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 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: 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.
Scripture: verse 18
I will open rivers on the bare heights…
Observation: God is promising to meet His people’s needs: when the poor are without water, they will call on Him and He will create abundant water for them.
I sometimes wonder how God would change His messages for people from different cultures. I frequently get words for people about sitting in God’s sunshine, but would that change to shade or a cool breeze if I prayed for someone from Africa? I haven’t prayed for enough people from tropical climates to know, but it seems likely.
The point is that God already has abundant provision for us. All we have to do is ask.
Application: Ask for what you need.
Prayer: Father, I praise you because you put the reserves of water in the Earth, and you know where they are and you can shape them and direct them in any way you want. You can sculpt my climate to be exactly what I need. Thank you for providing for me. Help me to ask you when I need things instead of just worrying. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 12
[God] has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand…
Observation: There’s a vlogbrothers video that points out that humans are really terrible at wrapping our heads around things that are far bigger or far smaller than we are. If you ask me how much space five marbles will take up, I have an immediate intuitive sense of that, quite aside from whatever experience I may have in holding marbles. Five marbles will fit in the palm of my hand. If you ask me how much space a million marbles will take up, I have no idea. I know they will not fit in the palm of my hand. But whether they will fit in a bucket, in my car, in my house…I’m just not sure.
And then there’s God. I can make some rough calculations and estimate how much space the marbles will take up, after all, even if I can’t picture it. (Apparently I’m going to need around 250 5-gallon buckets to store them. I think they would, technically, fit in the house, but I doubt my husband would be pleased.) And God is even bigger than that.
God is so big that we can’t even comprehend the metaphors used to describe how big He is. The hollow of a hand is easy enough to understand, but using one to measure all the water of Earth is impossible. If the entire mass of water on Earth was pooled together, it would apparently make a giant ball the size of Spain. I cannot imagine a giant ball the size of Spain, even with a picture to help me. And this image of God is a couple orders of magnitude beyond that, and God Himself is even bigger than this image. The mind boggles.
But God likes our minds boggling. He likes that we try to understand Him, and He steps into our world to make Himself known. He notices us and loves us, which realistically is kind of like us taking an eager interest in the life and concerns of an amoeba.
The physics alone boggles the mind.
Application: Still boggling, sorry.
Prayer: God, you are pretty amazing. By which I mean considerably more awesomely amazing than I can even begin to describe. Thank you for giving us pictures of you, so that we can begin to understand who you are. 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: verse 20
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who change darkness into light
and light into darkness,
who change bitter into sweet
and sweet into bitter!
Observation: One of the things I like about God is that He is truth. God is the fundamental Source of logic in Creation. When tomorrow follows today in the correct sequence, it is because God is truth and He doesn’t change. When I throw a ball and it follows a trajectory that can be calculated from the strength of my throw and the weight of the ball and the pull of gravity and a few key equations, it is because God is truth. When I add two and two and get four, it is because God is truth.
Truth isn’t unknowable. It isn’t relative. The facts of a situation vary, of course, but the bedrock structural logic of the universe is true and does not change. This isn’t always pleasant – tomorrow may be sad, the ball may hit someone in the face, and I may have been hoping that two and two would magically be five today – but it is still far safer than the alternative.
And then there’s people who say that nothing is knowable and we should rejoice in the mystery. That humans are supposed to be nasty and brutish. That evil is good and good is evil. Some of them are simply confused, of course, and God has grace for that. But for the people who look at what they know to be true and decide to believe otherwise, God has something else coming. Because He is truth, and He will not change Himself to accommodate a lie.
Application: See the truth. Believe it.
Prayer: Father, thank you or creating logic and physics and things that are true, that we can explore and study and learn about. Thank you or creating a world that is stable and full of new mysteries for us to uncover. Help me stay on your bedrock of truth. Amen.
Scripture: verses 4 and 5
I will put children in authority;
capriciousness will govern them….
The young will be insolent toward their elders,
the insignificant arrogant toward the respected.
Observation: More punishments: God will chastise His people by removing the support system of wise leaders and advisers.
I don’t really want to get into culture-bashing here. Modern Western culture is fairly awful in places, but so are most other cultures I’ve come across, so take your pick.
But. The insignificant are arrogant toward the respected. The people who don’t know much insist that they know better than the experts. The people who have little experience deny that they could use advice from people with more experience. It happens all the time. And it’s a really dumb thing to do.
We are not all experts in everything. We have not all done everything and tried every option. We can’t predict the future. And when we insist that we are and have and can, we are ruled by caprice and whim. And we get in trouble.
It takes humility to seek advice from others. But we have to know our own limits. We can’t survive otherwise.
Application: Respect your elders. Know your limits and get help when you need it.
Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for creating your community, so that I have people I can ask for help. Thank you for creating cause and effect. Thank you for creating a world where things can be known and knowledge can be useful. Help me to know it and correct it when when I’m being an idiot. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 16
let the Word of the Messiah, in all its richness, live in you
Observation: …which is kinda funny, since Messiah is the Word made flesh (John 1) and it gets all paradoxical. But when you’re talking about the Ultimate Source of Everything, a lot of words and titles start to get interchangeable. It’s all Him.
Anyway, Paul clarifies in the next verse that this means (at least in part) that everything we do or say should be done in Messiah’s name, acknowledging that God is our ultimate authority.
But that’s a lot of richness. The Word of Messiah is what created the universe out of nothing, after all. It is the Source of Sources and the Energy that fueled the first photons and the Knowledge of all the ages. I don’t think it’ll fit, to be honest. I’m not that big.
But the verse doesn’t say I have to try to cram all of that inside me. It says I have to let it live in me. I just have to make it welcome. I just have to make room, and acknowledge that my energy and my knowledge are flawed and incomplete. He’s the one who will come in and pour His riches over my poverty.
I don’t know how the Relevant Entity can possibly live in me. But apparently He wants to.
Application: Acknowledge that you don’t have it figured out. Allow Him to fill in the blanks.
Prayer: Yeshua, your richness is welcome in me. Thank you for helping me grow and teaching me to think more clearly and live more peacefully. Amen.
Scripture: by special request:
Don’t let your livestock mate with those of another kind, don’t sow your field with two different kinds of grain, and don’t wear a garment of cloth made with two different kinds of thread.
Observation: Normally with a commandment this bizarre, we look at the context (the type of rules it’s grouped with) for clues. In this case, the surrounding verses are a complete jumble, so that’s no help.
So why do we do these things? Why do we interbreed our livestock and produce and mix fibers in our clothing? Usually it’s because we hope the result will have the advantages of both and the defects of neither. We hope to be able to pick and choose the things we like.
While this probably isn’t a problem when applied to consumables, it’s a very big problem if we apply that attitude to God. There’s plenty of people who try to pick and choose the aspects of God that they like. There’s even people who combine multiple religions, keeping the nicest holidays and traditions from each one.
But God doesn’t work that way. He is Himself, unchanging and indivisible. We don’t get to pick the bits of Him that we like and ignore the rest. He won’t let us.
We don’t get to have it all our own way. We don’t get to be in control all the time. And I think this law, arbitrary as it is, was meant to remind people of that: God is Himself and there is no changing Him.
Application: Don’t try to mold God into the box you’d like Him to be in. Celebrate differences instead of rejecting them.
Prayer: Father, I am sorry that I am not big enough to see you properly. I am sorry that I expect you to act the way I want you to. Help me to remember that doing things your way is far more sensible than doing things my way. Thank you for being Yourself. Amen.