Scripture: from verse 8
Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it…
Observation: God is talking about His people, and how they have once again been choosing things He does not delight in, and how He will have to punish them accordingly. But then He compares them to a cluster of (presumably wild) grapevines that turn out to have sweet juice, and how the vines are not destroyed because there is something useful inside.
I have plenty of failings, as does everyone, and sometimes I worry that I cannot trust God to use me because I will fail to understand what He is and isn’t saying to me. God recently reminded me of the last story in I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, in which the characters mention that the giant computers that run the futuristic world economy cannot be disobeyed, because they will note patterns of disobedience and adjust their suggestions accordingly. God is much bigger than I am. He knows my failings. He has already planned for my weaknesses.
Application: Trust God to use you to be a blessing.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, I praise you because you are bigger than I am. I praise you because you understand me even when I do not understand myself. I praise you because you can take my human weaknesses and make something beautiful out of them. Please use me to be a blessing. Amen.
Scripture: verse 1
Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at Your presence
Observation: Seth Godin recently blogged about the difference between confidence and certainty. He concludes that insisting on certainty – in yourself or in others – is a mistake. It tends to be a way of drowning out fear by ignoring possible negative outcomes. He’s primarily talking about business situations, but at the moment it rings true for faith as well.
I’d like to be certain. I’d like to know exactly what God is going to do next. I’d like Him to rend the heavens and come down so that I don’t have to think anymore.
God doesn’t seem to work like that, though. He wants us to be confident in Him, but He rarely gives us certainty. He might promise to work all things for our good (Romans 8:28) but He doesn’t say how long that will take or how He will do it. He promised to be with Jeremiah and rescue him (Jeremiah 1), but that doesn’t mean nothing bad happened. At one point Jeremiah got thrown into a cistern to die (starvation, dehydration, blood poisoning from standing in muck – take your pick) and God sent a sponsor to plead with the king and get Jeremiah out. There was rescue, but not certainty.
God says that He will be found by those who seek Him (Jer 29:13). But I’m not at all sure that we ever stop seeking. There is always more of God to find.
Application: Act on confidence. Don’t be discouraged when things are not certain.
Prayer: Lord, I praise you because you are God. I praise you because you are the only certainty. Thank you for blessing me. Help me to be confident in the future you have planned for me. Amen.
Scripture: verse 14
Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest…to make for [Himself] a glorious name.
Observation: God leads us through hard stuff sometimes. Just like the shepherd who carries a map of the mountains in his head, which is far too complex for the sheep to understand, God can see where we are going when we cannot. He keeps us from stumbling in the desert. He leads us to the valley and gives us rest. On account of His glorious name.
My husband played Bill Sykes in a high school production of Oliver! His big song was called “My Name” and it was about all the awful things that Sykes had done on account of his name. Some toff slumming with his valet/Bumped into me in the alley/Now his eyes will never tally/He’d never heard of my name. He hadn’t done that for any particular reason (he may have robbed the men, but that’s not why he attacked), but just to make a name for himself.
God seems to be the same way. He doesn’t particularly need a reason to feed us and teach us and give us new sight. He does those things because of His Name.
Application: Don’t slum with your valet 🙂
Prayer: God, I praise you because of your glorious name. I praise you because you have done praiseworthy things over and over and over again. I praise you because you have already mapped all the mountains I am negotiating. Thank you for keeping me from stumbling. Help me to see. Amen.
Scripture: verse 8
He said, “They are indeed my people,
children who are not disloyal.”
So he became their Savior.
Observation: I don’t know where God got the idea that Israel wouldn’t be disloyal. Israel ignored Him and rebelled against Him over and over again. But the passage isn’t about Israel’s loyalty. The passage is about the abundance of God’s steadfast love, which is apparently undeterred by all the idiocy that Israel has already gotten up to.
God is our Savior. He sets us free and defends us. He gives us a new identity and a new safety, and keeps re-giving them as often as we mess up. He loves us, just like I will always love my children, no matter how many times they cut their own hair or spread yogurt all over the table or leave plastic bricks on the floor to be stepped on. They are mine. I am His.
Application: Trust in His love. Lord knows we can’t trust ourselves.
Prayer: Yeshua, I praise you because you became my Savior when I wasn’t interested. I praise you because your love is bigger than ever mistake and every wrong decision I make. Thank you for defending me. Help me to trust you. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 2
you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
Observation: It’s not like the names God’s people already had were especially bad. The verse before uses “Zion” and “Jerusalem” which mean “landmark” and something like “peaceful hills,” respectively. The name “Israel” isn’t especially clear, but when it was given in Genesis it was accompanied by the description “you have struggled with God and man (or possibly gods and powers, the Hebrew is complicated) and have prevailed” so that name is probably a good one too.
But God has a new name planned for His people, one which He will give when the time is right. A new name and a new identity and a new understanding of who they are.
He has a new name for me, too. The names my parents gave me are also pretty good – my English first and middle names mean “judged pure by God,” and my Hebrew names mean “bride” and “little bird.” My current identity and my current sense of myself are pretty good. But God has a better name waiting. He wants to teach me a whole new way of seeing myself, one that I only get hints of now. His truth about me is way bigger than mine.
