How to Find and Maintain Hope in the Dark Seasons of Life

 

Some time ago, I listened to a sermon based upon Isaiah 45, part of which focused on the fact that God is the One who “forms light and creates darkness,” the One who “makes peace and creates calamity” [Isa 45:7a]—He says “I am the One who does these things” [Isa 45:7b]. This to me was amazing, since we do not typically think that God has anything to do with the darkness we often face—only the light in which we live. But there it is—our God declares that He is even in the dark chaos of our world, and for this reason we can take heart and maintain hope, for all is well with Him in charge.

What the prophet Isaiah is saying in this passage is that if bad conditions exist in our life, they are not there because some evil god has thwarted the good intentions of a kindly but ineffectual god, who would like us to have good conditions but cannot bring them about.

The darkness or calamity may be present in our life because we have sinned against His natural and moral laws, like [Sowing & Reaping], they may be there because by their means we can become more like Him, or they may be there for reasons that He cannot explain to us. But they are not there in spite of God.

What do we need to know?

Ask ourselves: Is it possible that we can gain blessings in our times of darkness that we cannot gain in the times of light?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2 ESV

Greek word for testing is: δοκίμιον “or” dokimion translates as testing by trials.

Dross is the word silversmiths used for the impurities that would rise to the top as they were trying to make the silver as pure as possible.

Our testing Leads to Purification & Trustworthiness.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a life verse many people have claimed over their lives: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Understanding the context is key!

The problem we run into is when we approach this passage of Scripture as a security blanket: believing simply that God has a plan for me that is good, so clearly any suffering I’m going through will end soon and then my flourishing will begin! But that is not at all what God was promising to the Israelites, and it’s not what He’s promising us, either. The heart of the verse is not that we would escape our circumstances, but that we would learn to thrive in the midst of them.

Here’s the context: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God as result of their disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah confronts the false prophet, Hananiah, who had boldly proclaimed that God was going to free Israel from Babylon in two years.

So Jeremiah calls out Hananiah’s lie, and then states the promise we read in 29:11. God did indeed have a good plan for the Israelites, and it was a plan that would give them hope and a prospering future. Sounds good, right?

The thing is, before he shares this promise, he gives them this directive from God found in verse 7: “Seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” This means we are to pray for our enemies, especially during seasons of captivity and persecution.

This of course was not at all what the Israelites wanted to hear! They wanted to be told that they were going to go home. They wanted to be told that their suffering was going to end. Instead, God’s plan was for them to stay right where they were, and to help prosper the very nation that had enslaved them!

And then came the biggest blow of all. In verse 10, God says that He would fulfill this promise “after seventy years are completed in Babylon.” This meant that none in the current generation of Israelites would ever return to their home.

So, yes, of course God knows the plans He has for us. And ultimately, He will give us a glorious future. But, what we must remember is that the best growth comes through persevering in our trials, not escaping them entirely. And when we can learn perseverance, we will find surprising joy. Even if…

*** I believe there are seeds of greatness in each of us – dreams, goals, talents, and potential that will only come to life in the dark places of our life.

Like a caterpillar that must form a cocoon to undergo the metamorphosis to become a butterfly, what are we willing to go through to become what God intended for us to be?***

So, today I want to encourage especially those of us who are feeling as if it’s dark right now that our God is not as far away as we often imagine. He is right there in the dark with us, and the darkness will give way to the light of day. Seasons prepare us for what God is calling us to do.

Why do we need to know this:

To escape a season of darkness, we can’t be in faith about God doing something in our life and then go around talking and acting like it will never happen.

Key Point: Right now each of us can make a conscious choice to remain hopeful. This is important because our feelings will eventually catch up with our decisions & actions. Happiness not guaranteed but our joy is. This choice is as simple as turning on a light switch.

God has a great purpose for your life. He wants to use you powerfully to impact the people all around you. But in order to step into His purposes for your life, you have to actually take a step, even if that step leads into a season of darkness. Every time we step into another level with God, it is preceded by a choice we make. Each of us has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change in our own life & in the lives of those around us

I love what Job 8:13 demonstrates, “Those who forgot God had no hope.”

“The forgetting of God was not a mere lapse of memory, but the willful decision to live with no regard either for God or for His precepts.”

If you want to be free from deception, you have to precede it by taking the action of obeying God’s Word.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

If you want your life to be filled with stability & purpose instead of drama & turmoil, it must be preceded by putting Jesus’ teachings into action.

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matthew 7:24)

Even the times when God tells us to be still, it still requires action on our part. Hardest times! When God tells us to be still, He does not want us to be apathetic, but to do the hard work of trusting & waiting.

“Cease striving/Be still and know that I am God; for I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

How many times are we waiting for God to do something that He’s already given us the power to do? Ask Him what action steps He wants you to take. It’s always darkest just before the dawn and our Night of Misery can instantly turn into our Day of Blessing!

The problem we run into is we have a limited and finite understanding of our infinite God.

For me in life, it’s often like this: You walk along in faith, doing the next right thing you know to do, then all of a sudden you get a moment of clarity. The mist lifts, and you get a little glimpse of what God is up to. Or, you find out that the light at the end of the tunnel is a speeding train…

Regardless, God’s purposes for your life are so much better than anything you can imagine, and He has the passion and power to bring them to pass. Our job is to co-labor with Him by quieting our heart, so we can hear His voice and then obey quickly. Even if it’s a whisper, God’s voice must be the loudest in our life!

Key Point: If you are in a foggy spot on the journey, don’t give up. Keep pressing in and moving forward. That’s what faith is all about. If you’re going to magnify something, don’t magnify your problems; magnify your God.

I love the story of the Conquistador Cortes when he sailed to Veracruz to take on the mighty Aztecs. His first order was to burn the ships they had just sailed on. He understood that retreat is easy when you have the option. In life, we can’t always be looking for a Plan B; we should instead strive only to follow God’s will for our lives.

The Christian life is a journey along a narrow road. Sometimes the road is straight, while others, it’s hard to see very far ahead. We may get glimpses and impressions of what lies ahead, but in order to discover what’s really there, we have to keep moving forward.

“When we can’t take anymore & darkness overtakes the righteous, light will come bursting in.” Psalm 112:4

I have regularly hit patches where I realize that everything I’ve been doing up until that point, has simply been in preparation for what’s ahead. All of the digging in to learn new things and the relational stretching isn’t really about those things in themselves, it’s about where God is taking you on the journey.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Our circumstances don’t change the power or the promises of the Lord. If we truly believed this, we wouldn’t reinforce or listen to what the devil or the world says about us. Our identity and our worth is found solely in Christ Jesus. We are priceless!

On issues like this, God doesn’t always need to speak when He’s already spoken and often in times where it feels darkest, Corrie Ten Boon illustrates the Lord is simply hiding us under the shadow of His wings and it only feels dark because He is so near.”

And sometimes, the path set before us causes us to walk through dark times, but it is in these life-transforming moments when you can find Jesus veiled in the darkness. “Bold faith stands on the shoulders of quiet trust and our worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” Corrie Boon

If I’ve learned anything in my walk it’s that God can use anyone & anything to accomplish His plans.

In Judges 6 & 7 we see Gideon being used by God to do something significant, despite him being fearful and questioning that if the Lord had truly been with them then why had all the bad things been happening.

And Gideon said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15 (ESV)

God tells him to do the very thing he was terrified to do: “Go into the enemies’ camp.” Now I don’t know about you, but if I was afraid of my enemy, the last thing I would want to do is confront them with only my servant by my side, especially at night! However, if we ignore or question what God is calling us to do, we’ll miss out on His blessings because there are a great many things we cannot attain when we remain in a place of safety.

Sometimes, by focusing on our own comfort, we actually prevent access to the very thing(s) we are asking for. Gideon would receive his courage in the very place he was so afraid to be, & he would hear of his enemy’s dream & fear of the Lord. In the natural, it may not seem safe, but in the supernatural & when we are sent by God, He makes it safe.

What Do We Need to Do?

Ask ourselves what have we kept ourselves from that could quite possibly lead to the breakthrough we have been praying for? What or who is holding us back? Sickness, Pain, Doubt, FEAR

Each of us has anchors in our life and we have previously talked about hope being the anchor of our soul and that without hope, we cannot have faith, since faith is the evidence of things hoped for.

So, when the trials and circumstances of life seem to overwhelm us, the natural tendency is to pull up our anchor and take over control, but if we would instead keep our anchor down and keep our faith and trust in the Lord, we would never be lost or disappointed.

While there are good anchors in our life, there are also bad anchors that we need to cut away because if we don’t, we’ll drift away from God and fall into a life of anger, bitterness, & doubt due to our circumstances.

Zechariah 9:12 puts it this way, “Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today, I declare I will restore double to you.” NAS translates it as “prisoners who have hope.”

The word prisoner generally has a negative connotation in modern-day culture, but to be a prisoner of hope means we are confined by the promises of God and cannot escape them.

Joseph is the perfect example. He was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit, falsely accused, and imprisoned, but because he remained faithful, he was eventually vindicated, promoted, and ultimately put in charge and used by God to save the people and even his own family from the famine.

Being a prisoner of hope means you can’t get away from it. It’s believing if God is for us, then who can be against us? There is nothing and no one that can snatch us out of His hand, when we remain prisoners of hope.

Key Point: Some things we can only learn in trials of affliction, our character is refined in these fiery trials & our character is much more important than our talents.

