Thursday, November 20, 2014

THE THRILL OF VICTORY, THE AGONY OF DEFEAT



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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again He will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Foreigners will join them and unite with the descendants of Jacob. Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And Israel will take possession of the nations and make them male and female servants in the Lord’s land. They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors.

On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!

The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression. All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing. Even the junipers and the cedars of Lebanon gloat over you and say, “Now that you have been laid low, no one comes to cut us down.”

The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones—all those who were kings over the nations. They will all respond, they will say to you, “You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.” All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.

Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb. But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch; you are covered with the slain, with those pierced by the sword, those who descend to the stones of the pit. Like a corpse trampled underfoot, you will not join them in burial, for you have destroyed your land and killed your people.

Let the offspring of the wicked never be mentioned again. Prepare a place to slaughter his children for the sins of their ancestors; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities. “I will rise up against them,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will wipe out Babylon’s name and survivors, her offspring and descendants,” declares the Lord. “I will turn her into a place for owls and into swampland; I will sweep her with the broom of destruction,” declares the Lord Almighty.

The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen. I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.” This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

Isaiah 14:1-27

This ends this reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

Isaiah, Chapter 13, and as we will see today, much of Chapter 14 paints a gloomy picture of what happens when God’s judgment befalls a nation, and in the case of Babylon, an empire. As we have looked at recently in our devotions, God will not be slighted or disregarded in any way. Anyone who chooses to do so will experience His wrath and the agony of defeat.

But sandwiched within the chilling prophecy of punishment that Babylon would experience are words of hope and deliverance for the people of Israel, people who knew all too well the mistake of turning away from God and inciting His anger. They, the Israelites, had gone through their own devastation and annihilation as God used the Assyrians to rout the Northern Kingdom while the Babylonians laid siege to the Southern Kingdom and the cherished, hallowed city of Jerusalem. The land God had promised to His people was laid to waste as buildings were destroyed, wealth was plundered, productive fields and vineyards were torched, and people were either killed or hauled away into exile in a foreign land, oppressed in slavery. In the case of the Israelites who were taken to Babylon, that exile lasted seventy years. It had been a long time away from the holy land, enough time to consider the sins that placed them in their circumstances, enough time for an entire generation to die off. And now, God was ready to restore them and put conditions in place so that they could return home and start fresh. The people of Israel were about to experience the thrill of victory, victory over exile and oppression, victory granted through mercy, grace, and love by the same God who had levied consequences against them.

Look again at today’s verses:

The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again He will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Foreigners will join them and unite with the descendants of Jacob. Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And Israel will take possession of the nations and make them male and female servants in the Lord’s land. They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors.

On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!

The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression. All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing. Even the junipers and the cedars of Lebanon gloat over you and say, “Now that you have been laid low, no one comes to cut us down.”

The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones—all those who were kings over the nations. They will all respond, they will say to you, “You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.” All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.

Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb. But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch; you are covered with the slain, with those pierced by the sword, those who descend to the stones of the pit. Like a corpse trampled underfoot, you will not join them in burial, for you have destroyed your land and killed your people.

Let the offspring of the wicked never be mentioned again. Prepare a place to slaughter his children for the sins of their ancestors; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities. “I will rise up against them,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will wipe out Babylon’s name and survivors, her offspring and descendants,” declares the Lord. “I will turn her into a place for owls and into swampland; I will sweep her with the broom of destruction,” declares the Lord Almighty.

The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen. I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.” This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?  Isaiah 14:1-27

Essentially what we have here is a turning of the tables. The captives will be set free and the captor will be the one under siege. The oppressed will be liberated while the oppressor becomes exploited. The instruments of judgment will now be judged themselves.

For the people of Israel, things were going to get better soon because of God’s deep compassion for them. Once out of His favor and left to fend for themselves at the hands of the Babylonians, the Israelites will once again be God’s chosen ones as He returns them to Canaan with an opportunity to start anew, to rebuild their cities and lives while rebuilding their relationship with Him. They had paid the price for their transgressions as they had turned away from God and pursued other gods. Now it was time to show Him they had learned their lesson as they fully experienced His forgiveness and reveled in the thrill of victory from His lengthy rebuke and penalty.

It wasn’t quite going to be happy times for the Babylonians. The once mighty empire who lorded over Israel and laid waste to many nations and their people on the road to building such a powerful kingdom were about to see all they had accomplished laid to waste by the One who every nation is to submit to, the Lord God Almighty, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. Through prior scriptures, we know that the king of Babylon was so prideful that he thought of himself as equivalent to God if not greater. The power he had amassed had gone to his head and now God was going to show him and his people that He and He alone was in charge, that every person of every nation was to submit to Him or suffer the consequences for not doing so. Babylon was going to know fully the agony of defeat. The specifics found in the scriptures paint a harrowing picture. Babylon’s name and its people were going to be wiped out, decimated and demolished. There would be no evidence left that any powerful entity had even existed once God got done.

