Bible reading for weekend May 7 -- 9
May 7 -- Isaiah 5 and Hebrews 12
May 8 -- Isaiah 6 and Hebrews 13
May 9 -- Isaiah 7 and James 1
"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!'" (Isaiah 6:1-3)
THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS (ch 4). Backing up a chapter, we are presented with a vision of the future Mount Zion. The "branch" (or shoot, sprout, v 2) is a name for Messiah (Jer 23:5). The image is that, when Israel has been devastated, and all the royal descendants of David have failed, one descendant, or the Son of David, will arise and restore God's people and the land. The Shekinah -- that pillar of cloud and fire signifying God's presence -- will reside over the city. We're seeing the distant future from Isaiah's perspective, fulfilled likely during the Millennium (Rev 20:1-6), though we who have come by faith to Christ have already come to that heavenly Zion (Heb 12:22-24). The purpose of God's judgment, and the purging of sin, is that the City would become glorious, beautiful, honorable, and holy.
THE VINEYARD (ch 5). See the similar parable spoken by Jesus (Matt 21:33-41). The nation was to be as a grape vine producing good fruit, which is ultimately fulfilled by the Messiah, Jesus, and then through those who abide in him (John 15:1-11). The nation's sins are again recounted, and fundamentally, they had rejected God's law and "called evil good and good evil" (vv 20-21, 24). The judgment will come in the form of a military invasion by Assyria (vv 25-30). The inhabitants of Judah are pictured as being casual in their immorality -- entertaining, drinking, thinking themselves heroes -- all the while, a very disciplined, aggressive foreign army is moving rapidly toward their land. It was hard for the Jews of Isaiah's day to grasp this, since they felt powerful in their affluence. And the enemy seemed so far away. Though the siege against the capital, Jerusalem, would ultimately fail, yet the Assyrian army will devastate the countryside and the nation will be impoverished.
THE GLORY OF HOLINESS (ch 6). Near the beginning of his ministry Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord (compare John's experience, Rev 1:12-18). He is blown away by the appearance of God's presence, but is also purified and placed into service for the Lord. The cleansing of his guilt comes from a burning coal (v 6), which both atoned for, and purified, the prophet. The coal is from a sacrificial offering upon the altar, which prefigures the work of Christ. Did Isaiah see a vision of the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus here (John 12:41)? Perhaps. And Isaiah will give us many glimpses of the Messiah in his prophecies. But Isaiah, like many of the prophets, will have a difficult ministry, and most people would be unresponsive to his messages.
THE CHILD IMMANUEL (ch 7). One of the military threats during Ahaz's reign (after Uzziah) was an alliance between the northern kingdom (Israel, also called Ephraim) and the nation of Syria. The threat proved short-lived and Isaiah gives a sign (prophecy) about a son to be born of a virgin. We'll read more about this son in chapter nine, where the Child is identified as the coming Davidic King. But some have wondered if there was a near fulfillment to this prophecy in chapter 7, as a sign to Ahaz. See Constable's notes on this passage.
REFLECT. God's desire for his people is that they should see and share in the beauty of his own holiness. Another way of saying this is that we will be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). These words -- glory, beauty, holiness, honor -- all belong together. In the end we cannot have one without the others, and we cannot have them apart from Christ. The purpose of judgment is to purge the ugliness of evil from God's creation. The City of God will be beautiful beyond words (Rev 21:2). There's another lesson in these chapters for nations who dwell securely. Citizens in a prosperous country may feel a kind of invincibility because of past blessings and victories. And yet they do not realize how vulnerable they are, and how quickly things can change. It is the Lord who directs history. One of God's purposes in history is to humble the proud. Any nation should beware of partying-on while the barbarians are approaching their gates. The answer to such a situation is not more reliance on military power and technology, but in repentance and reliance upon God's son, the Messiah.
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering..." (Hebrews 12:22)
A HEAVENLY CITY (ch 12). In this chapter we read that it is Jesus Christ who brings the unshakable kingdom and the heavenly city. In preparation we should endure discipline as sons of God undergoing training (vv 1-17). Christ himself is our example and we are to look to him (v 2; cf Phil 3:14). The "Zion above" (vv 18-29) is different than the kingdom of Israel as it was based upon the covenant at Sinai. Note that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. What's continuous is the same God, his nature and character, his moral standards, and his plan for humanity. The discontinuity is in the covenantal differences, or "economies" of his plan. Theologians use this term not in a financial sense, but to denote God's management of people in different periods of history. There is a contrast, as well, between what is passing away and what is eternal. The blessings of the new covenant with our Lord Jesus are so great and wonderful, that to turn away from them is even more serious than to turn away from God's revelation in the OT. God has not changed in his holy character, "for our God is a consuming fire" (v 29), but we are in a new relationship with him through Jesus. We should never, ever take his grace lightly.
FINISHING HEBREWS (ch 13). This last chapter contains a number of exhortations -- to love, show hospitality, to visit prisoners, stay sexually pure, be content, to obey church leaders, do good, to praise God, and to pray. Also here are some wonderful verses to memorize, for example, "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" (v 5). And, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (v 8). As we have been seeing, the Jewish readers of Hebrews were tempted to downgrade Jesus to the role of a prophet, a great man, or even an angel. And yet like God -- the One who remains eternally the same, who is and was and is to come -- so also Jesus is eternal and unchanging.
REFLECT. Most of us today are not faced with the exact situation the Hebrew readers faced, but we are faced with the pressure of pluralism and relativism, which tell us that all religious options are the same and equally valid. One belief is as good as another. But Jesus is not just a way among many, nor merely a subjective truth we might feel good about -- he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He alone gives eternal life, and he remains eternally the Son of God. At the heart of this chapter is the call to openly identify with Christ, who was rejected by the world: "Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." (vv 13-14). He bore our (deserved) reproach, by dying for our sins. His blood sanctifies us, and now we have the privilege to bear his (undeserved) reproach by going to him who is "outside the camp", that is, to him who is not welcomed by the world at large. Today, are you openly identifying as a follower of Jesus Christ?
BEGINNING JAMES (ch 1). I'll write about this epistle in my next post...
Image credit. Photo of wall of Jerusalem by Shalev Cohen on Unsplash. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Subscribe for email at Buttondown.email/Sandy. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. A very helpful resource is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.
Bible reading for weekend May 7 -- 9