Tag Archives: Book of Isaiah

Water of Life

​Last year, the Atacama Desert, renowned as the driest place on earth, received an unusual amount of rain.  Seeds lying dormant in the sand for years suddenly sprang to life.  The empty landscape was transformed into a garden of astonishing beauty.

Viewed from God’s perspective, humankind is a dry desert, lacking the one essential ingredient for spiritual growth, His Holy Spirit.  But His plan, as announced through Isaiah would be to send “rain.”

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.”  (Isaiah 44:3 -5)

As promised by Jesus, on the day of Pentacost, those “rains” came.  They are still falling, and are available to any “dry and dormant seed” who will trust Jesus. 

Fingerprints of Jesus

One of Isaiah’s prophetic descriptions of Jesus, written 700 years in advance, seems to be overlooked by many who claim to be advancing His work.  Isaiah’s batting average with details from the future was astonishing; there is no reason to think he got this one wrong.  He describes the style with which Jesus would accomplish His work:

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.  (Isaiah 42:2-4)

The work of Jesus will be:

  • Quiet
  • Gentle
  • Relentless
  • Completely successful

Jesus clearly stated that not everyone claiming to be doing His work really was.  If you want to identify His work, look for those fingerprints. You won’t find them amidst the violent, flashy, noisy or manipulative.  His work advances steadily and quietly, one soul at a time, like candlelight passed from one to another.  And it has not stopped or even faltered in all these years.

Christmas Promise

Here’s a word association test:  If I say “government,” what’s the first word you think of?  Ooooh, nasty…   but, truth be told, I feel the same way.  Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather live with our government in the USA, than, say under the rule of that psychopath in North Korea.  And let’s take Putin…   actually, let’s not.  But, even though our government is so much better, it still is broken.  We humans need governing, but we don’t do a very good job of it.

That’s what excites me about this Christmas prophecy from Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.   (Isaiah 9:6a)

Isn’t that just a figure of speech?  Nope.  Isaiah goes on to say,

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.  (Isaiah 9:7)

Obviously, this has not yet happened, so why should we believe it?  We can believe it because Isaiah accurately predicted the rise and fall of kingdoms in the Middle East – hundreds of years worth.  He nailed it.  Imagine accurately predicting what will happen in the Middle East next week!  It was because Isaiah and other prophets were so accurate that people were looking for the coming of Jesus when He was born and where He was born.  Nailed it again.  Not only that, Isaiah foretold Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  Obviously Isaiah had “inside information.”  He knew what he was talking about.

We can count on it when Isaiah says Jesus will return as “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  And that His government will be characterized by perfect righteousness and justice.  The world has never experienced a government like that.  But this Christmas promise says you can count on it.

My money is on Isaiah.  Which is  to say, I’ve bet my life on Jesus.  Merry Christmas!

Check Engine

Are you getting tired of all this talk about what makes God angry?   You might be thinking, “Alright already! I get it; let’s get on to something more pleasant!”   If that is how you feel, imagine how God feels!  Fact is, God wants us to get on with the good stuff.  That’s why He gave us the Bible!

When your check-engine light comes on,

Check Engine light on a 1996 Dodge Caravan.

Check Engine light on a 1996 Dodge Caravan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

you can either get upset about it, or you can think, “Wow! My car just informed me of something I can do to get it running better.”   Sure you can  also be bummed out about the cretin who just serviced the thing and who probably left a wire unplugged…   But the point is, Isaiah 5 is a “Check Engine” light.  Ignore it to your own peril.  Here’s what lies ahead for those who do:

So man will be brought low and mankind humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled.  (Isaiah 5:15)

The problem, at its root, is arrogance, the attitude that presumes it knows better than God how to live in His garden.  The opposite attitude, humility, is held by those who really do know they need to pay attention to God, the Creator and Designer of all this and to submit to the ways He has said work best.  If you are only recently reading these posts, go back and read about the key verse in Isaiah, the one that reveals the message of the whole Bible.  The short version is this: God will dwell in the souls of the humble, will forgive them, restore them and bring them to full life (Isaiah 57:15-19).

