10/02/2015

Perfect Peace and Confident Trust (Isaiah 26)

Isaiah 26:1-27; 27:1

"
You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You. Trust in the Lord forever, because in Yah, the Lord, is an everlasting rock!" (Isa 26:3-4, HCSB).

Isaiah 24 is a general summary. All nations will be destroyed (Isa 24:1-3) and her drunken songs silenced (Isa 24:7-9), because the Lord alone will be exalted in that day (Isa 24:3). In Isaiah 25, God is going to have a feast on his great holy mountain (Isa 25:6). It is a feast for the whole world, for "all peoples." This is hyperbole here: the whole world is destroyed, and the whole world will be saved. No one escapes judgment, and everyone has the possibility of redemption. God will pull away the shroud that covers humanity (Isa 25:6). God will raise us from the dead. We will have songs in the night because of what he has done (Isa 25:9). But the arrogant will not escape. Proud and arrogant Moab will be pushed down into a manure pile (Isa 25:10). Isaiah 26-27 continues the thought of 24-25, such as the song of joy (Isa 26:1, 19; 27:2), because of God's victory over the city of oppression (Isa 26:5; 27:10, 13), but with a somewhat changed focus. Whereas ch. 24-25 focus on the victory and the feast which follows, ch. 26-27 reflect in a somewhat more solemn view upon the meaning of this victory for Judah. However, the general theme of God's sovereignty remains of central importance as does the atmosphere of hope stemming from that conviction.

Isaiah 26 is an affirmation of trust and a call for God to demonstrate his sovereignty through his people. Isaiah 27 concludes the section with a promise of return and restoration for Israel, making special use of the imagery of a vineyard.
  1. Thanks for God's deliverance (26:1-6): With steadfast trust, keep faith in God who has kept faith with Judah.
  2. Dependence on God (26:7-19): The sober reality that the wicked understand nothing but God's rod of judgment (7-15), and the helplessness of God's people (16-19).
  3. Promises to the faithful (26:20-27:1): The promise that God will indeed act. God will punish the sinful earth and triumph over it for his people's sake.
  4. God's passion for his vineyard (27:2-12).
The movement from future to present to future has the function of assuring the reader that God's promises are not merely rosy daydreams which ignore the contradictory present. In fact, these promises are made more convincing because they are made in the full light of the present. Revelation serves a similar purpose in NT times. It assures people that God was aware of the present but was not defeated by it. God's people are thus called to continued steadfast trust (Rev 2:10, 11, etc). We are called to the same kind of confidence today. We do not deny the present, nor do we know of any power to help ourselves. But we know a God whose strength is as limitless as his love and whose purposes remain steadfast: to bless all those who will commit themselves to him.

I. Thanks for God's Deliverance (26:1-6)

Instead of the silent and ruined chaotic city of the earth towering over the oppressed (Isa 24:8-10; 25:2; 26:5), there is now the city of God, one whose walls are salvation (Isa 26:1), whose gates are open to all who will enter (Isa 26:2), whose might is not arrogance but in humble commitment (Isa 65:17-25; Rev 21:9-27), and peopled with the faithful singing his praises (Isa 26:1-2). As always, God destroys the false, only to raise up the true. Negatively, the specific stimulus for this song is the overthrow of Moab (Isa 25:10-12), which is symbolic of the world-city. But more likely, the praise is offered for the positive side of all that is negatively represented in Isaiah 25.

The strong city of salvation with open gates is where the the righteous may enter (Isa 26:1-2). What are the four characteristics of God's people (Isa 26:3-4)? How does one experience "shalom shalom"?
  1. righteousness.
  2. faithfulness.
  3. steadfastness.
  4. trust.
What is the result of living as God's people? Do we first experience peace and then live this way? Or do we live this way because we experience peace? Practically, does it make a difference which comes first? John Oswalt writes, "One is able to behave (live) in this way because of a complete inner integrity that stems from complete dependence on God: "trust" (Isa 26:3)." Such is the kind of behavior that mirr ors that of the King.

Trust--the theme of this entire subdivision (ch.7-39)--is once again repeated. It is trust in the Lord, not in the nations. This trust is eminently justified because the Lord is as secure as a "rock" that is "eternal" (Isa 26:4), and because he will bring the "lofty city" of earth down into the dust (Isa 26:5-6). "I tried to exalt myself, but God humbles me." The Lord is the eternal Rock, whereas the city, the symbol of all earthly power, is crushed into dust. God will one day put the high and mighty under the humble and lowly, for the meek will inherit the earth (Ps 37:11). Especially for the people of God, it makes no sense to put one's faith in the mighty rulers and leaders of the earth (Isa 2:22).

