ISAIAH 52:1 – 54:17 and HEBREWS 11:23–40
The Lord is speaking to His people to shake off the ashes and dust of their captivity. There is both a present and future application to these verses as the time will come when the uncircumcised will no longer pass through Jerusalem. This promise will not take place until the time of the 2nd coming. Still, there will come the time when the Lord will stir amongst the people to put off the heavy bands and chains of their captivity. Israel will have a fulfilment of this after their 70 years in Babylon. In conjunction with this event the Lord will stir His appointed servant Cyrus as the one who will lead the battle against Babylon. The time of captivity will be grievous but there will be a time of deliverance. This is also true in our individual lives as well. The Lord may appoint a personalized Babylonian captivity to do a particular work of grace in our lives. It is important to have God’s perspective at such times and to know when it is the time of God’s release. It requires a vigilance and watchfulness so as to be in sync with what God is doing.
The children of Israel have resorted to Egypt on several different occasions through their existence as a nation. They sojourned and lived there from the time of Joseph to Moses and they opted for Egypt at other times as a means of refuge and escape. In verse 4 there is an account of Israel in Egypt where they were afflicted by the Assyrians. Israel then came under assault from the Assyrians both in the area of the northern kingdom and at Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. The Lord then goes on to describe what the conditions will be like under Babylonian rule. They will be harsh and they (the Babylonians) will be continual blasphemers of God (Psa 79:1-13). It will be after such cruel servitude to the Babylonians that God will arise and deliver Israel (vs 6). The deliverance and release will be joyous and complete resulting in the Lord being glorified.
The prophetic flow speaks of the long awaited deliverance that will be sounded out by many of the prophets such as Nahum who prophesies against the Assyrian invaders (Nah 1:15). The triumph and victory is seen coming forth from Zion. There is authority and power from the position of Zion and it represents the place where the Lord is looking to bring His people. There is also the promise of unity that flows from Zion (vs 8). David spoke of the blessedness of this unity in Psalm 133. This psalm makes clear the cost of true unity and it is from Zion where the blessings of unity and God’s goodness pour forth (Psa 133:3). In Zion there will be no false pretences of unity which is so common today. The Bible speaks of men Seeing Eye to eye; a place where the ministers of God are united in message and vision. The enemy is always at work sowing discord amongst the brethren because he knows that a church that is divided is a church that is weakened. This is one of the reasons why the Lord was allowing His people to go into captivity. One of the fruits of the captivity will be a people that come to know the heart of God.
Jer 24:7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
There will be great joy and rejoicing in that day of the Lord’s deliverance. There is something about a people being set free after a long trial of captivity. We saw this with the children of Israel at the time of the Exodus. There will be great joy when Israel is released from the Babylonians and there will be an even greater joy at the time of the Lord’s 2nd coming. The Lord takes pleasure in the rejoicing of His people. Some of the prophets even speak of this.
Zep 3:17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
Verse 11 is a warning that is also sounded out in the last days concerning God’s people coming out of Babylon (Rev 18:4). The judgments upon Babylon will be thorough and absolute. There is no room for middle ground Christianity when God moves with such force and power. This is why the hearts of men need to be circumcised so that there is no leaning or drawing element to the wiles of the Babylonian system. An uncircumcised heart makes allowance for the little foxes to develop and become strong (SOS 2:15). The spirit of Absalom and antichrist will seek to attach itself to these uncircumcised areas of the heart (2 Sam 15). This is why the Apostle Paul warns about the gravitating towards unsound doctrine in the last days (2 Tim 4:3).
This chapter concludes with the description of what Christ will look like at the Cross. In the natural He had all the looks of defeat but the reality is that He will be exulted and extolled. Once again Isaiah is projecting such vivid prophetic insight as to what will happen in the future. If there were those who read and took into account, the writings of Isaiah at the time of Christ they would have had understanding of the true picture. This will be particularly true as we look into the next chapter.
Is there anyone who was privy to the writings of Isaiah, particularly to the descriptions given in this chapter? This portion of scripture was cited when the Ethiopian eunuch came across Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8:30-35). Why is it that even today many Jews struggle with the understanding of what Isaiah wrote some 700 years before Christ? Isaiah gave 4 characteristics of what Christ would look like when He would come on the scene. He was to be like a tender plant signifying His humble beginnings as well as a reflection of his gentle personality. He is also seen as a root which can be aligned with Isa 11:1 that speaks as coming from the root of Jesse. This would indicate the Lord as being the son of David.
