The Posture of Prayer: Waiting

Isaiah 26:8, “In the path of Your judgments, O LORD, we wait for You; Your name and renown are the desire of our soul.”

Chris Robins:

Really? I mean, that sounds like sitting on the tracks of a bullet train. You wouldn’t even know what hit you. But then I realize my heart is exposed by that response. I don’t love Him that way, like I should, like Isaiah does. “Don’t judge” is the mumble and mantra of our whole generation, and we often sheepishly look at our shoes when the judgments of God are criticized or mentioned.

Part of it’s the religious idiots. Christ dealt with them, the trigger happy Judge Judy’s of religion, eager to point their finger like its God’s finger – claiming this or that about Katrina or AIDS or elementary school murders like they were the prophets of old. Honestly, their condemnation is the three fingers pointing back at them. What, are they here to correct our Savior about His teaching?

Christ Himself was clear. Bad stuff happens, yeah, and you’d better be wondering every time you hear about it on CNN “huh, how did I dodge that bullet? That’s what I deserved.” The other part is the religious cowards. They’ve got a burden to soft sell and spin the holy judgments of God in the bible. They’re at the wedding supper of the Lamb, but the Lamb’s actually getting a little embarrassing at the table the way He’s making a scene about the Amorites and all, so they’re apologizing to the rest of the restaurant. Who, in their right mind, would imagine apologizing for the Lord of Hosts? Makes me nervous just thinking about it. I don’t want to be seated anywhere near them at that table. There are bouncers. Jesus told us.

Anyway, Isaiah wants to sit on this judgment road of God, and it’s all about the Name and remembering God. And it’s all the desire of his very soul. Wow. And there’s this glorious waiting, the posture of prayer for all true children of God. Then I get it. Then I see the gospel, dazzling Isaiah’s eyes by the Holy Spirit. Yes Father. The path of Your judgments went right to the cross, and I’m sitting on those tracks for dear life. Yes Father, the path of Your judgment on me was walked by Jesus and I’m waiting for that train. Yes Father. Show the path of Your judgments to us by showing the mercy of the cross to thousands. We plead with You like Abraham did on the road to Sodom, that same path of Your judgments You have walked many a time. We say with him “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” In Jesus Name do right by Him. Amen.

Praise Him with loudest Praise!

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A Worrying God

Chris Robins, one of my mentors (who is planting a church in San Francisco), giving us an insight into his own heart and how God’s heart calms it:

Isaiah 62:6–7, “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”

There’s a focus, a kind of raw delight mixed with fanatic intensity, that a dog has with a bone. Nothing else in the world exists in those chewing and cracking moments when the marrow is just out of reach. He growls at you if you grab for his prize. He begins at one end, using the leverage of his jaw and paw to split open his treasure. That is an old way of using the word “worry” as a verb. “That pup is really worrying that bone,” you would say.

It’s a funny way to use the word, because it kind of describes how we cope with anxiety. You worry about your daughter’s school, or the lump they found in your abdomen, or whether your house will sell at the right price. What do you do? You worry the problem. You chew on it by thinking about it before you go to sleep, talking it through with your friends every day, clicking every link you can find online for hours to find more info. You chew and gnaw at it until your chewer is sore. I just did that. I had insomnia for the first time in my life this month. Night after night laying awake. It was awful. I hated it. I was worrying this church plant to the bone. But I absolutely love this little passage from Isaiah. I love it.

This is God speaking. Actually I think it’s even more than that. This is a perfect script for Christ. It was written about Him and for Him. Which makes incredible sense because one of Christ’s strangest commands, along with equally bizarre stories, is about worrying God. If you call on God, this God, don’t give yourself a break. Don’t rest. Don’t quit. Don’t stop. In what? Bugging God about what He says He will do. Asking, pleading, reminding, and then after you’ve grown tired of that, asking, pleading, and reminding some more. The religious word for it is “importunate.” The ordinary word for it is “obnoxious.”

