Sunday, September 23, 2018

Healed by His stripes – but from what?


 Faithfulness to the Covenant offered National Health Benefits. Neglect of, or the breaking of the covenant would have profound consequences. This would be felt all across the land, its agriculture and of course upon the people. Among the signs of the people being out of favour with Yahweh would be Yahweh afflicting them with the  sicknesses and plagues of Egypt.

Did this promise preclude the Nation from having other health remedies? No! God had already placed on record the healing qualities herbs, and physicians are also mentioned. The treatment of people with skin complaints is well known with those infected being excluded from society until pronounced clean. A distinction needs to be made between individual cases of sicknesses and the Lord’s use of the curses in judgement. Consider the case of Hezekiah. He took ill and was told he would die. The King cried, literally, to the Lord for a reprieve which was granted. His cure consisted of a lump of figs put in a plaster and placed on the inflammation. He was healed.

Therefore, there must be more than mere physical healing when considering what is healed by the Suffering Servant’s stripes. Often the visible expression of a moral or spiritual infection breaks out in a person’s body. Isaiah’s diagnosis of the Nation was a sickness caused by the iniquity of priests and people which corrupted worship. Yahweh turned His back on their rituals. Jeremiah used another word to describe the moral and spiritual condition of Israel. Treachery by leaders, perversion by priests of the sanctuary’s holiness through idolatry and forgetfulness by the citizens he called ‘backsliding.’  The Nation was consistently moving in a direction away from fellowship with their Lord. Before a healthy relationship could be rekindled the people must turn around, an expression for repentance. But, a price had to be paid.

The Nation was morally and spiritually decrepit. If the Covenantal fellowship was to be restored only the Lord could endure the severity of the chastising strokes.

Another factor needing attention was the power of Yahweh’s curse. Deliverance, was needed. When the Law and Covenant were broken the curse was activated. Israel was therefore under its curse. Justice must be pronounced and carried out. A ‘cutting off’ from Yahweh was decreed. It meant a death sentence. As such a breach had happened no human endeavour or sorrow could heal it. How could the Nation survive?  Isaiah 53.8 tells us about the One who stood between Heaven’s wrath and the Nation’s destruction and was ‘cut off on its behalf!

Marriage, expressed the uniqueness of God’s relationship with His chosen people (Jeremiah 3:14). Their unfaithfulness through spiritual adultery cause the Lord to issue a bill of divorcement. But His love for Israel would not be denied. But the ‘bill’ had been issued, how could it be withdrawn? Only by the adultery being punished! How could Israel die and live again? How could Israel survive to be forgiven?  As Israel’s husband He chose to pay the price. He gave up His life on her behalf. Forever the price of such love would be worn. Yahweh’s righteousness was more powerful than the chains of death as shown in His rising again. Isaiah 54:4-10 is a glorious expression of His redeeming love.  He is Israel’s husband, Maker and Redeemer. Though a period of separation is decreed, a day has been set for reconciliation.

Every aspect revealed as offensive act towards God and His word. The judgement upon such action and attitude required punishment or death. Here is grace expressed . The Nation could not be eliminated because Yahweh had decreed its purpose and future. How could Justice be done and yet the promise be fulfilled? In steps the Suffering Servant. He took their place and took their curse, their death sentence and satisfied The Lord God's Holiness. How wonderful to read, ‘He saw His soul’s travail and was satisfied’ Isaiah 53:11.
 
In future studies we will consider the heart of God for this Nation. As we do we will understand a little more of His mercy, grace and faithfulness to us.

 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Leviathan versus ‘the Worm’

In that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent … ‘Isaiah 27:1

‘Fear not you worm Jacob, and you men of Israel, I will help you, says the Lord, and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel’ Isaiah 41:14.

 Figures of speech explain things so much more clearly and in fewer words than straight out description. To call someone a ‘donkey’ or ‘as thick as a brick’ needs no further explanation. The Bible uses figures of speech numerous times. Worm is one of them. It is used three times. Once it is applied to Humanity by Bildad in his debate with Job (Job 25:6). His characterisation of Humanity is depressing and true. How can it be justified in God sight? How can it be clean, implying moral and spiritual filth for it is a worm whose world is the dirt?

