Thursday, February 26, 2009

Isaiah 42: Attributes Christ

 Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth;


“Behold my servant” – Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah, asking us to view him as he really is.  This chapter provides a very useful and descriptive breakdown of the attributes of Christ.  Being like a lesson or a lecture, I’ll pull out the information I find and show it in a bulleted fashion, listing separately attributes as Isaiah gives them.  I am borrowing some of the thoughts I give here from the writings of John Calvin.


·         Christ speaks to us in quiet confidence

2 He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.

Unlike traditional preachers, Christ is not clamorous or puffed up.   His preaching  is quiet and direct.  As the Jews observed, “he taught them as one having authority” (Matt 7:29).   One with authority does not need to make a scene to get his point across.  He speaks with confidence, revealing truth and exposing errors.   Many of Christ’s great teaching moments were in private to individuals or small groups. 

·         Christ builds us up based on our strengths

3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.

I had to have a little help from Mr. Calvin to understand these metaphors.   A bruised reed represents something that could easily be crushed or swept aside.  Smoking flax refers to a lamp wick that is improperly trimmed.   These symbols represent us- people with serious imperfections, yet with some component of goodness and a desire to be better.  Christ, in his majesty, could easily put us down and reject us for our imperfection, but instead he chooses to see the good part and accentuates that.  This is most evident in the image of the smoking flax.   Imagine lamp that with a feeble flame that generates lots of smoke.  It is unpleasant to be around, and our first impulse might be to extinguish it to relieve ourselves of the unpleasantness of the smoke, but nothing productive is accomplish by that.  The alternative is better-  With some care and patience, we can nurture the spark, trim the wick and eventually produce a lamp that burns brightly with no smoke.   This is the way that Christ works. 

·         Christ created the heavens and the earth

5 ¶ Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:

It is a statement in and of itself that God must remind us who he is.   In common speech this might be reworded, “In case you’ve forgotten, Israel, I’m the one who made the whole world and the heavens above it.”   Later on in the Chapter, Isaiah drives this point home by pointing out that Israel is tormented, not because God is weak, but because God chooses to let bad things happen to the disobedient:

24 Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.

This is an important lesson about God.  Even though he has all power and created all things, it is not his way to take away our troubles.  Rather, he cries when we suffer and patiently helps us through it.

·         Christ uses his covenant people to accomplish his work

6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a blight of the Gentiles;

We must understand that to be a disciple of Christ, we must be in his service and do his work.  We may be afraid that we will leave important matters of protection and survival undone, but Christ knows what we need and he will support us.

·         Christ’s work is to free us and make us truly see

7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.

What I found interesting is that later in the chapter, the Lord’s servants are called blind and deaf:

19 Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD’s servant?

This hearkens back a few bullet points to the attribute of Christ where he builds people up.  Christ’s kingdom is made up of repentant sinners.    Isaiah is quite familiar with this, as he had to go through his own repentance when he was called (see Isaiah 6).   To be Christlike is to be very tolerant of other’s faults and focus on the repentant heart and the things that are good about a person.   It also means that we give people chances to succeed, even when they seem weak.  Then, as Christ makes us strong, it is our turn to help others in exactly the same way Christ helped us- patiently leading them through steady incremental improvement.

·         Christ is a revealer of the past and the future


9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.

Not only did Christ create everything, all of his creations, past and present are before him and he comprehends them all.  One of the things he does is to make known the things of the past and future that we need to know.   Thus, to be a disciple of Christ means not to be overly concerned with the past or the future.  After all, we have no control of one and essentially no control of the other.    It is in the present that we have our power,  and as we need access to the past and the future, God will make it known. 


This chapter has been a wonderful study into the attributes of God.  I’ve felt the spirit as I’ve written about it, which testifies to me that God really does have these attributes and it increases my faith in him.   Hopefully this has been edifying to you too.


I’ll leave off with a question posed by Isaiah:


23 Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Isaiah 41: A firm foundation

This chapter serves as a reminder and a gentle rebuke to Israel.    In verses 1-9, we have what appears to be a spiritual “time-out” called by the Lord:        

1 Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.

The Lord is saying, in effect, “OK everyone, gather around, get some rest, and let’s reason together about this situation.”  He then reminds them of Father Abraham and how he was upheld by the Lord and was made great, even a ruler over kings. “Who did this?”  The Lord implores.  He answers: “I did it!  I’m the one!”  The Lord then continues this thought by explaining the foolish reactions of men to the actions of God- specifically the creation and worship of idols:

  6 They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.

  7 So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.

The world’s tendency is toward superstition and mysticism, and a heavy reliance on ourselves and the things we make.  It is human nature to encourage ourselves in this weakness.  But the Lord does not want it so, and he points out that Israel stands out:

8-9 But thou, Israel, … Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.

After reasoning with Israel about their special place distinct from the world, The Lord gives firm assurance that they can rely on Him.  All of you will likely recognize the following verse as principle lyrics in the Hymn “How Firm a Foundation”:

10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

After this verse, the Lord explains further that the people who hate Israel will perish or waste to nothing, and the Lord himself will hold our right hand and will help us.    He repeats this idea over and over again- Israel’s enemies will be like chaff in the wind, the Lord’s help will be like a river to the thirsty, etc.    Clearly, there is a point to be made:  we can trust Him!

To contrast, the Lord then issues a challenge to the idolaters:  Go ahead and come up with the best reason you can for not trusting in Me.    Use any example from history, make any prediction about the future.  Prophesy if you have to.  You won’t be able to do it, because you and your gods are nothing.  And anyone who chooses to follow you has been seriously misled.   

In the last few verses, It’s not clear to me who is speaking, but they say:  I’ve looked around for a true prophet among the idolaters- someone who is righteous and can bring good tidings to a people, but there aren’t any.   Idolatry is all about seeking after worthless, impotent things.    Idolatry has no substance and the icons and messages are “wind and confusion”. 

These ideas cause me to think about the culture of materialism that is so prominent in the world today.   The happiness promised by this culture is “happiness through distraction”, as I term it.    Like Isaiah, we can look around us and examine the messages of the materialists.  Where are the righteous among them?  There aren’t any!  Where are their prophets who bring good tidings?   There aren’t any of those either!  In fact, there cannot be good tidings, because the ultimate message of materialism is: “you don’t have enough”.    Contrast that with God’s message:  You have more than enough, plenty to spare, and if you run out, I’ll be there with more.    The materialist says, “If you are troubled, don’t think about it.   Take this pill, watch this show, posess this toy- anything to get your mind off your problems.”   God says, “Confront your problems with me.  Discuss them deeply and counsel with me and I will show you a way through them.”

… and  that is our firm foundation.