Application: Seek His truth about yourself.
Prayer: Father, I praise you because you made me who I am. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and I will take it on faith that your work is marvelous. Thank you for having new knowledge for me. Help me to trust that you understand me better than I do. Amen.
Scripture: verse 11
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
Observation: God will cause righteousness and praise to grow in Israel and in His people. I think what I find interesting here is that a garden doesn’t grow plants from nothing – the plants all grow from seeds, whether seeds planted by a gardener or seeds scattered by natural forces. Which indicates that God has already planted the seeds of righteousness and praise in us, even when we are not doing a stellar job of being righteous or praising God.
Application: Not sure there is one. I just thought it was interesting.
Prayer: Lord, I praise you because you are the one who makes things grow. You are the one who causes cells to divide and DNA to replicate and new pathways to form in my brain that let me trust you. Thank you for growing righteousness and praise in me. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 17
Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
and instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
instead of stones, iron.
Observation: In the wake of 9/11, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn pointed out that at least two leaders quoted from Isaiah 9:10, swearing to rebuild stronger than ever. This was a rather foolish thing to do, as Isaiah 9 is about people who ignore the Lord’s warnings and rely on their own strength to rebuild.
But here, God is promising a similar rebuilding. The rebellious leaders promised to replace fig trees with cedars; God promises to replace wood with bronze. They were going to replace brick with dressed stone; God promises to replace stone with iron.
The difference, of course, if that God is the source of this new strength. We can try to create our own strength, using the best ideas and materials available to us, but our efforts will never work as well as if we’d relied on God in the first place. His ways are higher than ours. His Spirit can amplify our strength in ways we would never have predicted.
Application: Rely on His strength, now your own
Prayer: Father of Light, I praise you because everything that has been made was made by you and for your purposes. I praise you because you created this world and allowed me to play in it, like a child in a sandbox. Thank you for taking delight in the castles I create. Help me to rely on you to accomplish what I cannot. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 4
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you
Observation: I am not a go-getter. I am not good at hustling up new leads, new opportunities, new people. And sometimes (frequently) I worry that God wants me to come up with these things somehow. I worry that if God is calling me to write this blog or paint a prophetic painting or give a teaching, then it is also my job to promote myself and find my venue and my audience on my own power. Which is a scary thing to think, because I’m not capable of that – at least, not without investing tremendous amounts of time and emotional energy that would be better spent in writing or painting or teaching or whatever my actual calling is.
But God says that people will come to us. That people will flow in, and bring their resources and their abilities to help. That the things I cannot do will be done by someone else, who does not consider them worrisome or difficult. While this is a logical plan, it’s easy enough to forget.
And all we have to do is lift up our eyes and see them. It reminds me of the story of Elisha and the army of fire (2 Kings 6), when God had already sent a mighty army to protect Elisha, but He also had to open their eyes to see it. God’s power already surrounds me. I just can’t quite see it yet.
Application: Ask God what tasks you’ve been worrying about that aren’t yours in the first place. And ask Him to open your eyes to see His power.
Prayer: Yeshua, I thank you that you have redeemed me. I thank you that you made me who I am and surrounded me with everything I need. Help me to trust your provision for the things I think I lack. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 15
…he who leaves evil becomes a target.
Observation: The first part of this passage is a depressing-but-accurate description of the world as it tends to be: everyone sins, most people delight in sin, and the people who aren’t as ruthless as possible become targets. We see it in the schoolyard, we see it in the corporate world, it’s everywhere.
The passage goes on to say that this angers God and He arms Himself and wreaks vengeance on those who delighted in doing wrong. Which is all well and good, but not always comforting for people who are trying to find ways of doing what is right without being victims. Despite the promises of eventual reward, I can’t say I’m finding this passage all that comforting.
Which probably means that I’m not seeing right. God sees things differently, somehow. His perspectives on time and suffering are different, and not in a large-scale, it’s-not-that-bad, He-doesn’t-care way. He’s aware of a larger truth that somehow makes it all fit together. He knows that someday, we’ll be laughing too.
Application: Hold on to hope. He’s on His way.
Prayer: Lord, I praise you because you can see the purpose and the intricate integrity of everything that happens to me,even when I can’t. I praise you because you can help me laugh at trouble. Help me to trust you. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 6
Their webs will not serve as clothing…
Observation: Humans are just spectacular at producing things that aren’t as useful or as important as we think they are, aren’t we? Admittedly in this case I think the webs are meant to ensnare others rather than clothe the person spinning them, but it doesn’t sound like that will work out very well either.
Sometimes I get discouraged and impatient, feeling that I need to be doing something to make things happen, not just waiting for God to tell me what to do. And then I get reminded that we’re terrible at doing things. I could spin all sorts of webs for all sorts of purposes, but I wouldn’t accomplish anything besides making myself dizzy. Much better (though not easier) to wait for the true path.
Application: Talk to God. Every day.
Prayer: Lord, I praise you because you are able to provide real covering and real food. Thank you for being my hiding place. Help me to trust you. Amen.