Isaiah Study: Doing A New Thing

Today’s article is the fifth blog post since I started studying Isaiah 40-66. In the first post, I made a list of key themes that I want to study more extensively in this section of scripture. The list included (among other things) the message that God is doing and making something new. This theme is very closely connected to the one we discussed in last week’s post about looking toward the Messiah. It’s also connected with another point we touched on a few weeks ago; that one way God proves He is God is by revealing His new plans to the prophets before they happen.

I can only imagine how awed Isaiah must have been to receive this revelation. How encouraging it must have been to learn that God has such an amazing plan to set things right; to realize that a Messiah would soon come to usher in the salvation of the world! I wonder how much of the timing he understood. Did Isaiah know we’d still be reading these words thousands of years later, joining him in marveling at all that God has done in the past and will do in the future? Peter seems to think he did.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets sought and searched diligently. They prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching for who or what kind of time the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, pointed to, when he predicted the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that would follow them. To them it was revealed, that they served not themselves, but you, in these things, which now have been announced to you through those who preached the Good News to you by the Holy Spirit sent out from heaven; which things angels desire to look into.

1 Peter 1:10-12, WEB

Here, Peter tells us that people like Isaiah did know they were speaking to us–we who know the Messiah and have received His salvation. Peter was also among those to whom Jesus said “many prophets and kings desired to see the things which you see, and didn’t see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and didn’t hear them” (Luke 10:24, WEB; see also Matthew 13:14-17). The prophets didn’t see everything as clearly as we do know. God has revealed to us things so glorious that the angels desire to look into them. We see His future plan for “glories that would follow” more clearly, particularly as we look back on the prophets’ words about the new things God still has in store for us.

Declaring a New Way to Save

At the end of the first Servant Song prophecy, God says, “Behold, the former things have happened and I declare new things. I tell you about them before they come up” (Is. 42:9, WEB). That’s one of the main things that God is doing in this section of Isaiah. There’s so much emphasis on the Messiah and on the new things God will do through Him. Jesus’s coming changed things dramatically for God’s people. Once we were sinners condemned to death, now we’re redeemed from that penalty. Once we were under the Law as a “guardian” of our conduct; now we keep the Law from the heart on a spiritual level (Gal. 3:23-25; Rom. 8:1-14). Once we saw God’s plan only dimly, now He’s revealed it to His people more clearly (Matt. 13:10-11; 1 Cor. 2:9-10; Eph. 3:4-6; 1 Pet 1:10-12).

When Isaiah’s original readers heard God “declare new things” about the Messiah, Jesus’s first coming was still in the future. At this time, God told Israel “from this point on I am announcing to you new events” (Isa. 48:6, NET). Knowing there’s a Messiah bringing a new way to save isn’t news for us anymore–from our perspective, He arrived here on earth nearly 2,000 years ago. However, we can still get excited for what His coming meant for us and for other new things that God is planning.

Look, I am about to do something new.
Now it begins to happen! Do you not recognize it?
Yes, I will make a road in the wilderness
and paths in the wastelands.
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and ostriches,
because I put water in the wilderness
and streams in the wastelands,
to quench the thirst of my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself,
so they might praise me.

Isaiah 43:19-21, NET

The context for this passage is redemption. God is revealing that He will rescue Israel from the Babylonians, but then the language shifts to declaring a future redemption as well. The “road in the wilderness” and God’s work with the wild animals foreshadows Millennial imagery in Isaiah 65 (which we’ll get to later in this post). God began His new work of bringing peace to earth with Jesus’s first coming, and He’s still working on that exciting project today as we–and all of creation–await Jesus’s second coming.

For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Romans 8:19-21, NET

Something New For Us

In addition to God’s new revelations about how He plans to save and transform the world, He also revealed something new that’s happening in each of us. He promises He’ll give His people new names as He does the part of His new work that takes place inside each of them.

For the sake of Zion I will not be silent;
for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines brightly
and her deliverance burns like a torch.
Nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your splendor.
You will be called by a new name
that the Lord himself will give you.
You will be a majestic crown in the hand of the Lord,
a royal turban in the hand of your God.
You will no longer be called, “Abandoned,”
and your land will no longer be called “Desolate.”
Indeed, you will be called “My Delight is in Her,”
and your land “Married.”
For the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married to him.

