Bible reading for June 2 -- 3
Jun 2 -- Isaiah 34 and Rev 4
Jun 3 -- Isaiah 35 and Rev 5
"And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (Isaiah 35:10)
RECAP. We are coming to the end of what some call the first "book" of Isaiah, which focuses primarily on God's judgment upon Israel and Judah in the late eighth century BC. There will be an historical interlude in chapters 36 to 39, recording how the Lord delivered Jerusalem (under King Hezekiah) from the Assyrian siege in 701 BC. In chapter 40 we will begin what is called the "book of comfort". More on that later. These last two chapters (34 and 35) poetically describe the judgment upon the nations and the restoration of Israel. In both of these chapters we are viewing the "mountain peaks" of prophecy, where the near events (Assyrian conquest) are also foreshadowing the last days of earth as we know it.
THE DAY OF VENGEANCE (ch 34). "For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion" (v 8). We can hardly imagine what life was like in the Middle East over nearly three decades as invasions of Assyrian armies occurred under Shalmanezer (727 BC), Sargon (722), and Sennacherib (705 BC). They would ravish the land in successive waves of destruction every few years. This aggressive expansion of the empire involved warfare, besieging cities, taking tribute, killing untold thousands, and forcefully resettling people to other areas. It was a brutal time, and a nightmare to go through. God, however, calls Assyria the "sword of the Lord". They are the instrument of judgment, but the Lord is the Judge who allowed it to come to pass. He had been patient many, many years (centuries!) with Israel's idolatry and apostasy, as well as Judah's immorality and injustice. But the season of reckoning had come at last, not just for Israel but for all the nations. Some of the phenomena mentioned in this chapter foreshadow events spoken of by our Lord and the Apostles. For example, the celestial signs (v 4; cf Joel 2:32; 3:15; Mt 24:29; Acts 2:20; Rev 6:13-14) and the smoke rising forever (v 10; cf 66:24; Rev 14:11; 18:18; 19:3). One good outcome of this devastation is that the wild animals would have the waste places (deserted areas) to themselves (vv 11-17). "There the owl nests and lays and hatches and gathers her young in her shadow..." (v 15).
THE DAY OF RESTORATION (ch 35). The horrendous events of the Assyrian invasion, however, are not the last page on God's calendar. Often I have seen sci-fi movies advertised as taking place in the "post-apocalyptic" world. The setting is always impoverished, primitive, grimy, and dangerous, with the survivors seeking to stay alive in the face of gangs, zombies, robots, or dinosaurs. The Bible is very clear that there will be an Apocalypse, but the post-apocalyptic world will be beautiful. The land and the people will be refreshed and restored, and they will see the glory of the Lord (vv 1-4). There will be fruitfulness, a highway of holiness, singing, everlasting joy, gladness, and no more sadness and sorrow (vv 7-10). It becomes more and more apparent as we read through Isaiah that the new world will come into being through one Person, the Messiah (Isa 9:1-7; 32:3-4; 30:20-21; 41:18; 61:1-3). We are even given a glimpse of Jesus' healing ministry (vv 5-6; cf Matt 11:5).
NOT HOME YET. The timing of the restoration of Israel was a question the disciples were asking Jesus before he ascended (Acts 1:6). They knew that after the Assyrian invasion, and after the Babylonian exile (a century later), and after Jewish independence (ca 168 BC), and then under Roman rule, they knew that God's people weren't truly restored yet. They were living in the promised land but there were still many promises to be fulfilled, and spiritual renewal was the greatest need. God's people weren't home yet, so to speak. Meanwhile the apostles (and we today) are given a job to do -- of being witnesses, making the gospel known, and making disciples around the world. We still face enemies hostile to God's will, but the counsel given through Isaiah applies to us today: "Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you'" (35:3-4; cf Heb 12:1-14).
"And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.'" (Revelation 5:9-10)
GOD THE CREATOR (ch 4). Chapter four begins with the view from heaven. We see in this chapter that God, the eternal, self-existent God, is above creation and guiding history to its culmination. It's not Hollywood, media giants, the government, academia, or social scientists who decide where history is going, or even what's "on the right side of history." Creation is God's creation; it's his universe. As J. Vernon McGee once said, "This is God's universe and God does things his way. You may have a better way, but you don't have a universe." We are created beings in a created world, and we are accountable to the Creator.
GOD THE SON, REDEEMER (ch 5). "At the very center of history stands the person of Jesus Christ. And he does so because he is at the center of God's story," wrote Sinclair Ferguson in Child in the Manger (Banner of Truth, 2015). In chapter 4 of Revelation we see a glimpse of the glory of God who is sovereign Creator. In chapter 5 we see his Son who is the Lion and Lamb of redemption. He alone has the right to break the seals of the scroll in heaven, which means that he is the only one who is worthy to consummate human history. Many in our world today look back upon Christ's virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his atoning death, and his physical resurrection as merely fables from a pre-scientific age. But little do they realize that what we pray -- "Thy Kingdom come" -- will actually come. It is through Christ's blood that men and women and children from every nation and ethnicity shall find redemption and a glorious destiny in God's new world.
GOLDEN BOWLS. Sometimes prayer seems to be the least effective thing we as Christians can do. Worship and praise are offered in faith, and in fact, require no answer. Petitions and requests may have few, or unseen, answers. But here in verse 8, along with Rev 8:3-4, we are shown that our prayers are treated as holy in heaven. They are seen, sensed with their pleasing aroma, valued, and offered in golden bowls like temple incense before the Lord (cf Ps 141:2). Many accomplishments that we have on earth don't seem to merit quite the attention in heaven that is given to prayer. The prayers of God's saints are given special delivery status by the holy angels! Let us never think that prayer, especially secret prayer and praise to the Lord, is ever a minor thing to God.
Image credit: photo of an owl in the Sonora Desert (AZ) by James Lee 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.