Isaiah 51. God Will Turn Deserts into a Lush Garden.

Because of the importance of Israel and its people, and my personal love for The Land, I’m inviting you to join me through the key Old Testament book of Isaiah.  Each day I’m posting some simple thoughts about this complex prophet.

Isaiah 51.

Again, words of comfort and the assurance that God will set things right for those who obey Him. The people of Israel, and us by way of Jesus, are chips off the block of Abraham. Just like the great Jewish patriarch, we can also be called a “friend of God” as we remember our roots (see Isaiah 41:8).

“Listen to me, all you who are serious about right living and committed to seeking God. Ponder the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were dug. Yes, ponder Abraham, your father, and Sarah, who bore you. Think about it! One solitary man when I called him, but once I blessed him, he multiplied. Likewise I, God, will comfort Zion, comfort all her mounds of ruins. I’ll transform her dead ground into Eden, her moonscape into the garden of God, A place filled with exuberance and laughter, thankful voices and melodic songs.” (v1-3, MSG).

Who wants a home filled with exuberance, laughter, thankful voices and singing? I do! Isaiah reminds us, that we can be transformed! If you’ve traveled to Israel you might recall the moonscape of the lands around Masada. Those will be reborn into lush gardens. He did it. He does it. He will continue to do it.

“My salvation will last forever, my setting things right will never be obsolete… Pay no attention to insults and when mocked don’t let it get you down. Those insults and mockeries are moth-eaten, from brains that are termite-ridden. But my setting things right lasts! My salvation goes on and on and on!” (v6-8, MSG).

This echoes what the Psalmist says: “When I was really hurting, I prayed to the Lord. He answered my prayer and took my worries away. The Lord is on my side, and I am not afraid of what others can do to me.” (Psalm 118:5‭-‬6, CEV).

We can trust completely in the delight of God. This is a promise the people of Israel hold on to every day. It is a promise we can cling to as well!

Be comforted today in the beautiful transformational work God is doing in you, in each of us! You may feel like a wasteland or a desert. But God sees you as the Garden of Eden! Hear the singing and laughter. Experience His joy!

I love the word picture described here: “On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”(Zephaniah 3:16-17, NLT).

If you’re new to this journey through Isaiah, you can start here.

(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Isaiah 11

Olive shoots on a olive tree trunk at the Mt. of Olives in Israel.

Because of the importance of Israel and its people, and my personal love for The Land, I’m inviting you to join me through the key Old Testament book of Isaiah.  Each day I’m posting some simple thoughts about this complex prophet.

Isaiah 11.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD – Adonai – will rest on Him. The Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear (awe) of the LORD. Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.” (v1, MSG).

Remember Isaiah 6:13? “But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.” The olive tree is fascinating and prolific in The Land. Even when an old tree dies, the roots are still alive. And new shoots rise up, sometimes many feet away from the old tree. And there are so many connections between the olive tree and Jesus. Again, our Messiah shows up on the pages of the Old Testament!

The Jewish word for olive press is transliterated into English “Get-She’me.” Do you remember what happened to Jesus on the night He was betrayed? He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives.  See how similar “Get-She’me” is to “Gethsemane?” The weight of what He was going to do in the next 24 hours for you and me caused Him to sweat drops like blood as He prayed. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 NIV). He was being crushed in the Garden of Gethsemane as if in an olive press.

Here’s another connecting point to the olive tree branches and shoots. The word for “shoot” is transliterated “netzer.”   Jesus was from “Netzer-eth.” Nazareth.

Now look again at the second half of verse 1: “The Spirit of the LORD – Adonai – will rest on Him. The Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear (awe) of the LORD. Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.” Jesus was full of the Spirit. It began with His baptism. Here’s what John the Baptizer said about Him: I was there and saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven. And the Spirit stayed on him. Before this I didn’t know who he was. But the one who sent me to baptize with water had told me, “You will see the Spirit come down and stay on someone. Then you will know that he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I saw this happen, and I tell you that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34 CEV).

Three years later we see this: “Then He took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” (John 20:22 MSG). When Jesus breathed on His disciples, He breathed on us! So, this same Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear/awe, joy and delight are ours too!

Thanks to the shoot from the stump of Jesse as foretold in Isaiah 11!