No matter what circumstances we are facing, God can turn them around. God’s answers are: “yes, not yet, or He has something better in store,” so we have to get to a place where we trust that His grace is sufficient, that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and that His mercy endures forever. For every trial we face in life, we will either be delivered from it, through it, or by it.

Abraham and Sarah are also good examples. Romans 4 explains, “All human reason for hope being gone, Abraham hoped on in faith.” It took nearly 20 years for the promise of Isaac to be fulfilled, so just because your promise hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it’s not on its way. Keep praying and seeking God!

The bad breaks we face in life don’t disqualify us from fulfilling our purpose and destiny, but they can surely distract us, causing us to take our eyes of Jesus. God wastes nothing and what He starts, He always finishes!

Key Point: We must never let other people talk us out of promises and dreams God has placed in our heart. Even when things don’t seem to be happening on the outside, doesn’t mean God isn’t working behind the scenes. Also, keep dream-killers out of your circle and don’t just go through trials; learn how to grow through them.

Drifting causes us to lose our passion, it causes us to worry, and be stressed out! When this happens, all we must do is put our anchor back down in God’s hope and remember that when bad breaks and circumstances do happen, it is because there is an enemy of our soul who doesn’t want to see our destiny come to pass.

An anchor also serves a second purpose, specifically when ships are going through storms. When it is lowered, it provides the vessel with more stability, much like outriggers do, as the waves crash against it.

Key Point: If we are not anchored to hope, we will find ourselves anchored to something else so keeping the right perspective is key. For example, when we look at the story of David and Goliath, we assume Goliath was sent to destroy David, but God’s divine plan unfolded by David receiving a promotion when he defeated Goliath. Tests turn into testimony and our messes become our message.

In a like manner, whatever we are facing today isn’t meant to stop us; it’s meant to move us towards our divine destiny. You see, when we are not hopeful, it physically makes us sick on the inside, so we must stay hopeful, especially in our seasons of drought.

Whatever we are facing in life can either become our excuse or it can become our purpose. The enemy doesn’t want us to live free and nothing is a surprise to God. Being anchored to anything besides hope will keep us from our destiny and from fulfilling our purpose, so sometimes we must cut the line to our worldly anchors.

Those with the most hope have the most influence!

The ache of the heart always is hope. What I mean is this: biblical hope is much different than worldly hope. Worldly hope is wishing something would happen, while biblical hope is the joyful anticipation of good or the excitement before something actually happens.

This biblical perspective allows us in the middle of our adversity to have hope. Even while our circumstances may attempt to deny or delay the very promises God has made to us, our hope anchors us to God’s joy and eventually to our breakthrough.

Any area of our life for which we have no hope is a lie! There is no situation we will ever face that we are not prepared for and that God doesn’t have the answer for. Remember, God’s hand is on the thermostat. He controls just how hot the fire gets and how long the trial lasts, so just remember the longer and hotter the fiery trial, the purer the outcome will be.

It’s interesting, when God delivered the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, it was far easier to get Israel out of Egypt, but it proved much more difficult to get Egypt out of Israel. There are many times in life when we want God to do something our way, but the Lord often has a much better way, because only He can see things in us that we ourselves cannot see.

Often, God creates detours around battles we are not yet ready to face. This is one of primary reasons a six-day journey to the Promise Land took the Israelites 40 years. Complain and you’ll remain, but praise and you’ll be raised!

Emotions like fear, doubt, anxiety, and intimidation are not sin; it’s only sin when we start partnering with these thoughts that we begin to sin. It’s when we begin to embrace these feelings that we lose sight of all the tools God has given us & what He wants to do in/through us.

Key Point: The offspring of fear is hopelessness! And anything you need to have in order to be happy can be used by the enemy to discourage and distract us, so hold firmly to what God has placed in your heart, but hold loosely to how He brings those promises to pass.

God has given each of us tools and giftings and sometimes He gives us an acorn instead of an oak tree.

He has a tendency to answer large prayers with small answers to see if we have the stamina, character, and focus to steward the answer He has revealed in small form.

Why Do We Need to Do It?

To become what God intends us to be, He engages us in a process, and He is trying to grow us into the person who can understand the answer without it destroying us. God uses our circumstances to wake us up so we’ll listen and obey.

C.S. Lewis said it best: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks in our consciences, but He shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

An interesting thing I have found in Scripture is how the demonic realm continually looks for dry places to rest. These dry places are our seasons of pain, isolation, drought, and wilderness wanderings. However, throughout Scripture, we also see rain, rivers, pools, and springs all referring to the work of God and the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah 9:11, “Because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”

Luke 11:24, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest.”

One of my favorite stories is Jesus casting the legion of demons into a herd of pigs found in Matthew 8:30-37; Mark 5:1-20; & Luke 8:27-38. Broke chains. When the demons begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs, He gave them permission. They entered the pigs, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned. Jesus thereby made known His authority and thwarted whatever evil purpose the demons had. Satan seeks to destroy, or counterfeit all of God’s creation.

In the middle of our conflicts, we must remind ourselves that we belong to the Lord & that the most hopeful people are those who remain close to God.

Restoration of God: Job lost everything, and God restored twice what he had lost, the temple of Solomon was destroyed, but when it was rebuilt by Herod; it was twice the size.

Key Point: The concept of restoration in Scripture should make us all hopeful when we experience loss.

If you are in a season of drought and are not getting answers to your prayers:

  1. Talk to God about something He wants to talk about. Sometimes we must first get reacquainted with His voice to allow our heart to burn for what burns His. Begin and end your day with God. Prayer/Praise/Bible
  2. Pray for what God is already doing. Ask for rain, while it’s raining, which aligns your prayer life with His activity and positions you for the next thing He wants you to do.
  3. Praise Him before you get an answer; this is where strength is found. There is an entire generation amongst us waiting to see revival and the power of hope and praise, so they can live a joy-filled life.

We Must Be Prisoners of Hope: Over the years, I’ve learned how to lock myself up in a prison of hope, knowing that God has nothing but His best planned for me. Hope is what has helped me hold on in those seasons when it seemed like His promises would never come to pass.

Hopeful Anticipation: When things don’t seem to be happening, it can be very easy to develop a very negative outlook on life, which then leads to speaking negatively about it. This was a painful way to live life before I learned how to become a prisoner of hope. As I grew in my relationship with God, I learned how to trust Him, how to stand on His Word, and how to stand my ground in prayer when it got tough.

Double for Your Trouble Now: I do realize there are many things in life that can happen to us that aren’t so enjoyable. These seasons can make it difficult to grasp the idea of enjoying life. So, think of it this way: What are you hoping for? What are you expecting in life? What are you looking forward to? Focus on these things; not the past. Don’t forget past; learn from it.

I went through a season where my negative outlook was due to my attitude about all the bad things that had happened in my life. I was stuck in the pain of my past, so I didn’t believe anything good could/would happen in my future. With of all of the negative things that had happened, I was programmed to believe that negative things would always happen. As a result, I lost hope. Remember to draw from your past, but don’t let it draw from you.

But, God was there, and He knew that and over time He kept loving me and dealing with me, promising me what Isaiah 61:7 says: Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours (NIV). That’s a promise for us all…a promise of double for your trouble! Double the blessing!

Hope: I want to encourage you to make a decision to cultivate an attitude of hope in your life. Speak positive things about your future and refuse to be negative. You may not always feel hopeful but don’t give in to your feelings. Catering to bad feelings feeds and empowers them. But standing our ground and not giving in to negative feelings starves them and causes them to lose their power over us. By feeding the Spirit, you starve the flesh. Just ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. Line your will up with His and get excited about serving God. Hope releases the power of the Holy Spirit in these times. God is the Source & the Holy Spirit is the Supply of our Hope.

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Hope in Seasons of Adversity

hope_despair

It’s not a matter of if we will face adversity; it’s only a matter of when we will, so the question now becomes what will we do when faced with challenges and trials of life?

How will we be able to maintain our hope when life seems to be falling apart at the seams and instead of breakthroughs all we experience are breakdowns? Who will we turn to and what will we do when faced with impossible situations?

Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:24: “For we are saved through hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for why does a man still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Patience leads to perseverance!

The last thing Satan wants is for us to persevere and that’s why he will do whatever he can to steal our focus as we strive to serve Christ.

I love what Phil Daniels says, “Satan can’t defeat us, but he can hinder us by using: accusations, deception, distraction, and discouragement.”

The very things in our life that the devil tries to use to discourage us or make us think God can’t or won’t ever be able to use us are the very things God will use to bring about restoration and wholeness in our life, when we surrender them to the Lord.

Romans 8:28 promises, … That God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (NLT)

There are times in each of our lives where we are instructed in God’s Word to have faith and to maintain our hope, by simply trusting in God’s will and His timing.

It doesn’t matter what has happened in your past, present, or future; God is bigger than anything we will ever face, but we have to put our hope and faith in Him and then allow His will to unfold in our life.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

F. F. Bruce explains how, “The author of Hebrews first encourages his readers further by reminding them of examples of faith in earlier days. In Old Testament times, he points out, there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet these promises meant so much to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what he had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at his word and directing their lives accordingly.”[1]

This passage of Scripture is the only place in the Bible that clearly defines faith. It describes faith as being an act of both the mind and heart.

Essentially, our heart and mind both believe something and we then have the assurance and conviction that it is true.

