Week 15 Devotional Blog (April 7-13)
Isaiah 4 is a relief. God has been very blunt and honest with his people in Isaiah 3 about the mess they have created for themselves. He has been straight forward about the disaster and upheaval coming for them by his own hand. He is not shying away from that at all. God is telling them of the social disruption and unrest that He is sending to them because of the ways they have diminished Him. He is taking away his blessing and the the riches he has bestowed on His people and the favor he is poured out on them because they have made God's grace to them about them. They have fixated on the gifts rather than the Giver. They have been preoccupied with their own image rather than the One whose image they bear. And God is giving them a devastating and prolonged experience of the life they inevitably build for themselves when they make life about themselves. And we're left with a suffocating and overwhelmingly sad reality.
And we might expect Isaiah 4 to take us deeper into that darkness. But instead, Isaiah 4 reminds us that God's people have been caught up in a story of grace. The context of God's judgement is embedded in His story of promise and redemption. Isaiah 4 jolts us out of resignation and and out of despair, to reintroduce us to the God who saves guilty sinners like us.
"In that day" (v. 2), points us beyond the severe mercy of God to strip away that which we treasure, to the greater treasure which he is securing for us, which is the treasure He is conditioning us for. "That day" is a future day with Messianic implications, when God sprouts a twig off the Branch of David who will be a Light to the Nations and a blessing to the whole earth.
God is not just giving back to Israel in chapter 4 that which he took away in chapter 3. He is giving them something different and greater than they've ever had or even dared to imagine. This is not mere restoration. This is complete renewal. God is making them new by giving them something new... Someone new... to make them something new.
Isaiah invokes images of Exodus and Temple, where the presence of the Lord is manifest visibly in the smoke and fire, and he's envisioning a future day where God's presence powerfully rests on His people, the Church... where local assemblies of forgiven sinners gather for the celebration and display of His Glory. And in that time, Isaiah says, anticipating the days in which we are blessed to live, God himself will spread a canopy over His people, and give them shade and protection. That is our priilege, beloved. We live under the relief of God's gracious presence and ongoing renewal, and under the fierce defense of His infinite perfections.
God's spirit of judgement and burning referenced in v. 4, and depicted and described in chapter 3, it turns out, are not for our ruin but for our repair and renewal. He imposes difficulty and loss upon us not to punish us, but in pursuit of us. He visits us with various calamities and disruptive experiences, not crush us but to save us. This judgement and burning is not to condemn and blot us out, but it is to refine us and graft us in to something greater if we will receive the Lord's correction and trust in the Lord's kindness to us.
So God is talking to his people about the vineyard he planted and nurtured and cultivated, but which produced bad fruit in place of the grapes he intended. God gave himself to that vineyard devotedly. He provided everything and cared for it vigilantly, and he loved the vineyard fully, yet it did not fulfill its purpose. So, God is prepared to destroy it...
He will bring ruin upon the vineyard in an obvious way that matches the ruin produced by the vineyard. Because he gave himself fully to Israel, and loved her, protected her, established her, set her apart to himself, and made her prosperous, and yet she turned her heart away from him, he will undo all the good they have ignored.
And Isaiah says, specifically, the fruit God intended and looked for was justice and righteousness, yet he saw bloodshed and cries of distress. God wanted humaneness and Israel mimicked the worlds violence. God wanted equity and the Israel imitated the worlds corruption. God wanted Israel to display the beauty and welcome of God to the world, and instead they followed the socially disruptive worldly systems of elitism and abuse of power and exploitation of the of the vulnerable. God wanted them to display a moral standard elevated above the worldly cultures, and instead the took His name and drug it into the same moral sewer in which the world sloshes around.
God gives himself to his people to make them distinct from the world, not so that they can freely take on the same corrupt characteristics of the world and feel good about it. And this is really important for us as Jesus' church today... because God has created a new humanity through the finished work of Christ, that is now without borders but not without distinction.
Like Israel before us, the Church of Jesus, and every local church that bears his name, is to be a distinctive community with an elevated social environment, where justice is prized and practiced in a radical way and where holiness is pursued and guarded in a serious way. If the church has no distinctiveness from the worldly culture surrounding them, than there is nothing of that church worth surviving and God will treat her, in the end, as he responded to Israel in Isaiah 5... and we each have a personal contribution to make to the distinctiveness of our church... and each church has a meaningful contribution to make to the larger Church, as the people of God scattered around the world, but gathered together in the name of Jesus.
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