I’ve been dipping into the book of Isaiah recently, and I want to follow up on last week’s post about fear by walking through an amazing passage from the book of Isaiah, in chapters 8 and 9. This is really just sharing, since the truth is that the Lord has been using this passage to speak to me personally.
The set up for this passage is that, in chapter 7, Isaiah records a seemingly small, but very momentous exchange between himself and the head of state of Israel, King Ahaz. Ahaz had just received a tip about troop movements related to an international alliance that had formed against Israel, and the King had evidently begun preparations for difficult times ahead, because he seems to have gone to the city’s water supply to inspect its security in case they faced a siege. In other words, this was a time of possible danger to everyone in Israel—even if word hadn’t broken out into the public, it’s likely that tensions were high in the halls of power. What God did was to send Isaiah to the scene to address the king. Isaiah presented God’s word to the King—Israel didn’t need to worry about this alliance; it wouldn’t touch them. And Isaiah made Ahaz an amazing offer: the King could ask for any kind of sign in the sky or on the ground to confirm this word and strengthen his faith. Can you imagine getting this kind of offer? Straight from God? But Ahaz wasn’t impressed. He flatly refused Isaiah’s offer, and said simply, “I will not ask!” And then, as if to defend himself, added piously, “I will not tempt the Lord.” You can read the rest of Isaiah 7 to see how the Lord viewed this refusal to rely on a free offer of help. God was not happy.
In chapter 8, Isaiah records that the Lord began to dictate another message for the Prophet himself and the community of people who feared God who had gathered around Isaiah, and, in the middle of incredibly uncertain times, they received these words:
For the LORD spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’ Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.
God was saying, “Ok, you’ve heard about that conspiracy? Stop talking about it. It only shows fear of man and the circumstances. That’s what everyone else is saying, but not you who know me.” Instead, God said:
The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; Let Him be your fear, And let Him be your dread.
Do you see what God is teaching his people? Worrying about conspiracies—or better yet—worrying about whatever the society at large is worrying about, and talking about it all the time, somehow indicates that…our fear is misplaced? That we’ve taken our fear off the Lord, and directed it towards, and allowed it to be aroused by, something else?
Alec Motyer comments on these verses this way:
Those who lived under the word and promise of God were thus called to hold aloof from popular clamor for the supposed safety of political alliance and worldly armed strength…Isaiah and his disciples are to have no part in a fear-ridden society but to be conspicuous for a different lifestyle, unmoved by the fears around them; a calm in the midst of life’s storms and menaces…It is not particularly important to know what the world fears; the important thing is that the world should know what the believer fears, namely, the Lord. In the midst of a fearful people, Isaiah and his disciples are not fearless but their fear is differently directed. Their lives are to be governed by a theological awareness of The Lord, Yahweh.
Isaiah continues his prophecy this way:
…Bind up the testimony, Seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait on the LORD, Who hides His face from the house of Jacob; And I will hope in Him. Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel From the LORD of hosts, Who dwells in Mount Zion.
In his (excellent) daily devotional on Isaiah, Motyer observes this about these verses:
They are nourished by a hope that cannot fail. But there is more: sheltering in the Lord, they possess the ‘testimony,’ the ‘teaching,’ the ‘word’ (v 16, 20). This is their light in the darkness… Believers display an unanxious peace, nourish their minds and guide their lives by the Word the Lord has spoken, face the uncertain and cloudy future with calm and certain expectation; they flee constantly to the shrine, the Lord himself who waits to welcome them, and center their lives reverently on his presence…This is the secret of the unworrying people in a worried world…they are different from the ‘world,’ which sees a new scare around every corner.
Then, Isaiah records these amazing words of God, speaking directly to the situation—evidently (can you imagine it?) there were people who felt such an acute sense of being lost without a roadmap for their lives, that they were abandoning materialism and trying to find any higher source of information. More and more people were trying to gain control over a chaotic life through spiritual knowledge and power apart from God, so God gave Isaiah these instructions:
And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Why look to dark, obscure, uncertain words, when the clear words of light are available for anyone willing to hear? It is because, as Isaiah says, they have no light in them. Or, as Jesus says, they love the darkness. And when men and women love the darkness, only one situation ultimately results:
They will pass through it hard pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness.
Horrible, powerful words Isaiah received. Words to be weighed and meditated on, in our present time, in the midst of the American people of 2020. But then (and not a moment too soon), God directed Isaiah’s eyes from the darkness, to the dawning light:
Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, As when at first He lightly esteemed The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles.
This might be a little obscure to us, but note what area of the world is being spoken about: Galilee. If that rings a bell for you, it should. The Spirit of the Lord focused a beam of light on Galilee, and gave Isaiah a vision of how all this darkness and distress will finally come to an end. Up there in the north of Israel, Isaiah says:
The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined… For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
It’s almost a pity these words are so associated with Christmas, since their significance goes far beyond December 25th. In fact, they speak directly into May of 2020, and, and next month, and two millions years beyond. Motyer observes:
As always, the people of God must decide what reading of their experiences they will live by. Are they to look at the darkness, the hopelessness, the dreams shattered and conclude that God has forgotten them? Or are they to recall his past mercies, to remember his present promises, and to make great affirmations of faith?
Isaiah insists here that hope is a present reality, part of the constitution of the “now.”
The darkness is true, but not the whole truth, and certainly not the fundamental truth.
Agreed. And this hope is not some ethereal, “maybe it will get better one day” sort of hope, but the concrete hope of a certain person, a Man who conquered death, who promised to come back and fix everything. The king is coming soon, and he has all the wisdom and power to do it. He is executive, legislative, and judicial branch, in himself. He will not fail, or breakdown.
This is the “testimony” kept by the band of followers of the King, who still heed Isaiah’s words. This is the “teaching” and the “hope” that nourishes the community of everyone waiting for him. We can’t feed ourselves on the darkness, and hope to make it through. We must do what those who know God have always done. Together, with the Word in the center, we will look to the dawning light.