Only God and his word are eternal

When reading prophetic scripture, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. In the days of Isaiah Assyria and Babylon were the dominant countries. One might think those countries would last for many years, but that was not God’s will.

Compared to the God of heaven the nations are “as a drop in a bucket,” (Isaiah 40:15). It was true that Assyria, Babylon and even Philistia enjoyed dominating other nations for many years but the Almighty curtailed the power of all three.

Trust in any nation is misplaced. No head of state is immortal. Each one will die and change inevitably comes according to God’s plan. In every nation, there are those who wish to hold power for years on end only to find they are mortal indeed.

The lesson in Isaiah 14 is simple. Where should people place their trust? People come and go. Only God is eternal, and only God’s word endures through the ages.

Pride in a nation is a common stumbling block. A fall often follows pride (Proverbs 16:18). Human governments do not last for eternity; only God does. God should have our complete trust and obedience.

God told Philistia, which had been a thorn in Israel’s side for hundreds of years, not to rejoice. It seemed as though the fall of the northern ten tribes of Judah meant the ascendance of Philistia, but God said that was not going to happen (Isaiah 14:29-32).

There are no guarantees for national existence. The only reality worth trusting is the immortal God who rules over the lives of mankind.

True peace from justice

What is peace? For many people, peace means the absence of conflict. That’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars, World War II cost more than $4 trillion. Why would America spend all that money to end conflict? Wouldn’t the nation save untold dollars and American lives just by staying out of the fight?

The United States joined the war after Japan attacked it, that’s true. But it also declared war against Nazi Germany and Italy. There were three nations in what was called the “Axis.” We called it an “Axis of evil,” and fought against all three countries for a reason: they were doing things America considered to be fundamentally and morally wrong.

Peace, therefore, is not just the absence of conflict. It is the presence of justice. After World War II, there were trials for war crimes committed. When the defendants challenged the authority for bringing charges and prosecuting those crimes, the military attorneys justified the actions of the U.S. saying there was a higher law involved. Achieving peace is never by victory alone. There has to be justice for violations of a higher law.

Isaiah, by the inspiration of God, wrote about this higher law and its lawgiver in Isaiah chapter 11. He wrote in two verses about a person who would come and bring righteousness with him. The meaning of that word is simple: it is right doing according to God’s law, the higher law.

The result of right doing in Isaiah’s eleventh chapter is peace (Isaiah 11:4-11). The Christ would come and establish peace by creating justice. He would show people how to do what is right in God’s sight and how to achieve it through a system of obedient faith in him (Galatians 3:26-27).

If we want peace in our lives, then we must obey the one who brought justice and peace to the world through his teaching of obedient faith. Christ is the only one who can provide real peace. To have peace, however, we must carefully obey his word. If we love him, we will (John 14:15).

What is your answer?

A scant 17 years after destroying Samaria, capital of Israel in the Divided Kingdom, the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was sacked and burned by the Babylonians.

How could such a powerful and feared kingdom find itself reduced to ashes so quickly? God had used Assyria to take Israel into captivity, but God’s judgment against Nineveh also fell with speed.

God told Isaiah, “Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it?” (Isaiah 10:15a). God used Assyria to produce the results he wanted. God used that nation’s power to affect his design.

Just as he used Assyria to his purposes, God would use Babylon to take the southern kingdom, Judah, into captivity. Only 125 years after northern Israel went away to Assyria, Babylon placed Jerusalem under siege and finally carted its people back to its capital for 70-years captivity.

God said after all of this was over, “the house of Jacob who have escaped will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel,” (Isaiah 10:20 NASB).

God loved his people. He wanted them to admit their sin and desired their reconciliation. This Ezra would do when he brought the remnant of Judah back in 445 B.C. God was preparing the restoration of his people even as they left for captivity. It was unfortunate that sin had clouded Israel and Judah’s judgment, or both might have spared themselves from the terrors of Assyria and Babylon.

