It seems many good people had died early in life, and no one appeared to be taking note of that trend.

The righteous perish,
    and no one considers why;
the devout are taken away,
    while no one understands
    that it is due to evil that the righteous are taken away.

Those who walk uprightly enter into peace
    and rest on their couches.

Isaiah 57:1-2 (NRSVUE, italics added)

The righteous were defined both by their hearts and their habits—because of their love for God and God’s word, their lives reflected God’s righteousness.

The key word in this chapter is “peace.” The righteous will enter peace, their Sabbath rest, either in obedience to God here in this life, or in eternity.

By Lrjlo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Two Concerning Trends

As Isaiah gazed into the future, he saw two trends emerging among God’s people.

Death of the Righteous

Righteous people were dying, and being taken away, but no one was seeing the significance. So, Isaiah explained it: It is due to evil. Nevertheless, even when the righteous are not valued or honored, peace is their destiny

It is not clear whether Isaiah meant God was somehow responsible in some way for these early deaths, perhaps to protect the righteous from experiencing the evil to come, or (more likely) that because of evil occurring in that time – persecution, oppression, abuse – righteous people were dying. Either way, they would enter peace and rest.

To be overlooked, even persecuted, is bearable when you and I walk through it with God. Even literally to die is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Sometimes, as perhaps Isaiah was saying here, dying can be God’s deliverance from evil. For a Christian, death is our final, and sometimes most fruitful, opportunity to bear witness to the truth of God’s everlasting love and covenant of peace.

Think of the funerals and memorial services you have attended where the person who died was a believer, and those remembering them commemorate God’s presence and grace in their life. So often, in the vulnerability of grief, others are finally ready to hear about how their beloved one lived for the Lord and died in peace, knowing with certainty they would soon be in glory. Think of the hope that brings.

By Doyle of London – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Degeneracy of the Rest

Those who were left had sunken to new lows of debasement, as Isaiah made clear in the next ten verses.

  • Verse 3, spiritual adultery.
  • Verse 4, contempt for God.
  • Verse 5, a culture that worshiped sex, tolerated sexual excess and aberration, and sacrificed its children.
  • Verse 8, desertion of God.
  • Verse 9, experimentation with other religions and philosophies.
  • Verse 10, people that wore themselves out with all their sin.

Would it not have been better for them to have turned to God, admitting they had really been wrong? 

But do you and I do that? How often do we rather try to justify our position, or rationalize the wrong thing we agreed to, or that we did? So often, the imagined humiliation you and I would experience if we admitted our wrong seems too much to endure.

Cop Out

Instead, we say, “Well, at least it benefitted me.”  “Well, I was in a hard place, it was my only option.”  In these ways we can inure ourselves to the otherwise convicting work of God’s Spirit. And so it was for the people Isaiah was writing to.

You grew weary from your many wanderings,
    but you did not say, “It is no use!”
You found your desire rekindled,
    and so you did not weaken.

Isaiah 57:10 (NRSVUE)

God’s kindness and patience were mistaken for God’s indifference.

Whom did you dread and fear
    so that you lied
and did not remember me
    or give me a thought?
Have I not kept silent and closed my eyes,
    and so you do not fear me?

Who indeed had they feared more than God, that they would have thought it possible to lie to God about their motives and their actions? Or had they lost their reverence for God when no terrible consequence had stopped them in their tracks?

We might ask ourselves the same questions.

A verdict would be coming, and those things the people had put their faith in would not benefit them once that verdict came.

the objects you made will not help you.

What would help them, and help you and me today, is to throw ourselves upon God’s mercy.

But whoever takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and inherit my holy mountain.

Isaiah 57:13 (NRSVUE)
By Doyle of London – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Confession and Cleansing

It means admitting to our frailties, fragilities, faults, and failings. It means owning up to our own mess, those things we know, deep down, are wrong. Honest confession, without trying to justify or make excuses, or minimizing is what taking refuge in the Lord is all about. God guarantees grace in response.

God is light and no darkness at all is in him.

If we said that we have fellowship with him and walk around in the darkness, we are lying [to] ourselves and we do [not live the truth], and if we walk around in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, if we [are acknowledging of] our sins, trustworthy and righteous [is the one] who forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 4:5-9
Early Christian grave stone in the lapidarium (“stone collection”) in the East Crypt of the Basilica of Saint Servatius in Maastricht, the Netherlands. This stone is quite unique in showing a Chi Rho Alpha Omega monogram with a dove, as well as another cross with a dove on one stone. (5th century) | By Kleon3 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Perennial Struggle

Being born anew from above may start the process of sanctification, but there will still be conflict between our old, maladaptive strategies for life, and the seed of righteousness that God plants within us. That seed has to grow, to fill more and more of our personality and character, to become more of what you and I naturally think and do and say. The seed grows as we both respond to the Holy Spirit convicting us and teaching us, and as we actually walk out the wisdom we learn in our real lives.

When we are finally willing to confess, repent, and respond to God, God enables us to follow through.

For thus says the high and lofty one
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place
    and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57:15 (NRSVUE, italics added)

God of the universe, unimaginably vast and superior to you and me in every way, comes to dwell with those who are humble and contrite.

This is exactly what God did when Jesus took on a human body. This is exactly what God does when the Lord fills each believer with God’s own life.

I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
    I will lead them and repay them with comfort,
    creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord,
    and I will heal them.

Isaiah 57:18-19 (NRSVUE, emphases added)

Contrition of sin brings God’s peace; continuing in sin prevents peace

Early Christian grave stone in the lapidarium (“stone collection”) in the East Crypt of the Basilica of Saint Servatius in Maastricht, the Netherlands. This one is of Amabeles, who according to the Latin inscription lived 4 years, 6 month and 12 days, and now rests in Christ (5th century) | By Kleon3 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

All you and I do is come to God and confess. God does all the heavy lifting – God heals and restores.

It is not so for those who continue to ignore God’s invitation to peace and rest, to healing and restoration.

But the wicked are like the tossing sea
    that cannot keep still;
    its waters toss up mire and mud.
There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.

Isaiah 57:20-21 (NRSVUE, emphases added)

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