Isaiah 62:1-4, NET

Here, we’re told two of the new names God gives to the people He’s working with. We’re also told “you will be called by a new name that the Lord himself will give you.” If we were just looking at this verse on its own, we might think that refers to the new names Hephzibah (“My Delight is in Her”) and Beulah (“Married”). However, we also learn more about other new names in the book of Revelation. Jesus mentions two of His letters to the seven churches.

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write the following: … The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it.’

Revelation 2:12, 17, NET

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write the following: … The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well.

Revelation 3:7, 12, NET

The first new name mentioned is highly individual; only the person who receives the name even knows what it is. The second new name is one that we’ll share with Jesus Christ. I don’t want to get too off-track from today’s topic, so we’ll keep this discussion about names brief. For now, let’s remember that names in Hebrew thought are closely tied to a person’s reputation and character. When God puts His name on us, He’s trusting us with His family’s reputation and claiming us as people who are like Him.

God also has a long history of giving new names to people He works closely with, including Abraham, Sarah, Israel, Peter, James, John, and Paul (Genesis 17:4-5, 15-16; 32:28; Mark 3:16-17; Acts 13:9). There’s something very special about getting a new name from God, and it seems that it has to do with receiving a new position in life. New names come with a new way of living or a new attainment of something that God is working on in us. It’s fitting, then, that we’re told we’ll get new names when God is handing out rewards to faithful people after Jesus returns to this earth. That’s also when we’ll be revealed as the glorious children of God (Rom. 8:18-24).

New Heavens and New Earth

Isaiah has a lot to say about the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ and the new earth which will follow. In Revelation 20, we’re told that after Jesus’s second coming Satan will be locked away for a thousand years, the faithful will rise from the dead, and they’ll “be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with him one thousand years” (Rev. 20:6, WEB). Then in Revelation 21-22, we learn of “a new heaven and a new earth” that will come after that. We don’t get many details about what the Millennium or the world after that will look like here in Revelation, but we learn more through God’s descriptions through Isaiah of His future holy mountain (Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-10).

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
    and the former things will not be remembered,
    nor come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create;
    for, behold, I create Jerusalem to be a delight,
    and her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
    and delight in my people;
and the voice of weeping and the voice of crying
    will be heard in her no more.
    “No more will there be an infant who only lives a few days,
    nor an old man who has not filled his days;
for the child will die one hundred years old,
    and the sinner being one hundred years old will be accursed.
They will build houses and inhabit them.
    They will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They will not build and another inhabit.
    They will not plant and another eat:
for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree,
    and my chosen will long enjoy the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain
    nor give birth for calamity;
for they are the offspring of Yahweh’s blessed
    and their descendants with them.
It will happen that before they call, I will answer;
    and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
    The lion will eat straw like the ox.
    Dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,”
    says Yahweh.

Isaiah 65:17-25, WEB

Isn’t this an incredible picture of the future? This is what we have to look forward to after Jesus returns to earth. It’s this future that we’ll be picturing when we observe Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) in just a few months. Given the connection between Sukkot and the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ, it’s fitting that the last thing the Lord says in Isaiah about His new heavens and new earth relates to God’s holy calendar and His Sabbath days. This verse also connects to our post about Sabbath-keeping in Isaiah 40-66.

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before me,” says the Lord, “so your descendants and your name will remain. From one month to the next and from one Sabbath to the next, all people will come to worship me,” says the Lord.

Isaiah 66:22-23, NET

These verses promise that in the midst of all this newness, there will also be a reliable stability. God is still on His throne. His character and the way He wants to do things are not going to change. We’ll still have patterns of worship to follow. We’ll still have relationships with Him, though they will then be closer than ever before.

We know Jesus is coming back, but it’s easy to let that slip our minds as we go through our day-to-day lives. But if we hold onto the vision in Isaiah and other future-pointing passages of scripture, we can also hold onto the excitement of being part of the “new thing” God is doing. And that can help us stay encouraged and joyful as we move forward into the future.

Featured image by Inbetween from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “The Holy City” by Stanford Olsen and The Tabernacle Choir

Bonus song I found while searching for a different “New Heaven, New Earth” song: “Новое небо” by Simon Khorolskiy

A Song of God’s Vineyard

I want to start today with a scripture passage. It’s a bit long, but it sets the stage perfectly for what we’ll be talking about in this post.

