(Image credit: Paul Gauguin, Te Tamari No Atua (Nativity),1896)
*Before I begin, you should really go to that image credit link and read about this painting of the Nativity.*
I’m not a Bible scholar. I really enjoy reading and studying the Bible, but I don’t have any formal education in the Bible. I have had some really good pastors and Bible teachers teach me how to read the Bible for myself and without fail that still small voice of God speaks to me through the words on paper and pixel.
I don’t think I’ve ever read through Isaiah. Today I read Isaiah 7-9. Honestly, I had to read it several times and listen to it read to me on my YouVersion app on my phone. I get stuck on spots like:
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it… – Isaiah 7:1
Who’s Ahaz? Who’s Jotham? Who’s Uzziah and Rezin and Pekah and Remaliah? I want to go investigate (and I probably should) but I can’t let these foreign names stop me from reading. I need to just keep reading. And reading. And reading. And listening. And then when something sticks out to me, dwell on it. So that’s what I did today. Although I would like to know about Ahaz and all those people with strange names in the first sentence to help me get my brain around what was going on when Isaiah wrote this, I don’t need to know them to hear what God would say to me about himself and his ways in these chapters.
In a little gathering of believers who called themselves Pathway Bible Church I had a pastor who did such a great job of teaching me to stop devotionalizing every scripture to see what I could squeeze out of it for myself, but rather to ask what the passage was teaching me about God and the people in the passage and about his ways in the world. I’m so thankful for that. And him.
Seeing God, especially Christ in the scriptures has much greater impact on my life than trying to see myself in the Bible. The Bible is not about me. It’s about Jesus. Isaiah is not about me. It’s about Jesus. Israel is not about America or me, but about God’s people everywhere. And how God relates to his people, everywhere, is shown in how he relates to Israel. Now I know there are theological trains of thought about Israel and God and times and such, but what I mean here is, Israel is at least in part a picture of God’s people universal.
In Isaiah, Israel was being told of “God with us” (Immanuel) coming to be the ruler they desperately needed. The Creator of the Universe says to his sin-laden, man-fearing people, “Stop fearing rulers. Fear me. I will come. And you will stumble and break on my humility. The rule of power is on my shoulders.”
When I read today’s section for the #IsaiahChristmas reading in chapters 7-9, I was struck by a couple things about God and his people both then and now:
- God’s people need to be told not to fear. The phrase, “Do not fear,” appears fifty-one times in my ESV Bible. God tells his people not to fear because they do. We’re afraid. And we’re afraid of things that seem reasonable. This guy Ahaz was afraid of the, “fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.” But despite these guys’ power and anger, God calls his people to trust him. He tells us his perspective on the fierce anger of those we fear: their just irritating smoke. And He declares our problem:
If you will not be firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. -Isaiah 7:9b
- God’s ways are not our ways. His sign to Israel that he will deal with oppression: a son born to a virgin who’s name will be Immanuel- God with us. God won’t simply deal with angry rulers who threaten his people. He deals with the fear of man that oppresses his people. Instead of fearing God, they fear people. And so do we. God won’t come to be with us the way we want, making us oppressors of the people we fear. He comes to be a sanctuary for those who trust in him and a stumbling stone to those who don’t. He breaks apart the chains of the fear of man by his humble coming as a child. A child who bears the government on his shoulders. He will make things right. But he won’t sanctify the oppressive fear of man that keeps his people trapped in sinful cycles of loving men’s praise rather than God’s. He comes not to give us what we want, but to give us a new want, new eyes. He comes to us in our darkness, shining brilliantly so we can see our real state where our real hope lies.
And it won’t be Israel’s zeal to pull herself together again to begin another cycle of obedience, idolatry, suffering, crying out, rescue, repeat that will accomplish this freedom and seeing.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. -Isaiah 9:7
Thank you. And I loved the back story of the photo credit.