Friday, August 08, 2014
We are in the process of moving house, so don't be surprised if I don't post much in the coming days. Once we are re-settled, I will pick up where I left off in Isaiah. Have no fear, we are still on track for getting through the C. S. Lewis Bible in a year, even with this little break.
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Before I made the journey from California to New Jersey to begin my studies at Princeton Seminary, a friend gave me a gift, a framed photograph of the California desert. On the back of the frame, she gave me a Scripture verse. Perhaps it was from Isaiah 35….
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
The desert shall rejoice and blossom….
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.
I did not want to think about my journey to and through seminary being a journey to and through the wilderness. However, in some ways, my friend’s gift was prophetic.
Then, at the end of my three years in seminary, I got married. Billy and Ruth Graham gave us as a wedding gift a beautiful leather-bound copy of Mrs. Charles Cowman’s devotional book, Streams in the Desert. It has been a treasured volume ever since. Ruth wrote on the flyleaf something about finding joy in the ministry always. However, to be honest, I must admit that sometimes life in the ministry has been like a journey through the wilderness. Often I have identified with Moses leading the Israelites, though his task was far greater than mine has ever been or ever will be.
Isaiah warned God’s people that they were about to enter a desert time. We know it now as the Babylonian exile. However, Isaiah also promised the Jews that the desert would rejoice and blossom, waters would break forth in the wilderness. Great fruitfulness came out of the Israelites’ time in the desert under Moses, and again through the wilderness of the exile. So also it has been in my life, that in the desert times I have found water in the wilderness, and God has brought forth blossoms of joy.
Few if any of us like to think of spending any significant amount of time in the wilderness, at least not without the comforts of home. Nonetheless, often our spiritual journey through life is like a trip through the desert. When we are in the wilderness, it is good to remember that God will provide streams there that will cause blossoms to flower. The Lord will bring forth fruitfulness in the desert, and in his time, he will lead us out of the wilderness to our home with him.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Despite all the words of warning and judgment in Isaiah, there is also much of comfort here. Chapter 30 contains two verses that have been meaningful to me for many years. In verse 15 we read,
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
When I was a teenager, I had a poster in my bedroom with this verse on it. The picture was of a duckling in the pocket of a denim shirt. I think, unconsciously, I thought of myself as being like that little duckling, protected in God’s pocket, close to his heart. I believe that is true for everyone who trusts in the Lord. Israel refused, for a time, to find her strength in quietness and trust in the Lord, to find her salvation in repentance and rest. However, that does not mean that we cannot take advantage of this promise. Whenever we turn to the Lord we find rest, salvation, quietness, and strength in him.
In the midst of World War II, C. S. Lewis wrote to his friend Owen Barfield,
The real difficulty, is, isn’t it, to adapt one’s steady beliefs about tribulation to this particular tribulation; for the particular, when it arrives, always seems so peculiarly intolerable. I find it helpful to keep it very particular—to stop thinking about the ruin of the world etc, for no one is going to experience that, and to see it as each individual’s personal sufferings, which never can be more than those of one man, or more than one man, if he were very unlucky, might have suffered in peacetime. Do you get sudden lucid intervals? Islands of profound peace? I do.: and though they don’t last, I think one brings something away from them.
I believe we can find the sort of peace Lewis talks about whenever we turn to the Lord, even if the world is seemingly falling apart all around us.
My other favorite verse in Isaiah 30 is 21:
And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
When we seek the Lord, through reading Scripture, and prayer, and through all the means of grace, I believe he does guide us. When we are quiet, and seek that interior stillness necessary to true spirituality, God speaks to us. However, it seems to me that he speaks to us most when we are in motion. As the saying goes, “Even God can’t steer a parked car.” We will find God guiding us as we make a move in life, whether to the right or to the left. If we listen for the Lord’s voice, then we will hear him saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” It may not be an audible voice, but God will speak to us in that sense of settled confidence, that peace, that is unmistakable to the believer as the sign and seal of God’s presence.
