“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.” ~Isaiah 56:21
This is the crux, the converging of two roads. In Isaiah we witness the cosmic, raw, and savage dance between our sin and God’s redemptive hand. To read it is to open up deep wounds in our hearts, and to accept it is to cry out much like Eustace did when the scales were ripped from his dragon body. It is simpler to reconcile these two contending themes when we understand God’s ultimate goal: His restored relationship with us via our understanding of His majesty.
What is it that makes us unable to look at our own sin? Do we not joke with each other about our imperfections constantly, even gloat about the ways in which we are imperfect? Read Isaiah 56:11. “…They have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all.” I think perhaps looking at our sin is much deeper than looking at our flaws, looking at our sin is acknowledging that there is more wrong with us than simple failures. We can gloat about not getting the laundry done right because ultimately it says nothing of our heart, and we can mock ourselves for being lazy because at the end of the day we know weren’t really that lazy.
If, however, we read Isaiah 57:11, “Whom did you dread and fear, so that you lied, and did not remember me,” we are called to account. This is the true nature of our sin, not our everyday failings but the fact that we fear something, anything, more than Him.
God knows how we are, He knows us and He takes us in anyway. It is more than acceptance that which He offers, it is welcome. We must understand our evil nature to understand how truly welcoming He is. When I cry out, “Lord, take me as I am,” it is not a humble request but rather a desperate and foolish begging.
Enter Isaiah 58. Once we understand how profoundly messed up we are, the notion of being righteous is a bit laughable. Read verses 1 & 2 and notice the “as if”. The prophet continues, describing what the Israelites call fasting and honoring the Sabbath, and makes Israel see that even in these rites they are failing. The truth stings like a hornet—you aren’t all you are cracked up to be.
Can there be an “and yet”? I have to accept that after stripping me of all my self-esteem there could be something left to be hopeful about. Most days I can’t accept that, and I continue to strive for His approval of my own accord. Isaiah 59 contains the most beautiful reality, but it is also painful like hydrogen peroxide in its sizzling purge of our iniquity.
“He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.” ~Isaiah 59:16.
God takes care of it. He sees our ugliness, he sees our failings and our futile striving for righteousness, and He sends a Savior. The hardest and most precious truth is this: You don’t have to save yourself, in fact you can’t. But God, as Isaiah says at the beginning of Isaiah 59, hears and understands. He comprehends our struggle and takes care of it. Do I accept that?
1. Separate your emotions from the truth you read in Isaiah. First figure out how this makes you feel… what is your gut response to Isaiah 56-59? Second, what is the reality? For instance, do you feel deflated and sad yet recognize the grand gift? Sometimes our emotions are deceptive and hide from us the reality that is written in the Bible.
2. Read Isaiah 57: 1-13. What title does your Bible give this section? What are the idols being described?
3. Read Isaiah 59:12-15. What truth is lacking? How has it stumbled?
4. Read Isaiah 59: 21. What is the promise? Why is it good?