Posts Tagged 'spiritual adultery'

ISAIAH, Part 7

Serious Questions for the Backslider, Isaiah 50:1—3

On of the controversial aspects of the book of Isaiah is the identity of “the servant.” It is vitally important to have a correct understanding of his identity if you want to interpret certain chapters where the servant is spoken of in a prophetic sense correctly. While most Christians view the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah as Jesus Christ, Jews view him as the nation of Israel. However, the fact is, in Isaiah’s writings, there are two servants of the Lord, not one. There is the True or Perfect Servant of the Lord, who is identified prophetically as Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. But there is another, imperfect servant of the Lord, and that is the nation of Israel or Judah. A careful study of the context reveals which servant is being referenced at any given time.

As in chapter 42, in chapter 50 the True Servant of God is pictured as speaking to another of God’s servants, the rebellious servant, Israel.

Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the LORD? (Isaiah 42:19)

In chapter 49, the tension between the perfect Servant of God and the imperfect servant of God is poetically played out. Of the imperfect servant of God, some marvelous things are noted:

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” (Isaiah 49:1—3)

But now, the sin of idolatry, which in God’s sight is a form of spiritual adultery, had become so prominent throughout the land that, when pictured as a marriage, Israel’s marriage covenant with the Lord had been broken.

The immediate context of this chapter is the Babylonian Captivity, which was yet to occur in Isaiah’s time, and Isaiah, even though he was writing as though the nation was exiled already, he was really preaching to a generation not yet born, and admonishing them to return to the Lord and to forsake their idolatrous tendencies.

We know that while Judah (referred to by Isaiah as “Israel”) was in exile, they murmured and complained against God on account of the severity of their condition. They had become, generally speaking, a nation of “backsliders.” Of course, not all the exiled Jews in Babylon and later Persia had stopped following Jehovah, a large number of them were estranged or separated from God. They had not ceased to be God’s people; God had not left them, in fact He was still trying to win them back, but they were stubborn in their rejection of them.

Backsliders, Christians who are separated from God, are slow to blame themselves for their present miserable condition. And being separated from God is a miserable condition because it usually involves bondage to one sin or another. But, as we see this these verses, the Lord, their “spiritual husband,” demands that they face the cause of their estrangement head on, deal with that cause or causes, and then return to Him.

Here are the questions the Lord, the spiritual Husband of all believers, puts to the backslidden Jews. These penetrating questions can also be put to any Christian today who has strayed from his faith.

1. Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? (verse 1)

Under the Law of Moses, and because of the hardness of their hearts, the Lord allowed a man to divorce (“cut” or “cast off,” really) his wife if she was found unfaithful, by giving her an official “bill of divorcement.” This bill was proof to the community that she had been put away by her husband:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house… (Deuteronomy 24:1)

Exiled as they were (or rather would be), Judah, the Lord’s wife, had assumed that God, her spiritual husband, had cut them off and was ignoring them. In other words, the exiled Jews were so unhappy, discontented and miserable, they simply concluded that God had dumped them, and was therefore not having anything further to do with them. They expressed as much in 40:27—

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

But here God, Judah’s husband, says He had definitely NOT divorced her; He had served no papers or posted no bills. Poetically, God demands that these rebellious children, born in Babylon of backsliding parents, produce His “bill of divorcement,” providing the proof that God was to blame for their present miserable state. Of course, no such document existed on Earth or in Heaven because God had never divorced Himself from His people. In fact, the people were separated from God, but it was on account of their sins, not due to any action on His part.

…because of your transgressions your mother was sent away. (verse 1)

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)

2. Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? (verse 1)

Another provision of the Law allowed a father, if he was oppressed with debt, to sell his children in order to pay that debt. That is the background of this question. God’s question to his wayward people was simply, “Did I sell you because of My poverty?” In other words, did God have to sell His children off one by one because He was too poor to keep them?

At first, this may seem like a ridiculous argument to make, but consider what caused many a backslider to turn on God. How many Christians have left God because He didn’t answer a prayer they prayed? Or because, in their eyes, He didn’t bless them enough? The notion that God is unable to supply all our needs is still a motivating factor in the decision of some believers to turn from God to seek other means to fill a need.

