God’s Call to Repentance

Zechariah begins his series of visions and oracles with the fact of a nation steeped in sin and God’s call is for them Return unto Me, says Yahweh of hosts, that I may return unto you, says Yahweh of hosts.   The prophets spoke from the mouth of the Omniscient God, foretelling things to come; but to the current generations in which they lived they were chiefly preachers of righteousness, and their constant cry was, “Repent,” which in Hebrew is the command, “turn!”

Ezekiel 33:11:   “Turn ye, turn ye”; for why will you wander from the source of life and  blessedness, and die, O House of Israel?”

1 Chronicles 7:14:   “If my people . . . will turn from their wicked ways”

Isaiah 55:6-7:   “. . . let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . .”

Jeremiah 3:12, 13:   “Return, thou backsliding Israel . . . acknowledge your iniquity, that you have  transgressed against Yahweh your God.”

Ezekiel 18:30-32:   “Repent, and be turned from your transgressions . . .cast away from you all  your transgressions, and get a new heart and a new spirit . . .”

Hosea 14:1:   “O Israel, return unto Yahweh your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.”

Joel 2:12- 13:  “Turn you, even to Me, with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with  mourning; rend your heart . . . turn to Yahweh for He is gracious . . .”

Amos 5:4-6:   “Seek Yahweh and you shall live”

Zephaniah 2:2-3:   “before the day of the Lord’s anger come upon you, . . . seek righteousness”

Malachi 3:7:   “Return unto Me, and I will return to you, says Yahweh:

And in the New Testament as well!  Repentance in the NT means a change of mind and heart; it means humbly confessing that God speaks the truth with regard to our sin, i.e. ‘facing it squarely’
“Repentance is,” as Richard Roberts puts it, “the first word of the Gospel.”

Matthew 3:2:   John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17:   Jesus first message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Luke 13:3, 5:   “. . . unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  (twice)

Luke 24:46-49:  “. . . repentance and forgiveness of sin will be preached in His name . . .”

Acts 3:19:   “Repent, then, and turn to God so your sins may be wiped out”

Acts 17:30:   “God commands all men everywhere to repent”

1 John 1:9:  “If we confess our sins (repentance is assumed here), He is faithful and just . . .”

Revelation 2 and 3:  5 times in 7 short letters comes the call to “repent”

Because we may be ‘hard of hearing’ (we assume it is not spoken to us or we are not careful ‘how we hear’, Luke 8:18) we may need to pray the refrain repeated three times in Ps. 80:3, 7, 19.  We must listen not just with our ears, but with obedient hearts!

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The events of this chapter happen several years after those of chap 6.  There Uzziah died, but his son Jotham had already become king (because Uzziah sinned and was punished with leprosy).  In chapter 7 Jotham has also died and now Ahaz is on the throne of Judah.

Israel, the northern half of the divided kingdom (also called Ephraim), and a neighbor to the north Aram (Syria) joined forces to attack Judah and Jerusalem.

Ahaz was shaking in his boots (7:1-2) and Isaiah went to encourage him (7:3-9)  Notice the compound name in verse 7, thus says the Lord GOD  – the word Lord being that word that means ‘boss,’ ‘master,’ ‘sovereign’ and the word GOD is a translation of God who has revealed His name as Jehovah or Yahweh.  This was to be an encouragement to Ahaz that the Sovereign Lord of the universe whose Name is Yahweh would not let the feared invasion occur.  His responsibility?  To believe! (7:9) 

Then to further encourage the king in his faith stand, he was invited to ask for a sign, be it big or little.  His response was one of disobedience veneered over with hypocritical humility:  I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD (7:12). 

To see the real reason why he did not want to trust God in this matter, turn to 2 Kings 16:7f.  Ahaz had already made a trip to Assyria (an even more powerful enemy than Syria and Israel).  He asked Assyria to help him defeat Syria and Israel.  This was a bit like a mouse asking the lion in to help get rid of the house cat!  Not exactly a smart move, and definitely not one of faith!!!  The sad part was that he confessed to the king of Assyria that he was accepting the position of “servant” and “son” before that pagan king. (2 Kings 16:7)  No child of the King of kings should ever make such a compromising statement!

