CAN WE GET IT RIGHT THIS TIME?
*Good morning to you. I pray that you are doing well on this rainy morning. (at least rainy here in Madison) Today we will once again continue our look at the Book of Isaiah. Yesterday we discovered that God used the Persian monarch, Cyrus, to help the exiled Judeans to return home. Cyrus was a human agent of God, even though he was perhaps not aware of how beneficial to God he was. This goes to show that God can use anything and anybody in order to accomplish God's will. We also looked at chapters 40-55. What I failed to mention yesterday was that found in these chapters are what are referred to as "The Suffering Songs." Within these songs we find "the suffering servant." If you recall God, through the prophet Isaiah, promised to do "a new thing." This new thing would not include acts of force (as in the Red Sea deliverance), but would be accomplished through suffering. In the suffering songs suffering is seen as being redemptive. *Think of Jesus on the cross. He died for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin for our sakes.
Well, today I want to look at the remaining chapters. I said in the beginning that the Book of Isaiah deals with over two hundred years of Israel/Judea history. We find past tense, present tense and future tense in this book. The first section of the book dealt with pre-exile, while the middle section dealt with exile. Now, we will look at the return home.
"This is what the Lord says: 'Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, 'The Lord will surely exclude me from his people. 'And let not any eunuch complain, 'I am only a dry tree.' " (Is. 56:1,3)
This passage and the following verses were delivered to the Israelite community shortly after their return from Babylonian exile. On the minds of the people would have to be the question: "If we got it all so wrong before, how do we make it right now?" At the heart of the matter is worship. What is right worship. Today, I'm afraid that many think that right worship means: the right kind of preaching (loud, long, and with lot's of Bible verses quoted), the right kind of singing (meaning "The kind that I like lol), and the right kind of dress, etc. Let me say, when it comes to preaching and singing the Bible does not give guidelines on how to preach and sing. We discover Jesus teaching, and if he preached it appeared to be very similar to his teaching. When Jesus sang, it was a Psalm. (I have too much to say about dress code) So, what makes for "right worship" according to what we discover in Isaiah? First, of all we have to notice that found within these chapters is a plea to keep the Sabbath, but a plea to "keep the Sabbath without desecrating it..." (Is. 56:6b). Clearly political corruption and idolatry were serious problems in the past, and they are still a concern. But, the plea to keep the Sabbath now comes with new promises, and to new groups of people.
In the past there were two groups of people who were excluded from the religious community. Who were they? The foreigners and the eunuchs. Why? Because they were forbidden by Deuteronomy 23:1-3. That passage was very specific in its wording: "No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord. No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord..." (Deut. 23:1-3) We also find the exclusions mentioned in Leviticus 2:18-20) Now, however, the prophet envisions the fellowship of God's people as being welcoming to foreigners and eunuchs. But, on one condition: These people also keep God's covenant. No, they don't just let everyone in to do as he/she pleases. "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant...And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him..." (Is. 56:4b, 6a)
Isaiah shows us that ritual alone is not sufficient. Right worship and right living do go hand in hand. But, what is right living? No matter how we want to define "right living" it always includes how we treat one another. Now, keep in mind that Isaiah's call to take in the eunuch and foreigner was not "an open door policy" where all and everything would be accepted. No, these folks had to keep the Sabbath, etc. The Israelites were not to allow the foreigners to bring in their own religion and practices. In other words it was never to be "bring your own god day." No, Isaiah was clear, "Yahweh alone." But, all were welcome to know and to worship Yahweh who is no longer just the God of Israel, but the savior of the whole world. Yahweh now is God of all people. *I'll say more about the treatment of others as we continue. This will be a recurring theme. *Stay tuned for more.
Now, there is a lot happening in these final chapters of the book. Let's back up a bit and remember that these final chapters deal with a people who have just returned from exile. They have been away for a long time. Some of these folks may never have been in Jerusalem before. Some of them may have been born in exile. And, don't forget that while some were exiled, many were left in Jerusalem. So, you now have those who stayed in Jerusalem (they were left there and not taken for various reasons) and those who are returning after many years. (70). How do you think this will go? On top of all of this, there is no temple. Plus, there is the question: "Have we learned from our past mistakes?" Well, hmm...as we see from the beginning of the final section Pagan practices still threaten the postexilic community.
"But you-come here, you sons of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes! Whom are you mocking?..."(Is. 57:3) This is an example of all of this chapter. Many of the old practices are continuing. The apostates are still involved with the old fertility cults and their sexually immoral practices. "You journeyed to Molech with olive oil and increased your perfumes..."(Is. 57:9) Molech was the deity to whom child sacrifices were made. This gives you an idea of what some were still involved in. While the Israelites/Judeans may want to "get things right" there are still those who have not learned from their past mistakes. Israel must be aware of its sin. Ritual alone cannot save Israel.
There is still so much more to discover in this book. We will continue our study tomorrow. Thanks again for joining me. -Pastor Rick