Let me sing for my well beloved a song of my beloved about his vineyard.
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up,
gathered out its stones,
planted it with the choicest vine,
built a tower in the middle of it,
and also cut out a wine press in it.
He looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

“Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
please judge between me and my vineyard.
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?
Why, when I looked for it to yield grapes, did it yield wild grapes?
Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will take away its hedge, and it will be eaten up.
I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled down.
I will lay it a wasteland.
It won’t be pruned or hoed,
but it will grow briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.”

For the vineyard of Yahweh of Armies is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah his pleasant plant:
and he looked for justice, but, behold, oppression;
for righteousness, but, behold, a cry of distress.

Isaiah 5:1-7, WEB

Love songs like this are one reason I love the book of Isaiah so much. It starts out sounding like something from Song of Solomon, with someone singing to Yahweh, their beloved. Then the song turns sour (like the grapes in this vineyard) as Israel turned their hearts away from their lover. God Himself interjects to finish the story. They turned their back on Him even though He did everything right, and for Him this isn’t an empty claim. No one can do more than God to show love and to provide fertile ground to grow in. It wasn’t unreasonable of Him to look at a people He “planted” and expect they’d yield fruits of justice and righteousness instead of oppression and distress.

I recently started reading a new one-year devotional called Worship The King by Chris Tiegreen. January 15-19 are all based on Isaiah 5:1-7, and one of the things Tiegreen points out is that, God’s question, “What more could I do?” is in some ways rhetorical. There was one more thing He could do, and He did it when He sent Jesus to die for our sins (p. 18). If you’ve ever wondered why Jesus spent so much time talking about agriculture and vineyards in His parables, this is it. He’s continuing a metaphor God started using in the prophets to show how He fits into God’s love story.

Vineyard Parables

There are three primary vineyard parables that Jesus shared during His ministry. One is focused on reward for workers in a vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), and another on two sons whose father told them to work in his vineyard (Matt. 21:27-32). Then, right after that parable where only one son did his father’s will by working in the vineyard, Jesus says this:

“Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a wine press in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country. When the season for the fruit came near, he sent his servants to the farmers to receive his fruit. The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they treated them the same way. But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard, then killed him. When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

Matthew 21:33-40, WEB

The people Jesus is talking with are pretty sure they know the answer to that last question. The master will kill the servants and “lease out the vineyard to other farmers who will give him the fruit in its season.” In response, Jesus points them back to a scripture predicting the Messiah would be rejected by the people who should have been looking for His arrival (Psalm 118:22-23). The other servants who came before Him were prophets like Isaiah and many others whom Israel ignored. Now, the Master’s Son is here.

Jesus doesn’t point His listeners back to Isiah’s song about the vineyard, but we can easily see the parallels. Here in Jesus’s parable, though, the link between Him and the vineyard is made more explicit. God has a vineyard like the one Isaiah sang about. Jesus coming as the Master’s Son is the one thing more that God can do to receive the fruit His vineyard owes Him. And then the leaders of His people killed Him just like the wicked workers in this parable. Jesus points beyond that death when He says, “God’s Kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a nation producing its fruit” (Matt. 21:41-46). That doesn’t mean Jewish or Israelite people won’t be in God’s kingdom (as Paul points out using another agricultural example in Romans 11). It does mean that staying in a fruit-producing relationship with God is far more important to your long-term spiritual wellbeing than whether or not your ancestors had a covenant with Him.

Our Role as Vines

Fruitfulness is something God comes back to again and again. In another vineyard song from Isaiah, God speaks of a time when “Jacob will take root. Israel will blossom and bud. They will fill the surface of the world with fruit” (Is. 27:2-12, WEB). Even in this song, though, it speaks of issues with the vineyard that must be forgiven before the vines can thrive. As other prophets point out, the vines that God cultivated for thousands of years weren’t always as fruitful as they should have been (Jer. 2:19-22; 12:10-11; Ezk. 19:10-14). It’s an issue that could really only be solved by Jesus’s sacrifice. Even after that sacrifice, though, fruitfulness requires our participation. Jesus addressed this idea in another parable, this time about a fig tree.

He spoke this parable. “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none. He said to the vine dresser, ‘Behold, these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down. Why does it waste the soil?’ He answered, ‘Lord, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine; but if not, after that, you can cut it down.’”

