Good kept from us.

But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
they have turned aside and gone away.
They do not say in their hearts,
‘Let us fear the LORD our God,
who gives the rain in its season,
the autumn rain and the spring rain,
and keeps for us
the weeks appointed for the harvest;
Your iniquities have turned these away and
your sins have kept good from you.

(Jeremiah 5:23-25 ESV)

I particularly like this passage from Jeremiah. The passage implies that God desires to bless His people if only they would turn to Him and trust in Him, but the problem is that the people turn their backs to Him and chase after idols.  They may give lip service to God, but functionally speaking, they make their idols to be greater than God.

In the original context of this passage, the people of Israel worshiped Baal, and attributed to him the ability to give rain, which was very important for an agricultural society such as Israel.  But Yahweh is the one who actually gives the rain and provides for those who trust in Him.  This observation highlights the fact that one issue with idolatry is that it gives credit to the wrong object.  The true object of our worship should be our God.

God has been graciously providing for His people, but as they continue to stray away from Him, they do so to their own harm.  The phrase, “your sins have kept good from you,” implies that God aims to bless His people and greatly desires their well-being, but His people walk away from the good He aims to give.

In fact, the phrase might also be applied to the situation with our original parents, Adam and Eve.  They had a glorious garden with its many fruits to enjoy and God Himself to enjoy a relationship with, but in their rebellion against Him, they forfeited these blessings. The sin that they thought would satisfy them pales greatly in comparison to the good that they forfeited.

The two episodes should cause us to reflect on our own relationship with God.  Some things never change: whether from Adam and Eve to ancient Israel to our current generation, we often forfeit our eternal pleasures for lesser joys.

Sometimes I hear people describe God as someone who is eager to punish.  As soon as He finds something wrong with us, He will punish accordingly.  However, this passage turns that perspective on its head.  God is revealed to be someone who is more eager to bless than to punish.  He is actively looking for people who will come to Him in trust, faithfulness, and obedience that He might bless them with good, and the ultimate good He can give us is Himself.

 

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Isaiah

I recently finished reading Isaiah and I have to say it is one of my favorite books of the Bible.

I often find it disillusioning to think about the politics of our time.  Racial tensions, sexual revolutions, and President Trump are some big issues.  But the gospel has the power to diffuse and give perspective on these topics.

Isaiah spoke to his audience during a time of great political uncertainty as Israel faced threats from Assyria and Babylon.  A similar situation in our case would be if Russia or China threatened to invade the United States and were close to Washington, D.C. In light of such international threats, the people of Israel sought alliances with countries such as Egypt instead of turning to the Lord for help.  Isaiah would repeatedly remind them that their greatest problem is not Assyria but the Lord’s wrath in light of the fact that they have broken their responsibilities to the Mosaic covenant and now the Lord wields Assyria and Babylon as His instruments of punishment.

Just as God was in control of the situation in Isaiah’s time, He is also in control of the circumstances of our time.  Hezekiah’s prayer, when Assyria was right at the doors of Jerusalem, played a pivotal role in changing world history.  That scene ought to encourage us to have a bold prayer life so we too can play a role with God’s almighty help in changing the course of history.

But not only does God work on the national level, but He also cares for us on the individual level.  If God is capable of changing things in the ancient international scene, He is also capable of helping us in our present individual everyday lives.

The people of Israel fell into idolatrous sin, and God both warned them of the danger of continuing in that sin and encouraged them to return to Him with promises of blessing in His presence.

I am more aware that I ought to take care in how I worship the Lord.
Like Israel, I could practice a religion that is mixed with elements of a God-rejecting world.
Like Judah, I could practice a religion that is right by the letter, but empty in heart.

Thankfully, the Suffering Servant that Isaiah prophesied has come and became the perfect worshiper that I could never become on my own.  He lived a perfect life on my behalf, and died the death that I deserve for not giving God the full glory that He is due, and rose from the dead to enable me and transform me to be conformed into His perfect image.

It is wonderful to know that Jesus Christ is so for me and desires that I make him the supreme treasure of my life.  I love having Him as my Rock and my deliverer so that even through the craziness and loneliness of medical school, I can always rely on Him to be my very present help in time of need.

God Delights in You

You shall be sa crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,

and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

tYou shall no more be termed uForsaken,1

and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,2

rbut you shall be called vMy Delight Is in Her,3

and your land Married;4

for the Lord delights in you,

and your land shall be married.