Isaiah was furious at Ahaz’s response.  He said in effect, “you may think it an easy thing to try the patience of mankind with your blabbering, but will you indeed try the patience of my God?”

Ahaz had turned the ship of Judah onto a path from which there was no return.  Ahaz refused to ask for a sign so now he will get one of God’s choosing. 

Behold a virgin will conceive (this spelled death to the prized “line of David” in the minds of these kings).  The king – every king – had to come through the male descendent.  But the announcement here is that a virgin, a woman without a human husband would bear a son (a promised king, the messiah) and his name would be called Immanuel.  He would be a descendent from God through a virgin. 

Though several more kings would come through this line of David, the decision was final and that line effectively severed.  The sign became a sign of judgment on Ahaz and through him to the whole line of David, but at the same time – and this is the wonderful thing in all this story – this sign would be the announcement of God’s fulfillment of His plan to bring salvation to the world through the incarnation of His Son who would soon die for the sins of all mankind.

Out of a word of judgment, our great God brought promise of salvation.  Think about that!

Sometimes we try to gather up all that is into a comprehensive thing called a worldview.  The more we know about the universe we live in, the more awesome – and necessary – is our struggle to think this through.  I wrote about ‘probable’ God earlier and wish to start there for some who are not yet sure they want accept the premise of God, especially the Bible’s God.

But first, consider the alternatives to ‘probable’ God

• Pantheism – everything is god
• Pan-in-theism – everything is in god or god is in everything.
• Polytheism – there are so many gods (millions?), they negate one another.
• New Age mysticism/spirituality – wishful thinking with feet planted firmly in mid-air.
• Atheism/materialism – what we see is all we got; god is off the table, out of the market place, confined (if he or it exists) to mystical personal feelings of the heart.
• Agnosticism – we’ll just play dumb, “I don’t know, maybe yes, maybe no.”

All these worldviews (1) are versions like ‘new age’ – no foundation, feet planted firmly in mid-air and in which an unconscious blind fate is elevated to the throne of the universe; (2) provide a multitude of ways to avoid commitment.  It is no wonder our country and our world is unable to even think morally or ethically upright, let alone find a solid foundation upon which to stand.  (3) These views erase the boundaries between heaven and earth, matter and spirit, soul and body, man and animal, intellect and will, time and eternity, Creator and creature, being and nonbeing.  They deny the concept of a definite beginning, the existence of a conscious purpose, the hope of finding any ultimate destiny for the existence of the world and its history.

Against all of the above there stands a Christian worldview which is first and foremost a creation-based worldview.  I have taken notes from H. Bavinck, “Reformed Dogmatics,” vol. 2, p. 425f. 

From the beginning heaven and earth have been distinct, a division between being and nonbeing; there is a division between matter and spirit, between man and animal, between time and eternity, between Creator and creature.  There is a profound distinctness between sun moon, stars; between plants and plants, animals, and humans.  Yet in that diversity, there is also a superlative kind of unity.  The foundation of both diversity and unity is in God.  It is He who created all things in accordance with his unsearchable wisdom.

Here is a unity that does not destroy but rather maintains diversity, and a diversity that does not come at the expense of unity, but rather unfolds it in its riches.  This world can metaphorically be called an organism, in which all the parts are connected with each other and influence each other reciprocally.  Heaven and earth, Creator and creature, man and animal and plant, time and eternity, truth and life, spirit and material, state and church, family and society, though they are distinct are not separated.  There is a wide range of connections between them, a spiritual or ethical bond that holds all together in unity.

