One of my unofficial resolutions of 2011 (alongside my official one of brewing my own beer) was to get stuck into the Old Testament a bit. I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the early history from Adam & Eve up until David but then I’m a little bit fuzzy. You know what I mean. The kingdom splits in two, the Assyrians rock in up North, the Babylonians charge in down south and there are prophets getting in on the action all over the place. It’s pretty confusing, especially as the Bible isn’t in chronological order. Someone should make one that is…oh wait.
Well with all that in mind I’ve started to look at the book of Isaiah in my quiet time and frankly it’s phenomenal stuff (funny that, you know, word of God and all!). I’ve been lucky to be able to use David Pawson’s “Come with me through Isaiah” to shed some light on the book and it is just so encouraging. I’m only up to chapter 5 but there has already been so much in it which is clearly relevant for us now. Obviously that shouldn’t be surprising but without Pawson’s comments I probably would have missed some of the nuggets within.
Chapters 2-4 are made up of a sandwich of looking to the future, looking at the present and then back to the future (great scott Marty!) again. Isaiah looks forward to a time when all nations will come to the God of Jacob and nations will not learn war anymore. Obviously for us as we read this through the lens of the New Testament, we know this refers to the ultimate return of Jesus and Isaiah paints an awesome picture of that future. For me, the real highlight is 4:3 which speaks of those who are left in Zion and those that remain in Jerusalem being called holy. Clear connections to all that we receive in Christ and just great to see written hundreds of years before Jesus even appeared. But in between these two sections on the future, Isaiah puts down the telescope and picks up his microscope to look at Israel itself. The grim reality he finds couldn’t be much further removed from the glorious future he speaks of. What he sees is a nation obsessed with superstition, money, war and idolatry. Sound familiar? Who says the bible doesn’t have anything relevant to say to us today? Chapter 5 only reinforces the Bibles relevance with Isaiah’s commentary on the perils of business/materialism, drinking/pleasure, a demand for miracles and the twisting of what is good and evil. It would easy to think he was looking straight at the modern church.
And what will happen to Israel because of their sin? Well, quite simply, judgment will come. In this case in the form of Assyria. 5:26ff point to the invasion and exile to come. I can’t help but wonder what this means for the church in the UK today. Could the persecution the UK church faces from the increase of secularism be a form of divine judgement for the kind of ungodliness Isaiah has already highlighted? I’m not sure how this sits with me theologically. I think as long as we apply this to the church, who are the modern day Israel, then it’s OK. I’d be more wary of applying this to the life of the individual.
The thing that struck me most and the real reason I’m posting (I know, take your time already), was reading chapter 6:8-13. I’ve already blogged about how we should feel when we don’t see the results we’re hoping for in our ministry and so to read about the struggles of Isaiah’s ministry only serves as an encouragement. Isaiah volunteers himself to go and speak for the Lord and God commissions him to go out but tells him from the off that his ministry will be a failure. The more he preaches the harder the people will become. People will hear but not comprehend, look but not understand.
What this shows is that it is possible to be being completely faithful to God and the ministry he has called you to, to be doing exactly what God wants you to do, but yet to see no result and be faced only with negativity. God in his wisdom and sovereignty decided that the people wouldn’t respond to the word. Why? Who can really say with certainty why God hardens anyone, apart from that it’s His will and must ultimately bring Him glory.
Now I’m not suggesting that this sums up my youth group. Far from it. I’d have to be pretty pessimistic to look at the group in that way. There’s actually a lot of good stuff going on in the group which is really encouraging. It stands in stark contrast to Isaiah’s experience. That’s the encouraging thing. But what really struck me about this passage was that Isaiah was doing exactly what he was supposed to be and he didn’t see any results, only doom and gloom. Imagine how he must have felt.
I guess what I’m basically saying is, even if you’re not seeing any results, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong and no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, it’s not anywhere near as bad as Isaiah had it.
And then he got sawn in half. Bummer!