 Isaiah the prophet used the term ‘worm’ and applied it to Israel (Isaiah 41:14). According to Isaiah 27:1 this degraded Nation is mentioned alongside a creature called Leviathan. There this monster is being attacked by the Lord in defence of His people. Who or what is it? Though not an animal definitively recognized it is described as ‘the piercing serpent, the crooked serpent and dragon’. Could this be a clue which links it to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden? This creature mentioned in Genesis 3 is unmasked in Revelation 12:9. There the Serpent is also named the Devil, Satan, and Dragon. What the prophets wrote about the Last Days is clarified by the apostle John. Leviathan, alias Satan, had perpetrated numerous physical frontal assaults, spiritual perversions and moral debaucheries upon Israel over centuries. These were to prevent God’s purposes through Israel being accomplished. Whilst effective, all his attempts were thwarted by the Lord God of Hosts. Now, in Revelation, this creature rises up in one last horrific assault to destroy Israel.

Leviathan’s historical attacks caused Israel a loss of nobility, prestige and respect in their Lord’s eyes. It also undermined their witness to the rest of the World. They wanted to be like the Gentile Nations and in many ways that is what they became.  They had lost their spiritual and moral uniqueness which was its ‘backbone’ hence the term ‘you worm!’ Yet, God tells them not to fear, He will help them. His ‘battle plan’ is most surprising. Psalm 22 tells us about it and in verse 6, the person mentioned calls Himself a ‘worm.’ The Gospels reveal the identity of this ‘worm’ as Jesus, descendant of King David. The Lion of Judah as He is called became ‘the Worm.’ It would be in the weakness of His identifying with Israel and Humanity Jesus would enter the fray with Leviathan. David’s foresaw the ‘Worm’ as Israel’s substitute under God’s judgement and gladiator against Leviathan’s power. His opponents also included the ‘wild bulls of Bashan (rich and powerful) ‘dogs’ (scavengers, immoral), ravenous lions (godless royalty) and ‘unicorns’ (maybe rhinoceros, Political power).

The battleground was Golgotha (John19:17). The ‘Worm’ took God’s curse upon Israel and bore it. ‘The Worm’ also took Humanity’s Judgement and consumed it. ‘Jesus as ‘the Worm’ won the battle because, though He bore the sin of the World, no sin was found in Him. Though Leviathan still roars and ravages he is defeated and in retreat. His final moments are written in God’s word when it says ‘the Worm’ returns as the Lord of Glory and slays this monster with ‘the sword of His mouth.’

 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Apple of God’s Eye

The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance … (God) kept him as the apple of His eye’ Deuteronomy 32:9-10.

When we say that someone is “the apple of my eye” no explanation is needed. It is self-evident. That person is precious, loved, cherished. Therefore, when it is said in Deuteronomy 32:10 that Jacob, a term of the Nation, is the ‘apple of God’s eyes we grasp how precious they are to Him. Israel was given the assurance that the Lord would guide them, guard them and govern them. The nation accepted this relationship with its responsibility of keeping God’s Law.  Proverbs 7:2 though said by an earthly father to his son is appropriate to God and His son, Israel. My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with you. Keep my commandments and live; and my law as the apple of your eye.’  

Because the Nation neglected then abused the Law they poked their own finger into their own eye. Blinded, leaders and people began to stumble into iniquity.  God gave His Laws so His people could know life and prosperity. Their rebellion made them deaf and blind to their Creator ushering in condemnation and wrath. However, a day has been set when the National blindness will be healed. This will be at the hands of the Messi42:7. 35:5). Until that time Israel stumbles in unbelief and ignorance of their Lord and Creator.

In such darkness and dispersion Jacob became a prey for tyrants, charlatans and false messiahs. Little did they realise in abusing, stealing from and killing Yahweh’s portion. The World takes pleasure in corrupting and violating the people and the land of Israel. In so doing those countries are consciously or subconsciously ‘poking’ their fist into Yahweh’s eye. He will not endure that forever. Nor will He forget His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

Ezekiel unlocked the fate of the Gentile Nations intent of the extinction of God’s covenanted people. He recorded God saying “I hid my face from them (Israel)” (Ezekiel 39:23, 24,). Judgement took place as Moses warned about in Deuteronomy 28. There was however the assurance given in Deuteronomy 30 that God would have compassion upon them. Though the ungodly try and prevent it or destroy them in the land they forget this fact. God promised, “I will not hide my face from them anymore; for I have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 39:29). He does this for He is jealous for His name and glory which is bound up in the nation he created.

