To Recap Isaiah 27
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 this passage (Chapters 27 through 33) 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.
In Chapter 27, Isaiah foretold of the northern Kingdom of Israel’s demise, and warned that Judah was not far behind due to the people’s apostacy. Sadly, 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.
Neither did the people have much faith in the speaking of God’s word through Isaiah, nor, it seems, in Almighty God, a danger that exists today as well.
Belief is always in something.
For saving faith, the content is the gospel, God’s good news of rescue and restoration through Jesus in response to the bad news of humankind’s critical need for healing from the fatal rupture of sin.
Even though faith is based on what is physically unseen, it is not blind. Blind faith is believing something without any evidence or reason. The kind of faith the Bible talks about is a “seeing” faith, based on solid evidence provided through Scripture, nature, our own lives, and reason. You and I can “see” it with spiritual illumination given by the Holy Spirit.
These people thought they knew God, and God’s law, and God’s precepts, and all the requirements of the Lord’s covenant relationship with them. They were a religious people, and they followed the liturgical calendar like clockwork, as Isaiah said,
Add year to year;Isaiah 29:1 (NRSV)
let the festivals run their round.
But in spite of their religiosity and observance of the festivals, God was going to bring them down low. The Lord was going to bring them to the brink of disaster, then with a miracle, in an instant, God was going to make their disaster vanish. It would be like waking up from a horrible nightmare.
Just as when a hungry person dreams of eatingIsaiah 29:8 (NRSV)
and wakes up still hungry
or a thirsty person dreams of drinking
and wakes up faint, still thirsty,
so shall the multitude of all the nations be
that fight against Mount Zion.
This was the strange way God was going to inspire their faith, and often, it is the strange way God brings you and me back to center as well.
God may allow swift, unexpected circumstances to get our immediate attention. Wake up calls that put us back on track. A heart attack, a car wreck, sudden loss of a job, God uses all the circumstances of our lives to bring us back, to renew our passion, to live less as mechanical Christians, and more by a living, vibrant faith.
Why did God do this thing?
Because the people of God were in a spiritual stupor. They had God’s word, the Lord’s revelation of God’s own Person, right there in their hands, but it was doing them no good. When the Lord had given God’s word to Moses, God had also given careful instruction to teach this word every day. As soon as Moses brought the inscribed tablets from Mount Sinai back into the camp, this word, the Torah, was placed at the gate of the tabernacle for all to read. In fact, the first thing all Israel did when they entered the Promised Land was to copy the Torah onto great stones at the entrance to Canaan.
So when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones about which I am commanding you today on Mount Ebal, and you shall cover them with plaster.
And you shall build an altar there to the Lord your God, an altar of stones on which you have not used an iron tool. You must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. Then offer up burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God; make sacrifices of well-being, and eat them there, rejoicing before the Lord your God.
You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very clearly.God, to Moses and the people, Deuteronomy 27:1-8 (NRSV)
This word was to be read out loud three times a year to the whole nation during the high feasts, and was to be taught to their children not just every day, but all day.
Yet now Isaiah described the people of God as ones who could not be bothered to open the word of God nor have any interest in even learning how to read the scriptures.
The vision of all this has become for you like the words of a sealed document. If it is given to those who can read with the command, “Read this,” they say, “We cannot, for it is sealed.”
And if it is given to those who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” they say, “We cannot read.”Isaiah 29:11-12 (NRSV)
Their resistance was a sign of unbelief.
When hearing or reading the good news of God’s love and care, of God’s gift of forgiveness and reconciliation, there is a warming of the heart, the personal, loving response to God Who has first loved you and me.
But Isaiah showed the people they were just pretending.
In Isaiah’s day worship had become routine. The privilege of having God’s revelation apparently did not mean much anymore.
The Lord said:Isaiah 29:13 (NRSV)
Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote
The people went through the motions of worship without any inner reality to match their outward behavior. They had set aside God’s word for their own traditions. This is having the form of godliness, as the apostle Paul once said, but denying its power. Their wisdom and discernment no longer came from being inspired by God.
Woe to those who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,Isaiah 29:15 (NRSV)
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?
They thought God did not see everything.
It is no different today, when we hide our own dark desires, prejudices, selfishness, and self-serving motivations—things we do not want others to know, but which you and I may allow to pervade and consume our minds and hearts.
Watch out, Isaiah said, such deception presumes on God’s grace.
You turn things upside down!Isaiah 29:16 (NRSV)
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?
Shall the thing made say of its maker,
“He did not make me,”
or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
God did not seem real to the people.
But the day is coming, Isaiah said in the rest of this chapter, when the Lord will finish God’s work in you, and you are going to thrive from God’s word coming to life in you. Then you will acknowledge that God is not only real, but present an sovereign.
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a scroll,
and freed from gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant shall be no more,
and the scoffer shall cease to be;
all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—
… they will sanctify the Holy One of JacobIsaiah 29:17-20, 24 (NRSV)
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,
and those who grumble will accept instruction.”
Faith must be founded upon the Word: God’s word in the Bible, and the living Word of God, Jesus
Commitment is the third component to saving faith, which I will get more into in the next post.