Lessons of a Slinky
Did you ever play with a Slinky? When I was a child, Slinkies were coils of wire (they are now made of plastic) that look like a large spring. When I placed one end on a step and the other end on the next step down, the Slinky went down the rest of the steps on its own―somehow the tension in the coils makes it move. Or have you ever watched an eagle, or an osprey wheel in an updraft? Their movement is to go around and around, first higher, then lower, but all in the same space relative to the earth.
The following six chapters, Isaiah 28-33, are like a Slinky, or an eagle in the updraft. In a series of sermons, Isaiah gives a woe, then a promise and call to faith, then he wheels back to the woe, and again to a promise and call to faith. There is movement in the passage as Isaiah in the Lord’s voice to God’s people, exposes their sin, brings in God’s discipline, then brings the people towards faith and God’s response of glorious grace
Assyria is Bearing Down
Isaiah began this discourse by pointing north in the direction of Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel. They had replaced faith in God with faith in their economy, and had spent themselves in extravagant living, self-indulgence, entertainment, and feeling good. Is our day any different? What seemed like a strength – wealth and easy living – became a fatal weakness. All that luxury, and compromise with the Assyrian super power could not protect the northern kingdom from eventual disaster.
By this time Assyria had already raided Israel once and had replaced the king with their vassal puppet king Hoshea. Look, said Isaiah,
Woe to the proud garland of the drunkards of EphraimIsaiah 28:1 (NRSV)
and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
at the head of the fertile valley,
those overcome with wine!
God is going to allow the Assyrians to come back and
Trampled under foot will beIsaiah 28:3 (NRSV)
the proud garland of the drunkards of Ephraim.
They are going to be easy picking, like a ripe fig. exclaimed Isaiah. Only God’s crown has lasting beauty and glory. People who put their faith in God will not be in the same boat as Samaria, they will be strong in the Lord.
But look at you, Isaiah went on You live in the same easy decadence as Samaria!
These also reel with wineIsaiah 28:7 (NRSV)
and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink;
they are confused with wine;
they stagger with strong drink;
they err in vision;
they stumble in giving judgment.
All tables are covered with filthy vomit;
no place is clean.
It seems the religious and political leaders of Isaiah’s day could not stomach the prophet’s teaching. For one thing, they felt patronized by his call to faith. It was not sophisticated enough, it was not intellectual, or deep. They did not feel fed with Isaiah’s simple messages.
So, they made fun of him, that he was just making blah, blah, blah, boring same old same old.
But what Isaiah was saying is real.
One person reads their Bible and marvels, “I never knew the Bible had so much to say to me. This is so meaningful to me! I cannot put this book down!”
Another person opens their Bible and says, “This is not very impressive. Wonder when I will get to something more interesting.”
What makes the difference is in the spirit of the reader, or perhaps it is the lack of the Spirit in the reader.
Okay then, Isaiah responded. If you will not listen to simple truths, let us see how you do with a foreign tongue.
Truly, with stammering lipIsaiah 28:11 (NRSV)
and with another tongue
he will speak to this people,
The Assyrians will not stop with Samaria. You are next on their itinerary, Isaiah explained to them. The confidence they put in the covenant they made with a political ally was misplaced. Instead, they had “made lies their refuge and taken shelter in falsehood.”
The truth about God’s trustworthiness, God’s reliability, God’s real power, none of that was real to them.
Tests of Faith
All of us encounter tests of faith—not because God is wondering where we are on the road to maturity. It is because so often you and I do not have an accurate assessment of where we are.
All throughout the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, the Bible talks about faith, but the only definition scripture offers for faith is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Faith means ·being sure [the assurance; or the tangible reality; or the sure foundation] of the things we hope for and ·knowing that something is real even if we do not see it [the conviction/assurance/evidence about things not seen].Hebrews 11:1 (EXB)
Faith is assurance of the things we hope for, the proof of things we do not see, and the conviction of their reality. Faith is perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.
It makes us sit back a little and ask how real God’s power and God’s love are to us. Might there be places in my life, relationships, situations, perhaps my career, or my life plan, where I am holding on tight because it feels more real to me than God’s power, or God’s good intentions for me? Maybe, deep down, there are some aspects of God’s priorities that I am not really on board with, or aspects of God’s timing that I am finding uncomfortable.
In every test of faith, God provides the way through it.
therefore thus says the Lord God,Isaiah 28:16-17 NRSV)
“See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’
And I will make justice the line
and righteousness the plummet;
The Foundation for Faith
Isaiah was showing the people their lack of faith, God as the only being worth having faith in, and God’s own faithfulness towards them. Both the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter quoted Isaiah when they identified this precious cornerstone as the Lord Jesus. Faith in Jesus can stand up to anything! Relationships that fall apart, our own sin, our failure, any temptation, any crisis.
Trust in Jesus over and above worldly wisdom, or other people, or even ourselves, for that matter. This is not to say wisdom cannot be found in sage counselors, the writings of Spirit-filled authors, the advice of trusted friends, or the wisdom, discernment, and experience God has imbued in each of us.
What I am saying is that our full weight, our confidence and assurance, must be grounded first in Jesus Who is the firm foundation.
The Danger of Lacking Faith
The people of Jerusalem were headed for some real trouble. The bed they had made with their political alliances was not too comfortable, and according to God’s word to them through Isaiah, it was not going to cover them when they needed it.
The Lord’s way of dealing with their lack of faith was going to seem strange to them, but trust God, Isaiah told them. God knows what God is doing. Look, a farmer doesn’t just keep plowing forever. He plows until the earth is ready for the seed.
Do you feel like God is plowing up your life right now? Take heart, Isaiah would say. God is breaking up the rock-hard soil in your heart. It can be rough. But the upheaval of plowing is only temporary. God has a life-enriching purpose.
And look, Isaiah said, at the end of this chapter, farmers know that each crop requires its own method of refinement. Do you feel like you are getting threshed right now? God knows you, and the Lord knows exactly how to work with you.
Trust the Lord.
God is going to bring out good.