10–16 December 2017.
Reading through the book of Isaiah, we’ve gotten used to hearing lots of prophecies of judgement against the countries surrounding Israel. But that doesn’t mean that Israel itself was innocent and holy. Quite the opposite. Many of Isaiah’s harshest words were saved for Israel, because the Israelites were supposed to know better and behave better, and yet they were just as corrupt and evil as everyone else. In chapter 48, we see an example of this judgement against Israel.
The Israelites are supposed to belong to God and be God’s people. The Israelites use God’s name, and they talk about being a holy people and a holy city. But despite all their talk, they don’t live like holy people at all. They lie and cheat, they refuse to listen to God or do what God wants them to do; they worship all kinds of false gods and commit all kinds of evil; they are stubborn and unwilling to do what is right, they aren’t even willing to listen to God’s word let alone do it. No wonder then in v. 8 that God accuses them of being a nation of traitors and rebels.
But Israel’s terrible sinfulness puts God now in an awkward position, because these people carry God’s name! Since everyone knows that Israel is connected to God, when others see all the evil that Israel is doing, that reflects badly on God. As God stresses in vv. 9–11, Israel is destroying his name, destroying his reputation and honour, and causing him to lose face. So what should God do about this?
If it were us, we would probably distance ourselves from Israel and let everyone know that we had nothing to do with those evil people. But surprisingly, that’s not what God does. Instead, God promises that he will work to heal and purify Israel. Through his judgement, God will burn away all Israel’s sins and leave it pure. He will refine Israel like silver or gold, placing it in a furnace until all its impurities are gone.
It’s a great blessing for us Christians today that we can learn from Israel’s many mistakes – because the last thing any of us want to do is tarnish the name of Christ through our sinfulness and bad behaviour. Instead, our vision and goal in the church should always be that God may use us to draw the world to him. Our hope is that the world will come to God through our good witness, seeing our actions of love and care for one another, and through that witness knowing that God is a God not of evil and nastiness, but a God of goodness and love for the whole world. May God truly use us to spread that message today.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis