Condemnation or Comfort: You choose

Isaiah 56-57 1/12/14 SCC

This section is a long and complex oracle that denounces sinfulness in vivid detail and commends the faith as the only solution for the deep spiritual needs of life.

When sin corrupt leaders God declares they are worthless 56:9-12

Verse 9: Here the prophet summons the “beasts” to invade, meaning foreign armies; the call is rhetorical, making the point that there is nothing to stop them.

Verse 10: The “watchmen” have not done their job. These are the prophets and priests who were to warn the people. But, the prophet says, they are all dumb dogs. Dogs that don’t bark at danger are not good watchdogs. More than that, they are lazy and greedy, looking out for themselves first.

Verse 11: As ignorant shepherds they turn to their own gain, and are looking for the good life, always a better experience. What a failure the “watchmen” and the “shepherds” were for Israel. This failure is the main reason for the idolatry that will be denounced later.

Verse 12: Rather than caring for the sheep unselfishly, these shepherds went off and got drunk, repeatedly. They indulged themselves at the expense of their charges and in the process became enslaved and incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities.

God laments the apathy over the death of the righteous innocent victims of corruption 57:1-2

Verse 1: the prophet notes that no one cares that the righteous have died. The meaning here is about people who died in the exile. The righteous, the devout, are swept away with the wicked, and no one takes it seriously. Innocent people died. But the text makes it clear that they died to be spared the greater evil.

Verse 2: in contrast to the wicked who die, the righteous will enter peace and find rest as they lie down in death. In the Babylonian exile, as in all wars and catastrophes, good people died as well as the wicked. And while no one paid much attention to the distinction God made it clear that for the righteous death was an entrance into eternal peace. How much better in such a calamity knowing you were right with God.

God catalogs the indictment against the idolatrous nation to expose justification for judgment 3-10

Verse 3: begins the description with “seed” or “offspring” to show that they shared the nature of adulterers and prostitutes. They were essentially selfish, unfaithful to God, and wayward. The important thing to note is that Israel did all of these when they were in their own land and not when they were in captivity. The Babylonian captivity purged idolatry from Israel.

Verse 4: Evidently the people these wicked Israelites mocked were the righteous minority among them. Like children, they ridiculed the righteous for being different from themselves. They were rebellious and deceitful in their relationship to the Lord.

Verse 5: This says, “you burn with lust among the oaks.” The groves of trees were signs of fertility of a local “Baal”; that then became a place to worship—to practice the fertility cult. They were rebellious and deceitful in that they practiced fertility worship and child sacrifice. They believed connection with nature, rather than a spiritual relationship with the Creator, would yield fertility. They also believed that sacrificing the next generation would guarantee the preservation of the present generation.

Verse 6: A wadi is a streambed that is dry most of the year but in the rainy season becomes a rushing torrent. As mountaintops became places of worship because they were close to heaven and the gods, so wadis in valleys became places of worship because they were close to Sheol and the dead.

Verse 7: continues this motif: where they made their bed they sacrificed to pagan deities, meaning, the practice of the bed was the sacrifice, at least in part.

Verse 8: looking on the “nakedness” is a euphemism for the male organ, the sign of fertility. Their idolatry in Canaan was with all kinds of symbols and implements that were designed to induce fertility. Where they were to have placed the Law—the doorposts—they had these grotesque images. They forsook the Lord and made a covenant with the leaders and devotees of the ritual, on whose nakedness they looked.

Verse 9: they sought information from pagan shrines—everywhere but the Lord. They were trying to induce false gods to reveal things; theirs was a cult of the dead, so they consulted with the dead by this mysterious seance. One thinks of King Saul in his greatest need going to the Witch of Endor for truth—only to have the Lord bring up Samuel to announce his death. They feared non-entities, and ignored the Omnipotent One.

Verse 10: It is interesting to note in that they believed this all met their needs. They were worn out by these pursuits, but somehow found strength in them rather than see how hopeless it all was. People wrapped up in pagan religion, whether Canaanite or modern, do so for some reason. Satan is able to meet some of their needs, and they then believe the lie.

God rebukes their idolatry that corrupted their lives 11-12

Verse 11: Who had terrified them that they betrayed the truth their covenant partner, and their concern for Him? Obviously it was not a great threat that had made them unfaithful but neglect of Him. Perhaps if He had been more active in judging their sins they would have remembered Him. But, graciously, He had been silent about their sins, and so they had not paid attention to Him.

Verse 12: What she considered righteousness, the blending of her elect exclusive calling to be God’s people and her blatant paganism together, was anything but that.

God promises restoration for the lowly, humble, and contrite 13-19

Verse 13: In that Day of Judgment the idols that the Israelites had trusted in, even in captivity, would be of no help. They would be as useless and lightweight as what the winds blow away. In contrast, those who made the Lord their refuge from the storms of life would inherit the land and possess the Zion of the future Millennium.

Verse 14: The speaker is probably God, but the speech is more important than the speaker. The figure is of building a roadbed for a highway that would become the route of the Israelites. In the future someone would give an order to prepare the way so the Israelites could return to their land and to their God.

Verse 15: The reason for this proclamation is that God is who He is. He is the utterly transcendent God in relation to space-time, and character. Yet He is also immanent, dwelling among repentant and humble people. He dwells among them to encourage and enable them. The holy God is with His humble. So you should spend some time on “contrite” and “lowly”. One who is lowly in spirit is one who is humble, surrendered, depending on God. There can be no service to God apart from these attitudes.

Verse 16: explains how this happens: God will end His anger, or the human spirit would be devastated. Rather, those days are shortened (God knows what people can take).

Verse 17: The Lord had been angry with the proud Israelite because of his desire for unjust gain, namely, for more and more for himself. This is the essential sin that results in idolatry. God’s anger led Him to discipline the proud Israelites and to become inaccessible to their calls for help.

Verse 18: In the exile God poured out His wrath and punished sinful, rebellious unbelieving Israelites. He destroyed many; He brought many to their knees. Those who were contrite and repentant He would forgive and restore to their land, so that they could praise Him. Most of these had never gone into wicked idolatry like their reprobate countrymen had.

Verse 19: The result would be that those delivered would praise the Lord. Consequently, there can be peace for the humble because God would heal them whether they live near in Israel or far off among the Gentiles

God declares that the wicked will never find peace for themselves 20-21

These two verses show that there is no peace whatsoever for the wicked. They thought they were finding it in their evil works, but they cannot. Their constant agitation creates many other problems, like the raging sea casts up debris and mud.

So What?

1. For the wicked, the pagan unbeliever, whether in personal trouble or not, the message is clear: repent or perish just as Jesus preached there is no middle ground.

2. For the believer the message is one of comfort—God heals, comforts, guides, and grants peace, now and in the life to come. This would call for a greater commitment to the faith.

3. Believers ought to pick up the message the prophet was giving; that is, we ought to warn the wicked, and hold out the clear promise of fellowship with the Lord.

4. But one timeless aspect is that God dwells with the humble and the contrite. If people want to show that they are true believers and faithful to the Lord, they must show evidence of repenting, surrender to His will, and walk humbly before Him; then, He will dwell with them, heal them, restore them to life, and bring them peace, comfort, and joy—so that they might turn from mourning to praise. So we might begin by asking people where they find comfort, joy, peace, and fulfillment.