God wants to show all compassion. He wants to save all of mankind (1 Timothy 1:15). God sent his son into the world to save sinners, and all of us have sinned (Matthew 1:21; Romans 6:23). He is waiting for you to decide to obey the gospel. What is your answer?

Condemned to repeat history?

Many people don’t like to face correction.

The northern ten tribes of Israel in the Divided Kingdom wouldn’t face the truth. The Syrians in the west and the Philistines in the east threatened to surround them, but the harshest threat was soon to come from the north: the Assyrians.

The Syrians had been Israel’s allies against Judah, but God told Isaiah Damascus would soon become a problem for the northern kingdom (Isaiah 9:12). Philistia and Israel had long been enemies, but Israel had almost destroyed the Canaanite nation when David was king. The Philistines were returning to strength and Israel was its target.

Had Israel turned back to God and changed its ways there is evidence God would have forgiven them and delivered them from the terror to come. Israel, however, would not be convinced it was wrong and ignored all the evidence. Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, was destroyed in 722 B.C. and most of its people suffered Assyrian captivity.

Israel’s people had deceived themselves. They had told themselves they were at peace and no threat existed. They believed their economic success assured their continued existence. They could not have been more wrong.

George Santayana, the 20th Century philosopher, essayist and poet wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It only seems as if history repeats itself. It is the failure of people to learn from their own mistakes.

Israel would not accept the truth Isaiah told them by the inspiration of God (Isaiah 9:15-17). As a result, it was carried away captive. Many people even today will not accept the correction God offers them so they might save themselves.

God gives us a choice to obey him and find salvation or refuse to listen and suffer the consequences. What is your choice?

God rewards those who obey

The clock on Israel’s national life was counting down, and the nation didn’t even realize it.

Pekah, king of the ten northern tribes of Israel and Rezin, Syria’s king, formed an alliance against Tiglath-Pilesar III, of Assyria. Ahaz, Judah’s king, refused to join and was attacked by the coalition and the Philistines. Ahaz asked Assyria for help.

Tiglath-Pilesar III subdued the Philistines who opportunistically attacked Judah and then struck Israel carrying many people away into captivity (2 Kings 15:29). Pekah was murdered, and the Syrians surrendered to Tiglath-Pilesar III (2 Kings 15:30).

In 722 B.C., Assyria overcame Israel, and its people left their land in captivity.

Before all this transpired, God told Isaiah to tell Ahaz about all of this. The prophet warned Ahaz saying, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last,” (Isaiah 7:9 NASB). If Ahaz did what God said, his kingdom would survive. If not, Ahaz and Judah would not last.

Historically, and even today, God predicates his approval and blessings on the absolute necessity of obedience. He warned Israel if it did not obey him it would lose its inheritance (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 15, 45). Israel did not believe God and disobeyed him and lost everything.

How can people violate God’s commandments and think of themselves as saved? Israel and Judah disobeyed and lost their countries. Does it make any sense that God would treat us differently?

But, there are those who treat God’s commandment of baptism (Acts 2:38, 10:48) as if it was something God said one could do if one wanted.

We should all understand that belief without obedience to God’s commands is not faith. The writer of Hebrews wrote that those who come to God must not only believe he exists but that he rewards those who obey him (Hebrews 11:6).

As we are

Many people don’t like to appear in a photograph. As a newspaper reporter, I’ve met several who didn’t want their picture published in the newspaper. Although I usually never asked why some told me they didn’t like the way the camera depicts them.

A camera only places an image on film or a memory disk. It doesn’t criticize. It doesn’t make jokes about someone’s appearance. It only takes a moment in time and memorializes it.

Isaiah wrote there was a moment when he stood in the presence of the Lord (Isaiah 6:1). He saw the Seraphim, the angels who continually praise God and heard them proclaim his holiness, purity, and power. His response to God’s glory, however, was not about the Lord, but about himself.