Christ owns this command in Isaiah as the model for all real prayer done by His people. Don’t. Give. Up. Not until the skies are rolled back like a scroll. Today I went back to old prayer lists from years ago and I could hear the Holy Spirit whisper in His word: Don’t. Give. Up. Isaiah 62:6-7 is printed at the top of my old prayer list. It was good and sweet and strangely restful. What does this kind of worrying God do? It finally puts to rest all those little worries of our unbelieving hearts. Knocks them down. Kills them. Relentless pleading with eternal love is an antidote to anxiety. I’ve got better things to do than worry about our worship service tomorrow. I’ve got a God to worry about all of this. Where are the conversions Father? Where are Your people? Who’s going to do childcare? When will San Francisco know the power of the reviving God?

I am praying to (read worrying) God with relief about all of this. I am not giving Him any rest, just so I can sleep tonight. I pray for a raw delight and intensity for you with the Lord now. In Jesus.Name.Amen.Praise Him.

Nothing More Beautiful – Nothing More Practical

Isaiah 6:1-7 says, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

We’ve spent the past week looking into these stunning verses.  Today we end.

Lastly, notice that we see pardon.  Though Isaiah beheld God’s perfections that did not keep him from confessing his own imperfections.  After the woe he pronounces upon himself we read in 6:6-7, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  This doesn’t make sense.  I mean, what judge in any county would keep his job if he forgave sin and didn’t punish lawbreakers?  As a judge you can’t just sweep sin under the rug.  How much more is at stake when it is God, the just Judge of all the universe, taking away sin from Isaiah?

This coal was taken from the altar of atonement, and with it God removed the sin of Isaiah, as far as the east is from the west, so much so that Isaiah himself can say in his own book “though your sins be like scarlet, God can make you white as snow (Isa. 1:18).  This doesn’t make sense – until we read John 12:41.  John, after quoting out of Isaiah about Jesus in John 12:36-40, says in 12:41, “Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”  What does this mean?  What did John just say?  He said very simply, and clearly, that when Isaiah saw the Lord high and exalted, sitting on His throne, watching the train of His robe fill the temple, beholding angelic beings worship Him crying Holy, Holy, Holy – John is saying that Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus, and after seeing it, Jesus in His majestic holiness, pardons Isaiah and applies the forgiveness He Himself would one day purchase for His people on the cross.

Remember, God’s glory is the radiance (or the shining-forth) of his holiness, the out-streaming of His incomparable worth.  In whom does the glory of God shine out of in the clearest and greatest manner possible?

His Son.

Therefore, Jesus, the Son of God, is infinitely precious and valuable above all other things because He is (as Hebrews 1:3 states, “the exact representation of God’s being, and the radiance of the glory of God.”

Nothing is more beautiful than this, nothing is more practical for your life than this, “One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than anything else.”

Why Losing Your Self-Esteem is the Best Thing for You

Isaiah 6:1-7 says, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

See Isaiah’s response to the scene unfolding before him in 6:4-5.  “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost (ruined, undone); for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Immediately we see the foundations of the heavenly temple shaking in response to the vibrant worship happening before the King.  Their worship was intense, their worship was deep, their worship was white-hot!

Do you shake?  Do you tremble when you worship the King?  Is there a reverent fear when we worship?  We need to be rebuked.

Nowhere throughout the whole of the Bible do we see anyone coming into contact with God and leave that meeting feeling bored as if they were unaffected!  The whole temple shook with worship, it filled with smoke, and yet we sing “Holy, holy, holy” in our churches and what do we do?  Stand here unmoved by the glory of God, think about checking facebook, take a sip of coffee, give a tip to God in the offering plate, start itching to leave early to see the game?  Far too many of us are duped into thinking that God’s glory, God’s holiness, God’s perfections, beauty, majesty, and awe are not practical – so we avoid these things and deprive ourselves the richest resource to feed our souls!  Pragmatist’s do not linger over the glory of God, only those who’ve seen it and savored it linger on this the greatest of all things.  Jonathan Edwards once said, “One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than anything else.”  God is ultimate reality, there is no One more real, there is no reality more practical than Him.

