Monday, 16 May 2011

Isaiah 57 Series: Introduction

Ok, I have decided to try my hand at a little mini-series. The subject of this first mini series is going to be Isaiah 57. For those of you who are interested, this came about through asking God through prayer to give me a chapter. As I was doing this, I opened the Bible, and Isaiah 57 was what it opened to. The interesting thing about this is that, having not read Isaiah 57 before, I will be viewing it with very fresh eyes.
Before we read Chapter 57, I personally value putting parts of the Bible that I read into context. The Grace Institute: Isaiah In Context, is a fantastic resource for this, but for those of you who don’t have time to read this, I will bullet point what I consider to be the most important points it makes.
- The book of Isaiah is the longest book in the longest book in the old testament.
- It is the most quoted old testament book in the new testament – reason alone to take the book seriously.
-  In the Hebrew Bible, the book is found in the second section – the Prophets, the primary purpose of which was to proclaim God’w word to people, and fore-tell the future.
- The prophets were all based in Isreal and Judah. They were from all walks of life, and weren’t ‘pawns of the monarchy’.
- Isaiah 1 says this on the context Isaiah: ‘These visions concerning Judah and Jerusalem came to Isaiah son of Amoz during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah -- all kings of Judah’ (NLV)
- Around this time ten northern tribes rebelled against King David, meaning Isreal was divided into to kingdoms – Israel and Judah.
- At the time, both were insignificant in world terms, acting as pawns for the world’s super-powers, such as Assyria. However, Israel and Judah both experienced brief rises in influence and power, due to political turmoil and epidemics in Assyria. At this time, Israel was ruled by King Jeroboam II.
- Meanwhile, King Uzziah ruled Judah. he followed God and lead Judah into peace and prosperity not seen since the reign of King Solomon. However, he contracted Leprosy, and his son jotham ruled in his place.
-When King Jeroboam died, Israel fell into political chaos; Four of the next five kings were assassinated in military coups. Also, Israel faced new threat as Assyria regained its strength.
- Under the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III, Assyria, conquered almost all of the middle east.
- “God warned Israel through the prophets that unless they repented of their idolatry, that Assyria would destroy them (2 Kings 17:13-18). Yet the people did not listen. In 722, Tiglath-Pileser's son, Shalmaneser V, discovered that Israel was plotting with Egypt to rebel against him. So he destroyed Samaria, and carried away all the people of Israel into captivity.” – Israel ignored the prophets of God and was destroyed.
- Under the rule of King Hezekiah, while Israel ignored God’s prophets and was destroyed, Judah heeded their words and experienced a national revival. Hezekiah destroyed the idolswhich were tripping up the Jews, and trusted God.
- “The most telling example of Hezekiah's trust in God came in 701 BC, when King Sennacherib of Assyria launched an invasion of Palestine. Sennacherib had faced the Egyptian army in a major battle in the plains of Judah and won. With this victory under his belt, Sennacherib headed to Jerusalem to lay siege to the capital city. In this story, told both in 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37-39, Hezekiah does not surrender, but heeding the advice of the prophet Isaiah, leads the nation in prayer and fasting. The Assyrian army is stricken by a plague from God and returns to Nineveh.”
- After his death, Judah went into a downward spiral of civil war and money problems. Meanwhile, Babylon’s power and influence was rising, and became the new dominant empire after defeating Egypt at the battle of Carchemish (605 B.C). Babylon would be used by God to bring judgement to an unrepentant Judah.
- The Jews were exiled to Babylon from 605 to 536 B.C, when King Cyrus of Persia Conquered Babylon, and gave permission for the Jews to return to their homeland.
- “The exile accomplished its purpose, as the worship of foreign gods would never again take place in Judah.”
- In Isaiah’s day, most King’s of Judah followed God (Yahweh).
- Yahweh is a monotheistic God, meaning their is only one – no separate God’s. This is something that was unique for Isaiah’s day.
- Yahweh insists that you must not worship any other God’s:
Exodus 20 says
3 "Do not worship any other gods besides me. 4 "Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals or fish. 5 You must never worship or bow down to them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not share your affection with any other god! I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations.”