“Woe is me, for I am ruined,” Isaiah exclaimed. At the moment the prophet saw the Lord he realized the truth about himself. Don Shackelford wrote, “Humankind’s problem has always been that we compare ourselves to others rather than to God.”[1]

It is very possible in our lifetimes that we look at ourselves in the mirror, in photographs, videos or even in the newspapers and never really see ourselves. We see others and may criticize them for their shortcomings, but we never see what we are. We are all sinners. We all need forgiveness.

One of the angels carried a “coal” taken from the altar and applied it to Isaiah’s lips and said, “your sin is forgiven,” (Isaiah 6:6). There is a great lesson in this simple statement.

God sees us warts, sin and all and still loves us. He wants to forgive us, but if we love him, we must see ourselves as we are, and we must cleanse ourselves from our sins by obeying the gospel just as people did in the apostles’ day (Acts 2:37-39). Do you want forgiveness? God is ready. Are you?

[1]Truth for Today Commentary: Isaiah” by Don Shackelford, Eddie Cloer general editor, Resource Publications, page 95.

The Anesthetic of Sin

My wife was quite amused during my last appointment with an oral surgeon.

What caused her laughter was what I said after the procedure was over. While I was under the influence of the anesthetic, I said some silly, stupid things that bore no relationship to good sense.

People living in sin don’t realize that they say and do some wrong and foolish things. Isaiah described some of these in Isaiah 5:18-19. First, there is a picture of people dragging a cart laden with iniquity with “cords of falsehood.” They are hopeless servants of sin who don’t realize the price they are paying.

Instead of a cart pulled by animals, deceived and captive people dragged it. These poor people lied to themselves about how great idolatry was. Their sin showed their misunderstanding. They were the servants of sin pulling a heavy cart.

Sin is like a mosquito. The small insect has a numbing agent in its saliva that produces a nearly painless puncture of human skin without the host knowing what it does. Sin’s anesthetic is so powerful the ones enslaved by it think they’re free. The truth is, iniquity is the master that has its servants dragging its cart.

The deception of Judah by sin was effective. The people mocked God’s prophecy of judgment by telling God to hurry up on his threats of captivity. They shouted that God should fulfill his purpose so that they could know it (Isaiah 5:19).

How lost are those who have been deceived and deadened by sin’s sting! How little do they understand the slippery slope they are sliding to their destruction.

Has sin deceived you? Are you living in rebellion against God not caring what may happen to your soul? If so, it’s time to overcome sin by obeying the gospel and leaving the bondage of sin. Are you dragging a cart around as its slave?

The vineyard God made

My sister-in-law’s husband was a farmer. He’s retired now and only raises a small number of cattle, but he owned and worked thousands of acres of land.

While many people think farming is haphazard, Dwight’s brand of agriculture was scientific. He knew exactly how deep to plant the seed. He knew how much seed would go into the ground per acre and he calculated the amount of corn or soybeans he could expect to harvest for each acre.

Most years, Dwight’s efforts resulted in excellent yields and a good income. Since farming relies on the right conditions and since those conditions are unpredictable, there are years in which returns are less than expected. In times of drought, disaster is always a possibility. Then, there can be a grave disappointment.

God told the prophet Isaiah about the vineyard he had built. He built it on the best soil, prepared the ground well on a lush hill and removed its stones. He made improvements to the land and built a vat for the juice he hoped to produce. He expected the best grapes to come from that vineyard, but instead when the harvest came found the worst.

What a disappointment! What more could he have done? Where had he failed?

The vineyard God built was the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7). God expected Israel to become a nation of righteousness, but the people had other ideas. Israel failed to honor its God. It should have become a light to others. It wasn’t God’s fault that Israel chose the wrong road. He had done everything he could to protect and provide for his people. They just walked away from him. God had done all he could to help Israel. He hadn’t failed, the people had.

