Saturday, March 22, 2014

CCXLVII - Isaiah Chapters 56 – 59

Often in the reading and studying of the book of Isaiah we are uncertain of exactly which group is being addressed at what specific time in History.  However, that is not a problem in this post as in these four chapters Isaiah is speaking exclusively to the exiled Jews who have return to Jerusalem, which would place the time at shortly after the year 538 BC.  At this particular time the exiles’ attempt to rebuild the city had been held up (probably because of Sanballat and Tobiah.  Remember them?)  But here in Isaiah we find that Sanballat and Tobiah were not the only problems.  A more severe problem were the returning Jews themselves.  These people were disobedient and defiant toward God.

Chapter 56:1-8 – Everybody Can be welcome into God’s Temple

In these eight verses Isaiah addresses the issue of foreigners entering the Temple.  I’m not certain exactly what brought this on, but it must have been a particular event that was probably disruptive.  Isaiah was very simplistic in the qualifications for being allowed in the Temple.  There were three requirements:  They practice justice, observed the Sabbath, and refrained from evil.  This is stated in verses 6 and 7, allowing no question about it.  {Jesus did not use these exact words in reference to the Gentiles, but this shows that God’s intentions always were to allow non-Jews into fellowship with Him.

56:9 – 57:13  -  Condemnation of the Exiled Jews

I’ve stated many times in this entire blog that “Leaders Matter”.  In this passage we’ll see that most of Isaiah’s words of condemnation are pointed to the leaders who were among the exiled Jews.  But the people at large were morally degenerate.  They had temple prostitutes; they practiced child sacrifice; and their practice of idol worship had about gone beyond the point of no return.  In verse 56:11 the word “shepherds” means leaders.  Verse 5 in chapter 57 speaks of child sacrifice.  Then verse 9 mentions the name of Molek, the dreaded pagan god who demanded worshipers to burn their children in fire.  {These people had a lot to learn.  Isaiah had his work cut out for him.}  Note the sarcasm in verse 13:  “When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you”.  {Throughout our study of the entire Bible thus far we have seen that nothing angers God like idolatry.}

57:14-21  -  God’s Effort to Restore Sinners Back into His Fellowship

This brief passage speaks of God’s respect for a contrite heart and a lowly spirit.  Evidently there were a few among the exiles whose hearts were right in the sight of God, whom He immediately welcomed into His fellowship.

Chapter 58  -  Condemnation of Empty Rituals

{I’m going to take this opportunity to speak a word on rituals.  The inherent danger in rituals is two-fold:  1. The monotony of them waters down their meaning, and 2. People can come to assume that the ritual itself becomes a redeeming act.  That is almost never true.  A ritual is an outward display of an inner thought or emotion.  That inner thought or emotion is what is considered redeeming.}  This passage clearly teaches us that God is not interested in a ritual being performed by people with wicked hearts.
Isaiah delivers his scathing message to the exiled Jews starting in verse 1. 
In verse 2 he says that the people seek to “know My ways”.  They do not seek to know God’s ways, but rather they are seeking to satisfy His demands.  Their hearts are wicked at all times they are exercising these rituals.  In verse 3 the people are making a weak case to God, saying “haven’t we fasted? And You refuse to be pleased with us.  Verse 4 says their fasting ended in quarreling and fighting among themselves.  I like the last part of verse 5 when Isaiah speaks for God and says “is this what you call a fast?”  These people have it all wrong.  Then Isaiah goes on to speak further about fasting saying in verses 6 and 7 that during their fasting they placed even heavier burdens onto their laborers and disregarded the poor.  Isaiah suggests that when they fast, they should donate the food they forsake to the poor and hungry.  This is the right heart to have when fasting.  Isaiah begins verse 8 with the word “then”, meaning that when they made their hearts right, THEN God will accept their ritual of fasting.  Read verses 8 and 9 carefully.  They are beautiful and exciting.  At the end of verse 9 he says then God will say “Here I Am”.  Also in this chapter is a stern warning about the Sabbath and how much God considers it holy and to be set aside as such.  {I made mention way back in the Book of Genesis about how we perhaps were in error when we abandoned Saturday as the Sabbath.  I say that because of such passages as this, making its importance very clear.}

Chapter 59

Verses 1-8  -   Sin Separates Us From God
In the KJV the first word in this chapter is “Behold”.  This word was used to emphasize the importance of what is about to be said.  It is alerting the reader to “Pay attention to what I am about to say”.  He goes on to say that it is their iniquities (immorality) that is the reason God is not hearing their prayers.  They cry out to God for help and when He does not answer their prayers, they blame Him rather than evaluating themselves (big lesson to be learned here).  The following six verses go on to list specifically some of their iniquitous acts such as Lying, saying wicked things about God and their fellow mankind, perversion of justice, and murder.  {Note again the mentioning of justice.  This is important to God.  He hates injustice, going in either direction, which was mentioned in an earlier post.

Verses 9-14  -  The Exiles Respond to Isaiah’s Words
We know these are the words of the listeners by the use of the pronouns “us” and “we”.  {As you read these verses you will be convinced that these people were sincere in their confession of their shortcomings and are acknowledging that they are the ones who have been at fault.  But not so fast.  It is one thing to confess sins.  It is yet another to reverse lifestyle.  We’ll speak on this more in depth when we get to the New Testament.}

Verses 15-21  -  God’s War Against Sin
God will punish sin and He will do it properly and in His time.  Verse 17 looks familiar as we have often looked at what Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning putting on proper clothing for our war against sin.  As it says in verse 19, God “will come like a pent-up flood”.  When He finally decides to lash out against sin, it will be more devastating than the bursting of floodgates.  And to wrap up this section, Isaiah speaks for God as He makes a promise of a future covenant, using the Redeemer as the Forerunner.

We will finish Isaiah in the next post which will focus mainly on the redemption of God’s people and the re-glorification of Zion.

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