But did you notice that we don’t only see the foundations of the temple shaking?

We see Isaiah shaking too.  When Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up, shining forth in all the beauty of His infinite and incomparable glory, Isaiah gained knowledge of two things: a) a clear knowledge of God, and b) a clear knowledge of himself.  For the first time in Isaiah’s life he found out who God was, and for the first time in Isaiah’s life he found out who Isaiah was.  As opposed to the angelic beings pure worship of God Isaiah knew he was utterly different, opposite even, being a ruined man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips.  See here friends, that there is nothing that reveals the unholiness of man like the holiness of God.  It’s like comparing the brightness of a small match to the blazing light of the sun.

We see from this that a realistic view of God is a high view of God and when one has a high view of God one will gain a high view of sin.  The opposite is just as true.  When we have a low view of God, we’ll have a low view of sin.  John Calvin said it like this, “We see men who in God’s absence normally remain firm and constant, but who, when taken before the manifest glory of God, are so shaken and struck dumb as to be laid low by the dread of death…man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty.”  Want to know how to recognize true spiritual life or true repentance?  It is seen most clearly in an increasing awareness of one’s sin and fallenness, AND the awareness that their sin is directed against God Himself.

If someone treats sin as a light manner and does not see it as cosmic treason, they are not spiritually mature.  I don’t care how holy they sound.  The first oracle, or prophetic announcement Isaiah delivers as the prophet of God is not delivered against Babylon, Moab, Egypt, Philistia, or even Israel – the first oracle the prophet Isaiah pronounces in his ministry is against himself.  We can be sure that some modern psychologist would say this is an example of someone with low self-esteem and that this is a bad thing for us to emulate.  I am 100% positive that Isaiah lost all self-esteem when he gazed upon the Lord of glory, and that it was a best thing that ever could’ve happened to him – for in that moment he gained God-esteem that could never be taken away from him, and would prove to be the foundation of all his life and thought regardless of what life’s circumstances threw his way.

I wonder, what do you believe about yourself?  Does it bother you to see Isaiah act like this?  What would you do if it was you standing before God in all His splendor?

The exact same thing…

Walking in Step with the Great Song of Glory

Isaiah 6:1-7, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Another note on 6:3

I have a question.

Why does it say in 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory?”  Why does it not say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His holiness?”

If holiness is the one defining characteristic of God, why does it say the earth full of God’s glory and not His holiness?  It would seem then, that the text is implying that there is a connection between God’s holiness and God’s glory.  What is that connection?  The connection is seen when we define the “Glory of God.”

Defined, the Glory of God is the holiness of God put on public display.  When the holiness of God fills the earth for people to see, it is called glory.  The basic meaning of holy is “separate” from what is common.  You see God is unique, there is none like Him, He is one of a kind.  We value gold and diamonds over tin and copper because they’re rare or uncommon.  Since God is one of a kind, since there is none like Him, since He is separate, since He is holy – God is infinitely precious and valuable above all other things.  When His infinite value is put on display before the eyes of the seraphim and Isaiah, they call it “Glory!”  So, God’s glory is the radiance (or the shining-forth) of his holiness, the out-streaming of His incomparable worth.

Nothing is more beautiful than this, nothing is greater.  His glory is so immense that though we see 6:3 say it fills the whole earth we can be sure the whole of the universe isn’t large enough to contain this majestic glory.  But though the whole earth can’t contain it, the whole earth does display it.  “All of creation is the theatre of the glory of God.” (John Calvin)  Evidence is everywhere, in fact there is so much evidence of God’s glory in what He has made in creation Paul says in Romans 1:19-20 that all men are without excuse.

