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Good morning. Today we are in Isaiah chapters 30-31, about halfway through our study of Isaiah. As I have mentioned many, many times before, Isaiah is my absolute favorite book, and one of the main reasons is because it describes so vividly my absolute favorite thing-the Kingdom of God. And it’s not an abstract, disembodied theological description. Isaiah uses startling, concrete, visceral imagery–poetry, metaphor, geo-political intrigue and even naked performance art–in an attempt to give his people a glimpse of what God’s kingdom looks and feels and tastes and sounds like. He says it looks like weapons turned into gardening tools. It feels like grief and sorrow and death don’t even exist. It tastes like a sumptuous feast, and everyone is invited. It sounds like all of our cries and chaos transformed into a symphony of joy.
Isaiah wants them to feel it, to sense it, and to crave it so desperately that they will finally let go of the destructive and deadly ways that they have been running things and run instead into the arms of the One who makes all things new: the Holy, Holy, Holy, true and just King who will wipe away death forever.
But, much like us, the people of Isaiah’s day don’t see their ways of doing things as destructive and deadly. Other people, sure. Other people are pretty messed up, but not us. We’re God’s people; we’re cool. We’re just doing what we have to do to keep out of the mess that everyone else has made of the world. If God would just get on board with our plans, everything would be fine–said the people of Isaiah’s day.
Isaiah says, God sees the mess that you have made of the world. He sees it better than you do. He sees the absolute disaster your plans to deal with it are hurtling you toward, and He’ll let you chase that disaster till the bitter end, if that’s what you decide. But God has a plan too, a plan to deal with evil once and for all, a plan to put things right and make all things new. He will heal His world, one way or another, and you do not want to be on the wrong side of His cleansing when it comes.
Our passage today is one of the many in Isaiah that warn of the impending collision between the people’s way of dealing with their problems, and God’s plan to deal with all problems. It’s two chapters, and I would love to read the entire passage, but it is a bit much. We’re are gonna read most of it though, and we’re going to use a lot of pictures. Isaiah is a poetic book, and in this passage, he is talking to people about the situation they are in at the moment, but he is using key phrases and words to remind them of things God has done for them in the past and the promises God has made and promises they have made to God. Those memories layered on top of the argument he is making add depth and emotional punch to his plea.
For example: does anyone know what I mean if I say, “As you wish”? How many people recognize the phrase, “This is the way”? Or “He’s not a tame lion”? My guess is that if you recognize any of those phrases, you don’t just remember that you’ve heard those words in that order before, rather you remember a sense of whatever story they are connected to, and you feel just a little bit of how that story makes you feel. That’s what Isaiah is trying to do in this passage. Since we are not as deeply steeped in the same stories and memories that Isaiah’s listeners would have shared, we’re going to use slides to hopefully help make those connections.
Disclaimer: Isaiah did not leave us an annotated edition of his writings. I am not claiming that Isaiah deliberately intended every single reference we’re going to have an image of or that these are the only ones he did intend. These are the images that I, Biblical scholars and commentators recognized and found useful in understanding the text. Also, as we will be going through slides at a rate that is clearly unfair to {whoever is doing the slides}, I am going to employ a technique I learned from Warren Lattimore Jr., the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church over in the 7th ward. According to him, it turns out that the Hebrew word “Selah” which we see so often in the Psalms, is actually ancient worship leader for “Next slide please.” So (for the purposes of this morning) when I say. “Selah,” please go to the next slide. Thank you, good luck, and I’m sorry.
Before we jump into this passage with both feet, let’s take a moment to bless one another and to pray. So I will say, “The Lord be with You” and you respond, “And also with you.” The Lord be with You.
Holy, Holy, Holy God, our Deliverer, our Teacher, and our Hope, You have set before us life and death, blessing and cursing. Help us to choose life, that we may walk in Your way and rejoice at Your coming. Amen
Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 1: Oh, rebellious children, says the LORD,
who carry out a plan, but not mine; [Selah]
who make an alliance [literally-pour out a metal covering], but against my will,
adding sin to sin; [Selah]
2 who set out to go down to Egypt
without asking for my counsel, [Selah]
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh,
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt;
3 Therefore the protection of Pharaoh shall become your shame,
and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt your humiliation.
Israel has a plan. Their nation is in grave peril. They are surrounded by strong enemies who are threatening to overrun them. They need help. So, they turn for help to their other neighbors who are also strong and powerful and really good at fighting and have lots of fancy weapons, and, o yeah, enslaved them that one time and massacred their children and would have destroyed them completely if God hadn’t delivered them in a spectacularly powerful way. Remember? Remember God? Your refuge? Your shelter?