God’s words of woe to Israel are instructive to us today. Many of the mistakes Israel made and the consequences it suffered are things of which people are currently guilty. Israel was fond of alcohol (Isaiah 5:11). It became a nation of liars (Isaiah 5:18). Israel adopted a desire for evil instead of good and frequently confused the two (Isaiah 5:20). They were wise in their own eyes, meaning they thought they were smarter than God himself (Isaiah 5:21). They were people who would make it appear the wicked were right for offering or accepting a bribe (Isaiah 5:23).

Sound familiar? Then it’s time for us to repent and obey God before our nation suffers the same fate as Israel and Judah.

Get the protection you need

Home protection devices are popular. Even if the crime rate remains unchanged people will keep buying burglar alarms and home security systems. Most people consider protection from calamity or crime to be significantly important.

But what about spiritual protection? Shrinking numbers of church members may show this is not a chief concern. In our day, spirituality is lower on our list of priorities than physical ones. But, is that right?

“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious,” Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 4:2 NASB). The prophet saw the same thing other prophets would see (Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8). He saw the descendant of David whose name would be called Jesus, the savior of his people from sin (Matthew 1:21).

A remnant would return from captivity and Jerusalem would become the city it once was, Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 4:3). The coming holy one would call on people to separate themselves from the world and become what God wanted and live apart from sin.

The rise of God’s people would recall the glory days of Israel and how God led it by a pillar of cloud by day and a column of fire at night (Isaiah 4:5). There would be refuge and protection for God’s people from the storm and the rain.

Think about this for a moment. How does God protect his people? They are made secure from the threats of sinfulness and Satan by the son of God who came to save them from their sins.

For years, Satan used the power of death against us. Death creates terrible fear. Before Christ came, avoiding death was a powerful motive. Even now some people will do anything, spend any amount of money to prevent death.

But Jesus destroyed the power Satan used to enslave us. In providing his blood as a once-for-all sacrifice for sins, Jesus took that power out of Satan’s hands. Jesus came to earth as a man and suffered the death on the cross to overcome death by resurrection showing us we will live again by the power of God.

Do you possess this wonderful security system? Isn’t this the kind of protection you need so you can live your life without fear of the unknown? You cannot buy this system, but God is willing to give it to you if you obey the gospel.

Are we any better?

The Lord God set up a system of rule in Judah in which older citizens were leaders in the nation and respected. As that nation continued to slide further and further away from God, people ignored the qualification of age. People appointed leaders from younger, inexperienced candidates. Respect for the experience and knowledge of the older, more qualified leaders waned. Slowly, Judah was replacing God’s system for one of their own because they had turned their backs on the Lord.

Isaiah, by the inspiration of God, diagnosed the problem. He wrote Judah had become more like Sodom (Isaiah 3:8-12). In other words, Judah experienced the worst evil anyone had ever seen. The prophet saw the punishment coming to Judah was well deserved and cried out over what he knew would happen (Isaiah 3:12).

Isaiah described the wealth of Judah before its people would go into captivity. He wrote of the women and how their pride and fancy jewelry would disappear. The Lord told the prophet about a stark contrast that would come over the nation. Instead of perfume, the smell of decay would haunt Judah. Instead of nicely styled hair, a “plucked out scalp.” The gates of the city of Jerusalem would mourn the deaths of its “mighty men” who went into battle (Isaiah 3:24-26).

This picture must have been hard to believe in the Judah of Isaiah’s day. Judah enjoyed its greatest prosperity in Isaiah’s lifetime. The forecast of danger must have fallen on deaf ears of a people who were experiencing “lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

What a wonderful and blessed nation we are in America! We, too, live in a land of plenty. We also live in a society where the aged are shut away and treated as if they were an encumbrance. We, too, live in a nation where experience and wisdom have little to do with those in charge of the government. We also live in a time where prosperity defines us as much as it defined Judah.

