Monday, January 19, 2009
So, I finished Isaiah.
Not an easy book. And made slightly more difficult because Isaiah doesn't do us the kindness of making himself clear with the details -- like who is speaking? What does this prophecy refer to? Where does this prophecy end and the next one begin. I have friends who read Isaiah and consider the whole book mush -- a little like something you'd get if you put your whole dinner into a blender. Hard to tell what was steak and what was apple crisp.
But remember, Isaiah didn't really have the details either. He just tells us what God says, in no particular order, with little or no understanding of the events he portrays.
So, when I read, it helps me to think of Isaiah as a pile of transparency sheets. (remember those from the days of overhead projectors?) On each sheet is a complete, or nearly complete photograph. However, when you layer all the photos on top of one another, the result would appear as a composite of all the photos -- because you could see through the empty space on photo A all the way to the details on photo C.
It would be a little like a photo created in a blender!
Not easy to figure out, right?
Still, rather than throw the whole thing out, choose to focus on the events you do recognize. For instance, I found this in the last chapter...
"Before the birth pains even begin, Jerusalem gives birth to a son. Who has ever seen or heard of anything as strange as this? Has a nation ever been born in a single day? Has a country ever come forth in a mere moment? But by the time Jerusalem's birth pains begin, the baby will be born; the nation will come forth. "Would I ever bring this nation to the point of birth and then not deliver it?" asks the LORD. "No I would never keep this nation from being born," says your God."
Anyone who has studied the history of present-day Israel knows that the nation did indeed come forth on a single day. After WW I, the League of Nations granted the British a mandate in Palestine, which was populated largely by Arab muslims (outside Jerusalem) and Jews in the city. The mandate included the purpose of providing a safe haven for Jewish emigration. After WW II, displaced Jews from all over Europe fled their old lives to begin again in the region of Jerusalem. As the population swelled, the Palestinians worried about the new emigrants. Tension increased. The Arabs wanted to drive the Jews out. The Jews saw independence as the only route to safety. The demand for an independent Jewish nation rose to a mighty roar.
Knowing that the Palestinians were armed, the British set a date to withdraw. They had NOT allowed the Jews to arm themselves. The scene was set for a bloodbath between the Jews and the Palestinians. On May 14, 1948, the day before the British Mandate was set to end, the Jewish Agency declared their independence.
Within 24 hours the Jewish state was born. When the British withdrew, the war between the Arabs and Jews became a fight for survival which has erupted in various forms over the intervening years.
A nation in a single day. It happened. Against all odds, the unarmed (officially), untrained, unorganized emigrants declared themselves a nation, and when the ensuing war began, they proved Isaiah correct.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Most folks make a stab at resolutions; instead, I think about projects.
So, I thought I'd share with you one that I'm working on. While at a service in Gig Harbor, at my in-law's church, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to work on this: An outline of the gospels.
Here is what I was thinking about. I'd like to propose a Gospel book as a Bible Study to the publisher responsible for Jeremiah. (my study) And as I was pondering that with the Lord (while I ought to have been listening to the sermon), I got the thought that to do ANY gospel, I need to have a firm hold on ALL the gospels.
So, here is what I did: I went to an office supply store and bought a GIANT post-it like pad. I've divided the page into four columns, and I've labeled each with a Gospel. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Then, I started in. Matthew chapter one. Mark chapter one. Now, as one of my close friends says, "It's a slow way to serve the Lord."
In this case she's right! At the same time, I've been amazed at what I've been discovering. Repetitive phrases. Key words. Intriguing ideas.
So, I'm letting you know that this will be my day project for a while. At the same time, I'm working through Isaiah.
I'll leave you with this quote from the 47th chapter of Isaiah: God speaking.
"You are a pleasure-crazy kingdom, living at ease and feeling secure, bragging as if you were the greatest in the world! You say, 'I'm self sufficient and not accountable to anyone! I will never be a widow or lose my children.' Well those two things will come upon you in a moment: widowhood and the loss of your children . . . "
Doesn't that sound familiar? Can you think of a pleasure crazy kingdom nearby?
Saturday, January 3, 2009
I'm reading through Isaiah. And, as I read about Sennacharib who was determined to take Jerusalem at the time of King Hezekiah, I realized that Sennacherib made the same mistake that many people make today.
"All Gods are essentially the same aren't they?"
"Aren't all people praying to the same God -- no matter what they call him?"
"God doesn't care what you call Him, does He?"
"Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, Jesus, Mother Earth, they're really all the same thing, yes?"
Here is how Sennecherib said it, "Don't let Hezekiah mislead you by saying, 'the Lord will rescue us!' Have the gods of any other nations ever saved their people from the king of Assyria?"
The Assyrian King was making a huge mistake. He assumed that the gods of the other nations WERE EXACTLY THE SAME (in power, in authority, in passion, in interest, etc) as the GOD OF ISRAEL.
I have one word for him.
All Gods are not the same. The Bible gives NO ROOM for this kind of thinking. God's answer to Sennacherib:
"Whom do you think you have been insulting and ridiculing? Against whom did you raise your voice? At whom did you look in such proud condescension? It was the Holy One of Israel!" (Isaiah 37:23)
Don't make the same mistake as this foolish king. He woke one morning after mocking God and found 185 thousand of his troops dead. "When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land."
It was a humiliating defeat. Thousands died because he was foolish enough to think: All Gods are the same. No one else has stopped me. The God of Israel won't stop me either.
If you are a believer already, this story reminds us:
God has the power to rescue even against overwhelming odds.
God does not tolerate being mocked.
God hears everyone, even the foolish statements of our enemies.
God responds when we take our troubles to him.
God cares about us, whether our troubles are small, or large. When we are surrounded, when the water is cut off, the food is cut off and our enemy is camped all around us. He listens. He hears. He responds.
Our God is an awesome God.
Don't be fooled. He is like no other.