The beauty of a sunrise, the calm of a sunset, the vastness of the oceans, the immense expanse of the skies, the cry of a baby, the friendship between two people, the love between a husband and wife.  Ever since Genesis 1 when God said “Let there be light” it seems that there has been a kind of symphony to behold in all of creation, which all that has been made joins in on.

When was the last time you noticed it?

When was the last time you remembered that you were made walk in step with this great song of Glory?

The Threefold Repetition

Isaiah 6:1-7, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Two more things:

First notice that 6:2 mentions creatures called seraphim who are standing above the throne. With two wings they covered their faces, with two wings they covered their feet, and with two wings they flew.  The word “serapim” means “flames.”  This is telling because the word refers to both the fiery angelic beings themselves and what they were created by God to do – burn in worship before the Lord of hosts!  Bottom line?  These seraphim are not mere mosquitoes buzzing around the throne.  They are heavenly angelic fiery beings worshipping the only One worthy of worship – God Himself.  These are not fat babies with wings and harps, these are creatures that if we were to see them we would think that we had died.  Every time in the Bible when an angel shows up the firsts words they say are: “Don’t be afraid.”  There’s a reason for this!  They, in themselves, are a sight to behold, they terrifying, but not nearly as terrifying or awe-some as the One who made them.

Lastly notice the song the seraphim sang.  6:3 says, “One called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory!”  The significance of the anthem of the angels is massive.  The Jewish people had various ways to express emphasis in their literature, and they used these expressions in the Bible.  We do the same today to emphasize things: we may use italics, we may put a word in all caps or bold letters to draw attention to it, or maybe even attach very intense or alarming descriptive adjectives to the word we want to emphasize to get attention.  Isaiah did the same and in his culture the way to communicate supreme importance was called the Trisagion, or the threefold repetition.  Notice how 6:3 is phrased?  The seraphim cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  What does this mean?

This means first what it says, that God is holy.  But it means more.  When taking into account the use of the Trisagion, the use of the threefold repetition, we see something further.  In all of the Scripture from Genesis – Revelation this verse is the only place where we see an attribute of God written three times in a row.  This means much more than God is “holy”, even more than “holy, holy.”  It means that God is “holy, holy, holy.”  Nowhere do we see the Bible say that God is sovereign, sovereign, sovereign – or love, love, love – or mercy, mercy, mercy – or righteous, righteous, righteous – or just, just, just.  Nowhere in Scripture do we see an attribute of God have such importance.

Now I am aware that it is dangerous and bad theology to try to pit one attribute of God against another, or to try and assemble a hierarchy of attributes so as to make one more important than others.  This is an error people make all the time.  In talking with others about God’s character, especially when we’re talking about His sovereignty or justice, or wrath, I hear people say, “I don’t believe that, my God is a God of love, He would never do such a thing.”  Well surely God is a God of love, and as R.C. Sproul says, “We can’t come to the Bible as if it were a cafeteria line, putting things on our plate only if they are delectable to our tastes, leaving the others we don’t like.  We come to the Bible on its terms.”

Thus we cannot construct a hierarchy of attributes as if one were more important than others, BUT if the Bible shows us that out of all the attributes of God there is one that rises to the top – we must believe it.  Such is the holiness of God.  The use of the threefold repetition of Holy, Holy, Holy teaches us that the one defining characteristic of God’s nature is His holiness; it is who He is.  Therefore we must speak of all of God’s attributes underneath God’s holiness.  His love is a holy love, His wrath is a holy wrath, His mercy is a holy mercy, His justice is a holy justice, and so on, and so on.

Unparalleled Majesty

Isaiah 6:1-7 says, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

3 things:

First, look at 6:1 to see the context.  “In the year that King Uzziah died…” When King Uzziah died there is really only one thing to say, the people of God were coming out of a large time of prosperity, decline had begun, and the people began to feel it.  Interesting to note that in the same year King Uzziah died another great city was founded in Italy on the banks of Tiber River, the city of Rome.  So this year, where King Uzziah died, the people of God began to decline, and the city of Rome was founded and began flourishing.  What happens in this time that is what seems to be a crux in history?  God does the most glorious thing He could ever do – He reveals Himself in His glory.

