HE BRINGS SALVATION

“My salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed”.

Isa 56:1 NIV

An old hymn used to have a line which read, “There’s a hush of expectation and a quiet in the air”. When the prophets of the Old Testament wrote their messages they usually conveyed the sense of “something is about to happen”. They lived with their ear close to the ground on spiritual matters and sensed when God was getting busy.

When Isaiah wrote these words many of the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem to discover that everything was not as wonderful as they had been led to anticipate. It gave rise to a sombre mood and a questioning as to just what God was about. The fulfilment of some of the promises made to them in Babylon was still being awaited. So there developed a feeling that God had done certain of the things he had promised but not all. They were waiting for the rest of God’s salvation work to happen. It was a kind of interim period that kept them guessing. But always God was likely to break in at any time and do mighty things.

A similar period happened in the New Testament after Jesus had ascended. The disciples and all the believers were expecting the imminent return of Christ in his glory and there was a sense that the future was likely to break in at any time. As the lapse of time increased, the expectation dimmed – or stretched out into a more distant future. We still live in that interim period between Christ’s first coming and his second. But always God is promising us his full and final salvation.

Be patient and keep waiting for God to act.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, come with your full and free salvation now we pray.

DO WHAT IS JUST AND RIGHT

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand’”.

Isa 56:1 NIV

The life of the people of God has to be carried on during all the turbulence of historical and political developments. It does not exist in splendid isolation in some spiritual vacuum or retreat centre. And the men and women who are leaders of the people have to give guidance whilst they are busy on the job – and also in that hurly-burly busy-ness that crams in on everyone.

The scene depicted in these later chapters of Isaiah reflect the time when the first waves of Israelites had returned to Jerusalem. But not all the exiles went home straight away. Some remained in Babylon. And the blissful expectations of those who did return were tempered by the difficulties they came across. They were still not “free” – they were now under Persian rule which involved only a partial degree of self-rule. Still Isaiah had to “squeeze God in” so to speak. Some of God’s promises had been fulfilled but not all, and problems of a practical nature abounded. They are called to “maintain justice”.

It was not maintaining justice that had caused their ruin in the first place. God will not allow his people to specialise in a faith that bears no responsibility for the social justice of society in general. Pleasant and easy as it is to withdraw from involvement in the world, God requires his people to engage with the “real world” in order to effect his engagement with it – and to defend the weak and do “justly”.

This is still so today for Christian believers. God calls us to be in his world, “boots and all”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to be your presence in the structures of the world.

A REMINDER OF GOD

“This will be a sign that will last for ever, a reminder of what I, the Lord, have done”.

Isa 55:13 GNB

We have the wonderful faculty of memory. Some of us have better memories than others. Many of us wish we had better memories than we do have. And many in their later years wish they still had the kind of memory they used to have forty or more years earlier! And most of us need to be reminded of God and what he has done quite frequently.

The ancient Israelites needed to be reminded. They were prone to forget God and what he had done as they went about their business, work, family life and making a living. Now God was about to do a great thing. After their nearly forty-year-long exile in Babylon they were about to go home. God was directing the history of the nations and Babylon was about to fall to the Persians. The outcome was that the Persians were going to release the Israelites. Isaiah wanted this event to become a God-centred happening, not a human political celebration in which the Israelites slapped themselves on their backs with the whole thing deteriorating into an orgy of self-congratulation.

Keep God in the centre of the picture! Find Christ in all the comings and goings of your own personal dealings. Learn how to look back and trace God in the events of your life and in the blessings you have received. Thank God for the people who have brought love into your life, and thank him for those people into whose lives you have brought love. Include him in those landmark celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, constantly give me reminders of your love and actions.

A SIGN FROM GOD

“This will be a sign that will last for ever”.

Isa 55:13 GNB

It often happens that some significant event takes place that people want to remember for a long time. On Sunday, 20th July 1969 the first man set foot on the moon. Neil Armstrong left a memorial plaque on which were inscribed these words: “Here men from the planet earth first set foot upon the moon July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind”. It was a sign of man’s mastery of science and a significant moment in human history. Whether the elements will allow that sign to remain there “for ever” we do not know.

The departure of the Israelite people from Babylon in 538 B.C. was a “red letter day” for them. From the misery of defeat and forced exile it marked a new beginning for them. It could only have come about as a result of an act of God. And God did intervene finally, even though when Isaiah wrote these words the future departure date was still unknown.

