Monday, May 6, 2013

Isaiah 3 & 4: Hope in the Midst of Crisis

Isaiah 3:18-4:6 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and ankle chains and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls. Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding. Your men will fall by the sword, your warriors in battle. The gates of Zion will lament and mourn;  destitute, she will sit on the ground. In that day seven women will take hold of one man and say, "We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!" 
In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain. 

"In that day" is a reference to the day of judgment when Judah and Jerusalem would be over-run by the Babylonians and the walls around Jerusalem would be demolished and the temple burnt to the ground. In that day, Judah would not only be physically ruined but there would also be a total collapse of the social structures of Jewish state: "The Lord, the Lord of Heaven's Armies, will take away from Jerusalem and Judah everything they depend on: every bit of bread and every drop of water, all their heroes and soldiers, judges and prophets, fortune-tellers and elders, army officers and high officials, advisers, skilled craftsmen, and astrologers" (Isa 3:1-3, NLT).

The reason for the judgment is because Zion has become proud and arrogant: "The Lord says, 'Beautiful Zion is haughty: craning her elegant neck, flirting with her eyes, walking with dainty steps, tinkling her ankle bracelets. So the Lord will send scabs on her head; the Lord will make beautiful Zion bald.' On that day of judgment the Lord will strip away everything that makes her beautiful: ornaments, headbands, crescent necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and veils; scarves, ankle bracelets, sashes, perfumes, and charms; rings, jewels, party clothes, gowns, capes, and purses; mirrors, fine linen garments, head ornaments, and shawls" (Isa 3:16-23, NLT).

While the judgment is impending (which would take place in just over 100 years later in 586 BC), Isaiah also gives a message of hope for the survivors: "In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel" (Isa 4:2).

As world history moves inexorably towards the final "Day of the Lord", the "birth-pains" seem to be building up: "For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains" (Matt 24:5-8). Just like a pregnant woman about to deliver, so the birth-pains are tell-tale signs that a new era is about to dawn when the Day of the Lord finally arrives.

We will have more Bad News before the ultimate Good News of the Kingdom of God is finally revealed. But right now, the Bad News of the kingdom of darkness and the Good News of the kingdom of light exist side-by-side. "In that day", the kingdom of darkness will be destroyed completely. In the meantime, we can still change sides--to escape the tyranny of the devil in his kingdom of darkness to come under the rule of Christ in his kingdom of light. When "that day" arrives, it will be too late to make the transfer between kingdoms.

May God grant us wisdom to choose to enter His kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Let's seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and not become obsessed with accumulating more materialistic tokens of blessing: "the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and ankle chains and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls" (Isa 3:18-23).

Let God's people set our hearts and our eyes on things above, not things below by seeking and saving the lost and not become become self-obsessed.

Father, thank You that You take care of our material needs when we are focused on seeking Your Kingdom and righteousness. Amen.

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