Second, notice that King Uzziah died.  This is no mere detail.  When the King’s life expired who lived on?  The Lord sitting on the throne.  We come and go.  He is forever.  Psalm 90:2 says, “…from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”  Psalm 29 says, “The Lord sat enthroned as King over the flood, the Lord sits enthroned as King forever.  There will never come a time when God is not.  We are born and we die, and regardless if Time magazine proclaimed God to be dead in 1966, He remains and always will.  John Piper once said God, “…will be living ten trillion ages from now when all the puny attempts against his reality will have sunk into oblivion like bb’s at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.”

Third, 6:1 says Isaiah “…saw the Lord sitting on the throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.”  Isaiah did not see this glorious vision of ‘a god’ sitting in a field, or on white shores, or in a flowery mountain side.  He saw Him on His throne, ruling and reigning.  This is raw authoritative majesty that will never change.  We all know what this means when it speaks of the train of God’s robe.  In a wedding the train of the bride’s dress is long for a reason, it signifies the beauty of the bride.  It exists to make much of her.  I can still remember standing up front seeing the doors in the back of the church swing open to reveal my wife Holly in her wedding gown, walking down the aisle.  It was a sight to see, it was gripping, captivating, beautiful, and magnificent to behold.  The train of her dress flowed behind her, and the whole moment seemed to be filled with wonder and awe.  Just like that, when we see the train of God’s robe filling the temple we’re meant to see similar things.  It is meant to signify the magnificence of His beauty.  It doesn’t merely take a few people to hold His train, God’s robe spills out over the sides of His throne, moving across the floor, completely engulfing the whole of the heavenly temple!

Lesson?

God’s majesty is unparalleled.  He has no equal.  His beauty has no end.

A Reality Which Needs Addressing

Reinhold Niebuhr gives us this reality needing to be addressed:

No amount of evidence to the contrary seems to shake man’s grand opinion of himself.

Proverbs 20:6 addresses it further:

Every man proclaims his own goodness.

Isaiah 66:2 resolves this for us:

This is the one to whom I will look; he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word.

May God Interrupt Your Prayer

Chris Robins:

Isaiah 65:24  Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

Can you even imagine that? You’re mid-sentence with God, about to explain what you need, and He just says “Sure, I’ll do that.” It’s like my crazy family at Christmas.  Every person talking over each other.  I’ve heard folks complain that they feel prayer is meaningless.  It’s usually Reformed people, who have somehow let God’s omniscience and omnipotence be an excuse for prayerlessness and passivity.  Their condemnation is just.  Explain this in a systematic theology: God talks over you in His own eager love.  What God “knows” is obvious: absolutely everything. He wouldn’t be much of a God otherwise. He can create a better punch list of your needs than you can.  So when our sacred writings talk about God “knowing” us, it’s more than just data.  It’s not just a fact sheet bio.  It’s the way you personally know a friend and can predict what he’ll say.  This is what Abraham knew haggling with God along the dirt road to Sodom.  This is David curled up in a cave asking God for directions like you’d ask a cabbie. This is Moses hiking up Mt. Sinai to tell God to His Face that he wanted to see more of His Face. And God, our God, like an attentive Father, was already signing off their requests. Before they finished their sentences.  This was all before Jesus!  How much more can I now ask because of the Son?  What will He not give me?! Imagine this picture in all of it’s beautiful absurdity. The Eternal Creator, who needs nothing and knows everything, is falling over Himself to answer His children.  The Almighty, Ancient of days, leaning forward with a sense of anticipation about your next request.  That is ridiculous and wonderful.  That is what the cross did for us.  Yes, He knows what I need.  Yes, He knew what I was going to write in this letter before I started typing.  Yes.  And for His own glorious pleasure He was already answering me, mid-sentence, in His love.  Doesn’t that make you want to spill out your heart to Him now?

