0622 bible speaks

6/22/2013 7:00 AM

Here I Am!

Background Scripture: Isaiah 65.

Devotional Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9.

According to a majority of biblical scholars, there was more than one “Isaiah” whose writings are preserved in the book that bears his name.

Most believe a second Isaiah wrote chapters 40 to 66, while there are others who believe the second Isaiah wrote only chapters 40-55 and a third Isaiah was responsible for 56-66.

The Book of Isaiah spans a period of 200 to 300 years. If there were two or three Isaiahs, it means only that the others simply followed in the footsteps of the original Isaiah.

The only reason this is important is because, although the situation — Judah and Jerusalem in danger of being obliterated — is much the same as in chapters 1-40, much has also changed.

The Northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., never to be resuscitated. Jerusalem was able to remain relatively free until the Babylonians besieged the city in 587 B.C.

Forty-nine years later, Cyrus decreed that Jews could go to their homeland. Those who did began to repair the walls and the Temple.

What is important, however, is that the oracles of the prophet who wrote chapters 40-66 brought a message of hope that the Jews had not heard for a long time.

This doesn’t mean that the latter Isaiah had an easy time fulfilling his mission. He says: “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask. To be found by those who did not seek me. I said, Here I am, here I am.’ ... I held out my hands to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good” (65:1,2).

Abominable Things

What made the way they walk “not good?”

At first sight, the things he cites do not seem all that damaging: “A people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; who sit inside tombs and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels” (56:3,4).

What makes these facts an offense against God is that all of the practices he named are devoted to gods and spirits that are not of God. It is not that they do these acts in secret, but brazenly in public — “brazenly” because to worship other gods was an outright rejection of the God of the Hebrew people.

“Sacrificing in gardens,” “offering incense on bricks” and sitting “inside tombs” were rituals of the non-Jewish population.

Why did they want to do these things?

They believed it gave them power to get and do what they wanted. They acted as if they were above the laws of their faith: “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you” (65:5).

Verses 5b through 7 record God’s response to these haughty rebels: “These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long. See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent but I will repay. I will indeed pay into their laps their iniquities and their ancestors’ inequities together, because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.”

Still a Blessing

And then there is a dramatic difference in the prophetic message: “Thus says the Lord, as the wine is found in the cluster, and they say Do not destroy it,’ for there is blessing in it, so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all.”

God opens the gate to a restored relationship: “Sharon shall become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down, for my people who have sought me” (65:10).

The rest of the chapter is good news, which is why some have called this part of Isaiah “The Gospel before the Gospels.”

Isaiah sees a future that is undeterred by those who refuse to change: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating” (17,18).

Through Isaiah, God publishes a message of grace: “Before they call, I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent — its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain” (24,25).

The world we live in today might be justly compared to the world of the latter Isaiah. As I write these words, the headlines are screaming warnings and woe concerning the Middle East.

It is good for us to remember the good news Isaiah brought to a people of decay and tragedy. If we are to respond, there will need to be more of us who say with Isaiah, “Here I am. Here I am!”

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