I once heard that the key to who you and I really are is not so much our self-image, but our God-image. We need to think realistically about Who God is, never changing in goodness and love, uncompromising in purity, wisdom, holiness, almighty power, sovereignty, and grace.

Our understanding of God is going to determine how we understand who we are, and what is happening in our lives.


Returning Remnant

God said there would be a remnant who would one day return to the Lord.

On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no longer lean on the one who struck them …

Isaiah 10:20 (NRSV)
Artaxerxes Grants Freedom to the Jews (Ezr. 7:1-15) | By Gustave Doré – Doré’s English Bible, Public Domain

We know that a remnant did return after both Israel and Judah went into exile, hundreds of years after Isaiah delivered this prophecy. Many theologians also point to a day still future to us, when a remnant will return to the Lord Jesus, Mighty God, as Isaiah refers to the Lord in this oracle.

Incredibly, the people of Judah had relied on Assyria to be their ally against Syria and Israel, even though Assyria was known for its greed, violence, and rapacious ways. They had chosen Assyria over God, Who is always faithful, Who had lavished blessing on them throughout their history, Who had been there for them time and again.

But does that not also sometimes describe you and me today? How often do we rely on something else besides God when we are faced with a crisis? Then we discover that what we are relying on has let us down in some way—

  • That relationship with a special someone did not work out after all.
  • That job that was supposed to fix all our problems just melted away.
  • That savings account suddenly shrank.
  • Our strong bodies became weak.
  • Our able minds faded.
  • Our skills and education that had always pulled us through became anachronistic.

Isaiah described a people who, through their experience with the Assyrians and later the Babylonians, would come to understand the value of their relationship with the Lord,

… but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

Isaiah 10:20 (NRSV)

They will recognize the Lord’s discipline and respond with humble repentance

A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.

Isaiah 20:21 (NRSV)

God’s Discipline Restores

The writer of Hebrews gave some deeper insights into God’s discipline in Hebrews 12.

The picture the writer gave was of a great amphitheater, like the one in Athens, Greece. The seats are filled all around with witnesses whose lives bear testimony to the power of faith and God’s faithfulness.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV)

You and I, the runners, do not have a short sprint, we have a marathon to run. We are going to get tired, winded, our legs and arms will ache, we will get thirsty and hot.

But there is a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on, we can do it, they have proven it with their own lives, God is trustworthy, loving and kind, God’s promises are true, keep on running, keep on running, keep your eyes on Jesus, He’s the beginning of the race and He’s the finish line, you are going to make it …

The Rebuilding of the Temple Is Begun (Ezr. 1:1-11) | By Gustave Doré – Doré’s English Bible, Public Domain

Welcome Discipline

Do not feel sorry for yourself, the writer of Hebrews continues, when things start to get hard. You have not shed any blood yet!

Consider [Jesus] who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls or lose heart.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
    or lose heart when you are punished by him,
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
    and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children, for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 

If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not [God’s] children. 

Hebrews 12:3-8

Do not try to brush off God’s discipline, but do not lose heart, either. Remember that the Lord loves you as God’s very own, and is reforming you into heavenly stuff. God disciplines us for our good so we may become able share in God’s holiness.

Character

Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?

For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share [Christ’s] holiness. 

Hebrews 12:9-10 (NRSV)
Ezra Kneels in Prayer (Ezr. 9:1-15) | By Gustave Doré – Doré’s English Bible, Public Domain

God’s discipline, or training, is character building, it is training you and me to be strong, to be able to stand firm, face anything without wavering, abandoning ourselves to the Lord with total confidence in God. God works deep into our character courageous trust, without compromise.

Chastisement Versus Pruning

Discipline is painful, not pleasant, as a rule.

Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.

Hebrews 12:11-12 (NRSV)

God’s discipline takes on two main forms: chastisement and pruning. They feel the same, they both hurt, so it is sometimes difficult to tell what kind of discipline God is doing with us. Wonderful insight about this came to me through a tiny little book called Secrets of the Vine, and here is what I learned.

God’s chastisement is prompted when we are doing something wrong, in order to bring us back to doing what is right.

God’s pruning happens when we are doing something right so that we can do that right thing even more, and even better.

Whatever wrong thing we have been doing, or clinging to, rationalizing or minimizing in some way, is what must be let go of when God chastises us. This is where you and I must repent, turning away from the course we were on, and turning right back around to God, to take the course God is showing us.

It is a similar action in response to God’s pruning, but the work is often much more personal, a releasing of the good things we are doing, or are developing within ourselves, in order to embrace the better thing God has in mind.

Severe Mercy

The remnant would experience severe consequences for their rejection of God, and their wrongdoing. Once great in numbers, now they would only see a few come back.

For though your people, O Israel, were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, an overwhelming verdict.

Isaiah 10:22 (NRSV)

They would only become numerous again after they had learned how much their sin had cost them.

For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in all the earth.

Isaiah 10:23 (NRSV)
Ezra Reads the Law to the People (Neh. 8:1-12) | By Gustave Doré – Doré’s English Bible, Public Domain

The right response to God’s discipline will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace

You and I never need to fear God’s discipline because the Lord disciplines in love. God’s aim is not to disable us, but to strengthen us, to build up our character, to give us spiritual and emotional stamina, to work into us all the beauty and purity of God’s own character, by the divine power of God’s Holy Spirit working in unison with our own surrendered response.


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