RULING WITH JUSTICE AND PEACE

“Your rulers will no longer oppress you; I will make them rule with justice and peace”.

Isa 60:17 GNB

Some years ago, an International Criminal Court was set up in the Hague, Netherlands. It was intended to hear cases of injustice and crime on the part of politicians. It has had plenty of material to deal with. Far too many rulers are happy to abuse the power entrusted to them by the constitution of their country and oppress the weak and the poor of their people. To read that it happened to the Israelites centuries before Christ is a salutary pointer to the permanent fact of human fallibility. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Anyone can endure affliction. But if you really want to test a person, give him some power”. Injustice abounds in many countries in the twenty-first century. And many countries are governed in ways that do not make for peace for the simple reason that “power corrupts”. And in many countries the main ruler has “absolute power”.

Isaiah knew that if it was left to the humans injustice would be bound to assert itself, and peace would be a rare outcome of the misrule that would be normal. But in Isaiah’s view of the future of Israel God would not leave it to the devices of human rulers. God himself would “make them rule” with justice and peace. He was himself the author of justice and a God of peace. And justice and peace were part of God’s will for his people.

In understanding the political climate of their own countries, Christian believers should use these two criteria to assess rulers and potential rulers. And it is a Christian duty to do so. Translated into practical terms love becomes justice and peace.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let our country be ruled with justice and peace.

WHAT GOD HAS DONE

“You will know that I, the Lord, have saved you, that the mighty God of Israel sets you free”.

Isa 60:16 GNB

When the Israelites suffered a military defeat in 586 B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians most of the population of Jerusalem were carried off as captives and slaves. Reflecting on their fate in Babylon they concluded that God had allowed them to be defeated because of their sins. The worst of these was that of worshipping foreign gods. After nearly fifty years God raised up a new emperor in Persia by the name of Cyrus who set about defeating the Babylonians. He did so, much to the delight of the Israelites and Cyrus allowed them to return to Jerusalem. The Israelites’ view of history was that this act of rescue was an act of God. He had allowed them to suffer long enough. Now it was time for him to assert himself, save them and restore them. This belief was picking up from the exodus where God had rescued their forefathers from captivity in Egypt centuries earlier. That was what God did. He was a Saviour-God. These acts gave him the character of being a saving God. This understanding paved the way for Jesus to be hailed as his Son and the Christians’ Saviour yet more centuries down the line.

Never think that history is solely in the hands of politicians, kings and presidents. They are major players, but beyond them there is one whose sovereignty extends over all the earth and he rules in righteousness and justice. Often his actions are hidden. Frequently the human actors are all that can be seen.

But God is still the mighty God who saves, redeems and restores. And he guides the world on its way.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, never abandon your world and its people.

A PLACE OF JOY

“I will make you great and beautiful, a place of joy for ever and ever”.

Isa 60:15 GNB

A place where you live should be a place of joy. That is why people boast about their town or city. They wear t-shirts with the name of the place, or its sports team on it. The place where you work should also be a place of joy – since there you earn your living, employ your skills and make money. And the place where you worship should be a cause of joy since there God provides you with the meaning for your life.

There was no doubt much joy when the captives returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. There would be joy at the sight of the old familiar places – those that were still standing. There would be joy at the reunion with old friends and family members for some. There would be joy at the prospect that it would all one day become a happy, thriving place again.

There would be joy at the prospect of the worship in the temple being restored – but the previous temple (Solomon’s magnificent place) was no more. Then there would be the prospect of the great festivals gathering millions of Jews together before God to celebrate his acts in centuries gone by. They could be themselves once again. But the city became a centre of war, contestation, and conflict. Down the intervening centuries much strife, bloodshed, and power struggles have ensued. Today it is a divided city always with controversy raging. This is because in addition to God working his purposes humans are fighting, sinning, and killing.

Christians should not only pray for peace in Jerusalem but that it – and the whole world – should become a place of worship and peace.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, grant ever-increasing peace in the Holy Land.

GREAT AND BEAUTIFUL

“You will no longer be forsaken and hated, a city deserted and desolate. I will make you great and beautiful, a place of joy for ever and ever”.

Isa 60:15 GNB

Some cities engender affection and warmth. In World War II the British coined a song that went, “When you see Big Ben you’re home again, home where you belong”. And some Scots happily sing, “I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow town”. Paris is affectionately known as “The City of Love”. Its connection with three world religions has earned Jerusalem the title “Holy City”. And the sight of faithful Jews earnestly praying at “The Wailing Wall” is enough to stir many emotions and hopes.

