Isaiah: The Suffering Servant 6

Daily Devotional

Isaiah chapters 40-66 seem to be written during the Babylonian exile, promising God’s people times of renewal back in the land. During these chapters a figure begins to emerge– God’s Servant, who will suffer while bringing restoration for the people. Ness Hughes leads us through this series of devotionals, reflecting on this ‘Suffering Servant’ figure in Isaiah. Today’s passage is the most well know of the Suffering Servant passages– Isaiah 53.

Isaiah: The Suffering Servant 5

Daily Devotional

Isaiah chapters 40-66 seem to be written during the Babylonian exile, promising God’s people times of renewal back in the land. During these chapters a figure begins to emerge– God’s Servant, who will suffer while bringing restoration for the people. Ness Hughes leads us through this series of devotionals, reflecting on this ‘Suffering Servant’ figure in Isaiah. Today’s passage is the most well know of the Suffering Servant passages– Isaiah 53 (to be continued tomorrow).

Isaiah: The Suffering Servant 4

Daily Devotional

Isaiah chapters 40-66 seem to be written during the Babylonian exile, promising God’s people times of renewal back in the land. During these chapters a figure begins to emerge– God’s Servant, who will suffer while bringing restoration for the people. Ness Hughes leads us through this series of devotionals, reflecting on this ‘Suffering Servant’ figure in Isaiah. Today’s passage is Isaiah 50:4-9.

Isaiah: The Suffering Servant 3

Daily Devotional

For the first 39 chapters of his writings Isaiah warns God’s people to turn back to him, or they will surely be removed from their land and be taken as slaves into exile in Babylon. Isaiah chapters 40-66 seem to be written during the exile, promising times of renewal back in the land. During these later chapters a figure begins to emerge– God’s Servant, who will suffer while bringing restoration for the people. Ness Hughes leads us through this series of devotionals, reflecting on this ‘Suffering Servant’ figure in Isaiah. Today’s passage is Isaiah 49:1-6.

Isaiah: The Suffering Servant 2

Daily Devotional

For the first 39 chapters of his writings Isaiah warns God’s people to turn back to him, or they will surely be removed from their land and be taken as slaves into exile in Babylon. Isaiah chapters 40-66 seem to be written during the exile, promising times of renewal back in the land. During these later chapters a figure begins to emerge– God’s Servant, who will suffer while bringing restoration for the people. Ness Hughes leads us through this series of devotionals, reflecting on this ‘Suffering Servant’ figure in Isaiah. Today’s passage is Isaiah 42:1-9.

Isaiah: The Suffering Servant 1

Daily Devotional

For the first 39 chapters of his writings Isaiah warns God’s people to turn back to him, or they will surely be removed from their land and be taken as slaves into exile in Babylon. Isaiah chapters 40-66 seem to be written during the exile, promising times of renewal back in the land. During these later chapters a figure begins to emerge– God’s Servant, who will suffer while bringing restoration for the people. Ness Hughes leads us through this series of devotionals, reflecting on this ‘Suffering Servant’ figure in Isaiah.

The Prophets– part 8: Isaiah 2

Mal York continues our week of devotions on the first 6 chapters of Isaiah, who spoke God’s word during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah; all kings of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). In this opening to the book, Isaiah introduces his major themes, concluding in chapter 6 with his dramatic commissioning by God.

For more thoughts on the overall message of Isaiah, click on this link.

The Prophets– part 7: Isaiah 1

Mal York begins a week on the first 6 chapters of one of the major prophets– Isaiah– who spoke God’s word during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah; all kings of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). In this opening to the book, Isaiah introduces his major themes, concluding in chapter with his dramatic commissioning by God.

For more background on the book of Isaiah, click on this link.

For some detailed reflections on Isaiah 1, click on these links:

  1. The Headline 1:1
  2. Guitly 1:2-9
  3. Leadership Fail 1:10-20
  4. The City 1:21-31

Isaiah 1:21-31. The City

21 See how the faithful city has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her—
but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves;
they all love bribes and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them.

24 Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty,
the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against you;
I will thoroughly purge away your dross
and remove all your impurities.
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.”
27 Zion will be delivered with justice,
her penitent ones with righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
and those who forsake the LORD will perish.
29 “You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks
in which you have delighted;
you will be disgraced because of the gardens
that you have chosen.
30 You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
like a garden without water.
31 The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark;
both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.” 

A city is its people. There are buildings and infrastructure, spaces and services– the physical environment. But the city is the collective identity of her inhabitants, displaying the collective will, values, culture and priorities of the people. That’s why Kiwis say, “The only problem with Australia is the Australians.”

And so Isaiah’s condemnation of Jerusalem is really all about her people. They have rejected righteousness, their pride turgid with sin. Corruption and oppression taint the leadership. They are culpable but the people have allowed them to continue (we get the leaders we tolerate and deserve).

And so God will act decisively (v24). He will avenge himself on his enemies– those people of the city who have defied his ways. The leadership of the city will be purged and God will provide the kind of leadership like Jerusalem enjoyed at the beginning: like King David, like Nathan the Prophet. Already in the book of Isaiah, the new future that God promises centres on a new leadership. Someone will come to Jerusalem who will once again rule in righteousness. All who oppose him will be brought low.

In the New Testament, the New Jerusalem is the Church. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Learning from Isaiah, as the people of God, we are responsible to uphold our leadership in prayer, to honour them, to follow them, and to appoint those properly qualified under God to lead us. We want them to serve with excellence. We back them. We encourage them. And we are to hold them accountable if they should deviate from God’s ways.

