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 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 15
I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit…
Observation: God dwells in the heavens, and on top of the mountains, and in my house, and in the shacks of His poorest believers, and inside me. None of these places are too small, and none are too large.
I don’t think God sees space the way we see space.
And really, that’s just as well. A God who made sense to us would be woefully inadequate for the job. So it’s rather a relief to learn that He doesn’t see things the way I do. What we see is not all that is.
Application: Know that God is with you
Prayer: Lord, I praise you because you are bigger and more complicated than I could ever imagine. Thank you for choosing to be with me. 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 verse 4
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
Observation: God is telling Israel that He loves them and is with them and they should not be afraid. And then there’s this bit.
The genocides and apparent arbitrariness of the early days of God’s people bother a lot of people. Which is probably a good thing, as we shouldn’t be indifferent to others, even our enemies. This seems to be one part of an explanation: God allowed some people to die so that Israel could live.
Now, God loves everyone, because He made everyone. But He was doing a special work through Israel, and He’d promised to do it through Israel, so He had to continue to choose Israel in order to still be God.
Of course, that doesn’t make sense either, because God isn’t playing a zero-sum game. God isn’t faced with a universe where resources are limited and some people have to lose. On the other hand, God also knows that physical death isn’t the same as spiritual death, and what happens on Earth isn’t the whole story. The work God was doing through Israel allowed Him to offer grace to everyone, including those killed along the way. (How did that work? I have no idea. But it’s not really my business.)
I still can’t say I like this verse. It doesn’t seem nice. But I can’t see it the way God saw it, so I have to trust that He knows what He’s doing.
Application: Trust God. And don’t be hasty to judge the actions of others; you can’t see their situations the way they do either.
Prayer: Father, thank you for giving men in exchange for my life. I don’t really feel grateful – I mostly feel awkward about it – but you clearly did it because you love us. I praise you because you are not dealing with a zero-sum game and you can see more than I can. Help me to trust that you have chosen me. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 8
“There will be peace and security in my days.”
Observation: I’d say that Hezekiah was an idiot if it weren’t for the fact that we all do this. So humans are idiots. Hezekiah, after a salutary reminder that everything he is and had and could have was a gift of God, and after promising to remember his lesson and be much more humble in the future, promptly forgot the entire incident. Messengers arrived from Babylon to congratulate him on not being sick anymore, and Hezekiah showed off all of his wealth and strength to them, apparently forgetting that he was remembering that those things were God’s and none of Hezekiah’s doing. When Isaiah told Hezekiah that this had been a mistake and would eventually result in Babylon conquering Jerusalem and capturing Hezekiah’s descendants, Hezekiah figured this was good news because at least his reign would be peaceful.
It’s just so deliciously human of him. As soon as the revelation loses relevance, he forgets about it. He reverts to assuming that his things are his, that he has some control over his destiny, that what he sees is what there is.
That’s why God sent to Holy Spirit to be with us, to remind us of what we already know. We get glimpses of eternity to remind us of the truth. We get new eyes and new hearts because the old ones are broken beyond repair.
Application: Don’t let revelations fall by the wayside. Ask the Holy Spirit for the truth.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, I praise you because you see things as they are and you do not change. I thank you for giving me access to the truth. I praise you because your memory is reliable and I know mine is not. Please help me to remember what I already know, and forgive me when I forget. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 7
he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land…
Observation: God is promising Israel that the general attacking them will fall without any action of theirs: he will hear a rumor and return home, where he will be killed.
It just draws such a strong contrast between God and humans. On one hand we have the general, who has to make decisions with the best information he has, and as a result he is swayed by every rumor and whisper that comes to him. On the other hand we have God, who not only knows exactly what is happening (and therefore has no need to wait for rumors to trickle in) but knows what will happen, without even trying.
And we have the general, relying on people who bring him information in return for money or power or favor, so that he can never be quite sure who is telling him the truth and how much they know. And we have Israel, relying on the Maker of the Universe, who cannot be bought or and is not deceived and knows everything, who tells us what we need to know freely.
Remind me again why we insist on relying on our own understanding?
Oh, that’s right. Because we’re human, and humans are awfully silly sometimes.
Application: We can’t stop being human, and we’re probably not capable of never being silly, but we can choose to make the wise decision for now. Ask God to tell you what you need to know.
Prayer: Father, I praise you because you are Truth and you will never let me be deceived if I ask you for insight. Please help me to do so. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 4
their voices do not upset him…
Observation: Israel has been turning to Egypt for help (again) and God is highlighting how much more powerful He is than Egypt, by comparing Himself to a lion that the shepherds are yelling at. Occasionally, of course, there was a shepherd (like David) who was able to drive off a lion, but most of the time the lions could safely ignore the shepherds they encountered. The shepherd didn’t even factor into its plans.
That’s how God feels. Our strength and plans and resources don’t even figure in His calculations unless He feels like including them. We are not nearly as big as we thing we are.
And really, that’s just as well. Even when we’re doing okay, we almost never really have everything figured out. There’s always an unexpected factor or event or person to throw our plans out of whack. The 2005 movie The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has one character murmur, “Best-laid plans of mice,” and when he is corrected, he adds, “I don’t think men had much to do with it.” And while I’m pretty sure the mice aren’t running the show, I agree with him that we aren’t either.
Application: In all your ways, acknowledge Him (Psalm 3). He’s bigger than you.
Prayer: Yeshua, I praise you for being bigger than me. I praise you because you understand my world considerably better than I do. I praise you because the things that threaten me do not bother you. Thank you for protecting me. Help me to remember that you have already set my plans. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 9
If you make yourselves stupid, you will stay stupid!
If you blind yourselves, you will stay blind!
Observation: This passage is about the people of Israel who pay lip service to God but mostly live as if He doesn’t exist or can’t see them. God later compares them to a pot saying that its maker didn’t make it and has no discernment. It’s not that they don’t know about God – they just don’t really think He sees them and knows them and is relevant to their plans.
The result is situations of dramatic irony. If they asked God for guidance and relied on His wisdom, they could make really good choices. But as it is, they make the best choices they can with the information they are willing to acknowledge, and God is left sitting helplessly like the movie audience watching the ditsy blonde walk into the creepy building. She’s the only one who doesn’t know it’s a bad idea, but she does it anyway.
Application: Assume God has useful input. Ask for it. Don’t wait for Him to prove that He’s stronger than you (as God says He will in verse 14) as that’s often a rather unpleasant process.
Prayer: Father, I praise you for having far more wisdom and knowledge than I have. Thank you for guiding me when I ask you to. Help me to follow you, and bless me. Amen.