Bible Focus: Isaiah 1-12
Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Make the minds of these people dull; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed.Isaiah 6:9b-10 CSB
In my book called On Your Side Today: How to Know God is Truly Good, the first Bible passage I quote is the passage above. Unless you’ve already read the book, it probably seems puzzling that I would select these words of God to begin persuading readers of his goodness. There are many other passages that speak of God’s love, compassion, and mercy. Why would I start with a passage that appears to show God pushing people away? I explain the answer more fully in the book, but here’s a taste: humans have a deep-seated blindness that makes it difficult for us to trust God at face value. We often resist direct approaches to persuade us to turn to God.
At the end of a typical day, my wife and I will often sit together on our living-room couch and watch a TV show. We particularly enjoy detective shows. A common scene in all detective shows involves the questioning of people related to a criminal investigation. Naturally, many of these people distrust the authorities and resist their direct questions. So the detectives often have to find some leverage. For example, they might describe in great detail how things will go worse for the person if they resist. They might claim the person will lose some advantage unless they reveal what they know. They might even offer a deal to try to get the person to talk. Finally, the detectives might get up and start to leave, telling the person that they tried their best to help them. And it’s often at that final moment–when the detectives are walking away–that the person finally decides to cooperate.
In a similar way, we often view God with skepticism. He urges us to pay attention to him, but we often remain aloof. He tells us to obey his commands, but we often ignore his word. He proclaims that he loves us, but we often struggle to love him in return. But if we sense God is moving away from us, we just might call him back. If we realize that we need God, we just might go looking for him.
After the nation of Israel split, the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah existed side-by-side for a while. Sometimes they fought each other. Other times they fought together against a mutual enemy. Some of the kings of Judah led their people to be more faithful to God, but many of the kings of Israel and Judah led their people deeper into idolatry. Israel continued to follow the rival religious system that King Jeroboam had created soon after the split. Judah continued to blend idol worship with the worship of the one true God.
Listen, heavens, and pay attention, earth, for the LORD has spoken: “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s feeding trough, but Israel does not know; my people do not understand.” Oh sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, brood of evildoers, depraved children! They have abandoned the LORD; they have despised the Holy One of Israel; they have turned their backs on him.Isaiah 1:2-4 CSB
Isaiah lived in Judah about 150 years after the nation had split. God gave him prophetic visions to tell to the people, but the opening words of the book of Isaiah don’t seem to contain much good news. God revealed that both Israel and Judah would fall because they had both abandoned God. Judah was still maintaining the official religion at the temple of God in Jerusalem, but that fact alone would not save them. God knew that they were only keeping up appearances, and he was tired of the act. He wanted them to want to obey him, and he wanted to cleanse their hearts and make them whole.
“Come, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.Isaiah 1:18-20 CSB
One of Isaiah’s visions involved him experiencing the glory of the Lord in a powerful way. During the vision, Isaiah feared that he, a sinful man, would be destroyed by the holy presence of God. But Isaiah was shown that his life would be spared, and then he heard God asking for someone to send. Isaiah replied, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8b ESV). Then God told him to tell the people that they would hear and see the revelation of God in vain. Their minds would be made too dull to understand and receive God’s healing (Isaiah 6:9-10).
But the final phrase of this tragic pronouncement revealed that God wanted to heal them. If God hadn’t wanted to heal them, then he wouldn’t have sent Isaiah at all. Hidden inside this apparent rejection was yet one more appeal for the blind to receive sight, the deaf to hear, and the foolish to gain understanding. Hundreds of years later, Jesus referenced this prophecy to his disciples as the reason why he taught the crowds with parables:
That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, but never understand; you will look and look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn back— and I would heal them. Blessed are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see but didn’t see them, to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them.Matthew 13:13-17 CSB
Here’s the good news: no matter what our sins may be, God wants to heal us. If we are drawn to Jesus’s teaching, then God wants to teach us more. And if we’ve trusted in Jesus as the Savior and Lord of our life, then we can never again be totally blind. For all of us who believe in him, the light of Jesus is a permanent fixture in our soul.
Featured image from Matt Koffel on Unsplash.
See my book entitled
On Your Side Today.
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2 thoughts on “Sneaky Good News”
Thank you for the encouraging words: “For all of us who believe in him, the light of Jesus is a permanent fixture in our soul.”
Amen. (I really like your choice of the CSB translation for that last passage. Very meaningful wording. )