Isa 11:1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
The Lord is then depicted as one who comes out of dry ground. He did not appear at a time of revival but at a time of real spiritual dearth in Israel. Finally, He is one who has no form or natural attractive feature about Him. Isaiah is already making it clear that Jesus will not come in a way that people expect. The people were looking for a conquering king but He came as a tender lamb. Was there anyone who knew about the writings of Isaiah when Christ came to the earth? If there were such people, they would have had some understanding of who He really was. The Lord was well aware of the writings of Isaiah as seen in Luke 4:18.
He had a message that was not popular seeing that He spoke on heart related issues. In other words, there was not much natural attraction surrounding Him that would excite the masses. In verse 3 there is the description of Jesus being despised and rejected of men. This is a portion of ones walk where there is an identification and fellowship with His sufferings. It can be a lonely and solitary journey at times. In the eyes of people, you are rejected and counted as nothing. It is hard to believe that the Son of God who came to earth would be brought to such a stage in His earthly life. Even though he was rejected by men he was highly esteemed and exalted by his Father. If we are truly going to know Christ we will have to know this part of Him as well. This is the experience that Paul desired to have.
Php 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
Why was Jesus made to suffer, especially since He knew no sin? He suffered vicariously for us as seen in verse 4. Jesus did not suffer for His sin; He knew no sin but became sin so that He could suffer on our behalf. He was wounded and smitten for our transgressions and because He took our sin we can come to know the healing power that came as a result of His sacrifice. In verse 5 there is a brief summary that shows the extensiveness of His sufferings. In other places it speaks as to how His back was given to the smiters (Psa 129:3, Isa 50:6). One of the titles given to the Lord is that of a Good Shepherd (John 10:11). In verses 6 it speaks of the people who are like sheep which have gone astray. It is an apt description of how the Lord views His people. He is a Shepherd that will even go after the one of ninety-nine so as to bring it safely back to the fold (Luke 15). In verse 7 we see some very powerful descriptions of the Lord. He is meekness personified! The Lord is likened to a lamb led to the slaughter. Even though the Lord had all power to deal with His Accusers He chose to stay silent and submissive to the perfect will of His Father. This is so contrary to the vindication of self-mentality that is so pervasive today, even in the church. The fruit of temperance was also very much in evidence as He mastered self-control under great duress and pressure.
The sentencing and death of the Lord was grossly unfair; so much so that the wicked often are given a better hearing than that which the Lord received (vs 8-9). How does one reconcile the expression that It pleased the Lord to bruise Him” (vs 10)? This unjust trial where an innocent man was condemned to the Cross was something that pleased the Father. It was the fulfilment of that which He authored before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). The Father was viewing this event from the lens of eternity, from a bigger picture. At the same time there can be no denying the agonizing reality of the Father’s heart for His Son as He became the object of His disdain for sin. Both the Father and Son suffered greatly due to the great love they had for man. Finally, we see how the Lord rewards those who suffer for His name sake. There is a provision of knowledge that is available to help us understand why we go through certain trials. This knowledge helps us to appreciate all that the Lord has done for us while preparing us to become more acquainted with the fellowship of His sufferings. Our Christian walk begins to make more sense when we grow in our knowledge and understanding of His ways.
Psa 103:7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
The scriptures are filled with promises that go forth to the barren. There is both a natural and spiritual application that can be made. To understand the spiritual application, we need to look at some natural examples. In the Bible there were a number of women who were barren. Each one of them brought forth men of great stature so we can see the potential significance of one who is barren. It can speak of a church, a ministry or the life of an individual that has not yet been fruitful. Consider some of the women from scripture who were barren. Sarah was barren until she bore Isaac. There is Hannah who endured a God ordained barrenness which resulted in a Samuel. The purpose of barrenness is to create an increased measure of hunger and consecration for that which is longed for. Hannah’s consecrated prayer to the Lord is a good example of this. She pleaded that God would give her a man-child and if received she would dedicate him to the Lord all the days of her life ( 1 Sam 1:11). This is what God was after because He was looking for a man whom He could use to introduce a whole new order of king and priest to Israel (1 Sam 2:35, 1 Sam 13:14). If Hannah had the ability to quickly have children she never would have made that prayer of consecration hence her God ordained barrenness (1 Sam 1:5).