Here is what lies ahead for the humble:

But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness. Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture; lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich. (Isaiah 5:16-17)

The “sheep” in those verses are the humble who pay attention and submit to God.  And to His Son, Jesus.  Here’s what Jesus said lay in store for His “sheep”:

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
(John 10:7-9)

Why Does God Seem So Angry?

For some reason, it seemed like a good idea at the time: get a few of my toys together and spread them out to play with them – – – in the middle of an intersection near my home. Who knows why? For that matter, who knows why toddlers do most of the strange stuff they do? As you can imagine, my mother was pretty upset when she discovered me, happily sitting and playing out there. Probably heard the squeal of brakes before she saw what was going on. Can you understand why she might have hollered and screamed at me, might have sounded pretty angry? But at the time, it was a mystery to me. Why would a good mother get so furious?

When you first start reading Isaiah, God seems pretty cranky. He sounds pretty worked up:

Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (Isaiah 1:4)

Whoa… This sounds like fodder for the angry, pinch-faced, bony-fingered, fire and brimstone preacher, thundering and screaming with flecks of spittle flying off his beard. Why would a good God get so furious? People make the mistake of thinking that God has changed. The God of the New Testament is pretty nice, but back in the old days, He needed some anger management counseling. Not true. God is not bipolar. God was angry for the same reason my mother was. Continue reading:

Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. (Isaiah 1:5-6)

God hates it when He sees us doing things that endanger or hurt ourselves. Think about it: He originally created a perfect garden for us humans to live in. That is His desire for us. Unfortunately, gardens degenerate pretty quickly if you don’t what you are doing, if you don’t follow the rules. I’ve had some gardening experiences that would have frightened Maurice Sendak.

We humans turned away from God and tried to run His garden by our own ideas. We wrecked the garden and wound up hurting ourselves. But God yearns for His people (that’s us…) to turn back to Him and do things the way they work best. He hates it when we keep getting hurt. God’s plan is to ultimately restore the garden, making it available to everyone who will learn from Him and live in it peacefully and productively – and safely.

If you keep that understanding fully in mind, Isaiah is a fascinating and wonderful read. God loves to see us playing – just not in the middle of the street.

Now You See it; Now You Don’t

My wife has a can of aerosol wonder spray that causes spots on the carpet to vanish.  No, I don’t know what it is – deliberately, so I don’t have to use it.  We each have our own gifts: my gift is putting the spots on the carpet…  Anyhow, it’s amazing stuff. You should get some.  Now you see it; now you don’t.  

In Isaiah, God said this:

“Come now, let us reason together,” 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.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Most of us have sins we hope nobody ever finds out about, the ones that, whenever they come to mind, cause our toes  to curl up in our shoes.  We’d like to forget them but they won’t go away.  They are like bloodstains on the carpet.   But God says He will cause those to vanish.  Not just forgive them but take them away entirely.   Literally.  Isaiah knew this from first hand experience.  When he cowered before God and confessed that he, like everybody else, was a man of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) God arranged a weird, supernatural ceremony of atonement to happen:

Then one of the seraphs 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.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

I cannot explain all the bizarre details described there.  But God (literally His angelic beings) did something to cause Isaiah’s sin to disappear.  The Hebrew word behind the phrase “taken away” means to drag off, or cause something to vanish.  Now you see it; now you don’t.   The reason that is possible is explained in the Hebrew word behind the phrase “atoned for.”  If you wanted to purchase freedom for a slave, you would pay the going rate to his master, making atonement for him.   Jesus made that kind of payment to free us from our guilt.   If you are willing, God removes it.