Luke 13:6-9, WEB

As vines and trees in God’s vineyard, we have a say in whether or not we produce fruit. He provides fertile ground where we can thrive. He prunes and forgives us, keeping us spiritually healthy. He feeds everyone connected to Jesus–the Root that we all rely on as branches who are part of Him as the Vine (John 15:1-16). But we’re human beings, not vines that always stay exactly where we’re planted. Whether or not we stay in that good soil is our choice. We need to keep seeking God’s correction and forgiveness as we grow to be more and more like Him. And we need to stay rooted in the vine. Only then will the Father be glorified by the fruit that we produce and the love song that we sing to Him.

Featured image by alohamalakhov from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Dance With Me” by Paul Wilbur

Overcome Evil With Go(o)d

There are a lot of terrible things in this world. If your phone isn’t letting you know about them in news story notifications or you don’t find out when watching TV, a quick Google search or a trip to a news website is all you need to realize the world’s not in a great place right now. As I write this, the homepage for BBC world news has stories telling us the UK and France are fighting over fishing rights, it’s impossible to estimate the death count in Sudan following a coup, global “battles” over climate change continue, and (earlier this week) China forced Amnesty International out of Hong Kong.

When we see stories like this we often feel overwhelmed–overwhelmed by a desire to help, or by the problem being so big it seems impossible to help, or by the sheer number of terrible things. We may think of the verse that tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), but wonder how we could possibly do enough good to overcome the evils of oppression, wars, persecution, slavery, famine, disease, and more.

Fighting the Evil One

I’ve written before about a little pocket devotional by Chris Tiegreen that I really like. On Day 232, he points out that evil is the result of “a relentless, malicious intelligence,” not simply an “abstract principle” or a “force in this world.” This observation comes straight out of scripture, and it’s accompanied by an interesting implication.

“When the Bible tells us to overcome evil with good, it is not speaking about abstracts. It means we are to overcome the evil one with the Good One.”

Tiegreen, p. 199

If we’re trying to overcome this world’s evil simply by doing good things in hope of tipping the scales so good outweighs bad, then it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed and burned out. We’d be trying to fight an enemy that’s out of our league without armor or backup. In order to be part of overcoming evil with good, we need to understand that overcoming doesn’t happen on our own. It means combatting an evil one with the power and support of the Good One.

You Have Overcome

When John writes to believers, he encourages them by saying, “you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:13-14, WEB). This is made possible by us staying in close relationship with Jesus, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world” by faith “that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5). This same Jesus told His followers, “In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, WEB). He has already proved He can overcome the evil in this world.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.

1 John 4:4, WEB

With God on our side, no power in the universe can stand against us (Rom. 8:31-39). That fact ought to humble us while also giving us confidence. Without God we have no hope of overcoming, but so long as we stay with Him there’s no risk of us failing. All that “extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor. 4:6-10, NET). The only possible outcome in the battle between good and evil is that, ultimately, the Good One will overcome the evil one. When the Father and Jesus dwell in us and we’re staying faithful to them, we can be overcomers as well. As Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, WEB).

Continue Overcoming with God

Paul reminds us several times that we’re part of a battle between good and evil. It’s not a battle we can–or should–try to fight alone. To do so would be foolish, especially when God is eager to fight alongside us and equip us for battle.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:12-13, NET

The evil forces at work in this world are powerful and can seem overwhelming, but only when compared to us human beings on our own. God’s power totally eclipses anything the evil one can do and He is already giving us victory through Jesus (Rom. 8:37; 1 Cor. 15:57). It is His power and His love for us which enables us to overcome the forces of evil during spiritual battles. It is also His power which enables us to combat evils we deal with on a personal, day-to-day level.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:18-21, NET

Though we’re part of a large, cosmic-scale fight against evil, we also deal with it on a personal level as well. Part of overcoming the evil one with the Good One involves choosing peace and goodness in our actions. We might not be able to stop others from doing evil, but we can choose not to contribute to the wickedness of the world. By aligning ourselves with God and choosing to act according to His goodness, we fight against evil getting a foothold in our lives. And we do make the world a little bit brighter by shining Jesus’s light into dark situations.

Featured image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “I just need U” by TobyMac

Running Toward the God Who Is Running to Us

Have you ever noticed how persistent God is when seeking a relationship with His people? He went looking for Adam and Eve in the garden after they’d sinned and hidden from Him (Gen. 3:8-9). He called to little Samuel four times to make sure He got his attention (1 Sam. 3:1-10). He helped Elijah do great things then followed him into hiding to speak reassurance in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:1-8). He portrays Himself through the prophets as Israel’s husband, who loved her so much that He kept seeking a restored relationship even when she was unfaithful (Hos. 1-3). He’s the Father in Jesus’s parable who runs out to meet his prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24). God consistently makes active moves to initiate, deepen, and restore relationship.