Is there a period of captivity waiting for the United States? We certainly pray that such never happens. But, how can we think that the sinfulness in our nation is any less dangerous to us than it was to Judah at the end of the Divided Kingdom? Do we honestly believe we are better than those people who went into Babylonian Captivity?

Men will be humiliated

The message of God for Judah and Jerusalem in Isaiah chapter 2 included something the nation needed very badly and would receive from God.

“Proud men will be brought low, arrogant men will be humiliated; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” God told his prophet.

Sometimes it is possible for my ego to convince me something that isn’t true. Ego says it can sustain or enhance life all by itself. Ego takes responsibility for all the good things that happen and denies any negative consequences.

The prophets tried to tell Judah not to rely on itself but to rely on God. Jeremiah told Judah it was not possible for humanity to direct its steps (Jeremiah 10:23). Did Judah listen? Unfortunately, it did not. It became necessary for Judah to enter Babylonian captivity.

But God was not trying to hurt Judah when he humbled it. He was trying to help it. Yes, that doesn’t seem to make much sense, but it can.

Often it isn’t possible to realize how beautiful it is in the mountains until one has been in the valley. When one is humbled, it is possible for one to learn how much wisdom there is down there. While spending time in the valley is often not pleasant, we can learn how profitable hardship can be if we learn the lessons God wants to teach us.

The truth is that we need to become humble. We need to learn that we can’t and shouldn’t depend on ourselves for everything. We need to learn not to try and outrun God. It is when we do try to race him that we can fall.

By humbling us, God is trying to help us realize the importance of following and obeying him.

Sin’s consequences

What we believe about God sometimes depends on what we will accept.

Most people believe in God’s grace and love and they should. God’s grace and love are taught everywhere in the scriptures. The apostle John wrote, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8, 16).

Many people don’t believe God will punish sinners. They don’t want to believe God will execute his wrath on those who disobey him regardless of what the scriptures teach.

It is impossible to believe in God’s grace and love and somehow disbelieve God’s wrath on the disobedient. Paul, in his lovely book to the Romans, wrote, “Behold the kindness and the severity of God,” (Romans 11:22 NASB).

In Isaiah 1:28-31 the prophet explained the terrible consequences that were coming upon Israel and Judah because of its idolatry and unfaithfulness. God said that instead of choosing to obey him, his people had selected “oaks” and “gardens,” (Isaiah 1:29). They had wanted to worship idols instead of remaining faithful to him.

Didn’t God have a right to expect Israel and Judah to remain faithful? God told them he expected their obedience and God told them what would happen if they disobeyed him (Deuteronomy 28:15).

Sin’s consequences are lost on the majority of those who have lived on the Earth. Even today there are those whose unfaithfulness has caused or will cause them to suffer for sin. Then, they accuse God of being careless in punishing them when they are the cause of their sorrow.

Avoiding most of this sorrow is as simple as obeying God and remaining faithful to him. But, have you obeyed God and have you stayed faithful?

Are you better off?

In 1980, Ronald Reagan debated Jimmy Carter in that year’s presidential contest. Reagan asked a question that resonated with voters. “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Reagan asked.

Many people believe the measure of a government is how much economically “better off” citizens are. The true measure of a nation is much different.

God’s people in the prophet Isaiah’s time were wealthy and successful. God was dissatisfied with Israel because they were guilty of sin. Israel had forgotten its primary allegiance and its most profound need was its obedience to God.

Homer Hailey, in his classic commentary of Isaiah wrote, “All of this accumulation of material wealth and power had led the Jews to forget their dependence on God.”[1] Israel had begun to think its success was assured because it was successful. Little did it realize that material wealth is a terrible indicator of national well-being.

What is a good sign of national success? In Isaiah 2, God said the acid test of any nation is how it cares for the poor. God asked, “What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the face of the poor?” (Isaiah 3:15 NASB). Israel was crushing people and grinding their faces. Israel was instructed to care for the poor and the orphan, but in its sinfulness, it was hurting those who were least able to defend themselves.

