Thursday, September 3, 2015

Isaiah 33 - Brokenness

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable,
let us be thankful and please God by worshiping Him with holy fear and awe.
For our God is a devouring fire.
Hebrews 12:28-29
A Message about Assyria
1What sorrow awaits you Assyrians, who have destroyed othersa
but have never been destroyed yourselves.
You betray others,
but you have never been betrayed.
When you are done destroying,
you will be destroyed.
When you are done betraying,
you will be betrayed.
2But LORD, be merciful to us,
for we have waited for You.
Be our strong arm each day
and our salvation in times of trouble.
3The enemy runs at the sound of your voice.
When You stand up, the nations flee!
4Just as caterpillars and locusts strip the fields and vines,
so the fallen army of Assyria will be stripped!
5Though the LORD is very great and lives in heaven,
He will make Jerusalem His home of justice and righteousness.
6In that day He will be your sure foundation,
providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the LORD will be your treasure.
7But now your brave warriors weep in public.
Your ambassadors of peace cry in bitter disappointment.
8Your roads are deserted;
no one travels them anymore.
The Assyrians have broken their peace treaty
and care nothing for the promises they made before witnesses.c
They have no respect for anyone.
9The land of Israel wilts in mourning.
Lebanon withers with shame.
The plain of Sharon is now a wilderness.
Bashan and Carmel have been plundered.
10But the LORD says: “Now I will stand up.
Now I will show my power and might.
11You Assyrians produce nothing but dry grass and stubble.
Your own breath will turn to fire and consume you.
12Your people will be burned up completely,
like thornbushes cut down and tossed in a fire.
13Listen to what I have done, you nations far away!
And you that are near, acknowledge My might!”
14The sinners in Jerusalem shake with fear.
Terror seizes the godless.
“Who can live with this devouring fire?” they cry.
“Who can survive this all-consuming fire?”
15Those who are honest and fair,
who refuse to profit by fraud,
who stay far away from bribes,
who refuse to listen to those who plot murder,
who shut their eyes to all enticement to do wrong—
16these are the ones who will dwell on high.
The rocks of the mountains will be their fortress.
Food will be supplied to them,
and they will have water in abundance.
17Your eyes will see the king in all his splendor,
and you will see a land that stretches into the distance.
18You will think back to this time of terror, asking,
“Where are the Assyrian officers
who counted our towers?
Where are the bookkeepers
who recorded the plunder taken from our fallen city?”
19You will no longer see these fierce, violent people
with their strange, unknown language.
20Instead, you will see Zion as a place of holy festivals.
You will see Jerusalem, a city quiet and secure.
It will be like a tent whose ropes are taut
and whose stakes are firmly fixed.
21The LORD will be our Mighty One.
He will be like a wide river of protection
that no enemy can cross,
that no enemy ship can sail upon.
22For the LORD is our judge,
our lawgiver, and our king.
He will care for us and save us.
23The enemies’ sails hang loose
on broken masts with useless tackle.
Their treasure will be divided by the people of God.
Even the lame will take their share!
24The people of Israel will no longer say, “We are sick and helpless,” or the LORD will forgive their sins.

Isaiah 33 begins with the problem that Assyria has treacherously acted against Judah. This event that the prophecy is recorded in 2 Kings 18:13-17. The king of Assyria attacked Judah and Hezekiah, the king of Judah, asked to pay tribute to Assyria for them to stop attacking. So Hezekiah paid 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold and all the silver and gold in God’s temple and the king’s palace. But after taking the tribute, Assyria continued its attack on Judah. Verse 1 identifies this moment as a betrayal. But once they are done betraying others, they themselves will be betrayed.

Yet again Judah thought that they could solve their problem. This time they thought they could find relief by paying their way out of this mess. Once again, it did not work. Self-reliance always fails. The failure of self-reliance leads to next response: “Uh, oh! Help me, Lord!” Isaiah is leading the prayer of the people for God to be gracious and to be their salvation during this time of trouble. Now that they have exhausted all their options, the king and nation are crying out to the Lord for deliverance. 

Why do I make this mistake so often? I look to my own power rather than the power of the Lord. The Lord God becomes a last resort. Only when all my power and efforts fail, then will I make my plea to the Lord. The Lord hates this for I am showing my lack of faith in Him.

The Lord is able to deliver. The Lord is exalted. He dwells on high. He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. He is stability. Why does devastation come before this truth? The devastation and brokenness of Judah is described in verses 7-9. The heroes are crying in the streets. The roads are empty and destroyed. 

Then the change in verse 10. “Now I will stand up.” The Lord says He will rise and be exalted. God is going to act. Why now? Why is it now God will act? Why not act earlier before Assyria had come through and destroyed the nation? Verses 7-9 deliver the answer. 

The people had not been broken in their hearts yet. They thought they could save themselves. They thought they could rely on themselves. Now they are calling out to the Lord for His grace because they are broken. God responds to brokenness. “The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17). 

I must never outgrow the humility of brokenness before God. God receives my brokenness, not my self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Now God will act. God will act for His own exaltation. Now He will be exalted by His own actions. Stand back and watch the Lord at work!

God says to Jerusalem: "your actions were futile". Your payments to Assyria did nothing. Your plans did not save you. Your strength did not deliver you. God says that all you did was burn yourself with your efforts. God tells Judah that their efforts did nothing and now God will act so that the people are like thorns cut down and thrown into the fire. The might and strength of the Lord is to be acknowledged! Only God can deliver. Stop relying on yourselves.

Inverse 14, the sinners are afraid and the godless are trembling. They now ask a very important question: “Who can survive this all-consuming fire?” Who can stand in the presence of our awesome God? Now the people recognize their lowliness. This is what healthy fear of the Lord looks like. It is seeing the holiness and might of the Lord. I deserve the wrath of God; I am powerless before Him; yet He is gracious.

God declares change must happen. He calls me to deep repentance, to live a changed life. Those who can dwell with the consuming fire “are honest and fair, refuse to profit by fraud, stay far away from bribes, refuse to listen to those who plot murder, shut their eyes to all enticement to do wrong—these are the ones who will dwell on high.” Flat out refuse evil. 

The remainder speaks to what God is going to do with grace. The hope is to a glorious future in the Messiah, not to present circumstances. Isaiah begins, “Your eyes will see the King in all His splendor”.  “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Isaiah is speaking about the physical boundaries of the glorious kingdom of God, whose rule is over all the earth with Jesus as the King (cf. Isaiah 32:1). 

The people of God will live in security. Those who stand against you will be removed (33:18-19).  The King will come and free His people to live permanently with God, their consuming fire.
God is here. Nothing can harm them. Zion will be sufficient in God. 

I have the Lord and therefore I am sufficient. I will be protected and sustained because the Lord is my Judge, my Lawgiver, and my King. He saves me. Once helpless Zion is now pictured taking the spoils of the enemies. Even the lame take the plunder and prey. God ruins my enemies. God tells me to stop relying on myself and trust Him completely, He will be my strength and supply my needs. God defends those who come to Him with a broken spirit.

The final verse is powerful. The people of Israel will no longer say, “We are sick and helpless,” or the LORD will forgive their sins."  My God, the consuming fire, dispenses abundant grace. God is my refuge. I must refuse the urge for self-sufficiency and independence and trust in the Lord. In Him, I experience a transformed life. Here God says: "there is nothing to fear."