Friends, are we listening to the scriptures today? I’ve heard so many people say they think there is no use in studying Old Testament scriptures as Christians because we are a “New Testament” people. That attitude is a big mistake for if we believe that God will not repeat the judgment He passed on prior nations and empires who chose to turn their backs on Him, we are greatly mistaken. Any country or continent today could experience the same agony of defeat as Babylon did, and as we will see in coming days, other enemies of God and Israel. History can and will repeat itself.

Conversely, nations and people could avoid judgment and incurring God’s wrath, experiencing instead the thrill of victory that comes through living life fully in and through His Son Jesus, and in doing so, living fully in the kind of righteousness and holiness that brings God’s favor and blessings, not His anger and consequences.

So what will it be for us? Which will we opt for: the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat?

The choice is ours and God will act accordingly.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

SIGNS GOD IS MAD (PART 4)



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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children. Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; there no nomads will pitch their tents, there no shepherds will rest their flocks. But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about. Hyenas will inhabit her strongholds, jackals her luxurious palaces. Her time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged.

Isaiah 13:17-22

This ends this reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:8-10

These words of the psalmist proved to be ominous, reminders of what was and precursors for what was yet to come. They framed the power of God and His willingness to wield it against anyone who chose to make Him mad through disrespect and disregard. For any person, city, or nation that chose to slight God, desolation and destruction would be in their future.

In the end translation, God and God alone would be exalted among the nations and the earth.

Before the words of the psalmist, this truth was played out in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Looking at Genesis 18, we find these words from God as He speaks to Abraham about these two cities:

Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me. If not, I will know.” vv. 20-21

This led to an interesting exchange between Abraham and God centered on Abraham’s concern for any people who might have been righteous in the city. In Abraham’s view, the righteous, if any, should be spared and not annihilated with the wicked. God assured Abraham that even if He found as few as ten righteous people amongst the wicked population of the cities, He would hold back His wrath and not bring destruction.

Well, as we know, destruction did come upon Sodom and Gomorrah, an indicator of just how wicked the people were there. The cities were laid to waste as documented in Genesis, Chapter 19:

Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus He overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. vv. 24-25

Two cities that chose sin over righteousness, wickedness over holiness, and ultimately death over life. Sadly, history repeated itself and as we see in today’s scripture and God’s words to the empire of Babylon:

“See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children. Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; there no nomads will pitch their tents, there no shepherds will rest their flocks. But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about. Hyenas will inhabit her strongholds, jackals her luxurious palaces. Her time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged.” Isaiah 13:17-22

The Babylonians ignored the failures of Sodom and Gomorrah. They turned from God and allowed wickedness to dominate their society, seeking their own pride and glory and power. As a result, they lost everything and were overthrown by the very God they chose to pay no attention to, the God who had to send marauding armies of doom and annihilation to get their attention. Where the people once lived in magnificent opulence, common animals would now abide. The Babylonians would be no more.

In the end translation with Babylon, God ended up exalted among the nations and the earth. No entity who sought their own glory and honor apart from God would ever stand as God would show them that He is Master and Ruler of all things and will not be challenged. The only appropriate response by all people before God is submission and humble obedience to His word, will, and way. When we fail to do that, God will get mad and the signs of that anger will come in the form of destruction and death.

We can either choose to stand with God or we won’t stand at all. It’s really that simple and we had better get a grip on this truth today or history once again will repeat itself and we’ll see yet another Sodom, Gomorrah, or Babylon scenario play out in present times.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

SIGNS GOD IS MAD (PART 3)

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In Christ, Mark

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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.


Like a hunted gazelle, like sheep without a shepherd, they will all return to their own people, they will flee to their native land. Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated.

Isaiah 13:14-16

This ends this reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

When judgment comes on a nation, born from the wrath of God, it’s is far from a pretty picture. We have seen already that when God gets mad, destruction and desolation will follow, such that no person or community of persons should ever want to place themselves in a situation where they face God’s punishment. These are a few of the signs that God’s anger has been incited.

