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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah’

A sermon delivered at Faith Church, Mansourieh, Lebanon

26 January 2020

 

If you begin to type into Google, ‘Are there snakes in Lebanon?’, the computer will complete the sentence for you by the time you get to the letter ‘L’.

That means lots of people have wanted to know the answer to that question.

But by the time you’ve arrived at the letter ‘e’ of ‘Lebanon’, Google will also show you that lots of people have asked ‘Are there snakes in Lesotho?’ and ‘Are there snakes in ‘Lefkada’?’ and ‘Are there snakes in…’ several state parks in my country that begin with the letter ‘L’.

Lots of people are afraid of snakes, it seems. I have an intense interest in natural ecosystems and have several bookshelves groaning under the weight of books about the birds, the animals, and the trees and plants in the places I have lived. But even I must confess that I share a fear of snakes.

One of the most fearful moments of my life occurred many years ago as I stood in the surf off a beach in Costa Rica, where I lived, with one of my two small boys in my arms. I watched in horror as my younger son—just a toddler—walked on the beach towards where I could see a snake moving about the sand. Johnny was surrounded by many adults who could have rescued him—and eventually did—but none of them was paying attention. I watched, terrified by what I was watching as though in slow motion from out in the sea, too far away to get anyone’s attention, fearing for the life of my little boy.

Let’s listen together as our brother Rabih reads our Bible passage for today, Isaiah 11.1-9. Listen carefully for good news about snakes.

وَيَخْرُجُ قَضِيبٌ مِنْ جِذْعِ يَسَّى، وَيَنْبُتُ غُصْنٌ مِنْ أُصُولِهِ،وَيَحُلُّ عَلَيْهِ رُوحُ ٱلرَّبِّ، رُوحُ ٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْفَهْمِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَشُورَةِ وَٱلْقُوَّةِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَعْرِفَةِ وَمَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ.وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ نَظَرِ عَيْنَيْهِ، وَلاَ يَحْكُمُ بِحَسَبِ سَمْعِ أُذُنَيْهِ،بَلْ يَقْضِي بِالْعَدْلِ لِلْمَسَاكِينِ، وَيَحْكُمُ بِالإِنْصَافِ لِبَائِسِي ٱلْأَرْضِ، وَيَضْرِبُ ٱلْأَرْضَ بِقَضِيبِ فَمِهِ، وَيُمِيتُ ٱلْمُنَافِقَ بِنَفْخَةِ شَفَتَيْهِ.وَيَكُونُ ٱلْبِرُّ مِنْطَقَهَ مَتْنَيْهِ، وَٱلْأَمَانَةُ مِنْطَقَةَ حَقْوَيْهِ.

فَيَسْكُنُ ٱلذِّئْبُ مَعَ ٱلْخَرُوفِ، وَيَرْبُضُ ٱلنَّمِرُ مَعَ ٱلْجَدْيِ، وَٱلْعِجْلُ وَٱلشِّبْلُ وَٱلْمُسَمَّنُ مَعًا، وَصَبِيٌّ صَغِيرٌ يَسُوقُهَا.وَٱلْبَقَرَةُ وَٱلدُّبَّةُ تَرْعَيَانِ. تَرْبُضُ أَوْلاَدُهُمَا مَعًا، وَٱلْأَسَدُ كَالْبَقَرِ يَأْكُلُ تِبْنًا.وَيَلْعَبُ ٱلرَّضِيعُ عَلَى سَرَبِ ٱلصِّلِّ، وَيَمُدُّ ٱلْفَطِيمُ يَدَهُ عَلَى جُحْرِ ٱلْأُفْعُوَانِ.لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1–9 ESV)

Scripture presents Jesus to us in many ways.

Here, the Old Testament prophet, writing eight centuries before angels would announce Jesus’ birth, glimpses Jesus ahead of time.

Now I’m convinced that he doesn’t yet see Jesus with the clarity of those of us who are privileged to live on this side of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But he sees him, nonetheless.

The prophet sees Jesus as a ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots’. Did you hear that in verse 1 of Rabih’s reading?

Jesse was David’s father. David of course has been dead for two hundred years when the prophet writes these words. Worse yet, Isaiah knows that David’s royal line will very soon be cut off. What little remains of ancient Israel will be king-less and lost in Babylonian exile.

Their whole world will have ended, and all the promises of God—apparently—will have been lost along with their land, their temple, and their king.

Isaiah writes from close proximity to this tragedy. Yet the prophet also sees that, out of that cut-down towering tree that was David, a little shoot—a tiny branch—will surprise us by emerging.