 Zechariah 2:8 is the last mention of Israel as the ‘apple of God’s eye.’ This book points to the day when the Almighty looks again with favour on His people and His land. He may have closed His eyes and looked away but the day comes when He will look upon them with favour again. Zechariah writes ‘”In that day … I will open my eyes on the house of Judah…’ The result will be a recognition of God’s faithfulness and the realisation of who was the one the Nation pierced. In mourning, in repentance the people will bow and seek forgiveness and cleansing. The condemnation of God on the Nation as recorded by Jeremiah is now reversed. He had written, ‘My people … have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters…’ (Jeremiah 2:13. 17:13).  The promise is now written that the grace of God has provided the fountain for cleansing (Zechariah 13:1). From that fountain the Nation will emerge with songs of praise and behold the Lord in their midst and Jerusalem His dwelling place. They have come alive to Yahweh once more. They will abide under the face of their Lord and be favoured as the ‘apple of His eye!’

 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Day of God’s Jealousy

Yahweh is jealous of no-one, no-thing. However, He is jealous on behalf of His Name, His people, His land and His dwelling place. The first mention of this passion was as a warning to Israel when they received the Law and covenant. The Nation was to be careful about taking His Name in vain and of associating it with idolatry. Consequences for such behaviour would be felt down to the fourth generation. In reading the people’s history and the records of the prophets is to read their failure and Yahweh’s wrath.

Zephaniah, a contemporary of Jeremiah also warned of impending disaster falling upon an unrepentant Nation. He likened the approaching devastation as a devouring fire fuelled by Yahweh’s jealousy for His Name and the honour of His word. The effects of this can be read with sadness in Lamentations. In Psalm 79 the writer also cries out to the Lord for mercy as the after effects of Yahweh’s judgement through Nebuchadnezzar are endured. Asaph, the psalmist, linked it to God’s jealousy and His anger as fire. Asaph prays that the Lord of Hosts will redirect His jealousy towards the Gentile Nations for their extermination attempt and preserve His chosen people. Within the pages of Scripture it is evident that God will fulfil that prayer.

Captured and transported to Babylon with many others, Ezekiel became the Lord’s spokesman throughout their captivity. His prophesies span the centuries and speak of hope for Israel and judgement on Gentile nations. Chapters 34 – 39 are among the most awesome in their scope, proclamation and revelation of God’s faithfulness to His word. It must have seemed to be more of a fantasy than a prophecy when Ezekiel spoke to the broken Nation of a promised new era. It would include David’s throne being occupied with jurisdiction over a united people, the scattered and dried bones of the Nation reassembled, clothed in flesh and given new life reappears on the world stage.

What could possibly bring this about and why? The Lord of Hosts had called them stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart, a rebellious people, why give them any more chances? For one simple reason which has profound implication for us all. ‘Therefore thus says the Lord God; “Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy Name”’ Ezekiel 39:25 (emphasis added).

Allied to being jealous for His Name, Yahweh, through His prophet, makes it very, very clear that it is all about grace for one reason alone. ‘Thus says the Lord God; “I do not do this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy Name’s sake, (emphasis added) which you have profaned among the heathen, wither you went. And I will sanctify my great Name, … and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes’ (Ezekiel 36:22-23).

This wasn’t fulfilled after the Jewish people returned from Babylon. It has not happened yet. Zechariah who prophesied after the 70 years captivity also spoke about the Jealousy of God. He quoted God as saying “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” God promised to return to the city and take up His abode in His house. In chapter 8:2-8the Lord re-iterates His jealousy for Zion and Jerusalem but adds “with great fury!” Why His anger? This time it is directed towards the Gentile Nations as in the future they will be intent of Israel’s destruction. Prophet after prophet warn the Nations not to harbour such intent for it will lead to what Joel calls ‘the Valley of Decision.’ There the full force of God’s jealous fury will all upon them. Following that terrible day of the Lord we are told that the Lord God of Hosts makes a new covenant with Israel. Events leading up to this will tear the blindfold of unbelief from the Nation’s eyes and they cry “Blessed be He who comes in the Name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39).

 

 

 

 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Why Weapons of War Cannot Defeat Israel


 
No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper … this is the heritage of the servants of Lord, and their righteousness is of Me.  Isaiah 54:17.

Just before dying Moses reminded the Nation that Yahweh was their Protector. Terms such as ‘Thy refuge’ ‘underneath … everlasting arms’, ‘shield of your help’, ‘the sword of your excellency’, expressed this role (Deuteronomy 33:27-29).

Since the Babylonian captivity Israel, and others, must have wondered where His protection had gone. As a Nation they have been scattered, battered and bruised. May 14 1948 witnessed their return to the land but, has the Lord been seen as ‘their refuge’? Not by the majority. The strength of their military arm is their shield. How then can the set verse be considered in this light?  

No Weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.
Such words sound hollow from an historical perspective. Looking at it from what Moses and the prophets wrote reveals a deeper meaning. They foresaw defeat and dispersion due to apostasy. Satan may marshal his forces to destroy completely the chosen race but can never succeed. Isaiah 51 is the Lord of Hosts promise to His afflicted people. They had drunk of their Lord’s ‘cup of wrath’ but the time had come for him to take it away.
Now He would comfort them. In doing that the Lord would also plead their cause and give the ‘cup of anger’ for the Gentile Nations.

Ringed today by hostile forces with missiles and nuclear weapons Israel in prophecy faces a number of major onslaughts (Joel, Ezekiel 37-39, Psalm 2). As strong as their military might is, humanly speaking, it will be insufficient to survive. But God has promised ‘no weapon will prevail.’ How? He will once more look again upon His people. He will stand between them and Satan’s hordes led by the anti-Christ. Daniel and Revelation lifts the curtain on this period. As the Warrior Lord He will fight for them! The prophet Joel sees the time when Yahweh will assemble the Nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat. They are in an aggressive and warlike frame of mind. The land and people of Israel their destination. Before their onslaught God pleads for His heritage.  He has already written out His defence of them in Scripture, which the Gentiles ignored. Now the Lord’s pleading involves raising and using His ‘Sword’!

Every tongue that shall rise up against you in judgement shall be condemned.

It would be impossible to name any other Nation subject to slander, fake news, misrepresentation, vilification through propaganda and media. Think of ‘the Protocols of the Jewish Elders. Goebbels in Hitler’s regime was a master of propaganda which ‘legitimized the Holocaust. Islam continues this line of attack. Unfortunately, various groups in church denominations who call for boycotting goods and service to and from Israel unwittingly buy into ‘the evil tongue’ coalition. All will be confronted by the displeasure of the Warrior Lord.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.

What is understood by ‘heritage of the Lord’? The Hebrew can mean ‘possession’ and ‘peculiar right’. Therefore, the Nation’s security and continuance is guaranteed. They are the Lord’s by creation, redemption and promise. It doesn’t mean they are exempt from discipline, in fact it meant greater chastisement. Micah, confessed his people’s sin and vindicated God’s Judgement. He warned their enemies not to rejoice over their fall as God will one day lift them up, forgive and be merciful. He will honour His word which was sworn unto (Israel’s) Fathers from the days of old’ (7:7-20).

 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Jerusalem: Redeemed and Crowned.


For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest …’ Isaiah 62:1

 Yahweh’s honour is linked with Jerusalem. He claimed the area for His own. His presence was known in the Temple. When He left it for the mount of its Eastern side He promised to return. Isaiah revealed the condemnation by God upon the city. He is also the one who unveils its redemption and future glory. Isaiah 62 is a beautiful chapter of God’s heart and intention for this city. Though He enacted judgement upon it Yahweh never cancelled His promise to reign from there.

Verse 1. There is a restlessness beating in the heart of God. He set a time known as ‘the times of the Gentiles’ which is still operating (Daniel 2). It will conclude when Christ returns to earth. God asked those who believe in Him and His word to keep making Him restless. Each time people pray for the peace of Israel His restlessness must increase. The daily prayer of Orthodox Jewry reminds Him, “May it be your will Lord God, God of our Fathers, that the temple be built speedily in our days.”  How can He rest when each year Israel’s feast days remind Him of His promise? How can He rest when His people and heritage are violated?

Verse 2. Jerusalem is raised from rubble to righteousness when Jesus reclaims it. What is meant by that term? How is righteousness ’seen?’ the Bible says no one or thing has this quality apart from God and His Son, Jesus the Messiah. Redemption provides forgiveness but it is only the presence within of the Redeemer which makes anyone righteousness. How then can Jerusalem be called righteous? ‘In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgement and righteousness in the land … and Jerusalem … and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 33:15-16. 23:6).