Do it.

May God interrupt you in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Jesus Came, Do You Believe?

I wonder though, where are you right now?  What problems do you have going on right now where stillness and simple trust in God seems like the most impractical thing to do?

Think about Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Life is going smooth, and all of the sudden he finds out that Mary, his fiancé, is pregnant, and it’s not his baby.  Normally, when this happens, any guy would freak out because he wants nothing to do with an unwed teenager with an unplanned pregnancy.  Matthew 1:19 says that Joseph had planned to divorce her quietly, and leave.  God then came to Joseph in 1:20 and told him that everything would be okay, and that this child was from Him.  Joseph believed God at a time when it looked impractical to do so.

And praise God that he did right?  Who knows what would’ve happened to the baby if Joseph left.  Mary might’ve gotten a primitive abortion in an effort to save her marriage.  “No more child, and Joseph won’t leave me!”  I don’t say this flippantly, there are records of abortions taking place all the way back to the Egyptians 2000 years before Mary was born.  This would have been a real option, and Mary probably had known girls who had done this.  If she had done that, there is no Jesus!  If there is no Jesus, there is no hope for any of us because the cross never would have happened!  But, praise God that God was in charge here and not Joseph, or Mary.  When faith in God looked impractical, it was this impractical faith in God, that made the first Christmas happen.

So if you’re in this spot right now, wanting a sign from God to let you know what to do, wanting a sign to tell He’s there, that He’ll take care of you, and hasn’t left you.  There’s good news – The Lord Himself has given you a Sign.  The sign we have received is the same sign Ahaz and Judah received, the virgin born Messiah.  God told Ahaz and Judah to trust in the virgin born Messiah who would one day come and make all things right, and God is now calling us to trust in the Messiah who has come and is now making all things right!

Though we might look foolish or impractical, may God for His glory, cause such faith to be found in us.

Jesus Came to Usher In His Kingdom

Let’s all take a step back from this passage.  There’s a bad question and good question to ask at this point.

The bad question is, “Why does God urge Ahaz to trust Him by prophesying about a future event rather than prophesying about something dealing with Ahaz’s most immediate circumstances (the army coming against him)?”  This is a bad question because it implies that the future virgin born Messiah has nothing to do with Ahaz’ current problem.  The good question is this, “How does this sign of a promised future Redeemer encourage Ahaz to trust God in the present moment?”

Here’s what I think God is up to: though the promise of a future Redeemer does not remove the imminent threat facing Ahaz and Judah, it does allow Ahaz and Judah to encounter their current problem with hope that one day God will right this wrong that’s coming upon them (if they believe it).

God is saying to Ahaz and Judah, “I have given you My sign, the virgin shall give birth to My Son, and He will save His people from their sins, He will make all things right, and He will usher in a new age and a new kingdom into the world.  Trust in this sign Ahaz, trust in this sign Judah.  Trust that I will one day make this right!  Trust that I’m in control, no nation is!  I know that being still and trusting Me looks and feels like the most unpractical thing to do right now Ahaz, but you need to trust Me, and not run to another source to save yourself and your people.”  We can read how the events unfold and 2 Kings makes it clear that Ahaz did not trust the sign God provided, but God was faithful (as He said He would be through Isaiah’s son Shear-Jashub!) and kept a remnant of the people of Israel alive.

Jesus Came As Immanuel

7:12 – But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”

Nope, he won’t ask for it.  WHAT!  Why not?!  I think it’s because Ahaz has already made his plans, and God’s not in them.  If he asked for the sign, clearly God would have done it, and Ahaz would be required to believe God and forget the option of asking another nation for back up.  On the other hand if he did not ask for this sign Ahaz knew that Isaiah would expose his own evil heart, unmasking him before the whole nation.  So rather than putting himself in a position to trust God or expose himself before the people, he decides to hide his intentions and mask his choice in religious language.  This makes the rejection even more hideous in God’s eyes.  Not only is he refusing to obey God, he quotes Scripture to do so!  Doesn’t he know that it’s not testing God to do what God says?!  His choice reveals that he hates the Lord and would rather lean on his own understanding.  To reject such a command is the essence of stupidity.  No wonder Ahaz is the king frequently named in Proverbs as the personification of foolishness.