 

(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Isaiah 2

Because of the importance of Israel and its people, and my personal love for The Land, I’m inviting you to join me through the key Old Testament book of Isaiah. Each day I’m posting some simple thoughts about this complex prophet.
Isaiah 2.
Let’s back up and look at the Introduction section of the book from the NIV: “Israel’s life is bound up with the affairs of the broader world.”
Even now, the nation is on the front pages of newspapers all over the world daily. No other country has been in the news as much or as long as Israel. The Chinese dynasties came and went. The Roman’s, the Ottoman’s, the British, some might suggest even America, has come and gone. Yet, there’s something special about The Land! It’s a key piece of real estate because it is on the crossroads of the world. It’s officially located on the continent of Asia, but a case can be made that it’s also in Europe and Africa geographically. And, because many Jewish people live in North America, it is deeply important to those on this continent as well. It’s a tiny country, yet its importance to the world cannot be minimized.
The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem: There’s a day coming when the mountain of God ’s House Will be The Mountain— solid, towering over all mountains. All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it. They’ll say, “Come, let’s climb God ’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” Zion’s the source of the revelation. God ’s Message comes from Jerusalem. He’ll settle things fairly between nations. He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore. Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God .
Isaiah 2:1‭-‬5 MSG
He WILL show us the way He works so we can live the way we’re made. He WILL settle things fairly between nations.
Have you seen the recent news that the Jewish people have been allowed to pray once again at the top of Mt. Zion, the Muslim site that is known as The Dome of the Rock? That’s beautiful, isn’t it? God is moving! Next we can pray and ask God to bring Jews, Muslims and Christians together to pray on Mt. Zion.
I have been to the site on several occasions. Once we were quietly singing “Jesus Loves Me” and were chased away by armed Israeli Defense Force troops who are assigned with keeping the peace at Mt. Zion. I understand why. But there will be a day when all will worship the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit at Mt. Zion!
A regular theme throughout the book of Isaiah is that God and God alone is worthy of our praise. We are called to put away idols and gods that get in our way of seeing God for who He is. The writer ends the chapter this admonishment:
“Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” Isaiah 2:22 (NIV).
Come, let’s live in the light of God.
(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Isaiah 1

Growing up in a Christian, mainline denomination church we focused so much on Jesus that we didn’t spend much time in the Old Testament. As an adult, I’ve come to see that Jesus is on every page of the Bible, not just the New Testament! And that’s what makes the Text so wonderful. It’s God’s overarching story of His plan for the redemption of His children. Us.
     The story of Israel is both a New Testament story and an Old Testament story. It’s founding is detailed in the pages of Genesis through Malachi. And much of its history and future is found in the book of Isaiah. I had the chance to go to Israel twice in 2019.  I heard our Jewish tour guides quote from Isaiah daily.  So, I’ve decided to dive into the complex writings of the prophet for myself. What follows over the course of the next 66 days is my simple reading and pondering of what these words mean and how they might be applied in our context today.
     Here’s my highlight from Chapter 1 if you’re so inclined to join me…
“Wash yourselves clean! I hate your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong  and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help the oppressed.”  I, the Lord, invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool.  If you willingly obey me, the best crops in the land will be yours. Isaiah 1:16-19 (CEV).
     “Wash yourselves clean…” The Jewish ritual bath is called a Mikveh and the ruins of these ancient sacraments are all over The Land. Unlike a Christian baptistry, a Mikveh has water flowing through the tank, usually by way of a natural spring. And they often have a wall separating the going down side from the coming up side. The idea is that one might enter the stream “unclean” or “filthy” and then, once the waters have washed over the person, they are free to ascend the steps on the clean side, washed a new.
     It’s not just a physical cleansing, which it is. It’s also symbolic of  being pure before God. The Old Testament people would go to the Mikveh every time they went to the synagogue or Temple. Some would go daily.
     Isaiah reminds those of us who are Believers in Jesus, we have been washed clean by His death, His sacrifice on the Cross, and His resurrection — once and for all.
Our sins are washed away and we are made clean because Christ gave His own body as a gift to God. He did this once for all time. Hebrews 10:10 (NLV)
     Our sins were scarlet red. But they are now whiter than snow!
But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away. 1 John 1:7 (CEV).
     Because of that sweet redemption, our response is to walk regularly “up the clean steps,” to be faithful in defending the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, those less fortunate.
     What steps can we take today to remember that we are redeemed and that we have a responsibility to “live right” before God and man?
     Oh, there’s a promise for us when we do. “The best crops in the land will be yours.” Our motivation for living right is to honor God, because it’s the right thing to do. An ancillary benefit is the gift of God’s provision and care. Because He loves us so.
     (c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Blessed, happy…

The hillside that looks down to the Sea of Galilee from the Mount called the Mount of Beatitudes, or Mt. Eremos in Israel.