The prophet Isaiah knew the sentiments that surged in the hearts of the Israelites as God promised hope and resuscitation for the city that was home to them all. But it was also because it was here, so they believed, that God dwelt – in the sense that he was nearer to them there more than anywhere else. Here they worshipped God. Here they offered animals to God in sacrifice for their sins. This was their capital. And it was the city of David, the king who had once made them a military force to be reckoned with. It was to be great and beautiful because God was there, it was the symbol of their national pride, and because it symbolised their hope for the coming Messiah, national salvation and restoration. Little did they know that here their Messiah would perform miracles, be crucified and would rise again and that the Holy Spirit would change the people of God for ever. Nor did they know that many would come to regard it as the centre of the world – because of him.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to know you anywhere and everywhere.

THE HOLY CITY

“They will call you ‘The City of the Lord’, ‘Zion, the City of Israel’s Holy God’”.

Isa 60:14 GNB

There is something wonderful about Jerusalem. Three of the world’s great religions regard it as their holy city, and pilgrims pour in from all over the world. The Moslems captured it centuries ago and built the gold-domed cap on top of what had earlier been the Jewish temple. Inside this central building, known as the “Dome of the Rock” stands a huge rock upon which, tradition holds that Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac. In the “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” both the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection took place, again according to tradition. A little way away there is a garden called the Garden Tomb, where some claim Jesus was both crucified and rose again – an argument rages about this.

Jerusalem was founded approximately 1000 B.C. by King David who was looking for a place to build his fortress. David’s tomb is in the city, the part that is today called Zion. It is doubtful if any city in the world has so much history woven into its story.

For Christians the miracle of Jerusalem is that Jesus died and rose again there. And he became human, dwelt on earth, died and rose again “for us men and for our salvation”. For us it is “Christ’s City”. It is also where God poured out his Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost – the event that sent Christian apostles round the Eastern Mediterranean preaching the gospel and converting Gentiles to faith in Christ. One visitor said after his first trip to the city, “Now it (the Christian faith) all makes sense”. It does make sense – whether you go to Jerusalem or not.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let your holy city be a place of peace for all humanity.

THINGS WILL CHANGE

“The descendants of those who oppressed you will come and bow low to show their respect. All who once despised you will worship at your feet”.

Isa 60:14 GNB

History never stands still. It is always in a state of flux, even when very few observers can see it happening. The French Revolution in 1789 led to a complete switch round in the execution of power in France. Soon other nations in Europe were bringing in sweeping changes – before they too were having their heads chopped off at the guillotine! And the African nations which were being snapped up in the “Scramble for Africa” in the nineteenth century by European colonial powers were being de-colonised even faster in the 1960’s and 70’s.

So, when the Persian emperor Cyrus came to power in the 500’s B.C. he soon set about liberating the captive Israelites in next-door Babylon. He said to them “There you are. Home you go”. And he was described as “God’s Servant” by the Israelites. And soon the Israelites were a respected nation once more, holding their heads up high in the Eastern Mediterranean. It showed what the Hebrew prophets had taught – that God wielded the ultimate power in the world and that he ordered the destiny of nations. And he can turn the tables – especially on high and mighty nations who strut the stage of history with arrogance and pride.

Things still change. Sometimes quickly, sometimes more slowly. But they are still in the hands of God. Look to him humbly and with respect for his sovereignty. Try to perceive where he is bringing change and where he is bringing nations under his sway. Believe that they are all ripe for Christ to come and claim the allegiance of many more people.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, reign in secret or in the open in your world.

THE BEST FOR HIS GLORY

“The wood of the pine, the juniper, and the cypress, the finest wood from the forests of Lebanon, will be brought to rebuild you, Jerusalem, to make my temple beautiful, to make my city glorious”.

Isa 60:13 GNB

A father was presenting his eldest daughter with her twenty-first birthday present. It was a beautiful piano which she had learnt to play some years earlier. He said, “It’s a John Broadwood. They supply pianos to the royal family in London. And I reckon if it’s good enough for the queen, then it’s good enough for me”.

In Israel in 538 B.C. God was getting the Israelite people back into thinking “strong” and “good”. For nearly fifty years since the conquest of Israel by the Babylonians things had gone downhill. The few who were left in Jerusalem lived a miserable life. They were defeated and had lost their sense of vocation. Any talk of glory was totally misplaced. In fact, the Hebrew term “Ichabod” was very appropriate. It meant “the glory has departed”.

