Study in Israel this Spring!

Study in Israel this Spring!
the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel

Friday, July 29, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for July 30, Isaiah 59-63.

Today's readings are Isaiah 59-63. Tomorrow's are Isaiah 64-66. 

Isaiah 59 begins with an indictment of Israel, listing the offenses it has perpetrated against God. Isaiah 59:16 is a stunner. God saw the unrighteousness of Israel and brought salvation by "His own arm" and by "His righteousness". Note that these proclamations bear the inference that Israel is neither righteous nor able to save itself. These are actually thinly veiled hints that God Himself will come down to redeem His people. 

In this, we see another shift occurring. The King who appears in the first third of the book becomes a servant and will, by the hand of God, become a conqueror! 

Isaiah 60 expands upon this idea. The glory of the Lord will rise up in Israel. The nations of the world will honor her and her King. The Jews, who were once despised and rejected will be honored for their relationship to their redeeming God. 

We hear the words of the conquering Redeemer in Isaiah 61-63. God's people will be lifted up and those who oppress them will be judged.  

None of this is reasonable in a worldly sense. Kings don't serve and servants don't conquer. Yet this is God's plan for redeeming His people. It's also the echo of a beautiful truth that will become crystal clear the moment Jesus kneels down and washes the feet of His disciples. The way to eternal victory is through humility and service.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for July 29, Isaiah 54-58

Today's readings are Isaiah 54-58. Tomorrow's are Isaiah 59-63. 

After the dramatic shift from a focus on the nation as the suffering servant to a focus on the person who will become the suffering servant and the Redeemer, Isaiah continues to develop the identity of the suffering servant, the man who would become the Messiah. Is 54 tells us the Maker is the Husband of His people and the Holy One of Israel is their redeemer.

His great compassion for His people is detailed in Is 55. He is gracious and will deliver His people but they have to do their part in pursuing His righteousness (Is 55:6-9). 

We find a huge surprise in Is 56:1-8. Foreigners can partake of God's blessings. The Jews will struggle for centuries over what these verses mean, eventually misinterpreting them as deeming  it necessary for anyone wanting a relationship with God to become Jewish. This notion is actually the antithesis of grace which comes freely and is unmerited. God does not require those who come to Him to change before coming to Him. He will take them as they are, then He will transform them.

The blessing to the nations and the redemption of His people will occur regardless of the failing of Israel's leaders (Is 56:9-12) and their ungodly worship of idols (Is 57:1-13). Then it becomes apparent that only those who repent with a contrite heart will be delivered (Is 57:14-16). 

Is 58 carries this idea further, indicting those who perform empty religious rituals that are not God-centered. It is not the method of worship, the nationality of birth, the position occupied or the social rank that will save. It is a heart that worships and longs to please God. One that surrenders completely to the suffering Servant, sent by God to redeem His people. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for July 28, Isaiah 49-53

Today's readings are Isaiah 49-53. Tomorrow's are Isaiah 54-58. 

Isaiah 49 is crucial to our understanding of the narrative of Isaiah. It is a description of the servant of the Lord who, up until now, has been Israel. Isaiah's story line, so far, has been about a king, a leader, who eventually becomes a servant. There are parallels between the king Israel's history. They are God's chosen people, His messengers, leaders assigned to proclaim His word and His will in every way. They, like their king, have become servants, carried away by hostile nations. Yet, God promises redemption for them and has promised to bless the world through them. 

The opening verses of Is 49 personify the servant. No lonegr a nation, He is represented as a man. He has been formed in the womb and has a name (Is 49:1). His mouth is like a sharp sword (Is 49:2). In vs 3, His name is Israel but the reference is no longer to the nation, it is to an individual. 

God will use this person to redeem Jacob (the undivided nation of Israel). He will be God's strength and the "light of the world". The personification is complete when the person is designated as "the Holy One", the redeemer of Israel (Is 49:7). The rest of the chapter is devoted to reminding the nation of Israel of their role in God's plan and the promises He has made to them.

Isaiah has been leading up to this. The kingdoms will fall, God will redeem the remnant and bring them home. He will do this through His servant, the Holy One of Israel. The prophecies we've heard are not just for the immediate future of Israel, they are the revelation of God's plan of redemption for all eternity. 

This is made more clear with Is 50. Israel has been rebellious, the Servant will be obedient. Nonetheless, those who believe in Him will be saved Is 50:10-11). Is 51 develops this point further.