This is a really good thing for us. How would we dare come before Almighty Yahweh, the Creator of the Universe, unless He wanted us there? Though we haven’t done anything to deserve His attention or desire, He makes it very clear that He wants us. He also makes it clear that His choice to seek relationship with us comes with an invitation for us to seek Him just as fervently.

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

Hebrews 4:14-16, NET

Over and over, God calls people into relationship with Him. He’s so serious about building relationships that Jesus died in order to ransom us from sin and make a close, familial relationship between humans and God possible for all eternity. He will never run away or abandon us (John 10:12-15), and so we ought to run toward Him.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Running To God

This idea of us running to God isn’t mentioned very often in scripture. It does, however, appear several times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament writings. It seems that “running to God” is similar to the idea of boldly approaching Him, but there are a few other meanings as well. For example, in these two verses the focus is on running to God for protection:

Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord.
I run to you for protection.

Psalm 143:8, NET

Yahweh’s name is a strong tower:
the righteous run to him, and are safe.

Proverbs 18:10, WEB

Scripture also talks about people running toward God in response to His call. Isaiah talks about nations running to God. Similarly, in John’s gospel, he records that the Pharisees recognized “running” as the way people responded to Jesus (even if they didn’t think to link it with this scripture in Isaiah).

“Behold, you shall call a nation that you don’t know;
and a nation that didn’t know you shall run to you,
because of Yahweh your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel;
for he has glorified you.”

Isaiah 55:5, WEB

Thus the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world has run off after him!”

John 12:19, NET

Like the people Isaiah prophesied about and those whose devotion to Jesus worried the Pharisees so much, we also ought to run to God. When He calls us, we ought to respond eagerly. When we’re in trouble, He should be the first person we turn to. This topic makes me think of a song I first heard shortly after I started attending a Messianic congregation. I think music is one of the best ways to engage our whole selves in our relationships with God, so here’s the song, if you’re interested in listening to it:

Running With Faith

The Bible also talks about a specific way that we’re supposed to run. In this sense, “run” is used as a metaphor for how we live as Christians. Paul in particular uses this analogy several times to talk about how he lived and how we ought to live (1 Cor. 9.24-26; Gal. 2:2; 5:7; Phil. 2:16). Staying in a close, faithful relationship with God our entire lives requires the same commitment, endurance, and perseverance as running a race.

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2, WEB

This type of running isn’t something we do on our own. God runs to us, so we run to God, and then we run the race that is our lives together with Him.

Those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength.
They will mount up with wings like eagles.
They will run, and not be weary.
They will walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31, WEB

Running To The Right Thing

Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

There are a lot of things that we could run to other than God. Many of us ran toward the things of the word in times past, or currently struggle with keeping on-track running toward God. Even when we are running properly in a God-ward direction, people in the world around us will “think it is strange that you don’t run with them into the same excess of riot, blaspheming” (1 Pet. 4:1-6, WEB). The more we align ourselves correctly as we run toward God, the more it will look the the world as if we’re running in a very strange direction.

As Christians today, we should ask ourselves questions like the ones my dad brought up when I shared this study with him. “How can I run to God today? How can I draw near to Him? How can I become more like Him?” Those are the sorts of things which ought to be our focus as we discipline ourselves to run our race of faith the way Paul talked of in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians: with self-control, with purpose, and with perseverance.

God runs to us. He persistently pursues a relationship with us because of His great love and desire to have us in His family. We also can run to God, boldly seeking Him out for protection and simply because we love Him. The more we run toward Him, the stronger our relationship will be and the less we’ll care about how odd our choice to pursue the things of God looks to the world. Then, as we stay close to God, we receive strength to keep running “the race set before us” without getting tired or discouraged.

Featured image by David Mark from Pixabay

Holding on to Our Joy in the Lord

We don’t often give the minor prophets much attention, beyond telling the story of Jonah or studying some sections if you’re curious about future and fulfilled prophecies. I find, though, that when I do study them or run across a verse from one in word searches that their messages are often surprisingly relevant for today. The section of a minor prophet’s book to most recently catch my eye is a verse at the end of Habakkuk.

