Selections on Trust from Isaiah

Whenever we have a book that is especially long, like Isaiah, it is easy to hustle through it just to get it done. Was it easier to read James and read it in a way that gave you time to study and learn from than this week’s readings in Isaiah? But for how much more difficult it can be, don’t miss out. Even if you’re just highlighting some meaningful nuggets from Isaiah.

There were some great passages on trust this past week, like Isaiah 26:3:

Trust in the LORD forever,
For the LORD, the LORD, is the rock eternal.

The in chapter 30 we read:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength…

Great reminders of the simplicity of the faith. We are to trust in the one who can provide, and lean on God. Sadly the last passage goes on to say, "but you would have none of it." Isaiah spends much time on the theme of bringing low the proud, and raising up the humble. The people trusted in themselves, built up their own power, and looked to other gods. They would have none of this repentance and trust in God.

When we have times of great clarity, when we know how much we absolutely need and depend on God, it seems crazy to turn to anyone else. Who wouldn’t want quietness and rest? But we need to hear Isaiah as warning for it is easy to turn from that and forget who God is and what he has done for us. It is tempting to rely on ourselves. Isaiah holds out hope for us all, for all who wold repent and then find ourselves trusting in God.

A Whale of a Tale

Jonah is a peculiar book among our readings this past week. These prophets we’ve had for a few weeks in Year in the Bible typically are part of the people they minister to. But Jonah is sent away to speak God’s message to another nation in the city of Ninevah. Also, the prophets typically want their recipients to stop their wicked ways and turn to God. As you read the short four chapters of Jonah, you see he’s not that concerned with Ninevah’s fate. He wants God to judge them. And when God relents, Jonah is upset.

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:1-3

Jonah complains saying to God, almost in his defense, “This is why I ran. I ran off to Tarshish because you’re gracious. I know you’d do this!” He is displeased exceedingly because God is gracious. You want to shove the Bible in his face and tell Jonah that God’s grace is exactly why he still has a people of his own. Israel has been a sinner just like the others, but they have been forgiven more times than we can keep count.

But Jonah has a selfish pride and a pompous assumption that Israel has a monopoly on God’s mercy. He doesn’t want a rival nation to be spared because he wants his own nation, and only his nation, to prosper. Jonah would rather see thousands die than witness their repentance because he hates the people of Ninevah.

Jonah tried to go as far away from Ninevah as he could.

Along with Jonah being a story of Assyrian sin and God’s grace and forgiveness, it is a book displaying an ugly nationalism that would prevent Jonah from obedience and love, choosing instead sin. Jonah sins by fleeing, ends up in the belly of a whale, then cries out for God to take his life, all because of his displeasure at seeing God work wonders in another people.

We should never follow Jonah’s lead in this regard. We are called to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to work to spread the gospel to all peoples. We cannot lay claim to God’s grace as though it is ours to possess. We don’t deserve it and we can’t earn it. Thanks be to God that he is in fact slow to anger and merciful.

*Tim Keller has an excellent chapter on Jonah’s idolatry in his book, Counterfeit Gods.

 

Tough to Be a Prophet

I’m sad Google ranked Joel Osteen higher than the prophet Joel.

Like other Minor Prophets, Joel is a book calling for repentance. Just because he is writing to God’s chosen people does not mean that they will necessariliy be spared from judgment. They have sinned against God and have been unfaithful to him. Joel preaches that their restoration will come once they turn from sin, and turn to God.

It’s not always a great job to be a prophet. Joel (and others) have to deliver messages against their people. They are messengers of bad news. They announce the sin of their peers. This is a quick way to make enemies, then and now.

But their message is not a despairing one. Look for the words of hope that are held out for God’s people. In the end, despite their lack of faith, God will renew them and will make his residence among us once more (Joel 3:17).