Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ruled By That Which We Fear (Isaiah 8)


King Ahaz is afraid. The nation is split in two. From his throne in Judah, he has watched his sister nation form an alliance with their neighbour, Syria, and knows that the day will come that they join their military strength against Judah and attack. In this desperate situation, Ahaz is now considering his own alliance with the even stronger nation of Assyria for protection. The prophet Isaiah brought him a word from God that he need not fear Syria or Israel, but instead to just wait and trust God to deliver Judah from both (see Isaiah 7). If Ahaz will trust God, Isaiah tells him that by the growing violent nation of Assyria, God will deliver Judah from Israel and Syria. Before Ahaz now lies the decision to either trust the power of Assyria, whose military strength can be seen, or the greater sovereign authority of Isaiah’s God, whose power he does not yet see.

Isaiah 8:6-7a (ESVUK)
Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory.

Rather than quietly waiting, and trusting Isaiah’s God, the True King  in whose presence angels hide their face in fear (see Isaiah 6), Ahaz covets the power of Assyria, the advancing military superpower of his day.

Hundreds of years before, on the banks of the Red Sea, the people of Israel had cried out in fear when they saw the approaching Egyptian army. God, through Moses, told them to only be silent, and they would see God fight for them (Exodus 14:14). They stood and watched as the presence of God in the form of a cloud of smoke came between them and the advancing army. Moses led them through the Red Sea, and they watched as the army behind them were drowned. Ahaz has forgotten this God. In the midst of imminent military threat, he prefers to turn to the might of the empire rather than the Almighty God.

Ahaz and the nation of Judah will be ruled by that which Ahaz coveted, destroyed by that which he fears. Had he feared God, the corruption in his government that had led to idolatry and even child sacrifice, would have been destroyed. Had he coveted God’s righteousness, his kingdom would have returned to the Torah law, and once again be ruled by justice and compassion. Instead, God promises that by Assyria, the kingdom of Judah will be scattered, and the line of the kings of David will end.

Isaiah 8:9-10 (ESVUK)
Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armour and be shattered;
    strap on your armour and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us.

Isaiah’s final word on the fate of Ahaz king of Judah is a judgment, but not without hope. The judgment of Egypt at the Red Sea was inevitable once ordained by the Sovereign God that fought for God’s people as they remained silent. Judah now faces this same inevitability though they may plan and prepare and fight. God is with them.

“God-with-us”, the theme of the first twelve chapters of Isaiah’s book, most recently arose in Isaiah 7. Only a few verses before (Isaiah 7:14), Isaiah prophesied to Ahaz that Syria and Israel would fall in the time a child would be born and grown up. This child would be named “Immanuel”, which means “God-with-us”. This same God-With-Us is the one who promised that David would always have a son on the throne, and that Judah would have a king whose reign would never end.

God is with them. God is with them through the time of judgment. God is with them in their exile. God is with them as they are restored back to their land.

Hundreds of years later, they would actually see and know their forever king, Jesus, the Son of David, the true King of the tribe of Judah. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. By the same humble trust of silent Israel by the Red Sea would all humanity be saved in quietly trusting in Jesus.

Isaiah 8:12-15 (ESV)
Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

God will judge the unjust, but those who fall upon God's mercy will be spared. This humility is impossible for the proud. By their offense at it are they condemned. God has offered salvation from the corruption of the power and control and violence of empire, that which Ahaz so desired, and by which he was destroyed. Our same selfishness and hedonism and self-reliance at the expense of humble trust and surrender to God will just as surely destroy us. The grace of God’s salvation is received in being silent at the shore of the Red Sea. We have no sword to raise. We have no power to threaten. Standing on God in faith, we will watch as his presence in Immanuel, God-With-Us, steps between us and the coming judgment for our sin. By grace, he walks with us through the Red Sea of his death, in which the armies of our corruption will drown, and then carries us back up onto the shore on the side of the Promised Land by his resurrection

Romans 9:31-33 (ESVUK)
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

If our fear is in that which we see, the vain imaginings of the power of the world’s empires, we will seek that same strength and power for ourselves, and try to be saved by it. This foolish arrogance is our alliance with Assyria, the very empire we fear. If our faith is in the strength of empire, by no word or deed will we escape the rock who will fall on us. In our humility and surrender to fall in faith on the rock of Jesus Christ, the only True King, we will be saved. In this act is the fear of God. Jesus is an offense to the proud, and freedom to the humble.

Immanuel. God-is-with-us.

Click the image for the entire series from Isaiah

No comments:

Post a Comment