Monday, July 09, 2012


When they say to you, ‘Consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,’ shouldn't a people consult their God? [Should they consult] the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.” (Isaiah 8:19-20 HCSB)

It is remarkable to me that people will look to the stars for guidance, when they can seek the God who hung the stars in place.  They consult one who reads palms when they should read the Psalms.  People will seek a word from the dead when they could have a word from Christ who has risen from the dead!

This is nothing new. In Isaiah’s time, we see the people confronted over their sin of listening to spiritists, rather than learning from the Scriptures.  The prophet tells them that the only light to be given them for their future course would be given from God’s Word and not in a séance.  That is the way of darkness.

In today’s Scripture portion, we get a message from God, clearly communicated.  There are four facets of this message which we discover in Isaiah 5-8.

The message from God is SUNG IN A SONG in chapter five.

I will sing about the one I love, a song about my loved one's vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” (Isaiah 5:1 HCSB)

It is a love song, but not one of happiness, but rather of heartache.  It is the lyrics of lamentation—of love rejected.  God had done so much for His people.  He planted them in a fertile place and expected fruitful produce, but He was disappointed.  What good is a vineyard, if it doesn’t yield grapes?

What more could I have done for My vineyard than I did?  Why, when I expected a yield of good grapes, did it yield worthless grapes?  Now I will tell you what I am about to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge, and it will be consumed; I will tear down its wall, and it will be trampled.  I will make it a wasteland. It will not be pruned or weeded; thorns and briers will grow up. I will also give orders to the clouds that rain should not fall on it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant He delighted in.  He looked for justice but saw injustice, for righteousness, but heard cries of wretchedness.” (Isaiah 5:4-7 HCSB)

I don’t know the tune, but I do understand the lyrics.  The message set to music is clear.  God expects fruit from our lives.  Jesus echoed this truth, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.  If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:5-6 HCSB)

The message from God is SPOKEN BY A SERVANT in chapter six.

 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for Us?  I said: Here I am. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8 HCSB)

Isaiah has a dramatic encounter with God.  He sees Him on the throne in all His majestic holiness.  Seeing God as He is, enables the prophet to see himself as he truly is and he pours out confession to God.  This confession brings cleansing from sin.  He becomes a clear channel through which the truth of God can now flow without impediment.  God issues a call to be His ambassador and Isaiah responds willingly.

This is what God calls us to do.  We convey the King’s terms to those at war with His will.  Daily, we journey into this foreign land of a sinful world, and offer terms of peace.  Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ's behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’”

Whether people submit to that offer or spurn it, we must steadfastly share it.  That is what we are accountable for—and the sad reality is that many will reject the terms of surrender and keep up the fight to the end.  The end will mean their doom. 

Isaiah was told that most of his congregation would not heed his sermons.

And He replied: Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand;
keep looking, but do not perceive.  Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed. Then I said, ‘Until when, Lord?’ And He replied: Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate, and the Lord drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land.  Though a tenth will remain in the land, it will be burned again.  Like the terebinth or the oak that leaves a stump when felled, the holy seed is the stump.”  (Isaiah 6:9-13 HCSB)

What are we to do, when people won’t listen?  Say it any way!

I have had people ask me before, “How do you preach every week, pour your heart out and people just sit there and don’t respond?”  There are two important answers to that question.  First, it isn’t a choice to preach or not to preach that I make.  God has called me, and I am compelled to communicate His Word whether people accept it or not, whether they like it or not.  The only choice before me is to obey or disobey.  Second, everyone does respond—100% are moved—closer to God in their obedience (few) or farther from God in their defiance (most).  It is impossible that the living Word does not have an effect.  It is promised that it always does.  Later, Isaiah is given this assurance by God, “so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it [to do]." (55:11) The same sun that melts wax, hardens clay.

The message from God is SENT BY A SIGN in chapter seven.

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 HCSB)

We should be careful about seeking signs to confirm the Word of God. When God speaks, that is sufficient.  In fact Jesus declared to the sign-seekers of His day, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign…” (Matt.12:39a).

King Ahaz of Judah understood that.  So, when Jerusalem was threatened by an invasion from the Northern alliance of Israel and Syria, he refused to ask for a sign, “Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz: ‘Ask for a sign from the Lord your God-from the depths of Sheol to the heights of heaven.’  But Ahaz replied, ‘I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.’” (Isaiah 7:10-12 HCSB)

That sounds right, but it was wrong, because in this case, God told him to ask for a sign!  God would give it anyway—and it is one of the most marvelous prophecies in Scripture.

There was an immediate fulfillment in this sign.  A young virgin would marry and have a son.  The boy would eat curds and honey—just enough food to get by—scant provisions—because the land would be ravaged by invaders and Jerusalem would be under siege.  However, before the boy would grow old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong, God would deliver Judah from the invaders through the Assyrians, who had risen to world dominance.  This boy would be called, “Immanuel” as a reminder that God had not forsaken His people.

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.  By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating butter and honey.  For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.  The Lord will bring on you, your people, and the house of your father, such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah-the king of Assyria [is coming]."  (Isaiah 7:14-17 HCSB)

There would be an ultimate fulfillment in this sign.  The prophecy was not just for Ahaz, but for the entire “house of David” (v.13) concerning the future King—the Son of David.  A virgin would conceive—literally, a child to be conceived without a biological father, as Mary would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God.  He would be Immanuel in the absolute sense—God incarnate!  That sign is a reminder that God is still vitally involved in the affairs of mankind.  He is not aloof from the human condition.  Only God could save us, and so He came down to do that very thing!

God has given His ultimate communication in His Son.  John wrote, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us.  We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 HCSB)  It has been said, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and that is what we have in Jesus—the portrait of God.

The message from God is SYMBOLIZED BY A SON in chapter eight.

Then the Lord said to me, ‘Take a large piece of parchment and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-shalal-hash-baz.  I have appointed trustworthy witnesses—Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah.’  I was then intimate with the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. The Lord said to me, ‘Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz, for before the boy knows how to call out father or mother, the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria will be carried off to the king of Assyria.’” (Isaiah 8:1-4 HCSB)

Isaiah would have a son, and would give him a name—what a name—the longest in the Bible.  It was a name filled with symbolic meaning, and translates as, “speed to the spoil and hasten the booty.”  The message meant that the Assyrian Empire would drive away the Syrian and Israeli invaders.  They would conquer the Northern Kingdom and Israel would come into captivity.  But, it would not be without consequence to the Southern Kingdom.  Though the Assyrians will spare Jerusalem, the weakening nation will come under their sway.  One day, when the Assyrians are supplanted by the Babylonian empire, Jerusalem will fall.  They will reject God’s Word and receive God’s wrath.

The Bible is filled with symbolism, but the messages are not cryptic, they are clear—often disclosed in the context of the verses, or interpreted by comparing them with other texts.  These are object lessons furnished for our learning. 

So, God has spoken.  We don’t need a further message.  We just need to hear and heed what He has already said.  Otherwise, we are only fooling ourselves to think that knowing is enough.  Consider this, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22 HCSB)  God’s communication isn’t just about information, but transformation!

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