The short book of Habakkuk records an exchange between the prophet and God, then ends with a psalm/prayer. At the beginning, Habakkuk looked at the nation around him and cried out to the Lord about how “the law lacks power, and justice is never carried out” (Hab. 1:4, NET). He wants God to intervene and make things right, as so many of us want today. However, when God answers it is not the way Habakkuk hoped or expected. God says He’s going to “empower the Babylonians” (Hab. 1:6) to take over Israel.

Habakkuk is so horrified that he argues with God (Hab. 1:12-2:1). God is not obligated to explain Himself to people, yet in this case he does. He talks about how people of integrity ought to live (“the righteous will live by his faith,” see Hab 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), and contrasts how He relates to those people with what awaits the wicked. He proclaims, “Woe!” to those who’ve rejected Him and promises that “recognition of the Lord’s sovereign majesty will fill the earth” (Hab. 2:14, NET). It’s quite a lengthy response (Hab. 2:2-20), and Habakkuk seems satisfied with it since the next part of the book is a prayer, likely set to music, praising God. That’s where we’ll focus today.

Receiving Good and Evil from the Lord

Earlier, Habakkuk protested the Lord’s plan to punish His people, but now after talking with God the prophet’s perspective changed. In the prayer recorded at the end of this short book, there’s an odd mix of talking about destruction and salvation. People today often struggle to reconcile the idea of a God that would allow suffering with a God that is salvation, deliverance, and love. Habakkuk doesn’t seem to have that trouble.

Yahweh, I have heard of your fame.
I stand in awe of your deeds, Yahweh.
Renew your work in the middle of the years.
In the middle of the years make it known.
In wrath, you remember mercy. …

Plague went before him,
and pestilence followed his feet.
He stood, and shook the earth.
He looked, and made the nations tremble. …

You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the land of wickedness.
You stripped them head to foot. Selah.

Habakkuk 3:2, 5-6, 13, WEB

This reminds me of a question Job asked his wife: “Should we not receive what is good from God and not also receive what is evil?” (Job 2:10, NET). If we believe God is sovereign and that He is responsible for all the good things that happen in our lives, then we ought to trust Him through the bad things as well. There could be something going on that we don’t know about, such as Job suffering as part of God showing that one man’s faith, tested by fire, could make a cosmic difference. Or maybe God is punishing an unfaithful nation and we get caught up in that even though we’re faithful, as happened here with Habakkuk. Or maybe He’s allowing suffering in order to test, refine, and strengthen us (which is the context that the New Testament writers usually mean when they talk about God testing or trying us. See, for example, 1 Pet. 1:6-8; 4:12-13). Whatever the reason for the suffering, the message Habakkuk holds onto is that God is still worthy of trust. He has a plan. He will take salvation action. The timing for that might not make sense to us (yet), but that does not cancel-out the fact that we can have faith in the Lord’s plan and His goodness.

Holding on to Joy

At the end of the prayer, Habakkuk voices some very understandable nervousness. He talks of trembling, knowing that he “must wait quietly for the day of trouble, for the coming of the people who will invade us” (Hab. 3:17, WEB). He has talked with God about what will happen in the future, accepted the Lord’s response, and decided to trust. He is still nervous, but then he makes a very powerful statement of radical faith.

For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish,
nor fruit be in the vines;
the labor of the olive fails,
the fields yield no food;
the flocks are cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls:
yet I will rejoice in Yahweh.
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength.
He makes my feet like deer’s feet,
and enables me to go in high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19, WEB

Even if the food supply collapses and the country is overrun by invaders, Habakkuk intends to rejoice. He is not rejoicing because those bad things happen, but because they have no power to take away the true cause of Habakkuk’s joy. God is sovereign! He is salvation and strength! That’s not going to change, and holding on to that truth lets us rejoice in Him and claim Him as our savior. No matter what comes, we can imitate Habakkuk’s faith and boldly say, “I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Looking for Jesus in All the Right Places

When Jesus was 12 years old, he and His “parents went to Jerusalem … for the Feast of the Passover,” as they did every year in obedience to the instructions in God’s law (Luke 2:41-42). After the Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot), his parents went a whole day’s journey home before realizing Jesus wasn’t with the traveling group and they’d lost the Son of God in Jerusalem. They went back, and searched for three days before finding Him in the temple. When Mary chided Him for making them so anxious, Jesus said they should have been able to figure out where He was.