 

We started the day at the top of Mt. Arbel. The Master had taken us up the night before. At daybreak, we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Sea!  Mt. Arbel is His favorite “get away from it all” spot. You can get a view of the whole lake from there.

We had spent much of the past few weeks all around this northern part of the Galilee. He had chosen 12 of us to be His closest followers, His talmudim. Many of us grew up around here, working the sea for fish and the land for grain.

As we journeyed down towards the shore, He warned us about the expected crowds today. There was something in His heart that He needed to tell the people… If people were going to receive any kind of physical healing from Him, they were going to hear why He healed first.  He told us of the story when He taught in the synagogue in Nazareth… when the reading from the Prophets for that day was from Isaiah. He affirmed the reason He had come… to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind… to set the oppressed free.

And now today, today would be the day when the Teacher revealed His yoke, His perspective, His views on the Law. And today, he would set the whole tone for the next year and a half of ministry…

As He began to teach, He did so just like He was in a synagogue. He sat down on a rock. And He preached with such authority.

“Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” He began.

“Blessed, happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed, happy are those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 6:3-5).

With each blessing, more and more people made their way to the field below Him. He continued…

“Blessed, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed, happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed, happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 6:6-8).

His voice echoed off the hillside and fisherman pulled their boats onto the shore to hear more.

“Blessed, happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed, happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 6:9-12).

The Master spoke for quite some time… I looked around as the crowd continued to increase. People elbowed each other to see His face. They wiped their brows as the warmth of the day increased. “Who was this?” I heard them murmur to each other.

He watched as fishermen on the shore began to pack their catch in salt to preserve it. “You are the salt of the earth,” He assured us. “But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be salty again?” (Matthew 6:13).

He looked east toward Hippos across the sea and proclaimed, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:14-16).

He then began to illustrate His views on Torah, His yoke, by noting what other teachers of the Law have to say… He would start by saying, “You have heard it said… “ and then He would add, “but I say to you…” It was His way of bringing grace and life to the Laws of Moses. For example, He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:43-45).

Some in the growing crowd were mesmerized by these teachings. Others were puzzled as this man appeared to be a learned rabbi, but was questioning much of everything we all knew of the Law.

He taught on murder, adultery, divorce, prayer and fasting. He summed up the Law and the Prophets with this straightforward statement: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).

The topic that spoke most to my heart? Anxiety. I will admit, I’m a worrier. And yet, as He looked at the flowers in bloom on this very hillside, and saw the birds flying through the treetops, the Master urged us:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).

 As He concluded this powerful, yet simple message, the crowd was amazed. I looked at the others with a smile, humbled that He had chosen us to be His disciples… and wondering what else we might learn in the days and weeks to come as we followed our rabbi.

Some of the thoughts, perhaps, of one of the 12, as he remembered that day where Yeshua first spoke those words.

_____

There are so many amazing teachings in this, the first of Jesus’ public teachings. As we see often, Jesus flips many of the norms and teachings of old on their heads. You are blessed when you are poor in spirit. It’s okay to mourn. Be hungry for righteousness not the Law. Be a peacemaker. Don’t worry when you are persecuted, or when you are hungry or naked. Seek first the Kingdom. Be salt. Be light. Treat others as you want to be treated. This is how you are to pray.

He was going “on the record” … establishing His yoke, His ways, His views on Torah. And ultimately, Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So, say “Yes!” to the Law. But, more importantly, say “Yes!” to Grace. Say “Yes!” to the way of Yeshua. He spoke with the bold and loving authority of God.  This message is for everyone. Jew and Gentile alike. Believer and unbeliever. For those who heard it first-hand on a hillside along the banks of the Sea of Galilee as He spoke it – Matthew says in 7:28 that the crowds were amazed!”

AND the timeless message is for us today. Can we be amazed again? I hope so!

 

[1] Friedrich Hauck, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as cited in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth E. Bailey, © 2008, p. 68.

 

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.