The problem is not that Israel has a plan; it’s that their plan isn’t God’s plan. Their plan is to look to go crawling back to the very thing that ruined their lives before, instead of to the One who set them free from that very thing. I mean, that’s clearly insane. We would never do anything like that. We would never let the pressures of the world or the weight of our own brokenness drive us away from God and back to the very things He has rescued us from. We are so much smarter than that.
We see in the next verses that envoys from Judah are already in Egypt trying to buy their aid. In a reverse of the Exodus, they have travelled back across the dangerous wilderness that God brought them safely through. Their animals are once again loaded down with gold, but this time, they will be handing their wealth over to the Egyptians, instead of the other way around. And for what? [Selah]
Egypt’s help is worthless and empty,
therefore I have called her,
“Rahab (or Leviathan, the storm) who sits still.”[b]
The Lord says, this mighty beast of a nation whose destructive power you imagine will save you, the one I delivered you from, is powerless. It can do nothing. [Selah]
8 Go now, write it before them on a tablet,
and inscribe it in a book,
so that it may be for the time to come
as a witness forever. [Selah]
9 For they are a rebellious people,
faithless children,
children who will not hear
the instruction of the LORD;
In turning to Egypt as their shelter and their refuge, instead of to the LORD who delivered them from Egypt, the people of Judah are forsaking their covenant, they are abandoning their identity as the people who “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one.” I’m sure they don’t see it that way. I’m sure they think that they are doing the LORD’s work, protecting what God has built. But God’s work and His kingdom do not need our protection. And God’s ways of protecting are not Egypt’s ways. As Alex said before, God has dispensed with the weapons of the enemy. It is not for us to pick them up on God’s behalf. It certainly not for us to run to them for help instead of running to God. That’s crazy.
Isaiah says, “…you reject this word (the word of the LORD), and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them; [in v15 God says] In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you refused
So what then? Well, as Adam loves to say, “Burger King;” God says, “Have it your way.”
You want oppression and deceit, you’re gonna get oppression and deceit and everything that comes with it. You wanna flee on horses, then you’re gonna flee all right. You’re gonna be chased. If you choose the weapons of the enemy, you get the weapons of the enemy. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
But when God says, “Have it your way,” He really says, “As you wish.” It is not because God doesn’t love us that He allows us to suffer the consequences of our rejection of Him. It’s because He loves us so much. He loves us–all of us–too much to allow evil to go on unchecked forever. It is because of His love that He will destroy every weapon of the enemy, and we do not want to be holding on to them when He does. We should not be holding on to them at all, but we do. We all do. It is so hard not to.
We live in a world that runs on the weapons of the enemy. We are constantly surrounded by it, constantly bombarded. In flashing neon lights and it subtle whispers, we are told again and again: Look, if you want to succeed, if you want to survive, if you want to feel good, you just have to pick these up. And we do it. Every one of us, in large ways and small. Like the people of Judah, we reject the Word of the LORD. We follow our own plan. We chose oppression and deceit, power and privilege and control, and we suffer because of it. So, what then? Does God wash His hands of us? Turn His back on us?
18 Therefore [says v.18] the LORD waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him. [Selah]
19 Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more.
He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry;
when he hears it, he will answer you. 20
Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more,
but your eyes shall see your Teacher. [Selah]
21 And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left,
your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
22 Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images.
You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”
God does not abandon us to the pain and misery we have chosen. He is waiting–anxiously, eagerly, on tip-toe waiting–to grace us, to mercy us, to put an end to our sorrow, to hear our cry, to answer us, to deliver us, to show us Himself. Gregory the Great said, when God shows us Himself, when we see our Teacher, and we turn our backs to His face, He will still be there, right behind us. We will still hear His voice saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” You don’t have to keep going to way you are now. It is only causing you pain. You don’t have to keep holding on to the things that will destroy you; there is a better way. And when we see how good His way is, when we taste how satisfying His love is, we will tear our idols apart with our own hands and throw them away like the wretched things they are. [Selah]
Verse 25 says: 25 On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 Moreover the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the LORD binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.
The consequences of our alliances with evil are devastating and real, like a day of great slaughter, when towers fall. But even then, on every mountain and hilltop–in every holy temple and surrendered heart, every place where heaven and earth touch–God is pouring out His grace and mercy, His Spirit and His love, His rivers of life, as He did in the garden, as He will in the new Jerusalem. He will make the night as bright as the day, and the day as bright as new creation. He will heal His people. He will make all things new.