So what we put our hope and faith in drives our very being.

I tell you this because many of us are either currently in a season of despair and drought, or the effects of that season still fester like open wounds. Who or what is the ointment that will bring relief?

How can we get back to a place where we put our hope and trust in God while we are in the valley of the shadow of death and how can we restore our fellowship with Him as we wander aimlessly in the desert?

It begins with prayer.  (Great pastor, what are you going to tell me next? Is step two reading the Bible?) Yes, and diet and exercise will make you healthy!

This may sound so basic, but it is!

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Daniel. This book of Scripture came alive to me as I studied it and reading how God acted showed His complete sovereignty and His compassion towards those who put their hope and faith in Him.

In Daniel chapter 6 king Darius had risen to power and his officials, in an attempt to rid themselves of Daniel, came up with a plan to prevent any subject from making any prayer or petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to king Darius. This of course would prevent Daniel from dropping to his knees three times a day in order to pray and give thanks to God.

I don’t know about you, but I want the Lord to be familiar with the sound of my voice, so that every time I pray to God it’s not in some sort of crisis mode.

Praying to God is our lifeline and connection to God and it’s crucial in maintaining our fellowship with Him. Daniel understood this truth and would not let the king’s edict prohibit his dedication to this practice.

As a result, in verse seven we read, Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him.
Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.” Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”
Daniel 6:11-16 (ESV)

Gleason Archer describes the dilemma for Daniel was whether, “he was going to please man or obey God. Daniel had to choose between loyalty to his Lord and obedience to a sinful government commanding him to perform idolatry. So he was willing to risk his life for the Lord, trusting him for deliverance even as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been delivered years before.”[2]

Daniel cast himself on the Lord, in fact in verse ten the word prayed is found only two places in Scripture.

Hebrew word: ‏צְלָה‎

Transliteration: ṣelâ.           Phonetic Pronunciation: tsel-aw’

The word carries the sense of bowing but also means to “limp as if one-sided.”[3] On his own strength, Daniel knew he would not be able to walk the path laid before him and only by casting his burdens on the Lord would his hope remain.

Like the manna from heaven, God will supply exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

He gives us what we need for the step in front of us, which teaches us reliance upon God and trust in His plan.

Remember, some of God’s greatest gifts have been unanswered prayers.

For many of us, we have not because we do not ask. Even as a pastor, when I read Daniel prayed three times a day, I’m like man Daniel sure prayed a lot!

What I want you to know and what I want you to get in the habit of doing to talking to God and not being afraid of asking Him for help. It doesn’t have to be out loud and it doesn’t have to be in front of people, but I promise you as you become readers and doers of the Word and when you begin to commune with God through prayer, you will begin to see breakthroughs in your life.

The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have against the principalities of this dark world, but when we harness prayer with God’s Word, we become more than conquerors.

Jesus in the desert: Matthew 3:13 – 4:11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple

and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

I don’t know exactly what Daniel prayed, but I know I would have been terrified at the prospect on dying in a lion’s den.

One of my favorite parts of this story is how God chose to act by closing the lion’s mouth because it was not likely the prayer Daniel lifted up or sort of help Darius had hoped Daniel would receive.

Having the edict overturned or praying to have the courage to die bravely for the glory of God would have seemed like an answer to prayer, but instead, God miraculously chose to shut the lion’s mouth, which shows God acts in such a way that He will receive the most glory.

The world in which we live is a lion’s den. There are people in our life like the high officials of king Darius who would seek to have us taken out. There are jobs and circumstances of life that make us feel like we are living in captivity like a modern-day Babylon.

But, there is also the God who awaits our prayer and plea for help who can save us from whatever and whomever we face. Victory can be ours when we walk according to the will of God and keep our hope in His plan.

Hope takes the word impossible and allows us to say I’m possible.

Helen Keller, who accomplished much in her life, did so not in spite of her blindness but because of it. When asked what would be worse than being blind, she said having eyesight but no vision.

It can be very easy to allow our flaws or past mistakes in life to snuff out any sense of hope. The moment we think we see light at the end of the tunnel, we fall to our knees in surrender when we find out that light is just another speeding train on an intercept course. Wave after wave of disappointment breaks down our resolve as we struggle to keep our head above water.

When God miraculously shows up, He does so in a way that declares His sovereignty and brings Him the most glory.

Maintaining our hope in season of despair, especially when our previous mountaintop experiences feel like a lifetime away is a skill we must master.

Several years ago, I heard a story that was triggered in my mind, when I was reading about Daniel praying and how that word praying was translated as limping as if being one-sided.

The story involved a family that was involved in a serious automobile accident. The mother and father were in the front seat and their 5-year-old boy was in the back. The mother and father escaped with just minor injuries but their son required immediate surgery. When the surgeon finally emerged, he said he had good news and bad news. The good news was their son was alive, but the bad news was their son’s left arm had to be amputated.

For many of us the thought of losing a limb you certainly test the limits of our hope and for me being an avid runner the thought of not being able to do what I love anymore is hard to imagine.

Despite the adversity and challenges that this boy was now forced to face, he did not let it slow him down. In fact, he became fascinated with martial arts especially Bruce Lee, so much so that he convinced his dad to let him take lessons. The father told the son mastering martial arts was hard enough to do with two arms and that he shouldn’t get his hopes up.

After visiting several dojos, they finally found a sensei willing to teach the boy if he agreed to do two things: 1) Don’t ask any questions and 2) Do exactly what he was told to do. For days, weeks, and months the boy practiced only one move, which became very frustrating because he saw newer students learning different takedowns and combo moves. This was hard for the boy to understand, but he remembered the promise he made to the sensei so he kept practicing.

After a year had passed, the sensei told the boy he was going to be enrolled in an upcoming regional tournament. Surprised, the boy said, “But sensei, I only know one move,” to which the sensei replied, “if you perfect this move you will never need another.” When the tournament finally arrived, he saw the competition and grew very anxious, as did his parents.

To his surprise, he won his early matches and advanced to the semi finals. With each match, the opponents grew larger and more skilled, but he remembered his training and stuck to his one move. He would eventually advance to the finals, which looked like a David vs. Goliath scenario. The boy’s opponent quickly scored some early points in the match after landing some hard blows. Shaken, the boy looked over to his sensei and then to his parents in the stands and he got back up. The next time his opponent launched an attack the young boy did his one move and pinned him, making him the champion of the tournament.

After the match, the young boy couldn’t believe he won and he asked his sensei if the competitors took pity on him because he only had one arm. “No,” the sensei told him. He then went on to tell the young boy that the move he had been practicing for the last year was one of the hardest moves in judo to master and that the only known defense was to grab the opponents left arm, which he did not have.

You see, the greatest weaknesses in our life have the opportunity to become one of your greatest strengths, when we trust the Lord and put our hope in Him. When we do, we only need one move. In the case of Daniel, his one move was prayer because he knew those persevere recognize their limitations, but focus on their strengths. Our strength comes from the Father and the same power that rose Jesus from the dead dwells inside every believer. When we pray, Jesus who is seated at the right hand of God, takes our petitions and intercedes on our behalf.

The word sensei is an interesting word. It means those who came before and each of us has a role to play in the body of Christ, the church. The circumstances of our life and the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of our past allow us to speak life and truth into peoples’ lives that are going through similar trials. The time has come to stop allowing yourself to be defined by the mistakes of your past. The very things or accusations the devil uses to make you think you aren’t good enough or that God could never use you are lies straight from the pit of hell and they are in fact exactly what God wants you to use to minister to other people, so they can find restoration and wholeness and so God will receive the honor and glory He so richly deserves.

[1] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 276.

[2] Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 79.

[3] James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), Under: “6739”.

Confession: Why, if it is so good for the soul, is it so hard?

It is hard to admit to God, to ourselves, and especially to another person the exact nature of our wrongs, but why?

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Christ has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness, but confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church:

(1) If we have sinned against an individual, we must ask him or her to forgive us. Our unforgiveness actually hinders our prayers and God’s forgiving of our own sins!

(2) If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support. Two are stronger than one and a cord of three is not easily broken.

(3) If we doubt God’s forgiveness, after confessing a sin to Him, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer for assurance of God’s pardon. Guilt and shame run deep with sin and often the last phase of the healing process is helping someone else walk through a similar trial, season, and/or circumstance.

In Christ’s Kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers and the Christian’s most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer. While many see prayer as a last resort, only to be tried when all else fails, this approach is completely backwards. Prayer should come first because God’s power is infinitely greater than ours, so it only makes sense to rely on it—especially because God encourages and tells us to do so.

We are as sick as our secrets and keeping our shortcomings, resentments, and sins from God is foolish because for starters, He already knows everything we have done and will do, and secondly because He has already declared us not guilty nor condemned, as soon as we turn to Him in repentance and cast our cares and burdens upon the Lord.

I believe the real issue arises when we are told to confess our sins to each other. Most of us know and still feel the sting of betrayal and constantly see people jockeying for position and capitalizing on the acquisition of information. With broken legs we chase perfection and it becomes a sick and twisted game of, “Do you know what so and so struggles with or did?” People then become defined by their mistakes and as a result, most people show up for church with their Sunday masks on and continue portraying a mere façade of truth and what is actually going on.

When we are able to confess our sins, we will discover the grace and mercy of God. God’s grace is receiving something we do not deserve: salvation & forgiveness, and His mercy is not getting what we do deserve: condemnation & judgment.