Monday, August 04, 2014
There are a number of verses in these chapters that find their fulfillment in Jesus. The most obvious one is Isaiah 28:16 which is quoted in the New Testament:
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
A tested stone,
A precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”
In 25:8, we have words that are echoed at the end of the book of Revelation: “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Why will our tears be no more? Because “he will swallow up death forever.” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that this is exactly what was and is and will be accomplished in Jesus.
Regarding death, C. S. Lewis writes most eloquently in his book, Miracles,
On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Live of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptised into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.
However, death is not the end, certainly not in the New Testament, nor even here in Isaiah. The prophet strikes, perhaps for the first time, a new note:
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
And the earth will give birth to those long dead. (26:19)
Of this, Lewis also writes in Miracles, by way of commenting on the New Testament doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ….
From the earliest times the Jews, like many other nations, had believed that man possessed a “soul” or Nephesh separable from the body, which went at death into the shadowy world called Sheol: a land of forgetfulness and imbecility where none called upon Jehovah any more, a land half unreal and melancholy like the Hades of the Greeks or the Niflheim of the Norsemen. From it shades could return and appear to the living, as Samuel’s shade had done at the command of the Witch of Endor. In much more recent times there had arisen a more cheerful belief that the righteous passed at death to “heaven.” Both doctrines are doctrines of “the immortality of the soul” as a Greek or modern Englishman understands it: and both are quite irrelevant to the story of the Resurrection. The writers look upon this event as an absolute novelty. Quite clearly they do not think they have been haunted by a ghost from Sheol, nor even that they have had a vision of a “soul” in “heaven”…. What the apostles claimed to have seen did not corroborate, nor exclude, and had indeed nothing to do with either the doctrine of “heaven” or the doctrine of Sheol. Insofar as it corroborated anything it corroborated a third Jewish belief which is quite distinct from both these. This third doctrine taught that in “the day of Jahweh” peace would be restored and world dominion given to Israel under a righteous King: and that when this happened the righteous dead, or some of them, would come back to earth—not as floating wraiths but as solid men who cast shadows in the sunlight and made a noise when they tramped the floors. “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust,” said Isaiah, “And the earth shall cast out the dead” (26:19). What the apostles thought they had seen was, if not that, at any rate a lonely first instance of that: the first movement of a great wheel beginning to turn in the direction opposite to that which all men hitherto had observed. Of all the ideas entertained by man about death it is this one, and this one only, which the story of the Resurrection tends to confirm. If the story is false then it is this Hebrew myth of resurrection which begot it. If the story is true then the hint and anticipation of the truth is to be found not in popular ideas about ghosts nor in eastern doctrines of reincarnation nor in philosophical speculations about the immortality of the soul, but exclusively in the Hebrew prophecies of the return, the restoration, the great reversal. Immortality simply as immortality is irrelevant to the Christian claim.
It is this swallowing up of death, and the actuality of resurrection life that follows, which gives us hope and peace. “Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—in peace because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Sunday, August 03, 2014
In this section of the book of Isaiah, the most interesting verses to me were in 22:15-25. Barry Webb provides the following commentary….
Both men named here were court officials under Hezekiah. In Shebna in particular the passage gives a concrete example of the faithlessness for which the people as a whole are condemned in verses 1-14. Verses 15-19 predict his fll, and verses 20-25 his replacement by Eliakim.
The contrast between the two men could not be more sharply drawn.
Self-regarding (his tomb, Servant of the Lord (20)
his chariots) (16, 18) Father to the people (21)
Like a ball (unstable) (18) Like a peg (stable,
Disgrace (18) Honour (23)
Deposed by the Lord (19) Fixed in a firm place by
the Lord (23)
Eliakim is the very antithesis of Shebna, an ideal leader called and established by the Lord. Verses 24 and 25, therefore, come as something of a surprise. Eliakim’s family are apparently not made of the same stuff as he is. They take advantage of his high position to better themselves and in so doing bring about his ruin. The peg gives way under the strain. Eliakim is destroyed from below.
