We're so glad you decided to join us today!
When we meet in person, we take time to share our joys and concerns from the past week. If you have any prayer requests to share, you can add them in the comments to this post. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started.
God, open our hearts that we may love you; open our ears that we may hear you; open our eyes that we may see you; open our minds that we may learn of you; strengthen our wills that we may serve you; in the name of Jesus, Amen.
This week's lesson is on Isaiah 48:3-8, 17.
The various sections of the book of Isaiah are unified by their repeating of important themes about the Lord and his relationship to Israel. The section we are looking at is Isaiah 40-55, which is sometimes referred to as Second Isaiah. It contains the so-called Servant Songs. Sometimes the servant is understood to be the nation of Israel, while sometimes it is understood as an individual to come.
This section has some consistent messages. First, Isaiah points out the absurdity of worshipping idols. Second, Isaiah emphasizes that there is no other God but the Lord. Third, Isaiah frequently notes the Lord's knowledge and control of the future. Fourth, the role of the Lord as the Creator of all things is also prominent.
The Knowing God
The Lord asserted in no uncertain terms that he was the one who foretold the former things. God's plan was not haphazardly thrown together. However, promises can seem to take a long time to be fulfilled. Think of promises like Abraham becoming the father of a great nation, or the exiles in Babylon returning to their homes. But after God made them known, they did seem to happen suddenly.
Israel's stubbornness is a common thread in the nation's history. This includes descriptions like being stiffnecked, of a hard heart, and refusing to hear or see. We also see the consequences of Israel's stubbornness. When the people refused to trust God after being delivered from Egypt, none of the first generation entered the promised land. The nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms because King Rehoboam insisted on following foolish advice.
Iron and bronze were the hardest metals known at the time of Isaiah. The description of a beast of burden as hardheaded as these metals was striking. An iron neck would not turn with the reins of the driver. The bronze forehead suggests a will so set that no new information or knowledge could cause a change of course.
The passage repeats some ideas a few times. Repetition was a typical Hebrew writing convention. Whether word for word, with synonymous parallelism, or in other ways, repetition was used frequently to emphasize the importance of a point. Most of Isaiah's audience would have been illiterate, so words repeated over and over also helped to stick the message in the audience's heads.
Attributing any action to an idol is ridiculous. And yet, Israel fell into this trap time after time. God wanted the people to admit that God had told them what was to come. Even after witnessing these things, the people were unwilling to admit it.
Because of this unwillingness, God would not tell them in advance. Our book says that this means there would be a novel act, being created now. It would be a display of God's creative power at any time according to his pleasure. This way, no one could possibly say that they already knew what was going to happen.
A foundational principle for Israel's relationship with God was that Israel was to "hear." They were to believe that God was the one true God, and to love God with all their heart, soul and strength. Further, they were to teach what they heard to one another and their children. The act of truly hearing the Lord always has included obedience to what he commands. As we have read over and over, the people rebelled against this often.
The Living God
Between our two sections of text, God asserted that it was for his own glory that he had not already punished Israel for all their disobedience. However, he would also not leave Babylon unpunished for what the empire had done to Judah.
The last section we are reading today opens with, "This is what the Lord says." This phrase is a very common way of emphasizing that God, not the prophet, is the source of the prophet's words.
God is not often depicted as a teacher in the Old Testament, though it is talked about here. We learn and grow when we do the right thing, but we also can benefit when we learn from our past sins.
The only wise pathways is following the Lord, living according to his teachings. God leads the people in the way they should go. In the New Testament, it is even more striking that Jesus claims himself to be the only way, the exclusive pathway to the Father. The book of Acts also refers to the Christian faith as the way. Our faith is the very way that we live.
The tragedy of Israel's history is that God had revealed many things to them: his law, his will for their nation, his choices of leaders, and so on. Despite the long history of such revelations, the nation often acted as though the people did not have ears to hear. Time after time, Israel ignored the Lord's directives and warnings.
We have a major advantage: we are empowered by the Spirit to grow in our relationship with the Father and become more like Jesus each day. When we do so, we will be better able to hear warnings when we are following a way not set out by the Lord. And we will have ears hearing what the Lord is doing as he calls us to join his work. Listen for the call!
Lord God, forgive us for the times we have been too stubborn to seek you and your will for our lives. Please give us ears to hear so that we can follow your way. All this we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Questions for Discussion
This week's benediction is from the Psalter.
Next week's lesson is on Isaiah 58:6-10.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.