Archive for October, 2011


Saved From The Fire


In the book of Isaiah, we now begin to see prophecies and reference to God’s salvation for His own people. Compared to much of what came before in the book, these words are very encouraging.

But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:1-2

These words make me think of Polycarp, a great Christian martyr who was killed in approximately 169 A.D., when Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome. As the story goes, he asked not to be nailed to the stake, as was the custom, but only bound to it, telling the executioner that his God would allow him to endure the flames. And when they tried to burn him at the stake, so the story goes, a strange phenomenon prevented him from catching fire. Eventually, they had to kill him with a sword.

I wonder if this passage played through Polycarp’s mind that day. Most of us would consider the verse above to be largely figurative, but in Polycarp’s case, it was quite literal. Our God has the power to physically rescue us from the water and from the fire if He so chooses. Literally.


A Challenge to Idol Worship

20111029-081507.jpgSince the beginning of the Israelite nation, beginning with the time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, the people had struggled with idol worship. Recall how they made the golden calf at Aaron’s direction when they thought that Moses wasn’t coming back from the mountain. God warns against idols – it even merited one of the Ten Commandments. So how strongly does God feel about idol worship?

“Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable. Isaiah 41:21-24

I get the feeling from this passage that idol worship is being mocked by the Lord. I don’t get this mocking tone from any other passages in the Bible (at least, none that I can recall). It is interesting to see how God lays out the challenge to those who put their trust in idols, as if to say, “Okay, prove yourselves, do something great, or give us a direct answer to a question.”. I think it safe to say that the Lord is in strong disapproval of putting other gods before Him.

What are our idols in today’s culture?


Why Creation Is Beautiful

20111029-072448.jpgWhy is the beauty of nature in existence at all? This passage in Isaiah gives us a clue.

“But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.” Isaiah 41:17b-20

Though I don’t enjoy the fact that I have a long drive to work each day, I do appreciate the fact that I live in Colorado and the scenery that I get to see each morning is beautiful. I thank God each morning for the glory of nature which I observe as the sun rises on my left and lights up the mountain range on my right. God could have chosen to create the earth as a flat disk with no features. He could have chosen to leave out the myriad species of trees and plants that surround us. He could have created a world without color, if He had decided that was best. But that is not His way. Because his creation reveals the nature of the Creator, “so that people may see and know”.


Facing Death

King Hezekiah is known for being a good king.  And like many kings (and really, like most of us), he has his good moments and bad moments.  Yet, for the most part, he remains dedicated to the Lord.  In the passage below, we find Hezekiah growing deathly ill.  How does he react to this incident?

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.  — Isaiah 38:1-3

I’ve read this story many times, but it struck me today that Hezekiah takes an unusual attitude about his impending death.  While we read of other prophets or great men of God facing death without worry (think of the apostle Paul, or martyrs such as Polycarp), Hezekiah seems truly afraid of death and he successfully petitions God for more years on earth.  Why was he not ready to die?  What fears did he have?  I’m reminded that Jesus himself prayed in the garden to have his own difficult death taken away from him.  Taking that into account, I don’t think it is a sign of weakness to ask for more life.  I wonder – what would I ask for if faced with the same situation?


Giving God The Glory

20111026-205156.jpgKing Hezekiah of Judah receives a visitor from the king of Assyria in chapter 36 of the book of Isaiah. This field commander from Assyria does his best to put fear in the hearts of the people in Judah, even choosing to speak in their native language so that the common man will hear. While reading this story, one wonders just how King Hezekiah will react to the threat. Will he cave to the pressure, like so many of his predecessors had done? Not in this instance. See how Hezekiah reacts.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”Isaiah 37:14-20

Unlike so many of the Israelite and Judean kings who had ruled before, Hezekiah remains faithful and brings the problem to the Lord, with confidence in His ability to defeat the enemy. I admire Hezekiah’s attitude in this prayer – he prayed not strictly for his nation’s salvation, but wanted God’s name to be raised up before others. “So that all kingdoms on earth may know…” is an admirable prayer.


Judge, Lawyer, and King

20111026-165408.jpgWhile much of the book of Isaiah is dedicated to prophecies of doom and gloom for various people throughout the earth, I like to read the book while looking for positive reinforcement of God’s character. I found just such a passage in today’s text, though it was buried in the middle of a section of gloominess.

“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.”Isaiah 33:22

I like the picture shown here. God is our judge, and could we ask for one who is more just than He? But at the same time, the verse says He is the one who gave the law in the first place. So there can be no dispute or variance in interpretation – the lawgiver and judge are one. And if that is not enough, He is also our king – who is sometimes called in to deliver an executive decision if the law were unclear, or if unusual mercy was required. Indeed for us, we need just this kind of mercy from our King, because all of us are technically guilty under the law. So, for us, God is everything we need. I guess we already knew that, right?


God vs. Man

In a humanistic world – one which glories in the accomplishments of men and which ignores the true Creator – it is good to occasionally get a reminder about who is really the most powerful.  Isaiah reminds us of that in today’s passage, which refers to the earthly glory of Egypt.

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.  Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster; he does not take back his words.  He will rise up against the house of the wicked, against those who help evildoers.  But the Egyptians are men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit.  When the LORD stretches out his hand, he who helps will stumble, he who is helped will fall; both will perish together.”  — Isaiah 31:1-3

In comparison to mighty Egypt, the Lord is much, much greater.  Though they may think they can rely on their chariots and horses, Isaiah reminds us that they are just flesh and machine, driven by mere men.  And God has the power to make all of that worldly power as meaningless as a puff of wind.  Is this a temptation for our world today?  Do we take pride and make glorious the “powerful” things around us?  Are we tempted to rely on flesh and machine, rather than the One who made it all, and who is readying perfection for His people in heaven?  We must often be reminded that all of this around us will fade, in comparison to God’s glory, and He will rule forever.

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