Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 32-35; James, chapter 2
Scripture: Isaiah 33:2-6 (NRSV) – O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble. At the sound of tumult, peoples fled; before your majesty, nations scattered. Spoil was gathered as the caterpillar gathers; as locusts leap, they leaped on it. The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness; he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.
Observations: In the midst of prophecies about conquest, exile, and destruction, God directs Isaiah to speak words of hope. I was drawn to these few verses this morning because of what they say about our relationship with God, and the way that we are to live in response to the hope that he offers us. The first line, O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you, is an acknowledgment that we are dependent upon God’s grace. In a world where power and riches are glorified, we must daily affirm our need for God’s grace. The ancient nation of Israel was formed by God’s grace, as he rescued the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt and led them to the land he had promised to their forefathers. But when they were established, they forgot their need for God’s grace and instead believed that they were responsible for the blessings they had received – and that always leads to trouble. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.
The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high reminds us that regardless of how things look on earth, God is still in charge. In Isaiah 32, the prophecy of “Government with Justice” (the heading in the NRSV) contrasts what God’s reign will be like with the way things were: “A fool will no longer be called noble, nor a villain said to be honorable. For fools speak folly, and their minds plot iniquity: to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. The villainies of villains are evil; they devise wicked devices to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right. But those who are noble plan noble things, and by noble things they stand.” (Isaiah 32:5-8, NRSV) If we are longing for God’s reign – if we pray, O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you– we need to act in accordance with what God’s reign will be like. When we pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re committing to do God’s will – to live on earth in ways that bear witness to God’s Kingdom. In the context of today’s passage, that means exalting God, acknowledging his rule, and acting with justice and righteousness. He filled Zion with justice and righteousness; he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. When we trust in God, when we declare our dependence upon his grace, when we act with justice and righteousness, then God will be our strength – the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom and knowledge.
The fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. Usually when I read Old Testament prophecies and promises, I replace “Zion” with “the Church” to see if the promise extends to us. In this case, I think it’s obvious that it does. The fear of the Lord is the Church’s treasure – not “fear” in the sense of “dread” or “terror,” but “fear” in the sense of “proper respect and acknowledgment of his greatness.” When we acknowledge God as our only sovereign, our only ruler and King, God will lead us and bless us as he has promised. In contrast to the “dangerous alliances” that I wrote about yesterday, we are to put our hope and trust in our Father, our Lord and our King. That is what will bring us deliverance from our enemy, Satan, and all of his treacherous plans and attacks.
Applications: God is reminding me today that the message of the Church is a message of hope, not of gloom and doom. There are consequences to sin, to be sure, and we are not to avoid acknowledging that fact. But God longs to restore people to relationship with him; that’s the reason that Jesus came to reveal God to us. God calls us to live in ways that demonstrate the peace that comes from knowing him, and to help others to find that peace as well. When I read the sentence, Be our arm every morning, our salvation in time of trouble, I’m reminded that “arm” refers to strength, and the Bible also tells us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” When we allow circumstances to steal our joy, we lose our strength; but when we remember that God is our salvation and our hope, his joy fills us and strengthens us. As Isaiah 35:3-4a says, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.”
Prayer: God, I thank you for the reminder of my daily need for your grace, and of your promise to be my strength and my help. Be gracious to me; I wait for you. Help me today to live in ways that demonstrate your joy, and the peace that comes from knowing you. Help me to witness to your grace and your love in ways that lift Jesus up, so people will be drawn to him. Lead me in your paths today. Amen.