But the truth is, God has all the resources of Heaven and Earth at His disposal and is therefore able to meet all our needs! It’s all matter of perception.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

And it’s all a matter of knowing what your real need is. Far too many believers get wrapped up in the temporal world; in things that they think will satisfy but never do because their need is spiritual and can only be met by the Lord. A Christian trying to find satisfaction from worldly things is as futile as trying force a square peg in a round hole.

Once again, the Lord’s answer is simple and direct:

Because of your sins you were sold… (verse 1)

If the people had been sold, it wasn’t God that had sold them! They had, in fact, sold themselves. God puts the blame His people’s present state squarely where it belonged: on their shoulders.

2. When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? (verse 2)

Verse 2 rebukes Judah’s unbelief. Even though the prophets of God had called to the people, nobody listened to them; nobody took their words seriously. The entirety of Hebrew history seems to be the story of God continuously reaching out to the people He loved so much, only to find the people either not interested or actively rebelling against Him.

You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. (Isaiah 48:8)

This is a truly sad situation; it pictures a loving husband coming home to his bride and finding only an empty house. He called and called, yet she never answered. This pathetic story continues to this day with Christians who become have so dissatisfied with their backslidden condition, yet, inexplicably, they still refuse to pay attention to God’s call to repent and return. It’s the only way out of bondage into freedom for them, yet like the wayward wife, they just can’t see it.

Through the Holy Spirit, God still calls out to the self-oppressed backsliders. Thankfully, He doesn’t give up on them as easily as they gave up on Him!

3. Was my arm too short to deliver you? (verse 2)

Sin alone is what separates from God. The problem was never with God; the problem was with the Jews. The problem is with the backslider., who may have wandered from the fold, but can he wander so far as to be beyond the reach of God? This is a question every backslider must answer: Is God unable to take you back? Is the precious Blood of Jesus Christ to weak to redeem the backslider?

When we read this question in connection with what follows it, it becomes a tragic picture indeed:

By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. (verse 2)

Here, the Lord is likely referring to the Red Sea and to the deliverance of the Hebrews from their Egyptian bondage. The phrase “a mere rebuke” shows just how simple it is for God to deliver His people. It was nothing to change the course of nature to help His people. The Lord had demonstrated His power to save in history and in nature, yet still the people refused to bend.

Salvation is a relatively simple thing; we tend to complicate it with with all kinds of “classes”: discipleship classes, baptism classes, and so on, but really, getting saved is a snap:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13 and Joel 2:32)

That’s pretty simple! But for the backslider, for the one who has wandered from God, calling out to Him is a monumental task.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

That simple act of confession is very difficult for one who has known a close relationship with Christ. Pride, embarrassment, or anger, whatever the reason that keeps the backslider from owning up to their problem must be overcome if they are to return. And God wants them back!

5. Do I lack the strength to rescue you? (verse 2)

From outward appearances, it seemed as though God was unable to do anything to help the Jews during their Babylonian bondage. This was yet another accusation of the Jews; God was powerless to help them because if He could have, He would have. What’s particularly nefarious about this question is that not only did the Jews think this way, but because of their sin and refusal to come back to the Lord, it appeared to the Babylonians that their God was weak and powerless.

As long as a backslider remains in their backslidden state, they are dragging the Name and Character of the Lord into public dishonor.

And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (Isaiah 52:5)

If ever there was a good reason to live righteously, this must be it! How the believer lives in public reflects the Character and Nature of his God!

As if to remind them of all the good things He has done for them, God speaks of His actions in their history and in nature:

I clothe the heavens with darkness and make sackcloth its covering. (verse 3)

Imagine the great condescension of God of having to remind His wayward children of all the things He had done for them. It was as though love was not reason enough to return to Him.

Imagine the great condescension of God in giving His only Son to die for us on the Cross?

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4—6)

Do you really think God lacks the power to save the backslider?

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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