Isaiah 51-52 B

I couldn’t get away from this verse:

“For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” 51:3

Makes her wildness like Eden. I loved that. I picture overgrown grass, thick with weeds and crawling with snakes, bugs and rodents. Unpruned trees, heavy with dying branches, cluttered with dried leafs and draped in moss. Think about how much hard work goes into gardening a place like this. How much time and patience it requires. There’s a lot of work upfront, to pull out the unwanted growth, to cut back the troublesome plants. Like this, the Lord gardens our souls. 

This year, I’m slowly trying to turn our backyard around. We moved into a new house last year and both yards have been fairly neglected. The soil is hard, red clay, crowded with stones. The grass is thin, mostly weeds, and a host to jumping spiders. Thorny weeds coil around the branches of my hydrangea bushes and meek tomato plants. There have been a few days I roll up my sleeves (actually I’m in a tank top, the south is SO HOT IN JULY) and put in a few hours in the yard. It barely makes a difference! I’m an amateur and I need a lot of help. I need a till for the soil, for goodness’s sake. I need a sprinkler! (And a better shovel, but enough about my wish list.)

Maybe this is what your heart feels like some days. You are overwhelmed by the work load in front of you and don’t feel like you have what you need to get started. Remember, Jesus has what we need to cultivate joy and gladness in our hearts. 

Your sins are not too much for him. You are not too broken to be fixed. You are not too distant or too unloveable.

 

-Carly

Isaiah 49-50 B

Chapter 49 seems to be written in a new voice. Someone who is both Israel and Other; coming to accomplish what Israel was intended to do.

“He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver.” (49:2) Sounds like Revelation 19:15!

The dialogue moves back and forth, between the Servant, the LORD, and the people Zion. But this sweet familiar voice reappears in chapter 50, prophesying something else:

“I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed.” (50:6-7‬)

Like I mentioned a few days ago, 49-55 are dedicated to this Servant of the LORD Redeemer. Sometimes the poetry and multiple voices make it confusing to follow, but other times the voice of Jesus is crystal clear.

What is He saying? What is He promising? Who are the peoples of Zion? Who is the mother who received the certificate of divorce? All good, important questions. Let’s stay engaged!

Zion is often referred to as, not only Israel, but the larger people of God, a community including every nation. These people are never out of the focus of the LORD.

“Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” (49:16)

The mother (49:1;50:1) is usually referring to Judah, with Israel (the northern kingdom) being her sister. The LORD sent her away (exile), and the certificate of divorce doubles as the evidence chronicling her infidelity.

The Servant, Jesus, is different in every way: unrelentingly faithful, obedient and unashamed. I think our best application is to ask ourselves the question He asked in 50:10.

“Who is among you that fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.”

-Bethany

Isaiah 47-48 B

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.” 48:10

The last 12 months have been a little rough for my family. Not the worst year we’ve ever had, but it was definitely one I would file under “refining”. It was long and hard and I cried a lot (don’t move away from your mom when you’re pregnant; too many hormones), but I am so incredibly thankful for the fruit that came from it.

I know and love God more because of it. I’m closer to my husband. I’m a better mom now than I was a year ago. I’m more empathic. I’m more comfortable with loneliness. I learned more about the Bible. I’m more grateful than I have been in the past.

In hindsight, the furnace of (mild) suffering blessed me.

Maybe you are in the midst of severe suffering. Maybe you’re just moderately uncomfortable. Wherever you are on that spectrum, lean into it. God can, and I’m confident he will, use this hard season to refine your character. To draw you closer and bring you to a new place in your relationship with him.

Resist the urge to be like Babylon was, described in the text as a pleasure-loving kingdom, living at ease and feeling secure. Short-sighted. Acting invincible!

Stop and consider a time God allowed you to be refined through a season of suffering. Whether it was a consequence of sinful behavior or just a hard season of life, how did you respond?

-Carly

Isaiah 45-46 B

“Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” (46:10-11‬)

He will do it. He is not weakened, slowed down or discouraged by us. The salvation of the world is in His hands and not on our shoulders. He will use whomever He wants to accomplish His purpose. The man of my purpose from a far country is Cyrus, King of Persia, beautifully intro-ed in 45:1-7.

“I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.” (45:4b-6)

He’s going to use someone who has no idea about Him, because He’s the LORD of creation and He is not limited to time and space, like satan or demons or glorified pieces of wood.

If you’d like to read a little more about Cyrus, you definitely should. He was kind of awesome.

I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.” This phrase is repeated many times in Isaiah, and it is our good Bible study practice to always notice repeated phrases. He is not the God of Israel in the way other Canaanite nations had gods. He is God in an exclusive way. No one is on His level, not even close.