For Christian believers the cross of Jesus is the sign of God’s mighty act to bring salvation and hope for all humanity. The cross signifies not only the crucifixion but the resurrection as well, since it is usually portrayed as an empty cross. We look back to that event again and again, always at Easter time but often at no particular time. It is the sign of God’s love, his miraculous intervention and his ongoing care for all humanity, his act of binding himself to the human race in order to save and redeem them. It is a sign of hope, of renewal, of reconciliation and of faith. And it is a “sign for ever”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for all that the cross of Jesus stands for.

NEW GROWTH

“Cypress-trees will grow where now there are briars; myrtle-trees will come up in place of thorns”.

Isa 55:13 GNB

When God acts, things start to happen. And they go on happening. God’s acts bring joy to the human beings who witness them. People feel far better when God acts because it reassures them that he is in control and is directing the course of history. People are so happy that it seems that nature is joining in the joy. And, says Isaiah, it will impact on nature around them. Unproductive scrubland will give way to impressive and beautiful trees. The Cypress tree is a well-shaped tree with decorative leaves. It adds beauty to any garden or park. The Myrtle tree has beautiful leaves and a pleasant, aromatic smell.

The transformation Isaiah envisaged taking place when God brought his people out of Babylon would trigger off this new natural growth. For ugliness there would be beauty. For thorn trees that were both inconvenient and unpleasant for people there would be pleasant and exciting growth. Isaiah was saying that when God gets going he “gets going big”.

Look for God’s actions in the world at large, in your church community and in your own life. Look for where there is new life. Keep your eyes open for spiritual developments, increased prayer, people coming from an absence of faith into deep commitment to Jesus Christ. Look for joy in worship, acts of compassion and kindness to those who are underprivileged, new groups studying the Bible, creative things being done for the glory of God, and sacrificial giving that indicates a love for God translating into action, and beneficial deeds being done.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, in your mighty deeds help me to see the spiritual growth.

JOY IN NATURE

“The mountains and hills will burst into singing, and the trees will shout for joy”.

Isa 55:12 GNB

Human beings live within their natural environment and whilst nature changes with the passing seasons there are times when people find themselves uplifted and inspired by its beauty or its invigorating air. A man once found himself alone on a holiday in Devon, England. He knew from the map that a river ran close by and that its source was in the mountains less than a mile away. One evening he set out to trace the stream up the hillside to its source where he knelt down and drank from the cool sweet water. He made his way down again singing in his heart for joy that he had experienced an unforgettable moment of oneness with nature. Cool breezes, lush green grass, the singing of birds, blossom on trees, the majesty of mountains, the light and warmth of the sun – all these “get to” the human heart and cause joy, wonder, and even worship.

The Israelites would find their spirits elated by witnessing the act of God in ending their Babylonian captivity and would sense that nature itself was rejoicing. The wind in the air would seem to be the music of singing and God would seem to be very near.

Most people do not have too many of these “one with nature” moments. They do not happen every day. When one comes to you, savour it and give praise and thanks to God that you are alive to experience it. Thank God for the beauties of nature and for all the blessings that God has granted you – and for the gift of life itself.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for the heartbeat of nature, its music and its joy.

LED OUT IN PEACE

“You will be led out of the city in peace”.

Isa 55:12 GNB

It is often said, “Hindsight is an exact science”. We all witness that frequently. If it is easy to be wise after the event, it is very difficult to look ahead and prophesy. The weather forecasters, though, do have scientific methods of working tomorrow’s weather out.

People in the Bible were just as interested and inquisitive about the future as we are. What was going to happen? What were the leaders of nations going to do? Where were the great empires going to expand to next? What was God going to do? The great prophets lived close to God and they were guided by God’s Holy Spirit which enabled them to look into the future and “read the mind of God”. They knew the character of God. They understood his ways. And they looked at the world around them and guided their people. Today they would be called “analysts”.

Isaiah’s message from God was good news for the Israelites. They would be released from their captivity in their Babylonian exile. And it would be an occasion for celebrating God’s mighty act. And God would lead them out of Babylon “in peace”. They had arrived weary, some of them injured or ill, all of them humiliated and angry, sad and broken-hearted. But now God would act in peace – his wholeness, goodness and prosperity all working together. Some might even take a memento or two back with them. Some might even have made money that would be useful!