This will be an unexpected new son of David, the one we know—although Isaiah did not yet know him by name—as our Savior, Jesus.

With a beautiful poetic touch, Isaiah describes him in three way: First, by his endowment. Second, by his conduct. Third, by the results of his rule.

First, let’s look at Jesus endowment … his magnificent saturation with the Spirit of God.

وَيَحُلُّ عَلَيْهِ رُوحُ ٱلرَّبِّ، رُوحُ ٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْفَهْمِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَشُورَةِ وَٱلْقُوَّةِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَعْرِفَةِ وَمَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ.وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2–3 ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon this ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’. The expression in the language of Isaiah is a rich one. It speaks of the kind of resting that saturates a location. We could think of the way thick, billowy clouds sometimes roll over your Lebanese mountains and come to cover … to rest upon … the valleys in between those magnificent ridges.

When the Spirit rests upon a person in this way, there can be no shortage … no deficit … no need of more of the Spirit.

Isaiah counts seven aspects of this Spirit, drawing upon words that have become famous in the Old Testament for intelligence, perception, and strength. This new son of David will be supremely endowed with these qualities. He’ll see correctly … he’ll perceive accurately … and he will act effectively. There’s no distracting him, no confusing him, and no stopping him.

You can almost hear Isaiah’s ancient listeners, their kings taken from them, crying ‘Hallelujah!’ when they anticipate this new root, sprung from the stump of Jesse. I hope it makes you say ‘Hallelujah!’ as you consider this Jesus who now rules over us.

Second, the Spirit will make this ruler one who is not deceived by appearances. Let’s hear again, in Arabic, verses 3-5:

وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ نَظَرِ عَيْنَيْهِ، وَلاَ يَحْكُمُ بِحَسَبِ سَمْعِ أُذُنَيْهِ،بَلْ يَقْضِي بِالْعَدْلِ لِلْمَسَاكِينِ، وَيَحْكُمُ بِالإِنْصَافِ لِبَائِسِي ٱلْأَرْضِ، وَيَضْرِبُ ٱلْأَرْضَ بِقَضِيبِ فَمِهِ، وَيُمِيتُ ٱلْمُنَافِقَ بِنَفْخَةِ شَفَتَيْهِ.وَيَكُونُ ٱلْبِرُّ مِنْطَقَهَ مَتْنَيْهِ، وَٱلْأَمَانَةُ مِنْطَقَةَ حَقْوَيْهِ.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:3–5 ESV)

You know what the problem with rulers is, in your country as well as in Colombia and the United States, where I live? They are driven by appearances rather than by reality.

They cater to the well-dressed and the well-scented. They are misled by the open wounds of the poor, the smell their clothes and body accumulate from living in the street, the unshaven cheeks of the fathers and the sunken eyes of the mothers as they struggle to care for their children.

But not this ruler.

His insight penetrates appearances and goes right to the heart of the matter. As a result, he restores relationships among those whom he rules according to the reality of the thing. When he strikes, he strikes the truly wicked who resist his rule. When he uplifts, he uplifts with righteousness and faithfulness, those who truly need his restorative touch.

This ruler cannot be corrupted. His judgements are always true and right. This is why those who have been rescued by his gracious rule can only praise him with gratitude in their hearts. With gratitude in our hearts.

Finally, let’s come back around to snakes. I’ll ask Rabih to read verses 6-9, where we learn the results of Jesus’ rule:

فَيَسْكُنُ ٱلذِّئْبُ مَعَ ٱلْخَرُوفِ، وَيَرْبُضُ ٱلنَّمِرُ مَعَ ٱلْجَدْيِ، وَٱلْعِجْلُ وَٱلشِّبْلُ وَٱلْمُسَمَّنُ مَعًا، وَصَبِيٌّ صَغِيرٌ يَسُوقُهَا.وَٱلْبَقَرَةُ وَٱلدُّبَّةُ تَرْعَيَانِ. تَرْبُضُ أَوْلاَدُهُمَا مَعًا، وَٱلْأَسَدُ كَالْبَقَرِ يَأْكُلُ تِبْنًا.وَيَلْعَبُ ٱلرَّضِيعُ عَلَى سَرَبِ ٱلصِّلِّ، وَيَمُدُّ ٱلْفَطِيمُ يَدَهُ عَلَى جُحْرِ ٱلْأُفْعُوَانِ.لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6–9 ESV)

A passage like this takes us back to the garden of Eden, before humanity’s rebellion against our maker. But there is a twist that tells us that we are not truly being taken back to Eden but rather forward to a time when Jesus’ rule will have become complete.

You see, careful readers of Isaiah learn that he is not really talking about animals … about wolves, leopards, calves, lions, even about snakes. Rather, this imagery refers to peoples and to nations.

Jesus’ rule will bring to this bleeding, haunted world a time of peace when we will be free to lose our fears. Our fear of snakes, perhaps, but more importantly, our fear of violence … and conflict … and turmoil. Fear of our enemies.

Why? Well, our ancient rivalries will have become obsolete. They won’t make sense any more and we’ll gladly get rid of them. Our world will have become transformed. That last verse says it best:

لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9 ESV)

Why do you think Scripture presents us with a ‘forward look’ like this?

I’m convinced it’s so that we align ourselves with Jesus’ rule of justice and peace starting from the moment in which we live. In fact, I think that by doing so we become agents of his increasing dominion over this earth.

We become more and more saturated with God’s own Spirit. We learn to see clearly, penetrating beyond appearances to the reality of those who surround us. And we lay aside our ancient anxieties and enmities and commit to doing no more harm on God’s holy mountain.

A text like this one rarely releases its grip on us before it has asked us one or two awkward questions.

Is your life aligned with Jesus’ rule in this way? Is mine?

Behold, your King. Jesus, the shoot out of the stump of Jesse.

 

 

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Isaiah’s 37th chapter puts on display the subtle interplay that is prayer in the moment of crisis.

The threatening king of Assyria may be a cartoonish villain. Nevertheless his shadow casts over little Judah the power of extermination. The Assyrian tyrant is, in a word, invincible. The carcasses of nations that once were, lying with their scorched gods by the side of empire’s highway, bear mute testimony that Assyria and its king are unstoppable.

Judah trembles for good reason, for it would seem that its final hour has come.

As soon as King Hezekiah heard (the threat of the Assyrian emissary), he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, ‘Thus says Hezekiah, “This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.”‘

The vestige of King Hezekiah’s scrawny hope lies in two realties. First, the prophet may know what to do. There are, as they say, no atheists in foxholes. (more…)

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Perhaps the rabbis were correct to affirm that some of the ‘deeper writings’ are not suitable for untrained eyes. Or perhaps the cynical proverb that affirms that ‘school is wasted on the young’ is, after all, on to something.

Or perhaps only mothers and fathers should read such a thing as this:

Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: ‘Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale. For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction.’ (Isaiah 29:22–24 ESV)

Jacob’s prodigals had not only run amok on their own terms. They had been dragged to distant lands by the powers of their day to suffer the quick extermination of our news cycle or the slow extermination of assimilation to the alien’s ways. (more…)

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Before all things, we protect our children.

The park just outside my window is frequented by parents and small children, these defenseless little tykes who would not know a leaf from a wasp. Nor do we expect them to know. So, we cradle them in our arms against all threat unseen. We swoop them low to greet the neighbor’s little doggy, though we would not have them crawl beside the four-legger, for who knows what strange ferocity might kick in suddenly in a world like ours.

We expose them gradually to our little park, one that is in the main benign but might harbor here or there a sting, a bite, a lecher too kind. (more…)

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One of the most finely crafted and resonant chapters of the biblical corpus achieves its quiet doxology via a horticultural simile, which catches this reader’s eye on the morning after hauling yet another load of subtropical greenery to our Colombian patio.

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11 ESV)

The author has in the preceding verses gone a bit crazy in the search for metaphors that capture the extravaganza of YHWH’s turning towards his people after the ‘brief moment’ of their affliction. Now, they are walls called ‘salvation’, rebellious citizens will have become ‘the righteous’, the oil of gladness will have displaced mourning, Zion’s children will have become famous throughout the world. (more…)

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YHWH’s blessing comes not as a single product, well-worn branding splashed across familiar package.

Rather, it sneaks into life variegated, diverse, subtle, nuanced, its hues settling in across the broadest range.

Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. (Isaiah 60:17 ESV)

The prophet reaches for a poet’s pallet to explain to a weary people why return to all that once was and has been snatched away beyond repair will be more glorious than a captive nation can just now imagine. The cadence of his Hebraic persuasion does indeed speak of shining extremity, for example in the ‘wealth of nations’ that will flow to resplendent Zion, in the transmutation of empty abandon into urban majesty. (more…)

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Most mornings do not bring peril.

But for some people—this writer numbers himself among them—and for all threatened peoples, morning arrives with the scent of danger. Before my feet hit the floor, a thousand potential disasters have stomped briefly on my soul.

A beginning is by nature an imperiled moment, a tender shoot extinguishable by the crush of a single boot. Anything can happen in a beginning. Fear tilts perception’s scale to the narrow downside of all eventualities. The day needs little encouragement to break darkly. (more…)

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