Cyrus was probably Zoroastrian, which is interesting to think about. Even though He didn’t know God, God knew him. And isn’t that just the case with all of us?

These chapters move me to worship; marveling at the way God has related to us throughout history. He is supreme and supremely loving. He is the Maker of us all.

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker- An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?” (45:9)

Have Thine Own way, LORD.

-Bethany

Isaiah 43-44 B

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” 43:2

Who else can promise you something like this?

“From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done.” 43:13

Our souls are safe in God’s hands.

The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” 44:19-20

He trusts something that can’t help him at all. What do you lend your trust to in your life? (Also that whole paragraph about idols reads like a bit from a stand-up comedian and it just slays me. God’s entitled to rant about how thick headed we are every once in a while, right?)

“I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea.” 43:16

Here, he is referring to the time he literally parted the water in Exodus 14. But it prompts me to reflect on all the times God has laid down a smooth, wide path for me smack dab in the middle of dark, vast (and metaphorical) waters. Do you feel swallowed up right now? Turn to the Lord, who with simply a wave of his hand, can provide you a safe path through it. (It struck me today that God didn’t offer an alternative route for the Israelites to escape the sea. But a way through it. He won’t always give you a way around your hardship. Sometimes you have to walk right down the middle of it, but he will be with you.)

If you didn’t read today’s chapters, take a few minutes and read them. There is so much goodness and depth in this book! I feel honored not only to get to read it, but to be loved and known by the God in this story.

What verse stirred your heart?

 

-Carly

 

 

Isaiah 41-42 B

There are many fascinating literary styles and patterns in the back half of Isaiah. It is truly a masterpiece. 40-48 is one, 49-55 anther, and 56-66 is it’s own (also a chiasm, an ancient literary type, which creates an arrow of focus. Think of it as E-D-C-B-A-B-C-D-E. The outer corresponding sections mirror each other and bring the focal point to A. But more on that when we get there!)

Each of these three sections build on each other, and use the word “Servant” multiple times, but in reference to different people. 40-48 calls Israel “My Servant”. 49-55 references “The Servant of the LORD” (Christ), who accomplishes what Israel could not. Lastly, 56-66 calls the “Servant” the Redeemed.

The one exception to this is 42:1-9, which is about Christ: “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” (42:1)

Focusing, now on the themes of this first section, the LORD encourages Israel in the midst of this tremulous time.

“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend, You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its remotest parts And said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’” (41:8-10‬)

It all sounds so lovely and fatherly, which is why verse 14 always makes me laugh:

“Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the LORD, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”

He causally slips in a “you worm”. Haha. Catches me off guard, every time.

He’s going to take care of Israel, but notice the new word He introduces: Redeemer. He will go on to use it 13 more times in Isaiah, and not just for Israel, but for the whole world.

You will also notice, in the 40-48 section, an on-going comparison of The LORD and idols. He spends a good amount of time mocking them for being deaf, mute, lifeless and generally worthless.

“Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.” (41:23‬)

“Do something. Anything.” He mocks.

I feel, if we pay attention, we can find the whole Gospel in Isaiah 40-66. It’s incredible. So let’s pay attention, namely, to the first step of admitting how lame our idols are. I’m very excited for these chapters and love your thoughts and observations, as always.

Bring your idols to the LORD, today, and pray for His power to open our deaf ears and blind eyes to see His truth.

-Bethany

Isaiah 39-40 B

Chapter 39 closes out Isaiah’s prediction that God will bring judgement down on Jerusalem, and chapter 40 jumps ahead to after this has happened, and God is restoring. Here’s the second part of The Bible Project’s overview of Isaiah.

It takes a minute to pivot from the ending of chapter 39 towards this:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” 40:1-2

I experience a sense of relief just reading about this! Think about a time you have been in trouble. For me, I think about when I got caught shop lifting at a teen’s accessory store in the mall. I don’t remember the particulars, honestly. But what I can still recall, 17 years later, is the weighted feeling of dread every morning after that for a few weeks. I had a couple dreams where I changed my mind at the last minute and put the bracelet back, and then would wake up heavy with guilt as I realized I was still deep in the consequences. It was a horrible feeling.

Readers: there are people, probably in your daily lives, who don’t know the gospel. Maybe they’re acquainted with the vague concept that Jesus Died For Our Sins and Heaven vs. Hell, etc. But do they know of his grace? His mercy? Do they know he forgives our sins, cancels our debt and extends ever-lasting forgiveness? 

Jesus is not a character in a religious story. He’s a good, good Father. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (40:11)  This God of ours, who carries us like a mother carries her baby, is waiting to lift the burden of unrepented sin. Not just able, but waiting. 

Who in your life needs to hear about this Good News?

 

-Carly