We're so glad you decided to join us today!
When we meet in person, we take time to share our joys and concerns. Take some time to think about the past week, and if you have any prayer requests. As you feel comfortable, you can share these as a comment to this post.
Today is Pentecost, which we think of as the birthday of the church. The Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, and they were able to speak to everyone present. When you are ready, use the prayer below, from the Presbyterian Mission Agency for Pentecost, to get started.
Living God, you sent the Holy Spirit to breathe life into your church. Let us no longer be captives to fear, but messengers of your saving love, so that all may be reconciled in you. Through Jesus Christ you have given us peace that the world cannot give. Let your Spirit of truth abide with us so that we may live in hope, grow in faith, and keep your commandments of love; in the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Today's lesson is on Isaiah 47:10-15. Before reading, keep in mind that in this passage, Isaiah is speaking to Babylon.
The prophet Isaiah had a length ministry in the southern kingdom of Judah. Based on the kings of the time, his ministry was roughly from 739 BC to 681 BC. Isaiah seems to have had free access to the palace. This has made some think that he may have been a member of the royal family.
In 722 BC, during Isaiah's ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel was exiled by the Assyrians. Isaiah predicted that the kingdom of Judah would also be taken into captivity, but in Babylon (Isaiah 39:5-6). At the time Isaiah wrote, Babylon was a major city in the Assyrian Empire.
Our book says that God had at least two plans for the Babylonian Empire: to bring about the end of the Assyrian Empire and to punish the people of Judah because of their idolatry. Babylon would take Judah into captivity in waves. This began in 598 BC and culminated with the destruction of Jerusalem and its aftermath in 586 BC.
1. Failed Confidence (verses 10-11)
In this passage, Isaiah is speaking to Babylon. At the time of writing, Babylon was not yet a world power. However, Isaiah's prophecy is so certain that he writes in past tense! The phrase, "No one sees me," implies that the Babylonian Empire viewed itself as above accountability for its actions. The people of Judah and Jerusalem did the same.
The Babylonians made great shows of power, and enforced compliance by fear. This might be thought of as the idea of might makes right. Such a philosophy still permeates many societies: "If my country is the strongest, then surely everything my nation does is sanctioned by God." We do well to remember that God uses the nations as he sees fit, not according to our limited understandings of power and influence.
Isaiah seems to say that the Babylonians have deluded themselves into thinking of themselves as godlike. I am, and there is none besides me. They believed that their military and political might proved wisdom and knowledge. Further, setting oneself up as a god has been seen over and over, through the Bible, and up to modern-day cult leaders who claim divinity.
The prophecy continues that the Babylonians will be overtaken as a punishment. That punishment would come as a shock to the Babylonians. Further, it will be worse than anything they could possibly imagine. Nothing can be done to stop it.
2. Failed Defenses (verses 12-15)
Magic spells and sorceries were common practices in the ancient Near East. They were meant to give people insight into their gods' desires and intentions. It was intended to manipulate their gods into doing what the people wanted or needed.
Israel's faith was unique in the ancient Near East for refusing such means to divine God's will. Instead, people looked to his chosen prophets and other leaders. Further, God cannot be manipulated, and does not tolerate anyone trying to force his hand.
Isaiah mocked Babylon by encouraging them to continue in worthless magical practices. All the advice they received was useless. As an example, the astrologers drew up calendars to reveal blessed or cursed days, so that people could act appropriately. In Babylon's case, even if these stargazers were correct in their predictions, and knew when and what is coming upon Babylon, they would not be able to find a way to save the nation.
Everything would be destroyed.
God is not surprised at what happens among and within the nations of the world. Every group of people falls under God's jurisdiction, and he can use any and all nations to fulfill his purposes. We Christians do well to remember and trust that God sees the injustice and violence around us and has a plan to right all the wrongs.
Though our enemies may never see the error of their ways or repent, we know our faith in God is not misplaced and will result in our seeing his plan come to fruition. Faith in anything else results in disappointment and misplaced priorities. May we trust his timing and wait patiently for the day he destroys wickedness once and for all. His promises are steadfast.
Almighty god, thank you that we can be confident in your knowledge about out lives and in your wisdom concerning judgment. We ask for strength to live faithfully even when the present and future seem nothing like we expected. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Questions for Discussion
Today's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Isaiah 49:1-13.
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We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.