Romans 3:23-24 explains, “All have sinned… yet now God declares us not guilty… if we trust in Jesus Christ, who… freely takes away our sins.”

When we can arrive at a place where we have no more guilt and shame from our past wrongs, we are ready to face the truth, and to allow God to ease the pain. While pain is a cruel and effective teacher, our misery in the process is optional, because God replaces our pain with ease for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The last step in finding peace through confession comes by stopping the blame game and instead choosing to trust God. We have gotten very good at rationalizing and justifying certain areas of sin, to the point where we can say, “This ______ sin is for their own or the greater good.” While this may sound crazy at first glance, I promise you the progression from thought to action and from action to stronghold does not take long and it is a depraved and warped process one can easily get themselves wrapped up in.

Our secrets isolate us and leave us vulnerable to attack. This is exactly where the enemy wants us and like a predator seeking to steal, kill, and destroy the weakest of the herd, he lies in wait for the exact opportunity to inflict the most harm, in an effort to take us out.

The key to rejoining the community and fellowship with God is humility and transparency. While we are created in the image of God, we live in a fallen world, one in which we are called to be salt and light. Only when we are comfortable in our own skin, by discussing the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of our past, will we have the opportunity to come alongside those walking through similar situations. Only by offering them love, acceptance, and forgiveness will we be in a place to then comfort those in need and point them to Christ, the perfecter of our faith and the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor.

Lastly, only once we take the plank out of our own eye will we be able to see the world through the lens of the cross and only by maintaining our communion with God will our hearts break for what breaks His. To confess and be forgiven is so freeing, while harboring unforgiveness makes us a prisoner to those we choose not to forgive, much like resentment leads one to drink poison, all the while expecting the other person to die. Instead, we must give it all to God, because His Word promises He will use ALL things for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose and He swears by His own name because there is no name higher!

Theology Themes of Isaiah

Isaiah’s ministry spanned fifty years as he prophesied and addressed the sins of the people during the reign of four different kings. As a messenger of God’s covenant, one of Isaiah’s primary roles was to remind the people what God expected of them. The book has a coherent structure, which can be divided into two parts, but written by one author. The first half, chapters 1-39, focuses on God’s judgment of His people, while the second half, chapters 40-66, focuses on the salvation of God’s people. Another key difference is the first half deals more with the Assyrian crisis while the second half deals with the Babylonian crisis and resulting exile. Despite these calamities, an overarching theme throughout the book of Isaiah is God’s special relationship with the nation of Israel and the unfortunate need of judgment and exile to bring about the future restoration of God’s people.

GOD’S JUDGMENT AND SALVATION OF HIS PEOPLE

Michael Wilkins explains, “The people of Israel understood that God was using them as a people to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah; however, the problem was Israel, as a nation, had failed in its mission and as a result had become a blind and deaf servant”[1] (Isaiah 42:18-25). God can use anyone and anything to accomplish His plan and during the first part of Isaiah, He uses the Assyrian army to confront the people’s sinfulness and bring about judgment and salvation. “Assyria was the rod of Yahweh’s anger and the staff in their hands was His fury” (Isaiah 10:5). In the second half of Isaiah, it would be the Babylon Empire that the Lord would use to pronounce judgment on Israel, but even before the exile took place in 586 B.C., the Lord planned to use Cyrus, the Persian king to allow the people to return home. As J. J. M. Roberts asserts, “Israel’s current predicament was due to the sins of her people (Isaiah 42:24-25). Their plight was well deserved, their coming salvation was due simply to Yahweh’s graciousness, and the appropriate response was to return to Yahweh in trust and confidence”[2] (Isaiah 43:22-44:2). Ultimately, the hope and salvation of Israel would only come through their suffering, judgment, and exile.

RESTORATION AND TRANSFORMATION OF THE CITY OF JERUSALEM

Barry Webb explains, “The transformation of Zion is both the literary link and formal key that helps us understand the message of Isaiah.”[3] In chapter one, Zion, the unfaithful prostitute is reduced, but in chapter two, Zion, Yahweh’s bride is exalted and taken back, following the divorce/exile. This dichotomy is a powerful reminder of God’s grace and the comparison being made is how old Jerusalem was equated with God’s judgment while the New Jerusalem was going to be a place of God’s blessing and a place where God establishes His kingdom forever. Roberts explains, “Isaiah’s transformation of the royal ideology and the Zion tradition became the wellspring from which the later messianic expectations and the hopes for a New Jerusalem [and] the conception of a heavenly Jerusalem and a transhistorical view of salvation that includes even the ultimate victory over death [arose].”[4]

After the purge, John Watts shows, “The important thing about Zion is her reputation as Yahweh’s dwelling. It is Yahweh’s house, the temple, which stands out, because He is present and active there.”[5] This is reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision again, as the glory of the Lord filled the temple. His holiness is overwhelming, as the seraphim are depicted covering their face and feet, calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Watts adds, “Yahweh’s presence in the temple lifts its importance to supremacy and this has nothing to do with Israel or Judah, their kings or leaders. Purely because Yahweh is there, Zion attracts the other nations.”[6] Then the imagery of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is profound. Here, Geoffrey Grogan explains, “The issues that set nations against one another do not disappear automatically but are settled by the supreme Judge, whose decisions are accepted. Thus there is no uneasy calm but peace based on righteousness.”[7]

The coming kingdom of God and the future restoration of Israel are dominant themes. Gary Yates states, “God is going to bring the people back to their homeland; there is going to be the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty, through the Messiah; the temple will be rebuilt; and as the nations see how God blesses Israel, they will come to the Promise Land to worship God.”[8] Sin still had consequences, so as the children of Israel return home from the Babylonian exile, they find themselves impoverished and living under foreign oppression. It is here, Yates asserts, “If the return from exile is all there is, then Isaiah’s prophecies and promises are a disappointment at best and they are an outright failure at worst.”[9] Ultimately, the full restoration will not occur until they have fully returned to the Lord (Isaiah 56:1-7). The new heavens and new earth referenced in Isaiah 65 and the New Testament, (Hebrews 12:22-24) says the blessings and presence of God are being enjoyed now, but in the future there will come a time where God completely reverses the effects of the fall. This means death, violence, and wickedness will be replaced with life, love, and harmony and Isaiah recognized, as he looked to the future kingdom, some of these promises and blessings are being enjoyed now, but some are still yet to come.

LORD AS KING AND HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL

Roberts states, “If there is any one concept central to the whole book of Isaiah, it is the vision of Yahweh as the Holy One of Israel [and] Isaiah’s vision… left a lasting impression on the prophet’s ministry.”[10] Isaiah’s vision in chapter six is profound as the glory of the Lord filled the temple and this encounter would shape his entire ministry and message. Isaiah desperately wanted the nation of Israel to have a similar experience and encounter, so that they too would find themselves undone by their sinful lives.

Unfortunately, Israel had to learn the hard way, despite God’s sincere desire to enter into a relationship with His people. Instead of pouring out blessings, as a result of righteous behavior, the Lord would use the exile to purge all the unholy traits from the people. God is the one the people should have put their trust in exclusively, but the people, instead, chose to rely on political and military alliances for protection. The main issue throughout Isaiah was Israel’s failure to deal with its own spiritual apostasy and no alliance made with any other nation could protect them from the Lord’s wrath. The holiness of the Lord demanded a proper response from His children, but as Roberts explains, “If Israel refused to look to Yahweh, to trust in the quiet waters of Shiloah, God would send the raging waters of Assyria against them to reveal the vanity of their trust in human power”[11] (Isaiah 8:5-8).

LORD OVER ALL NATIONS

Roberts further illustrates how, “Before Yahweh would fight for Zion; He would fight against her (Isaiah 31:4-5). Jerusalem would be humbled and humiliated, but in the hour of her desperation, when Yahweh had cleansed her in the fiery judgment, God would intervene to save her from her arrogant enemies (Isaiah 31:4-5). Then Jerusalem would be exalted and glorified.”[12] While God used Assyria and Babylon as tools to purge Judah and Israel of sin, the very nations used by God would face judgment themselves because they failed to recognize Yahweh as Lord over all. When reading Isaiah 45, part of which focused on the fact that God is the one who “Forms light and creates darkness, the one who makes peace and creates calamity. I am the One who does these things.” This portion of Scripture is amazing, especially considering most people do not normally think that God has anything to do with the darkness. In fact, most people define darkness as the absence of light, so Isaiah is making a profound assertion here that God declares that He is even in the dark chaos of the world, and for this reason, followers can have peace, even in the darkness, because He is Lord over all. John Oswalt explains, “What Isaiah asserts is that God, as creator, is ultimately responsible for everything in nature, from light to dark, and for everything in history, from good fortune to misfortune. No other beings or forces are responsible for anything.”[13] Even in darkness and chaos, God is with every true follower, and the darkness will eventually give way to the light of day. “For the light has shone already into the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5).

