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Monday, March 7, 2011

Seeing Into the Future - Lessons from Isaiah

Seeing Into the Future - Lessons from Isaiah

Scripture tells us that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 1:8) God lives outside of time. A day is as a thousand years to Him. Since we humans live out our lives under the constraints of time, we often are confused when we read the prophetic books in the Bible. Isaiah along with other prophets would often tell their people that God was going to perform a certain action or judgment in the future. But sometimes the prophet wouldn’t tell exactly when the predicted event would happen. Would it happen tomorrow or in a thousand years or even at the end of the ages when Christ comes again?

God often starts by discussing a problem that is going on in the prophet’s day. But then almost in the same sentence a future generation is having the same problem and it is also being addressed hundreds of years in the future. And before we can wrap our minds around that, the same prophetic Scripture jumps again to the end of the age and give us a glimpse of the Day when finally every last one of our problems will be no more.

Isaiah is one of the major prophetic books in the Bible. The man Isaiah began his ministry about 740B.C. His name means “Yahweh Is Salvation” or “God is Salvation.” Isaiah was commissioned by God to be a prophet and he was given the gift of being able to hear God’s messages and pass them on to Israel and to us, through the book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s timeless message from God is for us today too.

Isaiah tells us how God called him to be a prophet. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up and His train filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings; with two wings they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isaiah 6:1-2) “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Then I heard the Voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this people:…’” (Isaiah 6:5-8)

Isaiah prophesied at a time when the nations of Israel and Judah had both given in to pagan worship. Even though some of the Jewish people still stayed with the outward forms of their faith, their hearts were far from God. The wealthy oppressed the poor and violence and injustice were rampant throughout the land. God sent Isaiah to tell the Jewish people how grieved He was that they had turned away from Him and to declare His judgment upon their sin. He also begged His people to come back to Him. But perhaps a larger purpose of the book of Isaiah was to give a promise of hope to the Jews that still remained faithful to God. (and to believers in every generation.) There would always be a few – a remnant –of people who hold onto their faith in God no matter what. And there was that remnant in Isaiah’s day. The book of Isaiah is full of promises of salvation and restoration and final victory for those who put their faith in God. Along with being a book of judgments for the disobedient, Isaiah is a book of promises and hope for the believer in God.

God showed Isaiah many judgments that would be meted out in the future. When a nation turned from God and did not take care of their poor, a judgment would inevitably follow. Scripture has so much to say about the importance of taking care of the poor and the disadvantaged. Isaiah foretold that Israel would be judged and taken away by Assyria and that Judah would be judged and led away into captivity by the Babylonians, and then later released. Isaiah goes on to prophesy the overthrow of Babylon by the Persians (Isaiah 13) and the demise later of the Assyrians. (Isaiah 13-14) The first thirty nine chapters of Isaiah are books describing judgments against nations and against sins. These judgments are interspersed with hope and promises for the remnant who keep their faith in God. And chapters forth to sixty-six are chapters of comfort and promise to the faithful.

Isaiah’s detailed prophesies concerning Israel and the surrounding nations all came true. The Babylonians indeed carried Judah away into captivity as Isaiah had prophesied and later they were returned as he had foretold. Israel was taken away by Assyria. The Babylonians and Assyrians were judged long after he was dead just as he had prophesied. Isaiah prophesied in detail about incidents that would occur hundreds and thousands of years in the future. Indeed he prophesied again and again about the end of the ages and we are still waiting for these prophesies to be fulfilled.

Seven hundred years before Christ, Isaiah foretold of His coming in detail. Chapters 42 through 53 in Isaiah describe Jesus Christ and His Servants ministry along with the salvation He brings. And scattered throughout the book of Isaiah the promise of salvation through Christ is held out again and again.

Here are just two of the many prophecies Isaiah made concerning the future birth of Jesus. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call him Immanuel. (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14b) and “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders, and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

When we read the book of Isaiah we get a different view of the world. We may be discouraged by our family or our money problems or our health and wonder if God cares about our plight. Evil seems to be winning out. But when we read Isaiah we read that God is just and good and there is no future in evil. Good will overcome evil in the end. We can look beyond the sad realities of our sinful world and wait and hope for the new world that God promises us. We can live in the light of the future when as Isaiah prophesied: “Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:5-9)

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