaiah 25, 26 and 27

On this mountain [the Lord Almighty] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples; the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. (Isaiah 25:7,8)
Israel's enemies referred to in Isaiah's writings are Assyria, Babylon, and the smaller surrounding kingdoms as referenced in the oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23). In chapters 24-27 Yahweh takes on and even more powerful foe; death, the enemy of all peoples.
Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead (26:19). Not likely the work of the 8th century BC Isaiah ben Amoz, these are considered to be the last additions to the book of Isaiah. [1] They mark an evolution of thought regarding life and death and the resurrection of those who belong to God.
We read in the earlier writings of David: I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care (Psalm 88:5).
Consider the words of Jesus: I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). And finally Paul: Where, O death, is your victory (1 Corinthians 15:55)?
The message to Israel (and us too) could be: If even death cannot stand against our God, then is there any enemy he cannot defeat?
Death isn't final.
What does that mean to you?
[1] Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 164.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 215: Isaiah 22, 23 and 24

The song of the prostitute: Take up the harp, walk through the city, O prostitute forgotten; play the harp well, sing many a song, so that you will be remembered. (Isaiah 22:15,16)
In this final installment of Isaiah's oracles against the nations, the focus turns to Phoenicia, home of two of the Mediterranean's greatest seaports, Tyre and Sidon. It is likely this prophecy takes place during the Assyrian expansion. Phoenicia was best known for its trade with other nations: it's sailing ships traveled around the Mediterranean, visiting seaports from Egypt to Spain. Rather than compete for military control of the region, Phoenicia was content to sit back and take profits wherever it could.
In that respect, Isaiah refers to Tyre and Sidon as prostitutes, plying their wares, luring in business. But Phoenicia's political neutrality would not protect its economic ventures forever. Isaiah forecasts Phoenicia's defeat at the hands of the Assyrians who wanted control over those port cities and their corresponding trade routes with other nations.
But there would come a time, after Assyria's strength ran its course, that Tyre and Sidon would once again be back in business, like old prostitutes singing their seductive songs trying to entice back customers from yesterday.
Isaiah teaches us that the strongest economy will never be a strong enough foundation on which to build. Only faith in God stands the test of time and trouble.
On what foundation are you building for the future?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 214: Isaiah 19, 20 and 21

When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. (Isaiah 19:20)
These are not unfamiliar words in the Old Testament. Anyone who's been reading along recognizes the well worn theme of Israel's rebellion and restoration. In Deuteronomy 30 we read: When all these blessings and curses . . .come upon you and . . . you return to the Lord your God . . . then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you (vv. 1-3).
In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God's words to Solomon are recorded: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
So these words of mercy for a people gone astray should not be surprising to us. What might catch us off guard, though, is that these words were not spoken over Israel; they were not spoken over Judah; they were God's promise to Egypt, and a reminder to us that even though God is our God, we do not have exclusive rights to him. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3).
How do you feel when God sheds his grace on those outside your circle?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 213: Isaiah 16, 17 and 18

My heart cries for Moab. (Isaiah 16:11)
The people of Moab, a perennial thorn in Judah's side, were getting their comeuppance. Their earlier pride seemed foolish in light of their present troubles. God's response to their misfortune is surprising. Isaiah writes that God cries for them, and with them too (v. 9).
Here Moab is receiving the consequences for their choices, and yet God has compassion on them. How can God allow discipline into people's lives and, at the same time, cry for what they are enduring? Does he also cry for us when our disobedience comes back to us in suffering?
Moab was an enemy of God's people, yet rather than rejoice over their downfall, God's heart was filled with the kind of heartache reserved for loving parents of wayward children. Let's receive our lesson from these words. We shouldn't gloat when someone who has chosen to be our enemy tastes the bitterness of defeat. God cries for them.
Paul reminds us: If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him (Romans 12:17), and, Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good (12:21). And did not Jesus say much the same thing? They are blessed who show mercy to others, for God will show mercy to them (Matthew 5:7), and, Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you (5:44).
Is there any better test of love than to do good to those who do evil to us?