Scripture: from verses 4 and 5
Let the uneven places be made level
and the crags become a plain.
Then the glory of Adonai will be revealed…
Observation: I’d often rather assumed that this passage was talking about the work that has to be done to prepare people for the glory of the Lord – how we need to be disciplined and perfected and polished and so on.
The problem with that theory is that this instruction is given after God says to comfort His people, because their sins are washed clean. So this is a time of preparation that comes after all the hard heart-changing stuff and before the glory of the Lord arrives. I’m not even sure who is meant to do the work here. It might be directed at the people of Israel, but it might be a proclamation to the Holy Spirit and the armies of the Lord.
In any case, this seems to be a time of work without pain. A time to collaborate and come together to accomplish something because it is fun, not because it is the penalty for getting it wrong. This is a time of working towards a goal that isn’t in sight yet, but will come and delight everyone.
It doesn’t happen right away. There’s a space where nothing seems to be happening, except perhaps easier travel. Just like there’s times when nothing seems to be happening in our lives, except for our children getting older and the pile of half-attempted ideas getting bigger. But we keep going, because the glory will come.
Application: Keep going in those empty times. There’s rumblings in the deep.
Prayer: Father, thank you for letting us help build your kingdom and accomplish your work. Help me to stay focused and trusting during these times of collaboration with you. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 6
On this mountain Adonai–Tzva’ot (Lord of Hosts) will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and superb wines…
Observation: There’s a number of wonderful promises here: that God will swallow up death forever, that He will open our eyes to see clearly, that He will wipe every tear from our eyes. But…I like this one. Maybe I’m just hungry.
My family recently had our Strawberry Shortcake Day – we went out in the morning to pick strawberries, and then in the evening we had strawberry shortcake for dinner, with fresh whipped cream and shortcakes my sister and brother had made the day before. Each year we invite some of our favorite people, and we all have our strawberry shortcake and sit on the porch and eat and talk and eat some more.
This verse is a promise of that kind of meal. Not just food eaten to keep from being hungry, but a meal that combines the sensory pleasure of good food with the harmony and connection of being with people who love each other. The rich cream and the soft breeze and the warm sun and the happy conversation and the long satisfying drinks of tea or wine or homemade lemonade and the knowledge that there is nowhere to go and no one to impress and I might as well just relax.
There’s no magic on earth that can make that happen for everyone, for all time. But God can.
Yeshua said that the peacemakers will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). It’s not an arbitrary designation – by creating peace, we are doing God’s work. Strawberry Shortcake Day would not work these days if Mom hadn’t taught us to appreciate it and work together to make it happen each year. She started it, and now it’s our job.
And when we live at peace with those around us, we help God make this feast for all nations. We help create the harmony that makes food into a meal. We help Him make Strawberry Shortcake Day for everyone.
Application: Live at peace with those around you.
Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for making peace. Thank you for making harmony between humans possible, and for promising to finish your work someday. Help me to respond to others out of peace. Amen.
Scripture: verse 24 and 25
On that day Israel will be a third partner
with Egypt and Assyria a blessing here on earth;
for Adonai–Tzva’ot [Lord of Hosts] has blessed him:
“Blessed be Egypt my people,
Assyria the work of my hands
and Israel my heritage.”
Observation: This chapter started out with yet more death and destruction, this time for Egypt. But it ends with this promise. We’ve had chapter after chapter of God promising devastating punishment for Israel, Egypt, and Assyria. They would be conquering and decimating each other in turn (they are, after all, traditional enemies), and in between God would be hitting them with plagues and famine and confusion and in-fighting.
But God promises something that’s an even greater miracle than fighting and death: He promises peace. He promises that we who have rebelled and continue to rebel will be brought close to Him. He promises that these people groups who have had millenia of conflict will work together and friends and equals to serve the Lord and bless the world.
I did not have the best day today. I made a critical remark that may have been overheard by the wrong person, and I taught a children’s class that included a boy who is more difficult than average. Neither of these things is especially surprising – in fact, they are common enough that they have their own pages on tv tropes, which I have linked to. And God is using these things to point out places where I am not loving people the way He loves them.
But God’s promise is here: that someday, at the end of all the bad days, we will all stand together as friends and equals and servants of the Lord. Someday the staid leaders and the rebellious children and the slightly-crazy intellectual women like me and all the rest of everyone will be a blessing on the earth. Someday God will be bigger than all of our differences.