In verse 2 the command is given to enlarge the tent pegs so as to accommodate the growth that comes in the times of blessing and favor. There may be constraints that inhibit growth but when God is moving we need to hear his voice and respond as He leads. There may be times when God speaks to enlarge when there is no visible or outward sign. This is a step of faith and again we must discern the Lord’s leading. The Lord was limited in what He could do in Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people (Math 13:58). There was no ability to see enlargement. There is a breaking forth of great magnitude that will take place in the last days. The key for us today is to plan and help ensure that the infrastructure is in place. The 7th kingdom parable is evidence of what is to come. The parable of the great net speaks of the mighty harvest of souls that will come into the kingdom in the last days. The church will have a limited window from which to facilitate the harvest. Soon after the harvest we see that there will be a separation of the good fish from the bad. We must plan now to maximize this increase when the Lord breaks forth powerfully in the last days.
The Lord has a wonderful way in being able to minister to those who may have felt neglected or perhaps are shamed from events from their past. The Lord is tender and compassionate to those who may otherwise feel down and out. We must allow the Lord to enlarge these capacities within our lives as well so that we can be His hand extended unto others in need. We see another tender virtue and attribute of the Lord in verse 6. He speaks to women who have been divorced of their husbands and now left to be seemingly alone. The Lord is able to minister deeply into the life of such a person to give hope and fresh plans for her life. There are times when it seems like the Lord is distant and removed from our lives however it is the end of the matter with the Lord that counts. It is His great mercies that will make all the difference in the end (vs 7-8).
There is a covenant of peace that God makes with His people that shall never be removed. The mountains may depart and the hills removed but the kindness of God as well as His Peace shall never be removed. The Lord speaks of an abundance of peace and truth that will be the portion of those who heed to the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 33:6). These verses need to sink deep within our spirit so that when pressures and trials come we can appropriate these blessings. It is all about hearing and doing what the Lord is saying. The words that Paul spoke to the Philippian church are quoted below:
Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
As the Lord leads His chosen through various trials there are treasures that can be obtained along the way. These treasures can be likened to polished stones that help to establish strong foundations in one’s life. Verses 11-12 can also be likened to “buying the truth” which is mentioned in Pro 23:23. The Truth of God costs something and once it is purchased it is not easily cast away. There are storms and tempests that will come into the life of a believer but they are meant to strengthen and fortify. If the foundations are strong the work of God will stand. There is the promise of God’s peace coming upon the spiritual seed of leaders who have sown faithfully through the years. As a parent of children whether natural or spiritual the promise of God is given regarding the Lord giving them His Peace. The sure mercies of David serve as an example of this (Psa 89:29-37).
In verses 15-16 the prophet speaks a Word that will become an issue in the church in the last days. The church will divide into two camps. It is one thing for the world to be separate from the church but there will be division from within the church as well. What will be the basis of this separation? It will come down to vision. There will be a vision that is birthed from God like Abraham responded to and a vision birthed from within man as seen in Lot (Gen 13:10) One pursues after a vision based on what is within one’s heart.
The final verse is a familiar one where it speaks of no weapon formed against God’s people being able to prosper. As we make our boast in the Lord and seek after His righteousness we have the promise of His protective hand in being able to keep us. The Lord will also take note of the words that the enemy speaks and will answer him accordingly. This is what Nehemiah did in the midst of working for God and maintaining vigilance from the enemy. He saw that their words were in fact being made against God and not himself (Neh 4:5).
Neh 4:6 So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
Here we have the most popular chapter in Hebrews where we have categorized for us the heroes of faith. These are men and women who demonstrated exploits for God who help to encourage and challenge us to greater things in God. It is important to first understand what Faith is before seeing how these men and women excelled in faith. It is well defined in the first two verses. Faith is a substance; it is tangible meaning we should know as to whether we have it or not. It goes on to describe Faith as the assurance of things that are hoped for. What are the things hoped for? Are they things we want that God may not want? It is here where we can run into some problems. There is the danger of presuming God’s will and intent. This is not Faith, it may sound good look good and have all the elements of how we would define Faith. It must be understood that Faith originates with God, not with man. It must also be understood that Faith accomplishes the will and pleasure of God. Finally, it must be understood that it is through the medium of Faith where we can please God (Heb 11:6). It is one of the fruits of the Spirit and it serves as the basis and foundation of everything we do as believers in Christ (2 Pet 1:5). So then how do we come to the place of growing in faith and appropriating this fruit?
Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17). The more we study and meditate upon the Word of God the greater the opportunity we have in hearing God’s heart. If we hear God’s heart He then apportions Faith to accomplish whatever it may be that He is speaking. As we hear what God is saying we then have the ability and authority to speak and confess that Word of Faith (Rom 10:8-10). This is what Caleb did at the time Israel was called to go into the land (Num 13:30). At the same time it’s what Israel didn’t do when they refused to take God at His Word (Num 13:31). Simply put, we represent one of the two groups as seen above. Are we like Caleb or are we like Israel? Are we like the heroes of Faith that are depicted in Hebrews 11 or more like the nominal ones of Nazareth where no mighty works could be done by Jesus due to their sin of unbelief (Math 13:58).
We can spend time looking at the different examples of the men and women of Hebrews 11 but I feel drawn to emphasize the last few verses because it speaks to us and the role we have for these last days.
Heb 11:39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
Heb 11:40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
There is a clear indicator that the church of the last days (You and I) have the responsibility of building upon the example of these heroes of faith. Their exploits and works, as great as they were, are not yet completed and made perfect without us. We need to let this truth sink in. This is why it is important for us to know what Faith is, how it is obtained and how it is appropriated. The primary danger is the presumption of faith and God’s intent. Perhaps this is best illustrated in the “Word of Faith” movement which is associated with “Kingdom Now” theology. Why is this dangerous? It makes allowance for man to determine outcomes that may contradict scripture and God’s intent. On the surface it sounds good and plausible but it can lead one down a road where he or she becomes god, presuming faith for an outcome that is anti-biblical. The Bible is quite clear as to what the world is going to be like at the time of the 2nd coming. There will be anarchy and lawlessness at its peak and it will be these forces that will be battling the Lord when He comes with his saints from on high. It is at the time of the 2nd coming when Jesus will come and establish His righteousness upon the earth which ushers in His millennial reign. We as God’s people have the mandate to be salt and light to our generation, to seek to live righteously in an evil world. Noah was one who maintained a righteous standard in the midst of a corruptive and evil environment. In other words, the kingdoms of this world will not become the kingdoms of our Lord until He comes and establishes His righteousness at the time of the 2nd coming. Our focus should be on preparing to be the bride of Christ. This is what Christ is after. There is faith and grace that can be appropriated in our pursuits of becoming more like the Son of God Himself. I feel it is presumptive and wrong to think that the church is capable of transforming society that is ready made for Jesus at the time of His return. I emphasize again that we are to seek to make a difference in whatever sphere of life God has placed us; to be witnesses of His glory and power. If Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, then we must prepare for a time of great revival but also for the time of Armageddon where the fullness of evil will gather in one last attempt to thwart the establishment of God’s kingdom upon earth. It is Christ with His saints that will conquer and triumph not the church on its own in its presumptive faith theology.
When we look at the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 we see people who were moved upon by God in unique moments for unique tasks that God had pre-ordained. Let’s consider the Faith that came upon Moses while at the age of 40.
Heb 11:24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
Heb 11:25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Heb 11:26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
Let’s try to put a modern day twist to this scenario. Would it not be more beneficial for Moses to stay in Egypt, to stay in his position of influence so as to provide a better outcome for His people? He could easily presume faith for the favor he had gained through his years in being groomed in Egypt. It would seem logical and it would seem the best means to help his people. The Bible makes clear that it was God’s FAITH that led him into the wilderness for 40 years. This does not make sense in the natural and surely Moses must have struggled with God’s purpose at this time. It is vitally important for us to know the plan and heartbeat of God. It is not our role to presume God’s kingdom to come upon earth as it is in heaven; it is our role to know what God’s kingdom is and to pray it through. Jesus knew full well the will of His Father while He was in the garden. He was not presuming faith and grace to prevail He was agonizing in seeing the will of the Father come to pass through Him. If Jesus was left to Himself He would and He did pray for an alternative but he used the word NEVERTHELESS, let your will be done! This is where it is dangerous for us. We must come to the place of ascertaining the Will of the Father and praying it through to become a reality. If we come to that place of knowing God’s Will we can tap into that medium of Faith because it is God who is authoring it, not man presuming. There will be grace and enabling power that will accompany this faith.
It is worthy to study each and every member of the Hall of Faith; to ponder over their exploits in the midst of great adversity. Let us never forget our role and responsibility. Their works are not yet complete without us. This is an enormous responsibility and it cannot be left to us to presume God’s faith; it must be known and appropriated and it is only realized through the careful reading and meditating upon the Word of God.