Category Archives: Isaiah 41-50

Isaiah 50

Scripture: verses 10 and 11

Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.
Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

Observation:  I was praying with my someone this weekend, and we came to the conclusion that we had created a false yardstick by which to measure ourselves, and we needed to lay it down.  I commented that humans like to think we are good at measuring, but we never take into account the nonlinearity of everything.

We have this notion that we can help ourselves. We think that we can strive towards our goals and measure our own progress and accomplish things and that will please God.  The problem is that we are uniquely bad at measuring things, and our whole purpose is to build castles in the air (whether they are art or stories or songs or logic or discoveries or engineered structures) that reflect God’s glory.  We have inverted our purpose.

And when things look difficult, we rush around in circles, determined to fix the problem ourselves.  But we can’t even see the whole problem – not properly – and we can’t fix it.  That’s not our purpose.  Our purpose is to trust in the name of the Lord.

Application:  What problems are you determined to fix?  Are you lighting your own torches when you should be praying for light?

Prayer:  Father of lights, I praise you because you will always have a way out of the darkness.  I praise you because you have a plan and a purpose for every darkness that I go through.  Thank you for walking with me.  Help me to rely on your light.  Help me to value my castles in the air the way you do.  Amen.

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Isaiah 49:14-26

Scripture: from verse 18

As I live, declares the Lordyou shall put them all on as an ornament; you shall bind them on as a bride does.

Observation:  God’s people are convinced that God has forgotten them.  They feel they are left alone to face their enemies and oppressors and the indifferent giants of the world.  God says that He has not forgotten them and never could, and that the very things that they look at with fear will be their ornaments.

2 Corinthians 3 talks about the veil that we wear, so that we cannot see the truth of our situation.  We wear a veil that keeps us from realizing that what we see is not all that is, that the rules we follow and the circumstances we see are limited and finite.  It isn’t until we turn to the Spirit that the veil comes undone.

Our faith is limited to what we see, and we see very little.  We can’t force ourselves to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has an answer to every problem confronting us.  We can’t force ourselves to honestly expect rescue and restoration and glory.

All we can do is take it on faith that our own perceptions are limited.  We can turn to the Spirit of God and ask Him to explain to us.  Like a student who asks for help from an expert when the book is unclear, we can ask what we’re missing.

I also notice that Israel is apparently having difficulties with perspective.  Their enemies look huge, but God says they will be used as jewelry, which means that they will fit in the palm of Israel’s hand, and be easily carried.  Something that Israel sees as a huge boulder that could crush them flat, God sees as a smallish gemstone that could be comfortably worn as a necklace.  We’re not seeing things right when we see our circumstances as big.  I’m not sure how that works (possibly the veil is made of a Fresnel lens?) but it’s worth knowing that it happens.

Application:  Ask what you’re missing.

Prayer:  Spirit of God, I praise you because you can see the true size of every element and every person.  I praise you because my worries and mountains are just jewelry and knick-knacks to you.  Thank you for showing me God’s plan for me.  Please show me what I’ve been missing, and teach me what it means.  Amen.

Isaiah 49:1-13

Scripture: from verse 6

I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Observation:  Isaiah says that God has chosen him to show God’s glory.  He also says that he has worked in vain, and has accomplished nothing.  He has delivered nearly 50 chapters of prophecy to Israel, and seen no discernible result other than that nobody likes him.  He does say that God will reward him, but he’s clearly discouraged.

God, instead of responding by letting him take a break or not prophesy anymore, says that bringing back Israel is “too light a thing,” and Isaiah will now be a light for the nations.

I would guess that Isaiah was less than amused.

God does also promise that all peoples will worship Him, and that He will comfort His people and that all will be well.  But from Isaiah’s standpoint, I don’t know how comforting that was.  It must have looked (at least for a moment) like God was just giving him an even bigger task to fail at.

But Isaiah never failed at all.  He had spoken God’s words, and the result was God’s problem, not Isaiah’s.  The words God spoke through him still bless us today.

We’re not very good at knowing when we’ve failed and when we’ve succeeded.  The standards we use to measure ourselves (and each other) are badly flawed, and we are limited by our own brains and our own perspectives.  Sometimes we don’t even know what our goal should be.

But God knows.  God sees more than we can.  God knows where we’re going.  God knows what we’re good at.  So we have to trust Him more than we trust ourselves.  Because He’s the One who knows.

Application:  Trust His knowledge.  Don’t give up.

Prayer:  Lord, I praise you because you are the One Who Knows.  I praise you because you do not get confused or blinded or forgetful.  Thank you for charting my course for me.  Help me to lean on you and not give up.  Amen.

Isaiah 48:12-22

Scripture: from verse 17

I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit…

Observation: “Profit” is the Hebrew word ya’al, which is a root word meaning to gain, to profit, to ascend, etc.  With a very slight tweak it becomes the word ya’el, which means mountain goat.  (Yael (usually spelled Jael because Hebrew transliteration conventions are stupid) is also the name of a woman in Judges 4 who killed the commander of the Canaanite army.)

