The Bible180 challenge, week 13

Ready for week 13? This is the halfway point!!

 
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We spent a good portion of last week in Isaiah and in parallel passages of 2 Kings. Assyria has finally crushed the northern kingdom of Israel, and Judah is not far from a similar fate. And yet just here, when the future of God's people is utterly black, the prophet Isaiah begins to drop sparks of hope in the form of Messianic, millennial, and even tribulational prophecies.

Isaiah 32 & 33 stood out to me the most. In chapter 32, Isaiah prophesies of the day when the world is finally turned right side up in the end times:

Behold, a king will reign righteously and princes will rule justly. . . . No longer will the fool be called noble, or the rogue be spoken of as generous. . . . And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.
Isaiah 32:1, 5, 17

Yet between and beyond these hopeful words, a persistent warning weaves through: none of this can come to pass until the way is cleared by God's destructive vengeance on the world. The suffering must inevitably come first.

I once heard a Bible teacher and missionary to Africa say that the greatest weakness of the American church is that it doesn't know suffering.

What struck me about his statement was that he didn't say our greatest weakness is an inability to handle suffering (although that is the inevitable effect) - he said it's that we don't know it. It doesn't take up camp in our lives the moment we choose to follow Christ (yet), like it does for so many other people groups. It's unfamiliar territory and we forget that it's part of our call. And any muscle left unused atrophies eventually.

So, when suffering of some kind comes, we may buckle under its weight almost immediately, asking where God is and how He could ever allow this if He is good.

But in Isaiah's world, suffering was never cause to run from God or doubt His character. It was a reminder to run toward Him - to recognize who He is, and to fear Him so much that the safest place to be is on His side.

"Now I will arise," says the Lord, "now I will be exalted, now I will be lifted up. You have conceived chaff, you will give birth to stubble; My breath will consume you like a fire. The peoples will be burned to lime, like cut thorns which are burned in the fire.
You who are far away, hear what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge My might." Sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling has seized the godless. "Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?" He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity. . . .
Isaiah 33:10-15a

We want an answer to suffering, but rarely do we want this one.

We'd like to sow a life of worthless chaff and still be protected from the Consuming Fire, rather than work to store up for ourselves the treasure of righteousness which can withstand Him.

But that's not how it works.

For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us.
Isaiah 33:22

The Lord is our judge: He justly reaps the fruit we have chosen to grow with our lives.

The Lord is our lawgiver: He creates the standard against which our harvest is weighed.

The Lord is our king: He rules and reigns sovereign and supreme, and I am created for Him, not Him for me.

The Lord is our judge, our lawgiver, and our king - all that ancient Israel didn't want Him to be; all the we in our sin nature wish He weren't - and yet it's here that we find salvation, here in who He is.

If God isn't our judge, our lawgiver, and our king, He has neither the right nor the power to come to our rescue.

But if He is - if we know Him for who He is and orient our hearts accordingly - He will save us.

But this salvation isn't rescue from the Consuming Fire and His "continual burning" - it's rescue to Him. There will still be pain in following Him as long as there is sin on earth. Ultimately, we are saved from something much worse than mere suffering, and for the hope of something much better: from eternal separation from God, and for the bliss of enduring to the end so that we may finally dwell as His people in His kingdom.

 

Resources

Hosea: God of the Unfaithful

Genre: Prophecy
Total read time: 30 minutes

Nahum: God of Wrath

Genre: Prophecy
Total read time: 10 minutes

Zephaniah: God of Judgment

Genre: Prophecy
Total read time: 10 minutes

Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty

Genre: Prophecy
Total read time: 10 minutes

Jeremiah: God of Weeping

Genre: Prophecy
Total read time: 4 hours

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.