7:13-17 – “And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.  The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

Well, Ahaz’s really done it now.  He must know that what he has just done, in rejecting the Isaiah’s God, will affect more than just himself.  God’s patience has grown thin, and God discloses to that He’ll give them a sign anyway.  But when we hear what the sign is, we think “What?  There are two huge nations in Judah’s backyard ready to tear them apart, and God is talking about a child that isn’t even born yet?”  Yes.

I should say here that conservative theologians have historically been very eager to interpret this prophecy in light of Jesus’ birth and very un-eager to interpret this passage in its historical context to Ahaz and Judah; while on the other hand liberal theologians have been very eager to interpret this prophecy in light of the historical context to Ahaz and Judah while being very un-eager to interpret a messianic meaning out of the passage.  So what are we to do with this?  Here’s what I think God is doing in this passage.

I think it’s completely correct to interpret this passage in light of Jesus – He is this Child!  But, this prophecy about the Messiah’s birth also has real significance for Ahaz and Judah in their current situation.  The meaning is that this Child to come, Jesus, will reject evil and choose good because He (as our Savior) will not do what our first parents did, namely, choose evil.  In this manner the Child to come, is called Immanuel, because by His works of choosing good, the people of God will be ushered into the presence of the best and most enjoyable good ever, God Himself!

Jesus Came to Create Faith

7:7-9 –Thus says the Lord GOD: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.'”

Isaiah reassures Ahaz with some words about the two kingdoms coming against him.  The first word is powerful, “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.”  Ahaz should know through these words that his own present fears are not present in the mind of God.  This coalition and their plans will fail to come about because God has said so.  Though it has begun, God will not allow it to come to its completion.  Isaiah’s next comments are strange, and need some explaining.  By saying “the head of Syria is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin” he means that the center of Syria is now in Damascus, and the king in Damascus is now Rezin.  As for Ephraim, Isaiah says both it and its king will soon disappear, “Now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people, and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.”  Ahaz hears the future here, that within 65 years of this prophecy, the Northern kingdom would fall to Assyria and be no more.  How much encouragement to trust God do you need?  Not only is Ahaz told that this won’t happen, but that these nations won’t last much longer anyway.

Isaiah then closes with a word from God that Ahaz will never forget, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”  It often helps me to read a verse in reverse manner to hear the weight of it, such is the case here.  You won’t last, if you don’t believe!  If you want to last, believe God!  Faith in God seems simple enough, but when we’re in the thick of it we’re so quick to leave it behind and trust in something else to rescue us.  Although this choice belongs to Ahaz alone as king, the word “you” here is plural in the Hebrew, indicating that this message was directed at the whole house of David, because the whole house could be destroyed.  If there is no faith, there will be no people.

7:10-11Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”

To confirm His own promise to Ahaz God Himself invites him to ask for a sign.  This is no normal offer for a sign from God, it could be as supernatural a sign as Ahaz wanted, “…let it be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.”  There are a million possibilities when God gives you that kind of green light!  Turn the sun green, make the grass blue, make my sheep as small as grasshoppers or as large as elephants, cause the Falcons to win the Super Bowl!  Few times in Scripture is God so clear as He is here.  Why does Ahaz receive such a green light to ask any sign his heart desires?  It’s clearly not based from any of Ahaz’s own merit, he was an awful, stubborn king.  The favor he receives here is due to the line of David, from which Ahaz comes.  He receives such favor because in God’s eyes, Ahaz is still part of the people that God has a brought into covenant with Himself.  Again the “ball” is in Ahaz’s court, will he choose to ask for this miraculous sign?