Isaiah’s aim, under God, was to get the glory back again. This description of the fine wood making the temple beautiful and the centrepiece of the restored and rebuilt city spoke of God’s glory. But it had to be done with the best wood, the finest materials, and superb craftsmanship. Only the best was good enough for God. There must be nothing shoddy, cheap or second-rate. The glory of God demanded the best – the very best.

And Christian believers need to take this hint. The Lord Jesus Christ demands the best – anything else is unbecoming of Jesus Christ. The temptation to say, “It’s for the Lord. He understands if we’re not up to scratch” is not on. Only the best for God!.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me always to give my best for you.

OPEN

“Day and night your gates will be open, so that the kings of the nations may bring you their wealth”.

Isa 60:11 GNB

Certain words convey positive meanings and generate happy associations. “Warm” is a happy and positive word. “Cold” is unpleasant and negative. “Beautiful” is positive but “ugly” is negative. So, when Isaiah conveys the message from God that Jerusalem’s gates will be “open” he is saying something positive and happy. Likewise, when the principal of a college says to the students, “If you have any problems, my door is open”, he is saying, “I will help you to solve your problems. I am prepared to hear your case”. Even if no student has a problem the principal has created a favourable impression. “Open” is always more positive than “Closed”. And the president of a country will say “We are open for business”. People feel happy upon hearing that sentiment.

After the Babylonians had closed Jerusalem down and carried off most of her inhabitants there was little hope for the city. But with her gates now open and people coming from far and wide to bring wealth and do trade there was a much more hopeful future for the city and her inhabitants. It was a promise of God. It must have warmed their hearts to hear the message of God – about her prosperity and not only her worship.

It is important that Christian believers grasp this fundamental concept – that God favours human flourishing. Where this happens, people can grow, prosper, and contribute to human society. Faith too is more likely to grow and increase where there is human flourishing. Worship is more likely to be positive and to point people into the right direction.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to be open to you and all the world.

MERCY

“Now I will show you my favour and mercy”.

Isa 60:10 GNB

Mercy is one of the great words of the Old Testament. It is pressed into usage on many occasions. At a time when gods were normally thought to be capricious, angry, vindictive and demanding, the people of God cottoned on to this word to describe their God. This indicates how different their God was when compared to the gods of the surrounding nations. Despite the occasional relapse into thinking like the neighbouring nations, the Israelites clung on to “mercy” as the hallmark of God and thus paved the way for the emergence of “grace” as the distinctive word of the New Testament.

Mercy could mean more than just forgiveness. Coming over into English it could become “kindness” or “compassion” or “pity” depending on the context. Then it could also become “holy” or “pious”. More and more as the centuries went by, the Israelites came to emphasize God’s mercy. They knew, being released from their captivity in Babylon that they had not earned the favour of God in this regard. He rescued and restored them out of his mercy and not because of any goodness of theirs.

Jesus again and again pointed to the mercy of God – in theparable of the prodigal son, the woman taken in adultery and the penitent thief on the cross. He wants his disciples to be just as merciful. Often the truth is that once we know Christ has accepted us there is a tendency to feel we are more righteous than others and to become sparing in our mercy to others. Only ongoing gratitude to God for his mercy and grace towards us can prompt a merciful attitude in us towards others.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, God of mercy, make me merciful to others.

GOD’S ENDOWMENT

“The Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, … has endowed you with splendour”.

Isa 60: 9 NIV

One of the basic questions in religion is always, “What do you do for your God? And what does your God do for you?” For most of the ancient people the first question was far more important. Faith was mostly a question of what you did for God. You brought him offerings, obeyed his commands, and remained loyal to him.

For the Israelites, however, the big issue was what God did for you. So God said to Abraham, “I will bless you. I will make your name great,” and so on. Their God was a God who did things. And he did things because he loved them. When the disaster of the conquest by the Babylonians happened, the perception was that it was God punishing them for their sins. But now, in Isaiah’s time, God reversed everything. He was “getting going”. He brought the Persian king, Cyrus, into action and he restored the Israelites to their home country. They deserved punishment but, after an interval, he blessed them and endowed them with splendour. Getting back to a broken-down city, all ruins and rubble, was hardly what most people would see as an endowment worth having. But Isaiah was looking far into the future, hoping, dreaming, encouraging, and directing their thoughts.

When Jesus called his first disciples to discipleship, he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). In doing so he was endowing them with splendour. They were going to be called, “A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV). Consider with what God endows you when he calls you to be his disciple.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for endowing me

with royal and priestly status.