For as a young man marries a young woman,

so wshall your sons marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,

so xshall your God rejoice over you.

(Isaiah 62:3-5 ESV)

My devotions brought me to read this passage about how the LORD will renew the land of Israel and the city of Jersulaem after letting Assyria and Babylon take his covenant people into captivity.  At first, his people felt his great displeasure for the many transgressions that they have committed against him, but now he seeks to draw near to them and delight in them.

I find this imagery of marriage very helpful in my assessment of who I perceive God to be. It is a good question to ask yourself: What do you think about when you think about God?  Is he like a boss that you report to, perform actions so you can gain his approval and promotion?  Is he stand-offish and indifferent to your actions and well-being?  Is he a father that only gets involved with his children when they get in trouble?

But here in Isaiah, we get a different picture of God.  The LORD is not a God who is far removed from his creation, nor is he a God who strictly punishes evil and rewards good.  Rather, he is a God who is intensely and directly involved with his people, even delighting in them.

He delights in us, even in spite of the sins that we commit against Him.  We do not earn God’s love and delight, but rather he already delights in us, in spite of our sins.  Not only does He love us at our worst, but He personally takes steps to transform and enable us to enjoy His delight in us.

In light of such astounding truth, it is the more horrifying that we, like the ancient people of Israel, should pursue idols that could never love us the way God Himself loves us.

I have heard one pastor mention that lust occurs when knowledge of God is lacking.  This knowledge of God is not simply head knowledge but a genuine delight in the fact of the things that all God is for us is revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ.

So in a sense, lust is a fruit that comes from the deeper root that we are not delighting in God as we ought to be.  We are not recognizing and experiencing the love of God that God, Himself, already shows us and is still showing us to this day.

So in a sense, theology is very important, because your understanding of God will deeply affect your ability to worship Him.  Thankfully, we are able to ask God Himself for help in this matter of knowing Him better and truly.

Who are you doing good works for?

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

(Isaiah 58: 3b-6)

In the original context, this passage is describing how ancient Israel was fasting in a way that did not please the LORD.  They went through the motions, the ritual of fasting but in their hearts they did not truly fast and repent of their sins before God.  Repentance involves agreeing with God about the moral evil of sin, praying to God for forgiveness, and taking steps to kill sin with the strength that God can provide.

In essence, it is acknowledging actions that contradict God’s character, rejecting them, and then pursuing actions that are consistent with God’s character.

For the ancient Israelites of Isaiah’s time however, they treated fasting as if it could pressure God into complying with their wishes in spite of the fact that they had not rejected their sins against God.  They used fasting as an effort to avoid the harder responsibility of owning up to their sin and taking steps to forsake sin and pursue God in true righteousness and holiness.

Now I have occasionally wondered about the situation of those who do good works but do not do it for the LORD’s sake.

How are we to understand people who pursue social justice but are atheists for example?

In my own situation, for example, I know that some of my classmates in med school do not have a saving relationship with the LORD, but the profession that they chose is a noble one.  It is a rare and great privilege to play a part in healing and restoring the human body from the various maladies that plague this world. Even so, healing our neighbor without any reference to the LORD is problematic.

I think some key phrases to help us understand would be the lines: “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,” and “Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”

From these two lines came my opening question: “Who are you doing good works for?”

The Bible assumes essentially only two ways to answer this question.
-Doing good works for the LORD and thus have “a day acceptable to the LORD”
-Doing good works without any reference to the LORD, but instead to anything other than him (yourself, others, another god, reputation, an ideal, etc), “seek[ing] your own pleasure.”

Through this thought process, I came to the conclusion that
even though social justice and healing is a good pursuit to have, it is nothing if it has no reference to the LORD.

Justice without the LORD is not justice.
Seeking the good of others without the LORD will not serve them in the long run.
Healing the body without looking after the soul will not help our neighbor eternally.

Also note that the passage specifically says “LORD,” which denotes Yahweh, the covenental name of the God who made heaven and earth and revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Moses.  It is not to any other god or conception of God that other religions possess, but specifically this one true living God, that we owe our allegiance.

To do good works without any reference to the God who revealed Himself in covenant, the Bible, and His Son, to His creation, would be great folly for us.

Yet, should we do good works for the LORD, that will be a blessing and glory to us because we would then be acting in line with the purpose with which God made us.