There is startling news in Is 52-53 as God's plan for redemption becomes clear. The deliverance will come through the suffering of the Servant. He will be despised and rejected by His own people. God will afflict Him and crush Him, putting the sin of many upon Him. Finally, once the sin is placed upon Him, God's wrath will be satisfied and the Servant will be exalted (Is 53:10-12). 

It's an incredible twist to the story of a chosen people. Even though they have been unfaithful and disobedient, God, by His grace, will deliver all those who believe through the suffering of His only Son. 

The foundation for redemption is laid. The details will not be understood for nearly eight centuries, not until Jesus Christ, the suffering servant, appears and suffers, taking on the sins of all believers, the sins of you and me, absorbing the wrath of God for us, in our place, and then being lifted up into heaven.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for July 27, 2 Kings 19, Psalms 46, 80, 135

Today's readings are 2 Kings 19, Psalms 46, 80, 135. Tomorrow's are Isaiah 49-53. 

In response to the threats of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, King Hezekiah tears his clothes and consults with God's prophet, Isaiah, in 2 Kings 19. 

Not only does Hezekiah turn to a prophet, but he bows before the Lord asking for help in a dire situation (2 Kings 14-19). As a result of Hezekiah's godly humility and dependence, 185,000 of the enemy are supernaturally struck down and Jerusalem is spared. 

This is what distinguishes Hezekiah from many of the kings of Israel and Judah who have gone before. This is what makes him a good and godly king. When in trouble, rather than seeking the wisdom of friends and forming earthly alliances, he turns toward God's messenger, throws himself upon the mercy of God and trust God to deliver His people and be true to His promises.

Hezekiah provides us with a great template for war. But, he also shows us a great template for confronting hard times in our personal lives as well. While many are tempted to gain the advice of friends and align themselves with worldly methods of dealing with trouble, God's people should rely solely upon Him. 

The true victory comes in trusting Him, not in gaining the upper hand in a tough situation. Worldly wisdom and ways will show us how to gain victory for today, how to become the "winner". That kind of victory can be breathtakingly short lived and unsatisfying. God's wisdom and His ways will show us how to gain victory for all eternity. 

For evidence of this truth, look at the Psalms in our readings today. Psalm 46 proclaims that God is our fortress. Hezekiah needs a fortress that will be unshaken when attacked by a king that has shaken some of the strongest fortresses in the world. God will not be shaken. As a matter of fact, when we read the final verses of 2 Kings 19, we see that King Sennacherib of the mighty Assyrians is the one who is shaken!

Psalm 80 places trust in God to restore His people after the battle. And Psalm 135 proclaims the eternal nature of God and His sovereign power, the same power that guarantees the victories in Jerusalem and in our lives.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for July 26, Isaiah 44-48.

Today's readings are Isaiah 44-48. Tomorrow's are 2 Kings 19, Psalms 36, 80, 135. 

Isaiah 44 reinforces the idea that Israel is the servant and God is the King. Is 44:7 tells them to fear not, a wise bit of guidance given their precarious position. The destiny of those who worship idols (those who have subjugated God's people) is secure. They will pay for their rejection of God and the oppression of His people and He will redeem Israel.  

The way God will redeem Israel is by a king named Cyrus (Is 45). This will be King Cyrus of Persia, who God will raise up for the specific purpose of delivering Israel and Judah out of captivity and sending them back to Jerusalem. Lest there be any misunderstanding, Isaiah makes it clear that the Lord is the only savior, all salvation happens by His hand alone. 

Is 46-47 are prophecies against Babylon and the Chaldeans, the warrior nations that have taken Israel and Judah into captivity. God asserts Himself in these passages bringing Babylon's reign down to a very short seventy years. 

We find that all this happens to Israel and Judah to refine them in Is 48:7-11. God refines His chosen people for His own sake, to put His glory on display (Is 48:9-11). 

In the rest of the chapter, He calls them to obey His commandments, flee for Babylon and return to Him. From here on through the rest of the Scriptures, Babylon will become synonymous with sin and the fallen world. 

We would do well to remember the reason Israel is refined. It is for the sake of God's reputation. While this may seem rather selfish to some, it is actually an assurance of our own sanctification and salvation. As we have seen repeatedly in the Scriptures, God is faithful and true. He promises to refine and bring home all of His faithful children. We can count on Him being true to that promise for the sake of His name and reputation. This takes the burden of maintaining our salvation, or trying to accomplish our own sanctification, out of our hands and places it securely in His.