FUTURE MESSIAH AND SUFFERING SERVANT

Instead of leading the people of other nations to Yahweh, the people of Israel often did the exact opposite by worshipping the false gods of other nations. In the midst of this apostasy, Isaiah promises that God would provide a solution to the problem, which was the raising up of an individual Servant who would restore the national servant, the nation of Israel. Richard Averbeck explains, “The Lord’s concern for the nations, not just Israel, is declared in the larger context in Isaiah 49:6-7; 56:6-7 and now the same sacrificial redemption and restoration applies to them as well.”[14] This means the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 brought redemption and restoration, as Averbeck says, “To the Jew first, but also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Roberts further explains, “The plan of salvation, centered in the vicarious death of Jesus Christ is dependent on [Second] Isaiah’s portrayal of the Suffering Servant, and the NT emphasis on the receptions of that salvation through faith picks up and continues the Isaianic demand for faith.”[15]

In light of the entire canon of Scripture, God still has a plan for the nation of Israel and while they were spiritually blind to the Suffering Servant’s arrival, Isaiah 61:1-3 indicates the first coming of Jesus began the restoration of Israel and the second coming will finish it. Jesus quoted these words in Luke 4:18-19 and as He read to the people in the synagogue, He stopped in the middle of 61:2 after the words, “The time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Rolling up the scroll, He said, “The Scripture you have just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21). While the world is now under God’s favor; His wrath is yet to come.[16] Robert Hughes and J. Carl Laney explain how Isaiah 61:1, “Revealed that the Messiah, who ministered salvation at His first coming, will also minister comfort for redeemed Israel at His second coming.”[17] By His death and resurrection, Jesus instituted and inaugurated a new phase of God’s kingdom, some of which is now, and some of which is still to come, when Christ returns.

CONCLUSION

While this student does not agree with Roger’s conclusion on the matter of multiple authors of Isaiah, nonetheless, Rogers does offer considerable insight on the overarching themes in the book that bears his name. Upon reading Isaiah, there is no denying the special relationship God had and still has with His children, but while they were supposed to be a light and witness for God, they fell victim to greed and apostasy. God wanted the best for them, yet the nations of Judah and Israel chose to find their own versions of “God’s best” outside of God’s will. As a parent punishes a child, Yahweh too is forced to pronounce judgment before He is able to provide salvation. This salvation ultimately finds its initial fulfillment in the arrival of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, but even then, as Isaiah prophesied, “He would be despised and rejected by man” (Isaiah 53:3). The words written by the eighth century prophet are just as relevant today and much can be applied to nations, like America, by heeding what was revealed in the woe oracles against foreign nations. These declarations can directly be traced back to the Abrahamic Covenant, which God made with man and are unconditional promises by God. Christ is coming back, a future kingdom will be established forever, and the Lord will rule over all, as every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10). In addition to Isaiah having multiple dominant themes, it also is the only Old Testament book to predict the virgin birth of Christ (7:14), the ministry of John the Baptist (40:3-5), and contains one the Old Testament’s clearest statements on the Trinity (48:16). Next to Deuteronomy, Isaiah presents the most detailed information on the person and work of God and also the Messiah’s role as both sacrificial lamb and ruling lion. Christ was obedient and empowered by the Father and He will return one day as the anointed one of the Lord and victorious warrior (63:1-6). 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Isaiah, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

LaSor, William S., David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988.

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

________. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Roberts, J. J. M. “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology.” Interpretation 36, no. 2 (April 1982): 130-143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

Watts, John D. W. Isaiah 1-33. Word Biblical Commentary, Old Testament. Volume 24 “Act I: Like a Booth in the Vineyard, Chapters 1-6, Scene 1: In the Hall of the King of Heaven and Earth (Isaiah 1:2-2:4), Episode C: The Mountain of Yahweh’s House,” Edited by David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Isaiah and the Future Kingdom.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 12:49, (accessed August 22, 2017).

[1] Michael J. Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 109-110.

[2] J. J. M. Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” Interpretation 36, no. 2 (April 1982): 135-136. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

[3] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 42-46.

[4] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 143.

[5] John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, Old Testament, Volume 24 “Act I: Like a Booth in the Vineyard, Chapters 1-6, Scene 1: In the Hall of the King of Heaven and Earth (Isaiah 1:2-2:4), Episode C: The Mountain of Yahweh’s House,” eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 27.

[6] Watts, Isaiah 1-33, 27.

[7] Geoffrey W. Grogan, Isaiah, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 35.

[8] Gary Yates, “Isaiah and the Future Kingdom,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 12:49, (accessed August 22, 2017).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 131.

[11] Ibid., 133.

[12] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 137.

[13] John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 203.

[14] Richard E. Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 60.

[15] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 143.

[16] Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 1187.

[17] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 268.

 

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 Book Analysis & Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology

Mitch Glaser and Darrell Bock team up with nine other top scholars in their respective fields of study to examine and present a variety of ways in which Isaiah 53 has been and should be interpreted by both Jews and Christians, and also how to appropriately use this essential chapter of Scripture today in preaching, teaching, and evangelistic occasions. Glaser, President of Chosen People Ministries asserts, “The Bible is the inspired Word of God and Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel – and the simple message of His death and resurrection has the power to transform the lives of both Jews and Gentiles.”[1] Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary[2] also contributes considerable insight on Isaiah 53’s use in Luke’s accounts, to show that, “His death was a ransom for sin, [which] connects Jesus to all of us, potentially and actually.”[3] This book analysis is written in light of the entire text, but will focus primarily on chapters one, three, and four through six, which reveal how Isaiah 53 was essentially, “God pulling aside the curtain of time to let the people of Isaiah’s day look ahead to the suffering of the future Messiah and the resulting forgiveness made available to all people.”[4] The main objective of this analysis will detail the relationship between the Messiah and the Servant presented in Isaiah, and in the New Testament, and will also examine several key passages and their interpretive issues.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MESSIAH AND THE SERVANT IN ISAIAH

Two of the key questions Michael Wilkins poses are: “Did Jesus see Himself as the prophesied servant in Isaiah 53 and how did the early church understand Jesus’ life and ministry in the light of Isaiah’s prophecy?”[5] After the baptism and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, He returns to His hometown of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, where He reads Isaiah 61 from the scroll and declares, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20b). This act would be the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, yet even in His hometown, the people drove Him out and went as far as trying to throw Him down a cliff. It should be no surprise that some people today struggle with identifying Jesus as the Messiah when even His own disciples did not understand when He spoke of His own death and resurrection. Part of the confusion is rooted in the enigma of the corporate and individual servant spoken of throughout the book of Isaiah. Wilkins explains, “The people of Israel understood that God was using them as a people to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah, yet the prophecies of the servant vary in that some allude to a corporate entity, and some allude to a single individual.”[6] In Isaiah 41:8, Israel as a nation is clearly in mind as being the servant of the Lord because God had given them a place of honor and esteem so that they might be a witness to the other nations of God’s blessing. Gary Yates explains, “In the Mosaic Law, God told them that they would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In other words, they would mediate God’s presence and blessings to all the nations on the earth.”[7] However, the problem was that Israel, as a nation, had failed in its mission and as a result had become a blind and deaf servant (Isaiah 42:18-25). As John Oswalt demonstrates, “Verse 7 said that the Servant of the Lord would lead the blind and imprisoned out into the light, [so Oswalt rightly asserts] that this Servant could not be the nation Israel, even though in other places (Isaiah 41:8; 43:10) the nation is clearly identified as the servant of the Lord.”[8] Instead of leading the people of other nations to Yahweh, the people of Israel often did the exact opposite by worshipping the false gods of other nations. In the midst of this apostasy, Isaiah promises that God would provide a solution to the problem, which was the raising up of an individual Servant who would restore the national/corporate servant. Another example of this individual and corporate servant paradigm is found in Isaiah 49:3, which first depicts Israel as the servant, but then in verse six, the Servant is an individual who has a ministry to Israel. It is this individual Servant who is going to be the one who restores the national servant.

KEY PASSAGES AND INTERPRETIVE ISSUES

As Christians, it can be very easy to read chapters of Scripture like Isaiah 53 and immediately identify the Servant of the Lord or the Suffering Servant as being Jesus Christ. However, this is problematic, especially when looking at the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In this passage, the Servant is rejected and dies for the sins of others and Yates reveals how this action highlights four differences: (1) Israel suffers for its own sin, while the individual Servant suffers for the sins of others; (2) Israel fails in its mission, as a blind and deaf servant, but the individual Servant fulfills His mission faithfully and in spite of intense persecution; (3) Israel suffers at the hands of the surrounding nations, yet the individual Servant suffers at the hands of His own people; and (4) Israel complains in its own suffering that God has abandoned and rejected her, but the individual Servant trusts God completely and suffers without ever complaining.[9]

One of the ongoing debates Richard Averbeck discusses is the suffering, sacrifice, and atonement presented in Isaiah 53:10. The main question contested is if Isaiah had in mind a vicarious, sacrificial substitution to make atonement for sin, but what Averbeck says with certainty is, “The main historical issue being dealt with was the restoration of Israel to its land and to its function as God’s servant.”[10] This conclusion fits both a prophetic perspective as well as a real-time context, such as the Babylonian captivity. Averbeck also provides clear insight on the context of ‏אָשָׁם or ʾāšām to mean guilt offering and concludes, “From Isaiah’s point of view, the suffering of the Isaiah 53 Servant was as essential to the restoration of the exiled people back to their Promised Land as the guilt offering was for the restoration of the skin-diseased person to the community.”[11] The shift in third person to first person references is another valuable contribution Averbeck highlights, in addition to the prophet who wrote this adding himself among the “we, us, our” audience. This further advances the argument that Isaiah was not the suffering servant, since as Averbeck shows, “The writer is a recipient of the Suffering Servant’s ministry and is not to be identified as the Servant Himself.”[12]