Verse 3. When Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar the prophet Jeremiah cried ‘the joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning. The crown is fallen from our head; woe unto us, that we have sinned’ (Lamentations 5:15-16). The crown returns when the Lord comes to dwell in the midst of His people. Jesus as their Redeemer/Kinsman is also their King. He is also their glory and their joy. We who are not of the Nation of Israel still can taste the wonder of Christ Jesus’ grace. For He is our Redeemer. He is the Head of the Church. He is our praise, joy and hope. We have been allowed to share in the promises of God also, Ephesians 2:12-13.

Verse 4. The Lord had turned His face away from the Nation. He had forsaken them for their faithlessness. It is for a season. This verse tells us that the time has come to an end. They are forsaken no longer. They have become His Hephzibah, His delight. Such is the power of their Messiah’s substitutionary death at Calvary. Such is the grace of their (and our) Lord in accepting their repentance. This has allowed the Almighty to rejoice.

Verse 12. What a transformation is written about in this verse. The nation described as disease and plague ridden by wilful disobedience in a land defiled (Isaiah 1) is now called holy. How this was accomplished is stated in Isaiah 53:5 when the Servant, as the Passover Lamb, also became the Nation’s healer.  Jerusalem then will be called ‘sought out,’ why? Because the Lord Jesus will take up residence on His holy mount. To Him will come individuals and Nations to worship and learn (Isaiah 2). No longer forsaken, now transformed and chosen!

 

 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jerusalem ‒ a poisoned chalice.

‘In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people’ Zechariah 12:3.

 In 1947 the United Nations agreed to adopt the Balfour declaration concerning Israel. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had come through the Nazi extermination program and had the sympathy of the Nations. From among the nations the remnant arose and returned to the land long denied to them. Ezekiel’s imagery of the scattered bones coming together is so graphic in its application to a Nation being regathered. The prophet was commanded to say: “Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:12).

Christians and the Jewish people saw this as a miracle foretold and now performed. Arab nations reacted with anger and threats of war. This they set in motion on the day, May 14 1948 when Israel was proclaimed a sovereign nation. Against overwhelming odds and certain countries embargoes, the fledgling nation fought and won. It could be credited to the bravery and tenacity of many, Jew and sympathetic Gentiles. To those who knew the Scriptures the following statement stood out: ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper’ (Isaiah 54:17). God being the unchanging and unchangeable One stood stands by the promise. He still does.

Have the nations learnt from their constant defeat in trying to eliminate this Israel? Unfortunately no! Unreasoning animosity is a moral and spiritual indictment upon those who reject Israel’s right to exist. Behind the words and acts of force by the various Nations lurks Lucifer who covets the city of Zion and the right to rule from there. (Isaiah 14:12-15. Ezekiel 28:12-19). Jerusalem is now ‘a very heavy stone’ for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut to pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it’ (Zechariah 12:3).

 There is another image presented by the prophet of Jerusalem’s effect upon the World. Zechariah 12:2 ‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem.’ With any addiction there are consequences. The above verse outlines one. Wanting to destroy the people and place God claims as His own is futile. Reason is unfortunately drowned in the mind inebriated by hate. Lusting after Zion causes her enemies to act foolishly and to suffer the consequences.

 
What is often forgotten, by friend and foe of Israel, the special affection the Lord God has for Jerusalem. He has put His name over and upon it. His presence has made itself known there. His desire is to dwell there and be in the midst of His people. Zechariah’s words both explain God’s heart and issues a warning: ‘He who touches you touches the apple of His eye’ (Zechariah 2:8). He is that sensitive! In the affliction of Israel the Lord feels their pain. Even at those times when His judgement has fallen upon them to turn their hearts back to Himself. Certain Gentile nations, used as His whip had taken the opportunity to dispossess and extinguish the nation. They went beyond Yahweh’s boundaries and ‘stuck their finger in His eye.’ God will only take so much ‘poking’ before His wrath rises and judgement falls.

 
The word of God is unequivocal in its plain language that in a day known only to Him He will make Jerusalem the praise of the whole earth. Those who try and thwart this will drink a bitter cup. Those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem will know the pleasure of the Lord who loves that city.

Next week. Jerusalem, redeemed and crowned.