As a result of this worldview, Christianity has overcome both the contempt of nature and its deification.  The Christian looks at the world and history and observe s the unfathomability of the ways of God and the unsearchability of his judgments; he does not despair, for all things are subject to the government of an omnipotent God and a gracious Father who will make all things work together for good to those who believe and love Him.

We are born that we should know the Maker of the world, the purpose of that world and also know ourselves as God knows us.  With this worldview, we are on the path to knowing the God who not only is Maker, but also Savior and Redeemer, a faith that issues in immortality.

See http://answersingenesis.org , click on worldview

God’s Call of Isaiah

March 5, 2009

Isaiah 6

Some might ask why the book doesn’t begin with Isaiah’s call.  Why is it not until chap. 6 that we read this?  I think the answer is that Isaiah wants to set his ministry in context and the first five chapters give us that context.  He lets us see just how bad was the rebellion against Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel (which by the way is a favorite descriptive Name of God in this book. 

Not only is Israel’s blatant sin made clear, but there are also brief hints of God’s great mercy and purpose displayed in the glimpses of the One who would come to redeem the peoples of the world – all who would believe, including a portion of Israel known as the remnant.

Against that background we read of Isaiah’s call

This call came in the year of Uzziah’s death.  He had been the King of Judah for 50 years and basically had a long period of prosperity and peace.  Uzziah disobeyed God late in his reign and was struck with leprosy.  He was forced to stand down and Jotham his son, reigned briefly. 

Isaiah 6:1 says “. . .I saw the Lord seated on . . . a throne”  Note that the word Lord is not the same as the word LORD of verse three, the latter being a translation of the Hebrew word for the Name of God, i.e. Yahweh.  “Lord” (‘adonai) of verse one is what we normally understand by lord – master, boss, sovereign.  (See my blog on “God is Personal and Has a Name”)  Isaiah saw a vision of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe.
The important thing for Isaiah in this experience was the message of the seraphim (the only time these ‘burning ones’ occurs in the Bible) who cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God of Hosts.”  The building shook and was filled with smoke, symbols of the awesome presence of Almighty God; Isaiah was shaken to the very core of his soul.  Holiness is what constitutes His distinctiveness.  It is His total and unique moral majesty. 

Isaiah said, “Woe is me for I am lost (ESV) undone” (KJV).  This word ‘lost’ comes from a root ‘to be silent.’  What a powerful word – silenced, i.e. excluded from the heavenly choir, unable to speak or prophecy or even the silence of death!  Speechless before the throne!

No wonder at Isaiah’s response.  Compare Abraham’s “I who am but dust and ashes” or Job’s “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” or Peter’s “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”
No person can stand erect before the Holy God!  When people fear before God, it “is not the consciousness of . . . humanity in the presence of divine power, but the consciousness of  . . . sin in the presence of moral purity.” (Rowley quoted by Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 77)

In verses 6 and 7, God deals with Isaiah exactly at the point of Isaiah’s sin.  The seraph, using the burning coal, touched his mouth and said . . . This was not just a bare act, but an act accompanied by divine interpretation.  Both belong to God; Isaiah does nothing.  God deals with the wickedness (unclean lips) – removed; and He also deals with the guilt (sin) – atoned for!  What a wonderful God who deals with sinners, not only as they think necessary, but as He knows to be necessary!

 6:8   Then I heard the voice of the Lord (‘adonai again) saying.  The Almighty Sovereign speaks; man must listen and respond.  . . . who will go for Us?  The plural “us” is quite amazing and very rare in the Old Testament (see Gen. 1:26).  These we might say are the first hint of the mysterious but majestic wonder of the Trinity.  The reality of this awaits the revelation in the New Testament and is understood and believed by those who know ‘the rest of the story.’  Isaiah’s response was immediate: Send me. 

At first glance, this seems the oddest commission ever given to a prophet: 
Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive. (6:9) 
Then he adds in typical Hebrew fashion (v. 10):
 Make their
 heart dull
  ears heavy
   eyes blind
lest their
   eyes see
  ears hear
 hearts understand
 and turn and be healed.

