Friday, June 14, 2013

More than Words

Scriptural Reading: Isaiah 29:9-16a
Devotional Reading: Luke 8:9-14

As children we were taught to pray “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Surprisingly, this very popular prayer is only one version of the bedtime prayers written by an unknown author. We slowly memorized the words to the prayer and pleased parent(s)/guardian(s), but did we grow to understand the depth and meaning behind the words to please God?

We have become a “learned” generation with the ability to speak words in volumes. Too many of us are mesmerized by words. It only follows that we are astounded by the quality of competition in the National Spelling Bee contests. Arvind Mahankali won in 2013 after spelling “knaidel” which is defined as a dumpling. The kids will soon have to memorize every single word in the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary to compete in the contest. After they have learned these words, how will it benefit them if they do not use them toward praising God? If they keep the words and meanings to themselves and quit, they would not have used it for the benefit of the Lord. When they use the words in ways to praise God, these students will indicate they have received the deeper meaning. The words are actually seeds that are planted in good soil in their life. These seeds (Word of God) sprout and bear fruit in God’s kingdom. These are more than words because they went past the kids’ lips for the spelling bee to their hearts. (Luke 8:11-15)

As we continue this quarter of study entitled “God’s People Worship” we are mindful of: (1) how Christian worship compares today both in its devoted and revered practices and its disrespectful practices and (2) what we can learn from God’s relationship with the worshipping ancient Israelites that will help us honor and worship Him today. We are in Unit I – “The Prophet and Praise” of the three units of the quarter. This is the third lesson of a four-lesson study of worship in Jerusalem during the time of Isaiah.

Isaiah is tasked by God to let Israel know that He will cause Jerusalem to be distressed and punished due to her disobedience (Is 29:1-8). How were they disobedient? At Is 29:9 the prophet begins to reprove them for their sins in stating, “Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; They stagger, but not with intoxicating drink.” (NKJV) Jerusalem was the city of God, the center of worship for many Jews. However, they were now in danger of judgment due to their insincere and empty worship toward God. The Jews went through religious motions that did not honor Him beyond their lips and traditions. The people were in a drunken stupor of spiritual blindness and unable to see the impending self-inflicted calamity. They were drunk, but not with wine, because they erred in their doctrines; they erred in their views of God and the truth, and they were corrupt in their conduct. The people staggered in the counsel of the prophets and stumbled at everything in their way.

God punished them in loving darkness rather than light by putting them to sleep spiritually as stated in Is 29:10, “For the Lord has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.” (NKJV) God called the Jews by His prophets, but they desired to sleep and slumber, not hear His message. So He gave them up to the “…spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, To this very day.” (Rom 11:8b NKJV) God had promised both blessings and curses at the time of the Exodus. His nation would be blessed if it kept His commandments, but it would be cursed if it disobeyed His commandments. (Deut 11:27-28a) The Israelites was in a state of disobedience by refusing to hear the meaning of the Word of the Lord received from prophets of God and taught by the Levites. For this reason they were judged by God to experience distress of calamity in Jerusalem and a spirit of deep sleep.

It is very sad that even the prophets and rulers would be blindfolded by God’s punishment. Isaiah is completely amazed as the religious leaders fail to lead as they should. This causes the followers to blindly follow the blind as the prophet writes in Is 29:11-12, “The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.” (NKJV) Excuses! Excuses! What excuse do you have for not knowing the Word of God? Many live in gospel darkness because they refuse to hear and reject Christ. The visions of all the prophets were sealed up to the Jews. They were not able to hear the Word of the Lord no more than if he had given them a book and asked them to read it. The ones who were able to read would complain they were unable to open the book, while others would complain they could not read. Yet the Word of the Lord had have been plainly provided to them. It was simply a matter of words while the meaning was hidden from them. They labored under the “spirit of deep sleep”. Neither the learned nor the unlearned were the better for the messages sent by God nor did they have a desire to seek the meaning of the messages. They were not concerned, but content with status quo ritualistic worship.

In God’s name, the prophet threatened the Jews who were formal in exercising their worship when he emphatically states in Is 29:13-14, “Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of me, Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.” (NKJV) The people were phony in their worship of the Almighty. In Is 6:5 the prophet admitted to being unworthy after he saw God in his vision. He said he was a man of “unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” (NKJV) Although Isaiah’s lips had been consecrated to speak on behalf of the Lord, the people were still speaking with unclean lips. God knew they came near Him in worship for appearance purposes, but their hearts and minds would be far away. He knew they had begun to take shortcuts or change His required sacrifices. They were not sincere and worshipped Him according to their own inventions (commandments). Therefore, God had declared a spiritual judgment for their spiritual wickedness. The wisdom of the most intelligent and those with the keenest ability to discern would be removed. God would do a marvelous work and wonder. The Lord used the King of Assyria, Sennacherib, to carry out his plan of judgment (marvelous work) in distressing Jerusalem. Today the “marvelous work” is the “message of the cross”. The apostle Paul declared at 1 Cor 1: 18-19, 25 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”…Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (NKJV)

Isaiah expressed a woe toward those leaders who attempted to work with outside nations during the Assyrian crisis instead of seeking God’s help at Is 29:15-16, “Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord, and their works are in the dark; They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?” Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (NKJV) The leaders were very secretive in their politics. No man could see what they were doing during their dilemma. Even worse, they did not seek the advice of the omnipotent, omniscient God. Did they actually believe they could hide their plans from the Creator? By including God they would have been acting with wisdom. In leaving God out of their plans, they were acting in foolishness and the prophet issued a woe against the leaders on God’s behalf. Their arrogant actions indicated no fear in turning their thinking upside down. In their belief God was not the potter, but the clay. How could that be? The potter forms and fashions the clay. Did they forget that God is their Creator and state “He did not make me?” It is equally absurd of man to complain that God has no wisdom. The apostle Paul declared at Rom 9:20b-21, “…who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (NJKV)

Our worship and praise of the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit must be sincere. We must worship beyond the words we speak. The disciples asked Jesus how to pray. Our Master taught that we are not to pray as the hypocrites whose desire was to be seen of men. (Matt 6:5-15) The Lord gave the disciples a model prayer saying, “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray…” (Matt 6:8-9 NKJV) Don’t just repeat the words of the model prayer. Know the meaning and pray “…in this manner…” to honor the Lord in your heart.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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