Jesus Came, Don’t Fear

7:3-6 – And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,”

The people of God are in a place where they need God Himself, and God is not too far away to know what His people are feeling and fearing.  He responds to their “shaking” by sending Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub outside the city to meet Ahaz.  The margins in most Bibles indicate that the Isaiah’s son Shear-jashub means “a remnant shall return”.  This is important because God didn’t tell Isaiah to bring his son for no reason, Isaiah 8:18 makes that clear when Isaiah says, “I and the children the Lord has given me are signs to Israel.”  The boy’s presence with Isaiah would have indicated, to Ahaz, that God will be faithful to His people and will always keep a remnant alive and close to Himself.  Did you notice where Isaiah meets Ahaz by the upper pool?  This is important because an adequate water supply is an absolute necessity for a city under siege.  Why so?  Because if these two nations cut off their water supply, Jerusalem’s done.  I think Ahaz was at the pool already to check on its condition, or was already making improvements to it in case battle took place.

At this pool, Isaiah proclaims two positive commands to a trembling Ahaz: “Be careful, be quiet…” and two negative commands “do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…”  Each of these four commands pleads with Ahaz to trust God rather than fear man.  The message to Ahaz is when one trusts in the Lord, there is no need to fear the actions of any man, army, or nation.  Similarly, Proverbs 3:25-26 says, “Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.”  Indeed, when God says “Do not fear” one should not fear.  But put yourself in Ahaz’s shoes; two large nations joining together to attack your small city?  I’d be afraid for sure!  This would have felt like the entire US Army and Navy coming up against Delaware.  Isaiah knows this, so he continues to encourage Ahaz by saying that even though these nations are large and fierce, they are nothing more than charred smoking wood.  Isaiah doesn’t even mention the name of the puppet king they’re hoping to install on the throne and merely refers to him as the “son of Tabeel”, one who is obviously not a son of David.  Ahaz has no reason to fear, because no one can lift a finger against or nullify the covenant God has made with the house of David.

Jesus’ Coming Promised in Isaiah

Isaiah 7:1-17 is without question famous for its wide use around the Christmas season; because it is in this passage where we find one of the most well known prophesies of the birth of Jesus, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  I believe God has an exquisite meal for us in this text that will meet us exactly where we are.  So let me set the table for you by walking through this passage so we can enjoy this meal together.

7:1-2“In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. 2When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”

The stage is set.  King Uzziah has died (6:1), and Ahaz, his grandson, now sits as king on the throne of Judah, and it seems like right away we become aware of a problem: two nations have made an alliance.  Israel ruled by Pekah and Syria ruled by Rezin.  These two allies are coming to wage war against Judah.  Even though they’re not quite ready to attack Jerusalem, you get the feeling that it’s coming soon.  We read in 7:2 that “Syria is in league with Ephraim, and “the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind .”  It appears that some kind of treaty has taken place between these two nations and the people living in Ephraim, implying that Pekah and Rezin have made camp within the borders of Israel.

When the word of this treaty went public, it went fast and it went everywhere, and struck fear into the hearts of Ahaz and the citizens of Judah.  This is not meant to be taken as a minor detail.  This “shaking” was intense because the same Hebrew word (nua) is used earlier in 6:4 referring to the temple “shaking” due to the heavenly voices crying out as they saw the Lord on His throne.  This was the first time the throne of David and the city of Jerusalem had actually been in peril.  The shaking was so intense that it was not only the people who shook, but the king as well.  “The heart of Ahaz shook” it says.  This reveals Ahaz’s underlying sin, fear due to a lack of faith in God to protect them from Rezin and Pekah.  He should have trusted God because in God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7) Ahaz has a clear word from God about the protection covering David’s house.  Yet Ahaz shook with fear at the coalition coming against him, and as he shook, so did the people.