In the verse we began with above, God says, in effect, “Be reasonable and I will cause your sin to disappear – not just the common ones, but the whoppers, too – the ones that seem like bloodstains on your memory.”   What does He mean by “Let us reason together?”  We see it in the next two verses:

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  (Isaiah 1:19-20)

Accepting the Gift

Unemployed, you have missed the last several mortgage payments on a house worth less than you paid.  You are about to be foreclosed.  A registered letter comes to the door.  You sign for it and tear it open:  “This is to inform you that someone, who would like to remain anonymous, has offered to pay off your mortgage obligations.  If you choose to accept this gift, the bank has agreed to suspend all foreclosure proceedings.”  Nice letter, eh?  Nice gift.

God’s gift to us wipes out the obligations we owe for sin – completely – if we accept it.  His Son, Jesus, Who never sinned and therefore had no personal punishment due, willingly died a brutal and tortuous death to cover what I owed.  And you.  If you accept His gift, God suspends His foreclosure on your life.  God told Isaiah He would do this and told him to write it down:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:4-5)

If someone offers to pay off your mortgage, your first response might be something like, “What? Does he think I’m in poverty?  Does he think I can’t do this on my own?  Give me a bit more time and I will get this fixed…”  But if you hang on to that attitude, you won’t accept the offer.   In a sense, accepting his offer involves a willingness to acknowledge that you really do need his help.   In the same way, accepting the gift of Someone Who went to His death on your behalf requires a change in attitude, acknowledging that such a gift is absolutely necessary.  Most of us would rather hold to the notion that, “I got this; I’m doing pretty well on my own; I’m a good person.”   But if you do continue to believe those things, you cannot accept the gift. Do you remember how Isaiah responded when he caught a glimpse of God’s glory?

“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.”  Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah knew a humbling truth:  compared to God’s perfection, he was just as sinful as his neighbors.  We humans are all in the same boat of sinful imperfection.  We all deserve the same punishment.  We tend to compare ourselves with others and think, “At least I am not as messed up as that guy…”   Somebody illustrated the fallacy of such comparisons like this: “If the requirement to get to Heaven was jumping up and touching the moon, there would be no significant difference between the contestants for ‘Biggest Loser’ and a member of the Celtics.”   The requirement for going to Heaven isn’t touching the moon, it’s having spiritual life.  And everyone who has ever sinned – that’s you and me – is spiritually dead.

God is willing to correct that condition, to give us His life, His Holy Spirit to live in our souls.  But first, because He is perfectly just, He must require that your punishment for sin be paid.  Because you cannot pay, because, even if you could pay you would sin again the next day, He paid.  He allowed His Son, Jesus, to pay your sin mortgage in full – forever – if you accept.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the (punishment for the) iniquity (sin) of us all.  (Isaiah 53:6 – my explanations in parentheses)

Accepting this gift begins with understanding the words, we all.  It requires acknowledging your own personal sinfulness and complete helplessness to fix your own spiritual deadness.  That’s what being “lowly and contrite” means in Isaiah 57:15 (See “In a Nutshell”). God said He will revive (bring back to life) the soul of the lowly and contrite. He will forgive and restore a person who is lowly and contrite.   That is, He will do so once the bill is paid.  And He offers to pay the bill.  Accepting this gift is like what you would do with the mortgage letter example we began with: – you say, “Yes.”   If you understand that there is no way you can fix yourself to become perfect, no way you can pay what you owe for being imperfect; if you understand that you really need God’s forgiveness, then say “yes” to Jesus.  Probably want to say, “Thank You,” also…

The Riddle and a Hint

There is something in the Bible that doesn’t seem to make sense.  Consider: We were designed by our Creator, to be connected to Him, by His Spirit, in an interactive way, much like a cell phone is connected to the cell signal. However, because of rebellion and sin, we are disconnected from God’s Spirit. We are spiritually dead; in cell phone lingo, we have no bars (See: Dead Man Walking).  God desires to connect us again, and said He will do so for those who are receptive – the lowly and contrite. He said He will forgive, heal, restore and revive them. But God also said He does not leave the guilty unpunished. This is the riddle of the Bible, set forth in Exodus 34:6-7 and not solved until the New Testament. But God gave Isaiah big hints. Before considering some of those hints, let’s clarify the problem.