Think about the implications of that passage. It is cited in Matt. 13:14-15; John12:40; Acts 28:26.
 Those who won’t be morally responsible for uprightness, may soon be at a point where they can’t be morally upright and then all is lost. 

Isaiah faces “the preacher’s dilemma: if hearers are resistant to the truth, the only recourse is to tell them the truth yet again, more clearly than before.  But to do this is to expose them to the risk of rejecting the truth yet again and, therefore, of increased hardness of heart.  It could even be that the next rejection will prove to be the point at which the heart is hardened beyond recovery. . . . Opportunity in human life is as often judgment as it is salvation.” (Motyer, p. 79)

The last three verses send Isaiah in the exact opposite direction of great revival and success. It is a ministry that will last until the cities are utterly desolate and the remnant sent into exile.

Verse 12 says that even the tenth (remnant) remains only to be burned again, the last hope – the only hope is that God will, out of the stump, make a tender shoot grow up.  This is a prophecy of the Messiah who would become the “Branch” of which we read in Isa. 4:2.

Let us make sure we are not less than the donkeys and oxen (1:3), but understand, hear and see what God has revealed to His people who must believe and obey that Word.  Perhaps it is not too late, but one thing is sure, no one can continue to rebel against God with impunity.  There will come a day when it is too late.

I pray that no reader of this study will end up in that sad state.

Isaiah the Evangelist

March 3, 2009

Isaiah is known as the “king of prophets,” “the prince of OT preachers,” and most importantly, the “exalted evangelist of the gospel” some 750 years before that gospel was accomplished in the cross of Christ and preached as an accomplished fact in history.  Two of the early Church Fathers of the Christian era spoke in this way:
 Jerome says: “I shall expound Isaiah in such a manner that he shall appear not as a prophet only, but as an Evangelist and an Apostle”
And Augustine: “Isaiah deserved the name of an Evangelist rather than that of a Prophet.”

For this first study, I would like to simply point to some of the many prophecies that refer to a coming One who would deal with sin and bring deliverance to those who would believe in that One.  Later studies will deal with other riches in this great book.

In Isaiah 4:2-6 we read of the “Branch” who would come, and wash away the filth and sin of Zion (Jerusalem), ending in such a way that God’s glory would be like a canopy over all.  Jeremiah 23:5-6 explains the “Branch” further.

Isaiah 7:14 speaks of “the virgin who will conceive, bear a son; that son would be given the name Immanuel, which means God with us.”

No one can read the passage in Isa. 9:6-7 without having the sounds of Handel’s Messiah ringing in their heart.  This One is further named (a name in the OT was not just a moniker by which one was called to supper, but a verbal picture of the character of that One) as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.

Chapter 11 tells us of the “shoot” that will come forth from the “stump of Jesse,” (a reference to the line of King David) and that One will be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.  Further, it will usher in a spirit of peace and amiability to a world filled with violence of tooth and claw.  Go back and read Isa. 2:1-5 in this same light.

Isa 16:5 prophecies of one of the line of David who will sit on a throne established in steadfast love (chesed – a word in a previous blog) and faithfulness

God promises in chapter 25:6-9 that He will swallow us (destroy) the shroud that covers all peoples and nations (death) and show Himself to be the savior the people had been looking for.  This is none other than the work this One would accomplish at the cross.

Glimpses of the coming King are found in 32:1 and 33:17, 22.

In the second part of this great book, Isaiah paints a picture of the coming of one who would be a voice in the wilderness (John the Baptizer) crying, “Prepare the Way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Again, Handel’s music wells up in our ears and hearts!

Then there are four passages which have traditionally been called the “Servant Songs.”  They are found in 42:1-7; 49:1-9; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12.

Add to the above the following: 59:16-20; 63:1-6 and finally 66:18-23 picturing to Old Testament minds and hearts the finale similar to John’s vision in Revelation 21 and 22.