This can be a scary thing. We like things the way that they are more than we want to admit, but it should also give us hope. It is our only hope. God will deal with evil. He will destroy death forever. He will end oppression and injustice, lies and greed, ruthlessness, arrogance and selfishness. We may be tempted to use those things to save ourselves, or just to make our lives easier. We may imagine that in doing so, we are helping God. But Hear this, O church, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one. We are not God. We may have a million reasons to not trust God’s plan–to think that service, justice, honesty, generosity, gentleness, humility and self-sacrificing love will only get us stepped on or killed. But we are not God. We cannot see then end result of anything we do, and we cannot change the outcome. God can do both, and He can raise the dead. [Selah]
Verses 27-33 describe the coming of the Name of the LORD to destroy the destroyer, to put an end to his works and his weapons . It is a tumultuous jumble of images: fire and hail and tempest, the Breath of God like rushing water rising to the necks of His enemies, while at the same time there is a song in the night, there is gladness of heart, there are tambourines and rejoicing.
Chapter 31: Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help
and who rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the LORD! [Selah]
2 Yet he too is wise and brings disaster;
he does not call back his words,
but will rise against the house of the evildoers,
and against the helpers of those who work iniquity.
3 The Egyptians are human, and not God;
their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When the LORD stretches out his hand,
the helper will stumble, and the one helped will fall,
and they will all perish together. [Selah]
4 For thus the LORD said to me,
As a lion or a young lion growls over its prey,
and—when a band of shepherds is called out against it—
is not terrified by their shouting
or daunted at their noise,
so the LORD of hosts will come down
to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill. [Selah]
5 Like birds hovering overhead, so the LORD of hosts
will protect Jerusalem;
he will protect and deliver it,
he will spare and rescue it.
6 Turn back to him whom you[a] have deeply betrayed, O people of Israel.
7 For on that day all of you shall throw away your idols of silver and idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you. [Selah]
8 “Then the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of mortals;
and a sword, not of humans, shall devour him;
he shall flee from the sword,
and his young men shall be put to forced labor.
9 His rock shall pass away in terror,
and his officers desert the standard in panic,”
says the LORD, whose fire is in Zion,
and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.
This is the word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.
We’ve talked a lot through Isaiah (and will continue to do so, ’cause it’s a major theme) about these sort of dueling proclamations of “everything is terrible; you’re doing it all wrong” but “God has a plan, and God’s going to make everything right”–back and forth, despair and hope. As we like to quote in our house, “the world goes not well, but the kingdom comes.” Both of these things are true; they’re also both the same truth. God is good and just and holy, and He is dispensing with the weapons of the enemy, all of them, even the ones we like. That is the terrible, wonderful news. God is defending his city like a lion, and He is not a tame lion. Anyone–Hebrew or Gentile, Egyptian or Assyrian–who comes against His kingdom, His plan, His healing, His peace, His justice, His liberation will face His claws, and it will not feel good. But to anyone–Hebrew or Gentile, Egyptian or Assyrian–who runs to Him for help, who gives up their plan and walks in His way, that lion’s roar is the sound of their rescue.
God will pass over them like a mother bird passes over her nest, shielding and protecting. God will dwell with them–a fire in their midst–purifying, strengthening, burning away the darkness.
What then should we do, if this is our God–if this is the God of the whole world?
We should give up our plans. We should drop the weapons of the enemy; say, “Not as I wish, but as You wish. Your will be done. We should walk in His way. We should crave His kingdom and rejoice at His coming. We should welcome His fire. It will make us clean. It will burn away the disease of our soul. It will set us free. Nothing will burn that has ever done us any good, and nothing we do will really be good till it passes through the flame.
I won’t pretend it is easy or painless, but it is good. It is the only good. I won’t pretend that you or I or we as a church will never again pick up the weapons of the enemy, never again put our trust in Egypt, never again run headlong into destruction thinking we are somehow saving ourselves. I know that I will make these mistakes again, but I have hope.
I have hope that when God says have it your way, when He allows me to feel the pain of the consequences of my sin, He is still saying, “as you wish.”
He is still saying, “I love you.”
I have hope that even when I turn my back on Him in arrogance or foolishness or fear or unbelief, I will hear a voice behind me saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
I have hope that God has a plan for our good, and He will defend it like a lion. And though He is not a tame lion, His roar is the sound of my rescue.
His fire is my hope. It is hope for us all.
Alex has been ending a lot of his messages with poems and songs and quotations, and I am going to do the same. In a minute, we are going to take communion together. It’s a way of remembering what God has done for us, how Christ on the cross stood between us and the death we deserve, like a lion, like bird. He is our Teacher and our Way, our refuge and our shelter. When we take communion, we run to Him. We ask for His healing, His cleansing fire. So before we do that, I invite you to join me in a song. It’s the song we sang on Pentecost–a prayer of surrender to the fire of God. Only sing it if you mean it, but mean it: [Selah]
There is fire in Your coming
There is fire in Your eyes
There’s a fire that we all must pass through
Only what’s of You survives
Baptize us with holy fire
We surrender all our good
Into Your hands, we commend
Our flesh and spirits till the end.