Justice demands that the guilty be punished. We know that in our bones. For example, suppose a drunk driver killed your toddler daughter. He’s arrested and goes to trial. During the trial, he breaks down in heartfelt tears of remorse, acknowledging to the judge that he is guilty and that he can never bring your daughter back to life but that he has committed himself to a life of complete sobriety. He is sincere. How would you feel if the judge said, “Because you are sorry, I’m going to let you off and clear your record. Case dismissed!”?   Frustrated?     Angry? Sure, because justice was not served. Justice demands the guilty be punished. Perfect justice demands that the punishment be balanced to the crime. Too light a punishment makes a mockery of justice.

God is just and God is perfect. According to what He showed Moses in Exodus 34:6, He is loving and forgiving but He also will not leave the guilty unpunished. Question: What should be the just punishment for something that causes death? I’m not talking about something that causes physical death, which merely shortens the span of a lifetime, but an act that causes spiritual death, which has eternal consequences?  Death, right?

Jesus said to the most religious people of His day, that, without some significant intervention and change, they would die in their sins.

But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

Sin, separates us from our spiritual connection to God, and causes death – spiritually, eternally. Justice demands a full punishment.   But Jesus said, “…if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”    Who did He claim to be?    Why would that make a difference?

Let’s begin with a hint, given by God to Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 )

The “Child” would be born. The “Son” would be given – literally given over.   He would be called Mighty God.   Jesus said, “… if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”

Chew on that…

The “Why?” Question

Isaiah 57:15 can be seen as the key to the message of the whole Bible.

For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15

The question we raised last time (see: “In a Nutshell”) was why?  Why would the God of the universe, the One Who “lives forever,” Who exists beyond all time and space “in a high and holy place,” also live “with him who is contrite and lowly”?  Set aside the “who” question – what is it about the contrite and lowly – and focus on the “why?” question.  The idea seems preposterous, that Almighty God would somehow choose to inhabit humans.  Remember the vast size and scope of His Creation, and what a tiny speck our whole solar system is in that universe?  Even our Milky Way Galaxy, at a mere 100,000 light years wide, is only a tiny speck in space.  

English: Artist's conception of the spiral str...

English: Artist’s conception of the spiral structure of the Milky Way with two major stellar arms and a central bar. “Using infrared images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists have discovered that the Milky Way’s elegant spiral structure is dominated by just two arms wrapping off the ends of a central bar of stars. Previously, our galaxy was thought to possess four major arms.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why would God care about a certain life form on earth, much less arrange to live in us?  King David asked that question, roughly 3000 years ago:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?   Psalm 8:3-4

The answer to the “why?” question is given in  Isaiah above .  It is ” to revive the spirit … and to revive the heart …”  God does it to revive us. The original word translated, revive, means “to bring something back to life!”  It means to take something that is dead and make it alive.

Chew on this: If God lives with someone to bring him or her back to life, it follows that this person must be dead.  But she or he is also “lowly and contrite,” attributes that cannot belong to the dead.  Dead guys don’t have character traits.  So then, in what sense are they (are we) dead?   Stay tuned…

In a Nutshell

In the last couple of posts, I’ve been ruminating on the majesty and awesome “bigness” of God, of how His position as the Creator of the universe necessarily puts him way beyond anything we are equipped to imagine  (See the posts under “The Majesty of God” category).  When you consider Who God really is, it is astonishing to read the following verse from Isaiah, a verse that I believe is the key to the whole Bible.  It contains the message of the Bible in a nutshell:

For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15

There is so much in that short verse I’m going to take it in small chunks.  But for now, consider this: Almighty God, Who created the vast universe, says that He lives in a high, holy place – call it Heaven – no surprise about that.  But He also lives, He says, with certain people.  Who?  Not those who are important enough, or rich enough, or smart enough, or famous enough, not even those who are good enough or religious enough; He lives with those who are lowly enough!  Why would God do that?  Why would He want to live with any human being on this tiny planet?  And why lowly people?  Chew on that…