In the end, then, it is not just the Shebnas of Jerusalem that will bring it down, but the common people as well. What is presented in general terms in verse 1-14 is particularized in verses 15-25, but the message is the same. The failure of the people of Jerusalem to rely upon the Lord will bring both them and their leaders to ruin.
By the time of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 Eliakim had already become chief minister and Shebna had been demoted to the position of secretary. This is a far cry, to be sure, from the disgrace and exile predicted in verses 17-18, but these may have followed later. Nothing is known, apart from what we have here, about the circumstances of Shebna’s death.
The most interesting verse to me in this section is the promise to Eliakim in 22:22….
I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.
Apparently, Eliakim was given the power of the keys in Hezekiah’s palace. He was in charge of opening the door of the palace to certain visitors and closing it to others.
This verse is taken upon the lips of Jesus in Revelation 3:7 and given new meaning….
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
Jesus is the one who determines entrance into the most important palace anywhere: the kingdom of God. If we want to enter into God’s presence, then we must come through Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Saturday, August 02, 2014
In these chapters, we see God calling Isaiah to prophesy about all of Judah’s powerful neighbors. How would you like to have been in Isaiah’s sandals? Some of the prophecies he spoke against these powerful nations could have, quite literally, landed him in hot water or, I would think, have led to the loss of his life. Yet, Isaiah obeyed God’s call anyway.
In chapter 20, God even calls Isaiah to walk around naked for three years to provide an object lesson to go along with his prophecy. Isaiah’s nakedness was a prophetic warning about how Assyria would lead away the Egyptians and the Ethiopians as captives “naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered”. What would you have done if you were Isaiah and God asked you to provide this kind of object lesson? The amazing thing is that Isaiah obeyed. Perhaps, it is not so amazing since Isaiah was the one who said to God, “Here am I, send me.” Isaiah’s willingness to serve God and obey his bidding no matter what was indeed quite remarkable.
We see here the truth of what the Lord will say later in this book….
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Sometimes the Lord asks us to do things that may seem crazy or even dangerous. The question is: will we walk in trust and obedience like Isaiah?
Thursday, July 31, 2014
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
on the heights of Zaphon;
I will ascend to the tops of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.”
Isaiah 14:12-14 (NRSV)
Out of today’s reading, these verses are the most intriguing to me. As I point out in my book, Mere Theology, the Genesis account never makes any connection between Satan and the serpent in the garden. For this connection we must turn to Revelation 12:9. Though Isaiah 14:12 was thought to refer to Satan’s fall by the translators of the Vulgate and the King James Version, it is now thought that it refers to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, Revelation 12:7-9 may be the only Scripture that tells us anything about the fall of Satan. However, various interpretations of Revelation 12:7-9 have been offered:
- That it refers to the expulsion of Satan from heaven before the fall of humanity;
- That it refers to Satan’s fall at the time of Christ’s ministry;
- That it refers to a future expulsion of Satan from heaven shortly before Christ’s Second Coming.
C. S. Lewis has these interesting comments on the existence and fall of Satan in his book, The Problem of Pain….
But the doctrine of Satan’s existence and fall is not among the things we know to be untrue: it contradicts not the facts discovered by scientists but the mere, vague “climate of opinion” that we happen to be living in. Now I take a very low view of “climates of opinion.” In his own subject every man knows that all discoveries are made and all errors corrected by those who ignore the “climate of opinion”
It seems to me, therefore, a reasonable supposition, that some mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar system, or, at least, the planet Earth, before ever man came on the scene: and that when man fell, someone had, indeed, tempted him. This hypothesis is not introduced as a general “explanation of evil”: it only gives a wider application to the principle that evil comes from the abuse of free will. If there is such a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal creation before man appeared. The intrinsic evil of the animal world lies in the fact that animals, or some animals, live by destroying each other. That plants do the same I will not admit to be an evil. The Satanic corruption of the beasts would therefore be analogous, in one respect, with the Satanic corruption of man.