As we continue to look at God’s promise of consequence for the nation of Babylon, we see graphically how terrible it will be for a people under His penalty, a penalty that often ends in death. In the case of Babylon, God would be summoning the armies from Medes and the Persians to attack and serve as instruments of His fury. The once strong and mighty empire of the Babylonians would be reduced to a chaotic scene of mass devastation and obliteration as buildings and home and fields were laid to waste and people were chased and hunted down. Look at these verses from Isaiah, Chapter 13, painting a not so pretty picture of the bedlam that would soon ensue:

Like a hunted gazelle, like sheep without a shepherd, they will all return to their own people, they will flee to their native land. Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated.  Isaiah 13:14-16

The scripture here is chillingly graphic. The attack of the marauding armies sent by God will be so brutal that people will be found fleeing for their very lives, like hunted animals, lost, unprotected, and vulnerable like sheep away from a shepherd. No one will be spared from brutal slaying if captured and what is especially difficult to stomach is that even the infants will become victims. It will be a horrible, tragic event and perhaps the saddest part of it all is that it could have been completely prevented. It could have.

For all the Babylonians had to do, all any person or any nation of people need to do, is turn to the Lord God Almighty, the Maker and Master of all and commit to being obedient to His will, way, and word. That’s it. It’s a simple matter of submission, of making God’s ways our ways. How hard is that? I think it is far easier than ending up a victim of God’s judgment and suffering His consequences.

So how will we respond today as people of God?

Will we turn to Him in obedience and seek to do everything in a way that honors Him and brings glory to His precious and holy name, an action that will ensure our survival as we live in God’s favor?

Or will we choose to repeat the mistakes of the past, to live as the Babylonians did, the same way that the Assyrians and the Egyptians chose to live before them, all empires that challenged God and lost in a big way, empires that snubbed God and, as a result, suffered the consequences of His anger and wrath?

One thing is certain. The God of judgment, the supreme Ruler of all creation, who was alive and well in Old Testament times is still alive and well today, more than 2,000 years later. We would be well served to never turn our backs on Him and live in His prescribed righteousness through every day He blesses us with. We can only do this when we accept Jesus, His Son, as our personal Savior and pledge to think, speak, and act in every way that He did. Then and only then will we ensure we will not make God mad and escape His punishment.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Monday, November 17, 2014

SIGNS GOD IS MAD (PART 2)



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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.

Isaiah 13:13

This ends this reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

There are things that make God mad. There is little doubt this is true as we have not only seen in our study of Isaiah 13 but in the study of the scriptures as a whole. God will not stand to be disrespected, disobeyed, or disregarded in any way, shape, or form by and individual or collection of individuals in a community or nation. Choose to turn against God and you will be sure to receive His judgment which comes as a direct result of His wrath. It’s no place anyone should ever want to be.

There are signs that would indicate that God’s anger has been incited. Yesterday, in the first devotion in this series, we saw where God will annihilate people who choose to ignore His will, way, and word. In fact, the punishment that would be levied on the Babylonians, spelled out in verse 12 of Chapter 13, was utter annihilation of the people, so much so that God declared people would be scarce and as rare as finding pure gold. You’ll recall that this happened as it did to the Assyrian empire before. You’ll also recall that these signs serve as a warning to any people or nation today that God will not stand to be overlooked or discounted. We can either give Him our undivided attention or He will take actions that will get our attention.

As we continue studying signs that indicate God is mad, we come to verse 13 of Isaiah, Chapter 13. Look again at the words of the Lord here:

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger. Isaiah 13:13

God’s power is undeniable but it’s also indescribable. No one knows the extent of His power because it’s infinitesimal in its very nature. The very God who formed and shaped the earth and heavens in His hands as well as the people and creatures He fashioned to dwell within them, rules and reigns over His creation with unmatched and unrivaled authority. Only a fool would ever choose to defy such a God and yet it has happened throughout history, from biblical days to the present. And as long as that happens, then God will be angered and His judgment will be levied on people as well as the land they live in.

In regard to the latter, we see in verse 13 that when God is mad, He can and will choose to make the heavens tremble and the earth shake. Think about that a moment and consider how you would respond if you heard an ominous, thundering rumbling coming from the skies unlike anything you have every heard before and then at the same time, the very ground you were upon began to quake in a way that knocked you from your feet. Such was the violence of the shaking that you became afraid the very ground under your feet was going to break open, leaving you free falling into the crevice left behind.

At such a time, you would be sure something completely radical was happening, a phenomenon like none you had ever experienced in the past and, if you survived it, would never want to experience in the future.

This is imagery that can only begin to describe what it might look like when God sends His wrath on the day of His burning anger. One thing is for certain. No one should wish to be in the midst of such a display of God’s power and fury. We won’t have to be as long as we choose to follow Jesus, to model living life as He did and ever seek His will and way. For when we do this, and only when we do this, we will think, speak, and act in the kind of righteousness that brings God’s favor and not His judgment.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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