PORTRAYAL OF SERVANT IN ISAIAH AND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Upon addressing both the corporate and individual identity of the servant, Wilkins addresses the paradox of “How could this passive, sheep-like individual be the mighty arm of the Lord (cf. Isa. 51:9; 53:1) that Israel understood herself to be as God’s servant in His plan of salvation and how could He be exalted and yet despised?”[13] Matthew’s perspective on Jesus as the servant in Isaiah 53 is quite profound, and Wilkins shows how he divides Jesus’ ministry into five clear stages: Jesus’s Infancy – Divine Nazarene, Jesus’ Baptism – Righteous Son, Jesus’ Earthly Ministry – Healing Servant, Jesus’ Passion Ministry – Blood Ransom, and Jesus’ Burial and Resurrection – Transforming Master.[14] Ultimately, the Son of Man came to serve and not be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In this passage, R. T. France explains, “Jesus’ belief that He ‘must’ suffer and die may be attributed most plausibly to that OT background, and here the language brings us significantly closer to Isaiah 53. It would be hard to compose a better brief summary of the central thrust of Isaiah 53 than ‘to give His life as a ransom in place of many.’”[15] Mark 10:45 is identical to Matthew’s account and William Lane shows how, “The specific thought underlying the reference to the ransom is expressed in Isaiah 53:10 which speaks of ‘making His life an offering for sin. Jesus, as the Messianic Servant, offers Himself as a guilt offering (Lev. 5:14-6:7; 7:1-7; Num. 5:5-8) in compensation for the sins of the people.”[16] These passages back up Wilkins’ findings that, “The early church applied to Jesus the prophecies of Isaiah 53, in an attempt to understand His crucifixion and death [and] Jesus’ own understanding of His mission and death in the light of Isaiah 53 was clearly the root of the early church’s understanding.”[17]

While the New Testament quotes or alludes to Isaiah 53 more than a dozen times, Darrell Bock offers considerable insight into one of the most revealing occurrences in Acts 8:26-40 as Philip is directed by the Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch who was traveling on the Jerusalem-to-Gaza road. During this encounter, the eunuch asks Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about Himself or about someone else?” Here, F. F. Bruce illuminates that, “During a time when not one line of any New Testament document had been written, what Scripture could any evangelist have used more fittingly as a starting point for presenting the story of Jesus to one who did not know Him? It was Jesus, and no other, who offered up His life as a sacrifice for sin, and justified many by bearing their iniquities, as the obedient Servant.”[18] As Bock demonstrates by the eunuch’s actions, there is much that can be learned and gained, but most importantly is how, “[Jesus was] unjustly humiliated and He took our place so we can experience cleansing and new life with God, something God showed that Jesus had done by raising Jesus from the dead and taking Jesus to His side in heaven.”[19] This passage of Scripture beautifully contrasts Jesus’s silent humiliation and unjust crucifixion with God’s vindication and resurrection of the suffering Servant, which Bock concludes, “Was actually part of God’s divine work to pay a price, even for those who had rejected Him.”[20]

Craig Evans then offers substantial insight on the theologies of Peter, Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews. Between these epistles, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is quoted or alluded to nearly twenty times. Evan’s section on Hebrews seemed the most insightful, considering this sermon/homily was most likely written to a group of Jewish Christians who were considering going back to Judaism. In Hebrews 9:26, Evans states, “The death of Jesus constitutes a sacrifice on behalf of humanity that need never be repeated, and as heavenly High Priest, who mediates the new covenant, the benefits that Jesus bestows on humanity only continues to grow.”[21] Interacting with the theologies of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John demonstrates the suffering and death further proves Jesus was the Messiah, and that all the prophecies are fulfilled in Scripture. Evans closes this section by illuminating, “What is especially intriguing is that the famous Suffering Servant hymn apparently lay at the heart of an evangelism and apologetic primarily intended for the synagogue.”[22] Ironically, it would be the synagogues that would be visited by Jesus, the disciples, and the apostle Paul to spread the life-saving gospel message.

CONCLUSION

The message of Isaiah 53, when illuminated by the rest of Scripture, reveals that the promised Messiah, the suffering Servant is one and the same individual. Only Jesus Christ fulfills both of these roles as He rules and reigns forever, as a result of His perfect faith and trust in God and His suffering and ultimate sacrifice, which saved His people and became a ransom for many. The idea of the Servant of the Lord is indeed a complex idea because in Isaiah this entity is depicted as both the nation of Israel and as an individual Servant who suffers and dies to restore God’s people. After Israel’s failure to be a light to the other nations, they became a blind and deaf servant, but the individual suffering Servant, the Messiah, arose out of this corporate failure and was empowered by God and attains great victories in the power of the Lord and has made a way, as Bock describes, to, “Clear the way to remove guilt and defilement and provide the gift of life through the Spirit of God by removing the obstacle that sin generates between people and God. [However,] the application of that removal requires that we accept the gift of God’s work through Jesus, asking that His forgiveness be applied specifically to us.”[23]

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is well suited for anyone interested in discovering and viewing the Suffering Servant’s identity and role through the individual lenses of the Old and New Testament and then through the combined lens of all Scripture. This scholarly work should stand the test of time and have great impact amongst both the Jewish and Christian community.

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. By Richard E. Averbeck, Michael L. Brown, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Michael J. Wilkins, Darrell L. Bock, Craig A. Evans, David L. Allen, Robert B. Chisholm Jr., John S. Feinberg, Mitch Glaser, and Donald R. Sunukjian. Edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, 334 pp. $27.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

Dallas Theological Seminary Website. “Darrell L. Bock.” http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock/ (accessed August 11, 2017).

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Glaser, Mitch. “President’s Introduction.” Chosen People Website. https://www.chosenpeople.com/site/our-mission/presidents-introduction/ (accessed, August 11, 2017).

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Lane, William L. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.

LaSor, William S., David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988.

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

________. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:26, (accessed August 14, 2017).

[1] Mitch Glaser, “President’s Introduction,” Chosen People Website, https://www.chosenpeople.com/site/our-mission/presidents-introduction/ (accessed, August 11, 2017).

[2] Dallas Theological Seminary Website, “Darrell L. Bock,” http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock/ (accessed August 11, 2017).

[3] Darrell L. Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 143.

[4] Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 1176.

[5] Michael J. Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 109.

[6] Ibid., 110.

[7] Gary Yates, “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:26, (accessed August 14, 2017).

[8] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 130.

[9] Yates, “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah.”

[10] Richard E. Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 53.

[11] Ibid., 59.

[12] Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” 60.

[13] Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” 111.

[14] Ibid., 115.

[15] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 761.

[16] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 383.

[17] Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” 131.

[18] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 176.

[19] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 144.

[20] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 143.

[21] Craig A. Evans, “Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 162.

[22] Ibid., 170.

[23] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 143.

Hezekiah’s Response to Death & Threat of Assyrian Siege Warfare: Isaiah 38:1-22

God is faithful

It is amazing the vast difference that exists between two people, when one of them puts their hope, faith, and trust in God and the other one wants nothing to do with the Lord. This was the scenario played out in the book of Isaiah as King Ahaz did not have a relationship with the Lord, therefore, he did not trust Him. As a result, when Israel formed an alliance with Syria to attack Judah, king Ahaz decided to place his trust in man (the king of Assyria) and military alliances and while it may have spared Judah from the immediate threat of attack, it would ultimately invite disaster upon Judah in the future. However, his son, king Hezekiah did have a good relationship with the Lord and he was used mightily by God to bring protection and blessing on the kingdom of Judah. In Isaiah 38:1-22, we find ourselves in the middle of Hezekiah’s narrative. Prior to this chapter, the nation of Assyria who had made an alliance with king Ahaz was now attacking Judah, the very nation they vowed to protect, so it seems the sins of the father were attempting to visit the son, but king Hezekiah did not do what his father would have done. Instead of turning to man or alliances in the presence of danger, he turned to God in faith and prayer, despite the immense fear he and his people were experiencing, especially at the prospect of siege warfare, which could last for months or even years. In a letter, the Assyrians demanded the complete and unconditional surrender of the city of Jerusalem, so Hezekiah takes this letter before God and asks the Lord to deliver them. As a result of this faith and prayer, the Lord instructs Isaiah to go before Hezekiah to deliver a “fear not” message and that God would give Hezekiah a sign that his message was received loud and clear and that the Lord had the situation under control. That evening, the angel of the Lord swept throughout Sennacherib’s encampment killing 180,000 soldiers without a single arrow being fired into the city of Jerusalem.

Understanding how and why the narratives of king Ahaz and king Hezekiah compare and contrast each other is very important to understanding the overall message of the book of Isaiah. On the heels of Judah’s miraculous deliverance in chapter 37, chapter 38 presents Hezekiah with a fatal illness and the Lord instructs Isaiah in v. 1 to go and tell Hezekiah he better get his affairs in order “for you shall die, you shall not recover, thus says the LORD” (Isaiah 38:1).