Application: Love other people, I guess. You’ll end up there in the end anyway.
Prayer: Father, thank you for loving me even when I am not loving to others. Thank you for promising harmony in the end. Thank you that everything really will be all right. Please help me to love others the way you love them. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 13
Ephraim will stop envying Judah,
and Judah will stop provoking Ephraim.
Observation: God decided to make a people for Himself, and he chose a man, and that man’s son and grandson, and then the grandson had twelve sons so God made each brother into his own tribe and told them to live in harmony with each other. Because that never ends badly.
So now, centuries later, two of the tribes (and realistically, probably all of the tribes) are in the habit of annoying each other. And God is saying that when Yeshua comes and establishes peace, they’ll stop. And it isn’t even that they’ll stop attacking each other, like two children told to sit on their hands in the back seat of a car. They’ll stop annoying each other because their hearts will change. Envy and jealousy will be replaced by love.
Lots of kings have imposed peace. It takes the King of Kings to create peace.
There’s a frequently-quoted section in this chapter about the peace that Yeshua will establish in nature: the lion will lie down with the lamb, and so on. And that’s a beautiful image, but it doesn’t really illustrate how good God is at making peace happen. Lions eat lambs because that is their nature; it can’t be all that hard for God to just reprogram their nature if He wants to, though I suspect there’s a little more to it than that. But this is God creating internal harmony in people and families and nations, without changing who those people are. This is laser-guided heart surgery.
Application: Ask God to bring peace to your relationships with others.
Prayer: Yeshua, please help me live in harmony with those around me: my children, my husband, my siblings, my parents, my in-laws, my friends. Help me to love them without fear or envy or annoyance. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 24
Whoever touches the carcass of [an unclean animal] will be unclean until evening, and whoever picks up any part of their carcass is to wash his clothes and be unclean until evening…
Observation: So here we have this “uncleanness” thing. Lots of things rendered people temporarily unclean, including touching dead things, giving birth, and cleaning up after certain sacrifices. It doesn’t appear to be a state of sin, since sin requires sacrifice to be cleared, but it does prevent the person affected from participating in worship and society. In many cases, this was probably a practical benefit: it helped keep germs and other contaminants from spreading, and it gave women a period of rest after childbirth and during their periods.
I’m never sure what to do with this rule. Sooner or later I have to handle the bodies of dead things (usually worms and flies and the like), unless I can get my husband to do it for me. Naturally I use a tissue, but the law doesn’t say whether it still applies if you pick it up with something. Admittedly we’re no longer condemned by the Law, but I’m still relieved whenever I discover that the worm I found is actually still alive and therefore not part of this commandment.
And that’s probably the real purpose of these rules: to remind us that the world that exists is not the world that God desires. Death is the result of sin in the world, and so is the pain of childbirth and the difficulty of making a living. God plans to redeem His creation, and once He does nothing will be unclean anymore.
So we acknowledge that this world is broken, and we are grateful that we only spend a short time on it. Our home is with Him for eternity. Uncleanness lasts until evening, but joy awaits in the morning.
Application: Look forward to eternity rather than getting swamped by this life. Our current troubles will not last. Light is coming.
Prayer: Father, thank you for building a home for me. Thank you for preparing joy and peace that I can look forward to when life on Earth is difficult and chaotic. Help me to trust you when you say the all will be well. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 24
He is to restore it in full plus an additional one-fifth; he must return it to the person who owns it, on the day when he presents his guilt offering.
Observation: The verse refers to anything that was obtained deceitfully, whether stolen, extorted, “borrowed,” lied about, etc. The person who took advantage of others is guilty, and a dual restitution is demanded: the guilt offering to be restored to harmony with the Lord, and returning the stolen money or item plus a fine, to be restored to harmony within the community.
God cares about the people around us. God cares that the community of believers lives in harmony. We can’t ignore the people around us and expect to be in God’s will. He loves them too.
Application: Consideration for others tends to be one of my shortcomings, though at least in practical matters like this I think I’m getting a better. (Considerate and positive words tend to be a little tougher for me.) But, easy or hard, keep the peace. Work to stay friends with others unless there’s a very good reason not to. Build the community, don’t tear it down.
Prayer: Father, thank you for loving the people around me. Help me to love them too. Help me to notice when I am hurting others and find ways to restore the relationship. Amen.