This week we continue with the suffering Servant section of Isaiah. Dr Halley described this section as follows: “In chapters 49-55 the thoughts revolve around the Servant of God. In some passages the Servant seems to be Israel the Nation, and in some passages, the Messiah, the ONE in whom Israel would be Personified. And the passages are pretty well blended, the context itself indicating which is meant.” (1)
Father, give us understanding as we read thy word, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1 Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.
The ‘five-point’ Calvinist would say what happened to Israel at the hands of the Assyrians and the Babylonians was the result of God’s sovereign will. All the other bad things that happen in the world as well—God’s will they say. His sovereignty is what they base their second point on, the doctrine of ‘unconditional’ election. The problem, however, with unconditional election, is that ‘unconditional’ is not found anywhere in scripture. Election is there, but they added ‘unconditional’. Scripture says Esau was a ‘profane person’ … who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright (Heb 12:16). I would say that qualifies as a condition concerning why God chose Jacob instead of Esau. (Rom 9) We are saved by grace through faith as the Bible says: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8,9) If you read all the way to the end of Romans 9, it is clear that is what Paul is saying. Romans 9 is about the law and grace just as much as it is about election. It is certainly not about some mythical doctrine of ‘unconditional’ election. One of God’s conditions for choosing someone, for example, is that they come to Him by faith and not by works. (Rom 9:30-33)
The verse above shows that while it was God’s permissive will for the Jews to suffer through the Babylonian captivity and the diaspora, it was because of their own actions—choices that they themselves made, not because of God’s sovereign will. God has given us the precious gift of free will. Along with this gift comes responsibility and accountability. For every action there is a reaction and when we misbehave we will suffer the consequences. Likewise, we can sometimes suffer for doing well. Jesus said Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt 5:10-12) Job’s misfortunes, for example, did not happen to him because he was bad, but because he was good. (Job 1:8)
That is not to say, however, that every bad thing that happens to somebody is because of something they did. That is a pagan belief promoted in books like The Secret. Sometimes things just happen. (Luke 13:1-5)
2 Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.
3 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.
Although it was not God’s fault, He nevertheless makes the case that He is almighty and He can indeed save, even though when He called there was no one who answered. God is patient. The lengths He went to in order to save us are almost unthinkable:
4 The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.
5 The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
Verse 6 is an example of how obedience can lead to suffering. Jesus went to the cross to die for our sins out of obedience to his Father. Yet although Jesus suffered for his obedience, his reward is great in heaven: Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11) There is no way around the cross for the Christian. We cannot circumvent it. We must die to self that Christ may live in us. If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, great is your reward in heaven. According to the Bible it is good to suffer. (Phil 1:29; Col 1:24)
7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint [toward the cross, Luke 9:51], and I know that I shall not be ashamed.
8 He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me.
9 Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.
10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.
11 Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
Unfortunately, we still have our ‘old nature’ even after we are saved. (Rom 6,7) If we do not learn to reckon the old man dead we will lie down in sorrow. God will not allow us to have the joy of our salvation while we are rebelling against Him. If we sin willfully, God has ways of applying pressure so that we may see the error of our ways and repent. For example, when David sinned with Bathsheba he lost the joy of his salvation. He did not lose his salvation; God forgave him because he repented but he did lose his joy. (Ps 51:12) The way that God has given us to deal with our flesh (our old nature) is crucifixion. (Gal 2:20; 5:24) We have to die to self that Christ may live in us, by faith. (Rom 1:17; 8:1)
Father, thank You so much for your Son. He is altogether lovely. We adore Him. He is more than we can comprehend. Better is one day in his courts than thousands in the finest palace on earth. Help us to die daily that we may walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may be living sacrifices for your glory, that we may please your Son in all things, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(1) Halley’s Bible Handbook, p 303.