***I do not know about you, but I would be thinking, “Well dang! I thought we really had something good going here God. Am I missing something or did I do something wrong?”***

EXPLANATION OF PASSAGE

After king Hezekiah receives this word from the Lord, his reaction reveals his true character. See, Hezekiah was an honorable man, he was determined to do good in the eyes of the Lord, he followed, trusted, and obeyed the Lord and because of that, the Lord blessed and honored Him in return. In our trials or dire circumstances, character is developed and God uses these tests to teach us patience, endurance, and faith. In fact, trials not only teach character; they also reveal it. With Ahaz and Hezekiah, their decisions and outcomes either revealed a close relationship with God, or a lack of one. The key difference between Ahaz and Hezekiah was when disaster struck, Ahaz put his faith in man and brought judgment and destruction on Judah, but Hezekiah put his trust in God and brought salvation and deliverance to Judah.

***Question: “How can these two men who were father and son be so different?”***

***Answer: “Their response to the crisis was rooted in the type of person they were before it.***

It is impossible to trust God when you do not have a relationship with Him, but Hezekiah did, so lets look at how he would respond to this sudden diagnosis of impending death. The first thing he does is pray and in this prayer he reminds the Lord of three things: his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous behavior. Being the son of Ahaz, who was one of the wickedest kings, going as far to even offer his own son, as a sacrifice to false gods seems to demonstrate just how far Hezekiah had fallen from the proverbial tree. Our relationship with God provides us with a stable foundation to believe in His promises, especially during difficult seasons. Barry Webb explains, “This serious illness Hezekiah faced was the crisis behind the crisis, which brings each of us face to face with our own mortality, and can put our trust in God on a razor’s edge.”[1] After praying, Hezekiah wept bitterly, submitting his life to God’s will and the Lord answers his prayer immediately, sending Isaiah with a second message that promised two things: God would heal him and add fifteen years to his life and God would deliver him and Jerusalem from Assyria, for God’s honor and David’s sake. John Oswalt believes Hezekiah’s recovery, “Was not merely because God has changed his mind but because of his willingness to keep faith with those to whom he has committed himself in the past. There is no limit to the effect of a faithful life. Although the sins of a person may affect future generations, the results of a person’s faithfulness will reach to a thousand generations.”[2] It is through our prayers, God says He will deliver us and since God never changes, much can be learned about His nature from Scripture.

It is interesting to note here that the Lord would offer a sign, in much the same way He did for king Ahaz, but Ahaz would refuse the Lord’s sign when one was offered because he did not have a relationship with God. However, to ensure Hezekiah of his healing, the Lord would move the shadow back ten degrees on the sundial (2 Kings 20:8). While there is some debate as to whether Hezekiah’s healing predates the attack of Assyria in chapter 37, what is assured is no king of Assyria would ever capture Jerusalem.

APPLICATION AND THEOLOGICAL ISSUES

Just as Hezekiah and Ahaz both received “fear not” messages, the same promises found in God’s Word applies to the church today. Later in Isaiah, (Isaiah 41:10, 14; 43:1-7) the prophet speaks of a future exile coming, but even in spite of what that would mean, God promised to watch over His children, to rescue them, and to bring them home. As followers of Christ, we need to know how we are going to respond to the “fear not” circumstances and trials of our life. Are we going to put our hope, faith, and trust in man, or will we be like Hezekiah and trust in God’s promises.

***The driving question: “How do we respond when God says ‘Fear not?’”

***Our answer will reveal if the Lord is truly our all-in-all and ever present help in time of need.

John 16:33: “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”

When Hezekiah was on his deathbed, he had become depressed because it felt as though his very life was being robbed from him. Upon this realization, he began to contemplate never again being able to worship the Lord or enjoy fellowship with others. In vv. 10-13, he says he feels like a tent being taken down or a piece of cloth being cut away. He was broken in both body and spirit and in constant pain from what some scholars believe to be an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Despite his condition, he cried out to the Lord in speech and tears and he made a renewed commitment to the Lord (Matthew 23:12; Isaiah 57:15). This renewed commitment pledged to walk humbly before the Lord, to declare His healing power, to acknowledge the love of the Lord, to praise the Lord, to hope in God’s faithfulness, and to worship faithfully in the house of the Lord. These pledges and traits are what God calls each of His children to do. Our humility compels God to give life to His children, our praise and thanksgiving in the midst of trials and circumstances allows us to grow in our suffering, and our strong witness about the Lord, even in the face of death proclaims God’s faithfulness and salvation. One of the best sayings I have heard is, “Complain and you will remain, but praise and you will be raised.” As Hezekiah came to realize the miraculous work God had done in his life, he knew words could never convey his sincerest gratitude for his deliverance and Geoffrey Grogan beautifully explains, “In God, word and deed always perfectly correspond. The king has learned humility from this experience, for through it he has come to recognize that another controls the course of his life and the day of his death.”[3]
As a result of his healing, Hezekiah is moved to worship the Lord in the temple. If this account truly happened before the attack by the Assyrians, it is easy to see how much bolder he was in his prayer and petition before the Lord with the letter from the enemy demanding the complete surrender of Jerusalem. This story is reminiscent of 2 Kings 13:18 where Elisha instructs king Joash to hit the ground with his arrows, but he stops after only hitting the ground three times. Our finite understanding has a tendency to limit our thoughts and actions and this essentially puts God in a box.

***The question we must each ask ourselves is if we are going to allow our circumstances to define us, as we tell God how big our problems are, or are we going to begin telling our problems just how big our God is and that our ultimate prayer is that His will be done?***

ILLUSTRATIONS

Five years ago, I was involved in a very serious accident that nearly took my life. I was on a long-distance cycle ride and a pickup truck hit me from behind going 65mph. I broke five discs in my neck and four in my lower back. The impact separated my shoulder and rendered me unconscious. That moment in time would shape the rest of my life and it is no coincidence that was the very day I became a pastor. It was almost as if the devil was trying to take me out before I could begin my ministry. It would take over five reconstructive surgeries to put me back together again, but throughout the journey to where I find myself today, I remained faithful to the Lord, I witnessed to countless doctors, nurses, techs, and anyone else who would listen to the miracle God was doing in my life. Sure, I had to deal with constant intense pain and depression tried to overtake me as my plans to enter the military were robbed, but God had something better in store for me because I stayed humble and submitted my life to His complete will. In less than a month, I will graduate with my M.Div. and will be going into the Army as a chaplain, which is beyond what I could ever dream of. Through my suffering, God used me to touch countless lives and through my restoration, He has provided hope for many people walking a similar road to recovery. Last year, I ran over 1,300 miles, which is something the doctors said I would never be able to do again. God’s omnipotence and omniscience allows Him to heal us and know everything we need and are feeling. In some cases, God will choose to miraculously heal us, while in cases like mine; He gave me the strength to endure all the medical procedures. In the end, He receives the glory either way and even my suffering has brought me closer to the Lord and a day never goes by that I do not praise Him for the work He has done and is continuing to do in my life.

CONCLUSION

The power of prayer has no limits because there is no limit to God’s power. When we are at our weakest, the Lord is at His strongest and He is close to the brokenhearted. He calls each of us to cast our cares on Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In all of our petitions, we must remain humble, faithful, and maintain an attitude of praise. God will always provide exactly what we need when we need it. In the bad, we must learn to praise and in the good, we must not forget to praise. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and because of his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous and humble behavior, God was compelled to act. In our deepest depths of despair, Webb explains, “Such lessons are priceless, but often it is only by looking back, as Hezekiah does in the end of this chapter, that we can see how suffering has been the means God has used to teach them to us (Hebrews 12:11; Romans 8:28).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Trusting Man vs. Trusting God: Ahaz and Hezekiah.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Five Video Presentation, 10:44, (accessed August 4, 2017).

[1] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 154.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 677.

[3] Geoffrey W. Grogan, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 237.

 

Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews: Book Review

Four Views of Warning Passages in Hebrews

INTRODUCTION

Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews is the culmination of a collection of papers presented to the Hebrews Study Group during the fifty-sixth annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society during November 17-19, 2004. While the denominational orientations of the members are diverse, the group holds to two doctrinal beliefs: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs, and God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”[1] Each of the four New Testament scholars present and defend their exegetical presentations and then critique the view of their fellow contributors. Herbert Bateman asserts, “The purpose of Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews seeks to expose existing tensions and provide various ways in which four scholars with differing theological grids interpret them in the literary and historical context of Hebrews…[And] forces us to address the issue of assurance and the doctrine of eternal security.”[2] The purpose of this book critique will first be to evaluate the main arguments presented, by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses found in each view/approach. Second, one view will recognized as the best explanation, with details as to why it is the best choice. Lastly, an assessment of the book’s overall contribution to the field of study will be presented.