But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49, NET

I wonder how many times when we’re running around anxiously wondering, “Where’s God when I need Him?” that we’re also looking in the wrong places. The “right place” isn’t a physical location, though; there isn’t an easy-to-find landmark spot for us to start our search like the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph found Jesus. For us, the task of looking for Jesus is both much simpler (because He is available anywhere) and also in some ways more challenging (since it’s not just about going to a certain place and doing a certain thing).

Seeking the Father and Son

A more literal translation of Jesus’s words to His parents would be, “Didn’t you know that I must be about the things of my Father?” (TLV). The “verse involves an idiom that probably refers to the necessity of Jesus being involved in the instruction about God” (NET footnote), which I suspect is why the Complete Jewish Bible opts for the translation, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father’s affairs?” The reason that so many modern translations say, “in my Father’s house” is because “the most widely held view today takes” the idiom used here “as a reference to the temple as the Father’s house” (NET footnote).

Whichever translation we think is correct, the basic meaning is the same. Jesus could be found associated with the things God was doing in the location where people who follow God gather. Even today, it is true that if we want to connect with God that is often easiest to do when associating ourselves with other believers. That’s not the only thing that’s involved in searching for Jesus or the Father, though.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 6:44, NET

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6, NET

We need the Father to open our eyes and invite us into the family if we want to get to Jesus, and then it’s through Jesus that we’re given access to God the Father at a level of intimacy that people who lived before Christ came in the flesh never had and relatively few people have today. Jesus and the Father are welcoming us into their oneness (John 17) and when we faithfully follow the Son, we have a relationship with the Father as well (1 John 2:22-24). We must seek Them both together.

The Temple of God Today

Back when 12-year-old Jesus went missing, He could be found at the temple. However, “the God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands” (Acts 17:24, NET), especially now that the veil separating the holy places of God and regular people is done away through Christ (Matt. 27:50-51; Eph. 2:13-19). Now, we are the temple of God.

For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

2 Corinthians 6:16, NET quoting Lev.26:11-12

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16, NET

These verses tell us two things. One: if we are called by God to be part of His church and we’ve accepted that invitation, we are part of God’s temple and His spirit lives in each of us. Two: all the believers together make up God’s temple today (“you” is plural in Greek; “temple” is singular). If we’re seeking Jesus, we need to seek Him on both an individual and a cooperative level. The Lord wants to live in the midst of His people (Zec. 2:10-13), and being able to build each other up as we seek the Lord together is one of the most important reasons for God’s people to gather as a community of faith (Heb. 10:19-25). That community could be just “two or three assembled” in the Lord’s name (Matt. 18:20), or it could be a church group of hundreds.

Invited to be with the Lord

When Jesus was here on earth, He issued invitations to come to Him, seek Him, and become His friends. They’re not the first invitations from the Lord either; Jesus was making God more widely accessible, but God has always wanted relationships. Those same invitations are still open today, echoing down through thousands of years.

Pay attention and come to me.
Listen, so you can live.
Then I will make [an eternal covenant with] you,
just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David.

Seek the Lord while he makes himself available;
call to him while he is nearby!

Isaiah 55:3, 6, NET (with footnote translation for v. 3)
Looking for Jesus in All the Right Places | LikeAnAnchor.com
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Most of the Lord’s instructions for seeking Him involve “how” not “where.” We’re told to seek “diligently” (Prov. 8:17), with “prayer and worship” (Jer. 29:13), and “with all your heart and soul” (Deut. 4:29; 1 Chr. 28:9). And we ought to do this persistently and repeatedly, too–ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking (Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-10). But no matter how persistent you are, you’re also going to have trouble finding Him if you’re not looking in the right places.

We learn about God primarily through His word and His spirit, so it’s important to seek Him in the pages of the Bible and ask for understanding. There’s no substitute for reading God’s words (or listening ; I know several people who learn best from audio Bibles). We also learn about Him, and how to be like Him, though interactions with other believers. We are each part of God’s temple, but we’re not the only part and if at all possible it’s vital that we stay in contact with other Christians. So the next time you feel yourself wondering, “Where is God?” try looking in His word, seeking Him in prayer, and/or talking with a fellow believer. It may feel like it takes a while before He responds, but if we seek Him the way He tells us to in the places where He says He can be found, God will not fail to let us find Him.

Featured image by Jantanee via Lightstock