- Jeroboam deliberately perverted the worship of God, building his own temples, so that his people wouldn’t have to visit Judah. he also built to Gold Calves – therefore breaking the second commandment.
- The next major perversion was that Israelites started worshiping Baal – an ancient Canaanite God of fertility. Worship of this God heavily involved sexual acts.
- The next major perversion which Isaiah faced was when King Ahaz of Judah ordered the tearing down of an alter to God (which had been given to Moses by Yahweh himself), to be replaced by an Assyrian design, in order to win favour with Tiglath Pileser.
- In 2 Kings, we learn that Ahaz sacrificed to many other Gods – even sacrificing his own son at one point.
With all of this in mind it is probably a good idea now to read Isaiah 57, so here is the NLT version:
Isaiah 57
1 Good people pass away;
      the godly often die before their time.
      But no one seems to care or wonder why.
   No one seems to understand
      that God is protecting them from the evil to come.
2 For those who follow godly paths
      will rest in peace when they die.
Idolatrous Worship Condemned
3 “But you—come here, you witches’ children,
      you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!
4 Whom do you mock,
      making faces and sticking out your tongues?
      You children of sinners and liars!
5 You worship your idols with great passion
      beneath the oaks and under every green tree.
   You sacrifice your children down in the valleys,
      among the jagged rocks in the cliffs.
6 Your gods are the smooth stones in the valleys.
      You worship them with liquid offerings and grain offerings.
   They, not I, are your inheritance.
      Do you think all this makes me happy?
7 You have committed adultery on every high mountain.
      There you have worshiped idols
      and have been unfaithful to me.
8 You have put pagan symbols
      on your doorposts and behind your doors.
   You have left me
      and climbed into bed with these detestable gods.
   You have committed yourselves to them.
      You love to look at their naked bodies.
9 You have given olive oil to Molech[a]
      with many gifts of perfume.
   You have traveled far,
      even into the world of the dead,[b]
      to find new gods to love.
10 You grew weary in your search,
      but you never gave up.
   Desire gave you renewed strength,
      and you did not grow weary.
11 “Are you afraid of these idols?
      Do they terrify you?
   Is that why you have lied to me
      and forgotten me and my words?
   Is it because of my long silence
      that you no longer fear me?
12 Now I will expose your so-called good deeds.
      None of them will help you.
13 Let’s see if your idols can save you
      when you cry to them for help.
   Why, a puff of wind can knock them down!
      If you just breathe on them, they fall over!
   But whoever trusts in me will inherit the land
      and possess my holy mountain.”
God Forgives the Repentant
14 God says, “Rebuild the road!
      Clear away the rocks and stones
      so my people can return from captivity.”
15 The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
      the Holy One, says this:
   “I live in the high and holy place
      with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
   I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
      and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.
16 For I will not fight against you forever;
      I will not always be angry.
   If I were, all people would pass away—
      all the souls I have made.
17 I was angry,
      so I punished these greedy people.
   I withdrew from them,
      but they kept going on their own stubborn way.
18 I have seen what they do,
      but I will heal them anyway!
      I will lead them.
   I will comfort those who mourn,
19 bringing words of praise to their lips.
   May they have abundant peace, both near and far,”
      says the Lord, who heals them.
20 “But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
      which is never still
      but continually churns up mud and dirt.
21 There is no peace for the wicked,”
      says my God.
Hear is an audio version from the King James bible for you to meditate on:
Isaiah 57 KJV
In the next part of the series, we will start to unpack the text a bit more, but I want to leave you with these questions:
What is your first impression of Isaiah 57? What would you say are the themes running through? What are the most powerful, tender, scary, and hopeful messages that Isaiah 57 gives you? How does it apply to today?

Click here for part 2

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