II. Dependence on God (26:7-19)

A smooth path. In 26:7-11, Isaiah asks God to speed that day of retribution. He asks to "make the way (path) of the righteous smooth" (Isa 26:7, NIV; Dt 10:12). "The path of the righteous is level; You clear a straight path for the righteous" (Isa 26:7, HCSB). "The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous" (Isa 26:7, ESV). God levels mountains and fills valleys so that our path may be straight and smooth (Isa 40:3). God asks his people to live in the way they were made for based on his word and revelation. What way is that?

Wait on God, express his character. God desires that we trust him and wait on him (Isa 26:8a), rather than try to take control of our lives and manipulating situations according to our own plans and will. We don't say we trust God and then rush ahead to take care of ourselves in ways that violate God's law, his instructions (Isa 26:8a). They want to live in a way that will bring honor to God and not disgrace (Isa 26:8b). "I want your name to be glorified through me no matter what. I want the world to remember who you are and what you're done from what they see in me." How might this be achieved? "Morning" and "night" the believers passionate longing is for God (Isa 26:9a). This is not merely an emotional feeling that is desired. Rather, it is the manifestation of God's character in one's life. He is longing for the ethical evidence of God's presence to be unmistakably seen, because this is the only way "the people of the world" will learn what is right (Isa 26:9b).

Isa 26:9-11 express a profound truth. In the absence of repentance, grace "does not work." Until and unless people experience the consequences of their behavior, they often see no reason to change. What does Isaiah apparently not want God to do for the wicked? It is to not do good for the wicked (Isa 26:10). This may be our desperate condition in the U.S. God has been so good to us for 200 years we think we earned it, we deserve it. Isaiah says, God you need to give these folks a dose of judgment: they're not learning righteousness, they're learning wickedness. These are grim verses. It's painful. Lord, we're waiting, we're trusting, but unless you bring judgment on the wicked, they're going to keep doing what they're doing.

Isa 26:12 is a beautiful affirmation. God is the One who has done everything for his people. Whatever is accomplished in my life is your work. It's hard to be arrogant when we truly believe this. Such an affirmation is perhaps only genuinely possible for those who are mature. Isa 26:13-15 then particularize what God has done in and through his people. Isa 26:13b says that we want your name written over us. Jesus said, as often as you do this, do this in remembrance. Remember who you are and who has made you who you are. Although Israel's enemies have made numerous attempts to wipe out the nation and enslave its people, God has frustrated them and "enlarged the nation" in spite of them. None of this is to the glory of its people or its leaders. It is all to the glory of God (Isa 26:15).

Isa 26:16-18 continue the previous theme, but the focus changes from the might of God to the helplessness of the people. When the nations triumphed over them, they recognize that it was because of God's discipline and not because of the power of the nations (Isa 26:16). They were helpless under that punishment, like a woman with a false pregnancy who goes into labor but has nothing to deliver but wind (Isa 26:17-18a). They knew that no matter how much and how hard they struggled they were unable to deliver themselves or anyone else (Isa 26:18b). Isaiah is perhaps here reflecting on Israel's larger mission to be a blessing to the nations (Isa 26:18b), which they have obviously failed to be.

But despite his people's helplessness (Isa 26:18), Isaiah, speaking for God, tells them to not despair in Isa 26:19. Despite much failure and defeat, and despite his people's impotence, helplessness and a lack of impact and influence upon the nations, and despite many of the faithful who have died, God is declaring that death does not have the last word, because God does (Isa 26:19; 25:8).

III. Promises to the Faithful (26:20-21; 27:1)

In view of the promise of the resurrection (Isa 26:19), the people do not need to fear that God has forsaken them in his wrath (Isa 26:20). Instead, they can trust in his protective covering until his judgment on the nations has passed (Isa 26:21).

Isa 27:1 is saying the same thing as Isa 24:21-23 in different words. God is the sole sovereign of the universe. While evil and destruction seem to threaten the principles of justice upon which God's order is founded, they will not prevail. God will triumph and those who have kept faith with him through dark days will triumph with him. The true monster (represented by Leviathan), the monster of moral evil, before which God's people find themselves helpless, will be destroyed. Till that day, God's people may confidently await with joy.