Father, I pray for the leadership of our churches. Please raise up such godly people, well qualified and equipped, that we are guided and nurtured in righteousness and holiness. Amen.

Isaiah 1:10-20. Leadership fail

10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts? 
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. 
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”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.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The people are guilty but who is responsible? The word is addressed to ‘the rulers of Sodom’ as well as ‘the people of Gomorah’. Sodom and Gomorah were the cites in Abraham’s day that had become a by-word for sin and debauchery of every kind. Their transgressions had so outraged God that he acted in judgment immediately, raining down fire and brimstone and wiping out all the people. But now God is calling his own people ‘Sodom’ and ‘Gomorah’. Something has gone badly wrong.

So who are these leaders that have so failed their people? Possibly the four kings listed in Isaiah 1:1, but verses 11-15 also insist that the religious leaders share  the responsibility for Judah’s and Israel’s failure. Their religious activities– rather than impressing God– are detestable to him. They are disgusting in his eyes; a joke. When the priests and religious leaders spread out their hands to pray, God blocks his ears and turns away. Why? Because those very hands are covered in blood.

There is no point trying to impress God, or ‘buy him off’, or placate him, with sacrifices, acts of worship, religious zeal or pious talk; there is no point when sin stains our souls, when justice is ignored, when wrong-doing oppresses the fatherless and the widow (v16-17).

This condemnation throws the Christian onto the horns of a dilemma. Does God mean that he won’t forgive me until I improve my life? Do I have to become ‘good enough’ for God to take away my sins? No more church until I stop lying, lusting and law-breaking… After all, verse 16 calls me to ‘wash and make myself clean’. Certainly, I must own personal culpability for my sin. I own up to it before God. Further, the call to repent requires a personal act of the will. I do choose to participate in God’s process of forgiveness and restoration. I respond to his invitation to, “Come now, let us settle the matter” (v18).

God promises that though our sins are like scarlet– brazen, public, red, gauche and shameful– he will make them like snow. Not just ‘white’ but blazingly white. Pure snow in bright sunshine is so dazzling that we wear protective sunglasses or goggles so that the reflection doesn’t harm our eyes. In the same way, God’s desire is that his righteousness and glory would shine through his purified people. He wants to remove our sin so that his true nature is revealed by his image bearers to a marvelling creation. God wants to forgive us because he loves us, but also because in this way his greater glory is revealed.

Continuing our meditation on verse 18, we notice that the tense is future. God promises that we will be white as snow. Though crimson, we will be like washed pure wool. The prophecy looks forward to the day when Jesus Christ will shed his blood, will take responsibility for our sin, and will bring forgiveness and reconciliation. We can look back on that event at Calvary. And we also look forward to its final consummation, at his Return, when we truly will reflect God’s majesty to all of creation. Bring it on.

For this reason, the New Testament holds religious leaders to a higher standard than their flocks. It matters not whether we are Small Group Leaders, Sunday School teachers or Archbishops. The Christian leader must embody the character of Jesus Christ with authenticity and transparency. Who is worthy of such a calling? No one. Except that God himself qualifies us by his gracious work of forgiveness, transformation and commissioning (2 Cor 5:18-21; 1 Thess 2:3-6).

Dear Lord and Father, please forgive all my sins. Turn scarlet to snow, the blood of your Son into purity for sinners such as me. By your grace at work in me, grant than your righteousness and goodness would shine through me for the benefit of others and glory of your name. Amen.

Isaiah 1:1. Headline

Is. 1:1    The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 

This is the headline which opens up the first unit of the book of Isaiah (chapters 1-5). The whole unit serves as a kind of preface, or perhaps even an overture. As such, it introduces the key themes of the book.

The vision that Isaiah sees relates to Judah and Jerusalem. The ‘vision’ is a perception of the truth granted by divine revelation. And this truth anchors the book geographically and theologically. Jerusalem is the capital city, the seat of government and the home of the king. But its greatest significance lies in the temple. The temple was God’s ‘dwelling place’ on earth– even though he is not contained by it or limited to it. If a person wanted to address God, or to hear from God, or to engage with him in worship; the Jerusalem temple was the place. So if the vision ‘concerns Jerusalem’ then God has something to say about his people, their worship, and their leadership, represented by the four named Kings– Uzziah (aka Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The narrative of 2 Kings 15-20 provides a general history of the four generations of rulers, and as such, is the history into which Isaiah speaks God’s message.

The premise of Isaiah is therefore that God speaks. He speaks universally, for all time; but also specifically and directly– even to these four named kings. And so at the outset, I am challenged about my readiness to be addressed by God. For, if God speaks, this will certainly require change on my behalf. I will need to submit my will, my ways, and my thoughts to his. God’s word calls for my obedience.

Why does ‘obedience’ to God’s word sound like a bad thing, a drudgery, a burden? Obedience to anything or anyone less-than-God is just that, but not God. Instead, God’s word is light and life. It is to my great benefit that I hear his voice (or read his words) because he reveals that which I cannot know, which I cannot deduce, which I could only speculate about. God speaks, and it is a great blessing to be able to hear him and obey him.

Dear God and Father, please incline my head and my heart to hear you well. And by the work of your Holy Spirit, grant that I would delight to obey all that you show me, even from this book of Isaiah. Amen.