So we’ve got two images for what the Lord teaches us.  He teaches us to profit, meaning to gain good things.  Following His rules, our finances prosper.  No law of economics or business can counter the presence or absence of His blessing.  And He also teaches us to be nimble and safe like a mountain goat.  We can move freely in dangerous and rocky terrain, knowing that He is between us and the drop.

In Matthew 6, Yeshua tells us that if we make seeking God a priority, all other blessings (such as food and clothes) will be given to us.  In Matthew 11, He says that He will give us rest for our souls.

We are safe.

Application:  Follow Him.  Find rest.

Prayer:  God, I praise you because you are the one who teaches us how to profit.  I praise you because you are the only one who can see the whole of our world and how its elements interact, to make poverty and to make wealth.  Thank you for leading me.  Help me to trust you, and to let my soul be at rest.  Amen.

Isaiah 48:1-11

Scripture: from verse 6

From this time forth I announce to you new things,
    hidden things that you have not known.

Observation:  Ecclesiastes 1 says that there is nothing new under the sun, but here God is announcing new things.  That isn’t entirely surprising, because God is the only one who can make new things.

The relationship between us and our world rather reminds me of fanfiction sometimes.  Fanfiction is stories written by the fans of a given work – the fans use the characters and world created by the author to make up new stories.  And each new canon installment (each new book, movie, episode, etc) may contain new details, and the trends in fanfic stories change accordingly.  (The Harry Potter fandom in particular is fascinating to watch, as each new book and movie brought new background and character development.  In the stories written between stages, certain characters move from beloved to reviled, from benevolent to manipulative, from romantic to villainous, and back again.)

Fanfic traditionally begins with a “disclaimer,” a statement that acknowledges that the author does not own the world or characters.  My favorite disclaimer says, “It’s [author’s] world, we just play in it.”  (This references the common phrase, “It’s [X’s] world, we just live in it,” which apparently dates back to Frank Sinatra, of all people.  Who knew?)

The point here is that it’s God’s world and we just play in it.  He is the only one who can come up with new canon characters, new canon ideas, new canon spells.  And when He does, it’s a New Thing.

Application: …yeah, coming up blank here.  Trusting Him sounds like a good plan, so let’s go with that.

Prayer:  Father, I praise you because you are the cause of new things.  You are able to do what no one else can do.  You are able to bring new life and new wholeness to what is broken.  Help me to trust that you have a plan for new things for me.  Amen.

Isaiah 47

Scripture: verse 12

Stand fast in your enchantments
    and your many sorceries,
    with which you have labored from your youth;
perhaps you may be able to succeed;
    perhaps you may inspire terror.

Observation:  God is speaking to Babylon.  Apparently Babylon decided it was mighty and powerful and didn’t need to worry about being righteous or just, and so God is going to destroy it.  The sorceries and studies it had been relying on will not save it, despite all the hard work that went into them.

This morning my sister mentioned that she might need to drop a course to lower her overall stress level, but that she feels like she’d be admitting failure if she did so.  I didn’t have time to talk it through with her, but I sent her a link to an old Freakonomics article about “The Upside of Quitting.”  It discusses sunk costs (the resources already used on a project) and opportunity costs (the concept that each decision we make is also a decision not to take the other options), and how we are happier and more productive if we can recognize that a course we have chosen is the wrong one and just quit immediately.

Shortly after that, someone at the ladies’ Bible study mentioned the need to give up things that are blocking us from walking with the Lord.  And I felt like these tied together: that we hang on to anger and bitterness and guilt and other things that are hurting us because we have already put so much effort into them.  The sunk costs of time and energy and emotion seem to big to walk away from, and we are blind to the opportunity cost of our decision.

We don’t think about opportunity costs.  There are studies that show this (link to pdf).  When we are making a purchase, we don’t stop and think about what else we could buy for the same money – and when we do, we make different decisions.  And when we are living, we don’t stop and remember that God will exchange beauty for ashes and joy for mourning (Isaiah 61).  We just do what is comfortable, because we have always done it.

So what sorceries are we clinging to?  What are the useless things we have labored in since our youth?  What do we need to quit?

Application:  Ask God what you need to quit.  The opportunity will more than cover the sunk costs.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for redeeming me.  I praise you because you are the one who knows me and knows my purpose.  Help me to quit the things that keep me from it.  Amen.

Isaiah 46

Scripture: verse 7

they set [their idol] in its place, and it stands there;
    it cannot move from its place.

Observation:  Isaiah is, once again, mocking the stupidity of idol-worship.  They bring gold to a goldsmith, the goldsmith makes a statue, and then everyone worships said statue.  Not only can the statue not accomplish anything on their behalf, it can’t even move on its own behalf.  They carry it around, and it cannot move from where they put it.

And then there’s us.  1 John 4 says that we love because God first loved us.  Zechariah 12:10 prophesies that God will pour out a spirit that contains both grace and desire for grace: the spirit both allows us to understand that we need grace and provides grace at the same time.  (The phrase is typically translated “a spirit of grace and supplication” – the words for both grace and supplication are forms of the root “hanan,” which means grace.)  We cannot move from where we are.

My daughter has experienced a couple of panic attacks, so I’ve been trying to help her understand what a panic attack is.  She’s too young to really get it, and as a result she can’t see a way out of the panic, can’t even see that the fear isn’t reality.  So she fights me when I tell her to take deep breaths, to count slowly to ten, to picture colors in her head.

My mom says that from God’s perspective, we’re all about three years old.  We think that what we see is all there is.  We don’t see the edges and limits of our understanding.  We can’t move from where we are until God shows us that there is somewhere else to be.  And He’s the only one who can carry us there.

Application:  Ask God what you’re missing.  Let Him take you places.

Prayer:  Father, I praise you because you see far more than I do.  I praise you because you are the only being in existence who can move on your own initiative.  Thank you for bringing me out of darkness.  Help me to see your light.  Amen.

Isaiah 45:14-25

Scripture: from verse 14

“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours; they shall follow you…saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.’”

Observation:  There’s a few places where God promises that the wealth of those who do not follow God will be given to those who do.  It’s a bit of an odd promise, because it has to be held so lightly to be safe: we’re warned against the love of money and commanded not to covet what others have.  We’re also reminded again and again to be generous to the poor and not to judge others by what they have.  And yet we’re also promised wealth.

The problem, of course, is that we don’t really believe these promises.  If we did, we wouldn’t worry nearly as much about money.  We may read these promises and acknowledge that they are truth, but when we picture the future, we rarely incorporate these promises.  Our heart trusts the evidence of our eyes and our experience much more than it trusts God’s promises.  We can’t quite really picture them.

But God is in us, and there is no god besides Him.  God is categorically different from what we can see and what we have experienced.  God is the overriding factor in all our calculations.

Application: I wish it were as simple as saying “believe in His promises.”  But it isn’t.  I don’t really believe them either.  So we’ll work on that together.

Prayer:  Holy Spirit, thank you for giving me faith, even if I haven’t figured out how to access it yet.  I praise you for knowing truth beyond everything I understand.  Please help me believe your promises.  Amen.

Isaiah 45:1-13

Scripture: from verse 4

I name you, though you do not know me.

Observation:  God is speaking to Cyrus (probably the king of Persia) here, saying that God has chosen to bless and enrich Cyrus because by doing so He will bless Israel.

I’ve noticed lately (or rather, God pointed out) that I lack faith in certain areas.  So I’ve been praying for more faith, but without really believing that I’ll receive what I ask for, because that’s part of the faith I’m lacking.  Logic and scripture both indicate that my prayer will be answered, mind you.  I just don’t believe it yet.  (In other news, brains are not nearly as rational as we might wish.)

So I’m asking God to move unilaterally, because I can’t move to meet Him.  And part of me worries that it doesn’t work like that: that nothing will happen unless I do something to increase my own faith.  That God has better things to do with His time.

But the truth is that God has nothing better to do with His time.  The truth is that He delights to bless me.  The truth is that He named me before I knew Him, and He will continue to pull me close.  And if I don’t believe those things, that’s my problem.  My worries don’t change who God is.

Application:  Ignore your worries and let Him work.

Prayer:  God, thank you for naming me before I knew you.  I praise you because you are not limited by your nature, but can move and work to do your will.  Please bless me and teach me about yourself.  Amen.

Isaiah 44:12-28

Scripture: verse 22

I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.

Observation:  This verse comes immediately after a mocking description of idolatry: a man might cut down a tree, use half the wood to cook his dinner, and carve the other half into a statue, which he worships as his god.  It defies all logic (not to mention the laws of thermodynamics) to think that we can be rescued by the works of our own hands, and yet, time and time again, that is exactly what we believe.

And then God calls for Israel to return to Him.  Israel is not His people because they did not worship idols.  Israel was just a stupid as everyone else, and tried over and over to create its own deliverance.  But God redeemed them.  The difference is not that they never sinned, but that God erased their sin.

And today we do the same thing.  We may not worship wooden idols, but we put our faith and our hope in our careers or our families or money or education or other things that we know are made by humans and therefore fallible.  And time and time again, God wipes away our sin and calls us back to Him.

I can’t fix myself.  No matter how organized and assertive and pro-active and educated I am, everything that I do comes from me.  Which means it will be exactly as broken or as whole as I am.  Only God can come from the outside and make me whole.

Application: God is calling.  Let Him in.

Prayer: Father, I praise you because you defy the laws of thermodynamics.  I praise you because you are not subject to entropy.  I praise you because you are always bigger than yourself, because you can draw on your own might to fix all of creation.  Thank you for redeeming me.  Help me to hope in you.  Amen.