Go forward to future events in your life in the certainty of God’s peace in Christ. And remember, Jesus taught us to look ahead and say “Thy kingdom come”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to move forward in peace and love.

A TIME TO MOVE ON

“You will leave Babylon with joy”.

Isa 55:12 GNB

Most of us like a settled life. We like things to be predictable and pleasant. Others like to be “getting somewhere”, they like “excitement”, change, something new. In fact, it is part of normal human existence to have “moving on” points whether they are well spaced out or thick and fast. When a spouse dies the surviving spouse eventually comes to accept the bereavement and adjusts to the single life – or meets someone else! In some forms of employment, the employer has many branches and “transfers” people from one branch to another.

The Israelites had been relocated to Babylon in 586 B.C. They were an unhappy lot and didn’t find much to be positive about. But Isaiah saw beyond the gloom. He knew that God was a God who acted and who was cooking up a scheme to release his children from their captivity. So Isaiah prepared the people for their next “moving on” moment. It would be a time of joy, of renewal, of hope and of happiness. In the years and centuries to come they would look back on the day they left Babylon, remember it, and celebrate it with a sense of victory and gratitude to God.

Don’t be afraid of your “moving on” experiences. One of the great factors of life is that “life unfolds”. It is seldom static. If you feel naturally reluctant to want to move on, bring the matter to God in prayer and ask him to give you courage to face it and strength to go through with it. Know that God is with you all the time and put your trust in him.

FOR REFLECTION

Lord, help me, when I have to, to move on with peace and joy.

THE EFFECTIVE WORD

“So also will be the word that I speak – it will not fail to do what I plan for it; it will do everything that I send it to do”.

Isa 55:11 GNB

Not everything turns out to do or be what it is intended to do or be. A gardener plants what he thinks is a red rose. When it bears blooms they turn out to be white! When Adolf Hitler sent his troops into Russia in 1941 they were supposed to overrun the country in a few weeks. Thousands of his German troops perished in the snow and ice during the siege of Stalingrad and his army eventually returned to Germany in retreat and defeat at the hands of the Russians.

It would be hard for the Israelites in Babylon to believe that God could, by speaking(!), reverse the defeat they had suffered earlier. Then he had seemed to them so weak and they held out very little hope of any meaningful future. But Isaiah had faith. He knew that when God spoke he did things. It was not empty speech – “mere words”. For God to speak meant he acted. His speech did things. It was more than human speech – grunts and whistles! And now God was beckoning them forward to renewal and restoration. It was going to come about, not because they were going to mount a successful rebellion, but because he was bringing a new world power who would defeat the Babylonians and send his people home to Jerusalem.

Never underestimate what God can do. In the world. In the church. In your life. As he renewed the Israelites, so he can renew you and make you a new person in Christ. With his Spirit in you, you can do great things for him.

FOR REFLECTION

Lord, speak your word and do great things.

THE RELIABILITY OF NATURE

“My word is like the snow and the rain that come down from the sky to water the earth. They make the crops grow and provide seed for sowing and food to eat”.

Isa 55:10 GNB

In a technology driven world such as the one we live in, we probably need to be reminded of the reality to which Isaiah is referring – that everything – but everything – depends on the reliability of nature. If things go just a little bit askew, the taps soon dry up, the crops wither, prices rise, people lose the bloom of their health, cattle and sheep die, economies get distorted and problems of all kinds arise. Isaiah reminded the people of Israel existing in misery in Babylon that the God who created the beautiful land of Israel still commands and controls the mechanisms of his nature. The sun still rises, night time falls, the seasons follow one another, and the plants blossom and flourish.

It is not just a reminder to the Israelites. Isaiah tells his countrymen that God’s word is as certain and as reliable as the world around them. It was God speaking that brought this world into being – not scientists or philosophers. And God’s word is as integral and essential to its continued existence as are the processes of nature. As a prophet, he is listening for that word. His message to them is as vital to their life as the forces of nature are to their physical existence. Where do the rain and snow come from? From the sky above. Neither the Israelites nor their captors cause the snow and rain to come. They come from Gods hand and his word, his message to them, is just as certain.

It still is!

FOR REFLECTION

Lord, thank you for the rock – solid reliability of nature.