My husband and another man at our church took our Sunday School class through lessons on the prophets last year. It was (mostly) chronological which I found extremely helpful in placing their prophecies at the correct times in history. Knowing the context opens up our understanding of the text. For example I learned that Isaiah’s prophetic ministry ran from 739 BC – 681 BC and through four kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah). In addition to this, I know that in 722 BC King Shalmanesar V of Assyria attacked Israel and dispersed them into various regions in his kingdom, while also importing other cultures into the northern kingdom (Israel). He mostly speaks to Judah, but still addresses Israel in his prophecies. Interestingly Isaiah was a well educated aristocrat and had access to the king and the royal court. Having this knowledge makes me more aware of certain nuances in the text and provides more meaning behind some of his message.
Now when I read the Bible for my own personal benefit (as in, I’m not reading it to teach to someone else), I like to research the background and then take a long, slow stroll through the text. Sometimes I’ll double back and walk the same path several more times just to make sure I didn’t read it too quickly or miss something. I will underline in different colors (with my new Bible because it is an illustrated Bible), and each color has a purpose (teal for mankind, purple for God, blue for commands, and so on). I will also circle words that are repetitive (Holy One of Israel, Lord of Hosts, a series of I’s and you’s), and I watch for patterns of thought that might meander throughout the entire chapter (burden, sin, evil, fire). I even write main themes for verses and draw pictures if I have a really vivid image in my mind after reading the text (fire). This is how I search the Scriptures. This is how I observe and sift through the details. I’ve been reading Isaiah 1 for a week now if that gives you a clue (and I’m not sure I’m done reading it yet).
Last week, I wrote about the expectant heart when searching the Scriptures. It is approaching the Word with a certain expectation that the Holy Spirit will speak through it and being unwilling to turn back until you have gained a fresh insight. It is bold, and it might border on foolish, but it’s what I do. Sometimes the insights are tiny, and sometimes they are enormous. I’ll take what I can get. Beggars can’t be choosers.
This week as I’ve read through Isaiah 1, I’ve listened for the heart of God for the people of Judah. I’ve listened for Isaiah’s heart as he prophecies to God’s wayward people. And I can’t lie – I heard something for my own heart. No, I don’t mean God audibly spoke to me out of the pages of my new, beautiful, teal Bible. I mean the Spirit provided me with a spiritual perspective that spans the ages. It’s utterly amazing to me that God can use a message written specifically for one group of people at one specific point in history and also speak it into the hearts of His people throughout all time. His Word has life and breath, and it breathes into my life today. Thanks be to God for His Word.
However this Word can break my heart with its raw emotion and dramatic (sometimes gut-wrenching) word pictures. At least that’s where I found myself this week. (taken from ESV)
My people don’t recognize my care for them. (v. 3)
They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him. (v. 4)
Then I got to verses 10-15:
10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
There’s an awful lot of you‘s and your‘s in those verses. It actually disgusted me (and apparently it disgusted God too). How do we get so turned around, thinking that even worship is about us? Of all the things that should always and only be about God, worship is at the top of the list. And yet, Isaiah writes that God is repulsed by the sacrifices, the ceremonies, the gifts, offerings, celebrations, special days, meetings, festivals, and prayers. What makes you think I want this? Well, didn’t you tell us in Your law to do these things? You’ve missed the point of the Law then…
When have I missed the true intent of God’s commands? When have I made even worship about me? When have I done something for God that was more like a burden than a blessing? That wasn’t actually for Him at all? Stop bringing Me your meaningless gifts. I want no more of your fake worship.
Yikes. That’s bad news. That’s a heart check right there.
Lord, forgive me when I make my life all about me, myself, and I. Reorient my perspective so that my focus is on You. Help me to learn from these moments so that I don’t also find myself in exile (like Israel and eventually Judah).