SUMMARY OF CONTENT AND MAIN ARGUMENTS

The book of Hebrews reads much more like an exhortation or sermon/homily, rather than as a typical New Testament letter. It seems the recipients were facing a crisis of faith and were considering going back to Judaism and abandoning their Christian beliefs. This would mean the original recipients were most likely Jewish Roman Christians, who had an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. The book is also written as a word of encouragement for the recipients to maintain their faith in Christ. God inspired the author to not only encourage, but also to confront the people and warn them of the danger they faced if they remained immature in faith and the judgment that would result if they did not turn back to Christ. By reminding the recipients of the character and nature of Jesus, the writer/speaker encourages them to stand firm in their faith. Bateman believes, “Hebrews 5:11-6:12 is the heart of the author’s concern. Yet together the five warning messages[3] are all emotive exhortations to believers to persevere and believe, rather than distrust and disobey… The wilderness community serves as a reminder that God, in a previous era, punished those who distrusted and disobeyed Him and His messengers.”[4]

Grant Osborne maintains a Classical Arminian view, and immediately explains the six hundred year debate that has been going on, despite the agreement on the meaning of depravity: “For the Calvinist there is no hope until God sovereignly acts and on the basis of His mysterious will elects some to salvation and then overwhelms them with His irresistible grace so that they choose Christ. [However,] for the Arminian, God still acts sovereignly but He sends His Spirit Who convicts every person and overcomes their total depravity so that they make a choice.”[5] The warning passages are a key component of this debate and the audience’s apostasy is one of the few things agreed upon. Osborne asserts, “Faith is a passive surrender to God who saves us, and an opening up of ourselves to God, who works salvation in us. But it is still a free choice. This freedom then passes over into the life of sanctification.” Osborne identifies Hebrews 6 as a hinge point in his argument. The apostasy being addressed to the Roman converts was a real danger, as Osborne maintains when true believers commit an unpardonable sin, there is no possibility of repentance, but only of eternal judgment.[6] Osborne comes to this realization from an understanding of the parallel participles in Hebrew 6:4-6 to mean that true believers have fallen away and he asserts any translation that renders this passage as “if they fall away” is in error.[7]

Buist Fanning’s view on Hebrews is best classified as Classical Reformed and he believes, “It is, strictly speaking, not man but God who perseveres, [which] may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.”[8] Fanning identifies the book’s enigmatic character as the one thing almost everyone can agree on. He prefers to use a synthetic approach when approaching the warning passages in Hebrews, while also considering the interpretation of four or five elements or themes that they all have in common.[9] Rooted in this approach, Fanning addresses: the description of those who fall away, the nature of this fall, the consequences of the fall, the desired positive response, and encouragement to the audience about God’s faithfulness.[10] Fanning concludes, “The warnings in Hebrews about falling away and the exhortations to endure are intended to urge the readers to maintain faith in Christ’s high priestly work, not to provoke fear that they may lose their standing with, nor primarily to test the genuineness of their faith.”[11] This essentially communicates those in jeopardy of not possessing salvation never had it in the first place, meaning they were never actually true believers.

Gareth Lee Cockerill maintains a Wesleyan Arminian view and he emphasizes these, “Passages are difficult, not just because they teach that it is possible to fall away from Christ, but also because they appear to teach a falling away from which there is no return, [making these passages] not only a problem for Calvinists, but also for Wesleyans and other Christians.”[12] Cockerill and Osborne both assert it is possible, because of apostasy; to be eternally lost once being saved, but Cockerill emphasizes, “[The] writer of Hebrews is not speaking of salvation from God’s point of view, for only God knows which of the recipients of Hebrews are true believers.”[13] Cockerill also touches on the pastoral implications of the warning passages saying, “The author’s parallel encouragement continues to do for modern Christians what they did for the first hearers of this message, the warnings were not given to generate worry, but to raise concern lest one might fall, the severity of the warnings rests on the greatness of the salvation Christ brought, and they show people are either moving toward God or away from God.”[14] The last point was very insightful because the tendency is to view people as either being in or out of the kingdom of God. As Cockerill concludes, the main emphasis for pastors should not just be whether or not someone has made a decision for Christ; the focus should be on the direction of their lives. This last statement could be misconstrued; really, the focus should be on both.

Randall Gleason holds a Moderate Reformed View and points out the warnings in Hebrews has lacked consensus since the days of the early church.[15] The foundation of Gleason’s interpretation of the warning passages is rooted in Jewish history and context, and he views falling away as much more than simply acting unfaithfully. This unfaithfulness to God parallels the Israelite’s time in the wilderness where an eleven-day journey took forty years because of their attitude and lack of faith in God. By linking the spiritual condition of the intended audience to the sinful nature of the Exodus generation, Gleason presents compelling similarities in the circumstances and the judgment that would follow if the people did not turn back to Christ. Gleason concludes by asserting, “The purpose of Hebrews was to strengthen, encourage, and exhort the members of a persecuted Christian community to hold firmly to their confession of Jesus Christ rather than seek security in the old rituals of Judaism.”[16] This desire to go back to the old ways is associated with the acrostic for Ur, meaning going back to one’s usual routine.

George Guthrie offers a wonderful conclusion to this book and his beliefs closely resemble those of Buist Fanning, so he would be classified as Classical Reformed in his views on Hebrew’s warning passages. Guthrie illuminates, “The manner in which this scholarly dialogue has been conducted represents an irenic, evangelical Christianity that at once aspires to the clarification of truth and the fostering of Christian community – two goals often treated as being unrelated.”[17] Any endeavor in exegesis and hermeneutics should seek to reveal what is contained in Scripture; not what one wants to be there. By seeking to understand what Scripture truly reveals, the interpreter will have the greatest opportunity to communicate the truths of God.

ANALYSIS AND CRITIQUE OF VIEWS

It is amazing how one’s preunderstanding and preconceived notions warp the mind and limit the ability to see God’s truth fully illuminated. Each of the authors are leaders in their respective schools of theology and have contributed much to the advancement of applying God’s Word in the lives of believers today. The way this book is formatted and setup allows it to be read much like a debate with opposing views, by the other three authors, at the conclusion of each chapter. Each author is given ample space ranging from seventy-five to one hundred pages to assert their beliefs and most responses are around twenty pages. The debate seems to revolve around whether the passages are referring to regenerate Christians and the main issue being addressed is if believers can lose their salvation, if they fall away from God’s grace. On multiple occasions, this writer was able to see different views presented in a new light that did not put down another’s viewpoint. When reading or listening to opposing views, the natural reaction is to dismiss what is being said, but that was not the case with this book. Each of these sections were truly enlightening and this is the third book in the last year this writer has read in seminary where differing views were presented and responses were added at the end of each belief, so this seems to be a very successful trend when addressing core doctrinal issues. This format also adds a new level of comprehension and clarification for a wide variety of readers, from new believers, to students, to even scholars in the field. Knowing what one believes is important, but so is being able to interact with the other popular stances on a topic. What really sets this book apart from others is the professionalism each author showed their fellow contributors, even if their beliefs were in conflict. This is an area the church as a whole has been the victim of and as a result, many Christians forget there is only one team: God’s team. Doctrinally, there are surely some hills worth dying on, but many of the trivial translations of a passage have caused such strife and division in the universal church. It was truly refreshing to see these scholars interact with one another and not just point out differences, but point out areas in which there was agreement. Each of the authors were respected scholars in their denominations and while they do not necessarily speak for everyone, in this writer’s opinion, they each presented sound exegetical procedures and conclusions. Because of the complexity of reading Hebrews, it can seem confusing with the contrast of falling away, possibly forever, being juxtaposed with the superiority of Christ as High Priest, so understanding more about the author, the original recipients, and the context are vital to arriving at the most accurate interpretation of the text and what modern day application it presents for believers today.

If one author’s view seemed superior, or at least was better presented, it would be Buist Fanning’s Classical Reformed view. His synthetic approach to the text illustrates how the author includes himself when he is addressing the church and also how Christ is elevated to His High Priestly role. Fanning also does a good job when analyzing the conditional statements and the cause-to-effect relationship between protasis and apodosis. Fanning demonstrates, that not all conditionals express C/E relationships; however, “They all involve a type of contingency with a consequence, but the consequence may be an inference that can be drawn or an equivalence that may be noted, not always an effect produced by the cause denoted in the protasis.”[18] This means enduring faith is the evidence of genuine salvation, which communicates those in jeopardy of not possessing salvation never, had it in the first place, meaning they were never true believers. The priesthood of Jesus is the assurance of salvation and Fanning does a brilliant job illustrating how Christ intercedes for believers and when sinners confess their sins and turn from their wicked ways, God chooses not to remember the sins any longer. Fanning’s approach further seems most valid because it also pictures true genuine believers being able to persevere to the very end because their hope and faith is in Christ.

CONCLUSION

While each of the views of the warning passages in Hebrews had valid points, Fanning’s emphasis of Christ’s power to save over any amount of apostasy is theologically most biblical. To argue otherwise would be to say Christ is unable to forgive certain sins. Fanning raises two interesting questions: “What could cause God to call to mind again what He has pledged never to remember? And what could bring an end to forgiveness or an inheritance that is eternal? To these questions, Fanning asserts, “Why would the author express himself so strongly about God’s absolute faithfulness if human infidelity can short-circuit it, especially since this is the very thing he fears some of his readers may do.”[19] Each of the authors presented considerable insight into how to interpret the warning passages in Hebrews and this book’s contribution will be long lasting in academia and for anyone wanting to properly understand the Epistle to the Hebrews.

 Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. By Gareth L. Cockerill, Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George H. Guthrie. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007, 480 pp. $29.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cockerill, Gareth L., Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George Guthrie. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.

[1] Herbert W. Bateman IV ed., Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 7.

[2] Ibid., 83.

[3] Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; and 12:14-29

[4] Bateman IV ed., Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 84-85.

[5] Grant R. Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 86.

[6] Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 128.

[7] Ibid., 111-112.

[8] Buist M. Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 172-173.

[9] Ibid., 175.

[10] Ibid., 175-192.

[11] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 218.

[12] Gareth Lee Cockerill, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 257.

[13] Ibid., 289.

[14] Ibid., 291-292.

[15] Randall C. Gleason, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 336.

[16] Ibid., 367.

[17] George H. Guthrie, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 431.

[18] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 210.

[19] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 200.