Readings this week, leading up to Palm Sunday, March 25
MONDAY, MARCH 19
A picture of a true disciple’s false accusation, punishment – and assurance of the Lord’s vindication
Context and application note: This is called the third Servant Song of Isaiah, following Isaiah 42:1-9 (first) and 49:4, 7 (second). The first hearers might have seen Isaiah as the servant, or a purified Israel as the servant; with the advantage of hindsight it seems clear to us that this looks forward to Christ. John Wesley in his Notes said of the phrase “given me” that “this and the following passages may be in some sort understood of the prophet Isaiah, but they are far more evidently and eminently verified in Christ, and indeed seem to be meant directly of Him.”
4 The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
“Well-instructed tongue” – the tongue of one being taught, or a disciple’s tongue
“Word that sustains” – the Hebrew translated “sustains” is a rare word, probably the equivalent of our sense of a timely word or a word in season, and emphasising the Servant’s prophetic role in hearing and speaking. As with any understanding of being a disciple, hearing from the Lord and responding to Him comes before speaking.
5 The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“Opened my ears” – a sign of obedience. As we would say, the servant is “open” to hearing about the test of obedience that the Lord is presenting. Israel has been rebellious; by contrast the Servant is attentive – and resolute about what follows.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“Who beat me” – beatings were for fools, or criminals Proverbs 10:13, 19:29, 26:3, Matt 27:26, John 19:1.
“Pulled out my beard” – a way of showing contempt, 2 Samuel 10:4-5, Neh. 13:25.
“Mocking and spitting” – associated with the insult and disgrace of hatred, Job 30:10, Deut 25:9, Job 17:6, Mt 27:30.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Set my face like flint” – as Luke 9:51, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (NIV), ” steadfastly and determinedly set His face…” (Amplified).
8 He who vindicates Me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
This is the language of a courtroom, where the devil performs his role as accuser and the Sovereign Lord gives judgment. The sanctity of the heavenly legal process, which of course is completely fair, must be upheld.
Whatever the nature of the Servant’s call (v.5) and its cost in suffering (v.6) and resoluteness (v.7), these must fulfil the legal requirements. In v.8 “near” is a parallel word to gōʾēl, the Redeemer or Next-of-Kin of Ruth 2:20, 3:12. See also Lev. 21:2–3, 25:25, Num. 27:11.
“He who vindicates” – As this is fulfilled in the Messiah, it is also good news in the lives of those whose lives are hidden in Him. As Christ was sinless, He is able to nullify the charges brought against His own who have put their trust in Him, