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: 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.
Scripture: from verse 18
As I live, declares the Lord, you 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.
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.
Scripture: from verses 6 and 7
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations…
to bring out the prisoners…who sit in darkness.
Observation: God is telling Israel that He called them and took them and shaped them to a covenant for the rest of the world, to bring light and freedom to those who are trapped.
I haven’t the faintest idea how a people (or a person) can be a covenant. A covenant is an agreement or a promise, neither of which is easily embodied in human form. But if we are both the sign of the covenant and one of the tools used to fulfill it, I guess that’s close enough?
So this is our calling: to create freedom and light where there was neither. To wield the power of God to do what He has promised.
I’m taking a social psychology class online, and one of the assignments is to spend a day being as compassionate as possible. The whole assignment has been bugging me, because many of the professor’s forms of compassion seem to be paralyzing: eating vegetarian and avoiding televised sports, violent movies, and sexist music. This is the flipside of compassion: going to war in the spirit on behalf of others, and breaking what traps them in darkness.
God is a powerful God. I don’t have to sit and worry, because I am called to go to war.
Application: Pray for others – bring them before God so that He can free them.
Prayer: Father, I praise you for being strong enough to give me your strength. I praise you for being light in the darkness and bringing freedom to captives. Help me to work alongside you. Amen.
Scripture: verse 7
If you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not He whose high places and altars King Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”?
Observation: “Me” in this quote is an officer of Assyria, sent to demand Israel’s surrender. This is a very crafty piece of gaslighting (making false or misleading statements in order to make the audience doubt their own knowledge.) The high places and altars Hezekiah destroyed were for the worship of other gods, and it was the Lord who commanded his people to worship at His altar in Jerusalem. But most people (being only human) did not have the clear understanding of God’s law that would combat this deception, and as a result I am sure that many of them did begin to doubt in God’s support.
Satan played the same trick in the Garden of Eden, twisting God’s law to pull Adam and Eve away from the truth. (Admittedly Adam and/or Eve helped out in that case.) He played the same trick when he tempted Yeshua. He plays the same trick today.
So what do we do? We stay close to the truth. Experts dealing with gaslighting sociopaths take notes or recordings of their conversations, and keep a record of what has happened, so that they can clearly see the contradictions that present themselves. We can do the same thing, by keeping God’s word and God’s truth in front of us, so we can see clearly.
Application: Keep reading His Word. Recognize lies for what they are.
Prayer: Yeshua, I thank you that your are the Source of Truth. I thank you that you will never lie to me and you will always defeat lies that try to hurt me. Please help me to remember your truth and not be confused. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 26
…and the light of the sun will be seven times stronger,
like the light of seven days [in one]…
Observation: The passage begins by pointing out that if the people of Israel want to be strong and safe, all they have to do is turn to God and rest in Him. The problem is not that God has been demanding anything especially difficult from them, but that they are unwilling to surrender agency enough to trust Him.
God says that someday they will come back and let Him heal them. Among other blessings that happen at that time, the sun will be seven times brighter than it is now.
I can’t imagine this is literal. If our sun (a dwarf star) were suddenly replaced by a subgiant star, I’m fairly certain the ecosystem would be devastated and life as we know it would come to an end fairly quickly. Of course, God does promise a new heaven and new earth someday, but this doesn’t seem to be about that.
However, the number seven generally means completion and perfection and wholeness. So what we have here is the promise of a new kind of light. Not just a new color or intensity, but something that is intrinsically and fundamentally different and more complete. Something completely outside our experience.
I don’t know what that will be like. But I like thinking about it. I suspect it will be even wilder and more mysterious than the light we have now, which is saying something. It might be able to do more than just reveal surface appearance – maybe it will be able to reveal truth or fight oppression. I’m mostly glad to know that God hasn’t run out of surprises.
Application: I cannot possibly be expected to be practical with such a cool new subject for speculation.
Prayer: Father of Light, I praise you for being infinite, for always having a new idea or a new facet or a new form to reveal. Help me to walk in your light. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 5
unless it takes hold of My strength,
in order to make peace with Me
Observation: Very confusing passage. God is talking about His vineyard (presumably His people) and says that He has no anger against it, but if it grows weeds and thorns He will destroy it, unless it takes hold of His strength to make peace. Another translation turns these three states (at peace, growing thorns, and making peace) into three different possible futures, which seems a little more logical but isn’t necessarily right.
It rather reminds me of Genesis 32. Jacob was alone and worried all night, and he wound up wrestling with a man who turned out to be God on the riverside. The man asked to be let go, and Jacob said that he would not let go until God blessed him. God changed his name to Israel, saying that Jacob had struggled with God and man and had won.
We hear a lot about the need to be meek and submissive before the Lord. But every so often we get these hints that God doesn’t mind the occasional shouting match, as long as we are directing our energy towards Him. Sometimes it’s okay to have thorns, as long as you are clinging tight to God.
Application: Focus on God, even when you are angry.
Prayer: Yeshua, I praise you because you are strong enough to allow us to challenge you. Thank you for offering your strength and your peace. Help me to cling tight to you, even when I’m being thorny. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 3
He will be inspired by fearing Adonai
Observation: The passage is prophesying the coming of Yeshua, and how He will bear the Spirit of wisdom and truth and power and will judge with justice and generally be a really good king.
I didn’t understand what this phrase meant, so I used Blue Letter Bible to look up the Hebrew. “Fear of the Lord” is simple enough (rendered slightly more complicated by the fact that He is the Lord, but I figure that’s His problem.) “Be inspired by” is a single word, and it means “smell.”
Smell?? You’ve got to be kidding.
But it really is smell. The word is closely related to the word for breath (which also means wind and spirit – never let it be said that Hebrew doesn’t reuse words for no reason) and that’s probably why the translator chose “inspire,” with its connection to breathing.
So what we’re seeing here is that the fear of the Lord gives discernment that is as natural as breathing and instinctive as smell. That Yeshua recoils from injustice or deceit the way I recoil from a sippy cup of milk that got left out for too long and spoiled. The reaction to darkness or hate is not just conscientious objection, but visceral revulsion.
Application: Fear the Lord, I guess? This isn’t so much about choices we make as about what happens in us when we follow the Lord.
Prayer: Yeshua, I don’t have this kind of visceral reaction. Not to my own sins, at least, which are pretty much the only ones I have any authority over. But apparently you do. Please help me to smell out righteousness and love the way you do. Amen.
Scripture: verse 12
Yet the people do not turn to the one striking them,
they don’t seek Adonai–Tzva’ot [Lord of Hosts].
Observation: So Israel is being Israel (idolatrous, prideful, etc) and God has been doing some smiting to bring them back into line (by way of the Assyrians, this time) and He is hoping that they will turn to Him. They don’t.
Which isn’t very surprising, from a human point of view. Humans don’t like discipline. We try to avoid it.
But God doesn’t want us to be thinking like humans. He wants us to turn the other cheek, to bless our enemies, to lend without demanding a return (Matthew 5:39, Romans 12:14, Luke 6:34). We are to be different, because He is different.
And we know that, when bad things happen, it isn’t blind chance or implacable persecution. We know that God controls it, because God controls everything. We know that He will work it to our good (Romans 8:28). We know that what we see is not all that is.
It’s easy to forget that God is there. It’s easy to assume that He can’t be bothered to help your little problems. But that isn’t the truth.
The truth is that He sees us fall. The truth is that He keeps our tears. The truth is He loves us.
Application: Don’t be afraid to turn to God.
Prayer: Father, please help me when I forget to come to you. Thank you for knowing me and loving me. Thank you for rescuing me when I need it. Amen.