Economic indicators are a popular method of measuring success by many people, but that is not the way God views it. The prophet Amos also took the northern kingdom of Israel to task for failing to care for its poor (Amos 4:1; 5:11, 12).

Why is it that caring for the poor is the true measure of a people? If a nation cares for its poor, it is doing so in obedience to the commands of God. It is selfishness and ungodliness that drives governments (and people who run them) to neglect those who need help.

[1] “A Commentary on Isaiah,” by Homer Hailey, Baker Publishing, Page 50.

Turn right and go straight

Occasionally, my wife and I disagree. Don’t all marriages have these problems? Usually, these difficulties center around something trivial. Only rarely are they serious matters.

An examination of the Old Testament scriptures shows how much patience God displayed toward Israel. Even after the nation divided, God showed enormous restraint. But by the time of Isaiah’s book, his patience was growing very, very thin.

In Isaiah 1:10-20, the Lord God began identifying his people as Sodom and Gomorrah. The two unholy cities had been destroyed ages ago and chronicled in the book of Genesis, but his people reminded God of them and their rank disobedience.

What probably made things worse was the practice of worshipping idols and God almost at the same time. Idolatry was rank in the northern ten tribes, but it was also a problem in Judah, the southern kingdom. Judah was attempting to have both God and idols.

God’s anger is plain in that first chapter of Isaiah. He accused his people of trampling his courts, offering meaningless sacrifices, attending worthless assemblies and burning detestable incense. He told them in no uncertain terms he was hiding his eyes, closing his ears to their prayers because their hands were bloody (Isaiah 1:15).

The solution was simple: turn right and go straight! They needed to wash the filth of sin away. “Wash and make yourselves clean!” God exclaimed. The righteous God cannot abide sin, and its presence is utterly foreign to him. How can mankind live within the scope of its influence and yet ask him for help?

God told his people, “Let’s settle the matter!” God wanted to forgive his people, but they had to start doing what was right. They needed to seek justice, or right doing.

Maybe it’s time for you to think about putting away your sinful practices. God only wants you to do the same thing he wanted for Israel. Turn right and go straight! Learn to do what is right and just. Obey God and put sin away forever.

Weighed down?

Few people who are morbidly obese understand how much weight they are carrying.

Three years ago, I weighed about 220 pounds. I never realized just what that meant until I had a heart attack that put me in the hospital for 45 days. Afterward, I had lost about 50 pounds, but much of that was muscle meaning I couldn’t walk.

For the next seven months, I went through rehab and cardiac rehab which involved walking three or four times each week. Gradually walking became easier. My weight continued to drop with exercise to 170 and then 160 pounds.

I didn’t learn how much easier it was walking and exercising until I finally played a round of golf. Before my cardiac problems, playing golf was a trial for me. On my return to the course, I played 18 holes before I even felt a twinge of fatigue. I didn’t know how heavy I was or how sick I was.

God ached for his people because they were overcome by sin. In Isaiah 1:4, the Lord God described his people as “laden with iniquity.” This phrase meant the people were under a heavy, massive, burdensome weight. Different translations of the verse include the words, “weighed down,” or “loaded down” with iniquity. One commentary described the term as “a people bearing heavy sins.”

People weighed down with sin don’t realize how much burden they bear. They have carried iniquity around for so long they don’t understand what they’re doing to themselves.

It’s easy for those lost in sin to criticize faithful Christians for believing and obeying the Bible. But they don’t know how bad their spiritual condition or how laden with sin and guilt they are. They have no idea what a burden they are carrying.

If you are living a sin-laden life, it’s time you took a look at the burden you’ve carried on your back. You don’t have to bear it. Give it to the Lord by obeying the gospel. He’ll take the weight. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28 NKJV). He’s waiting for you to let him help. Want to rest from carrying that burden? You can. It’s up to you.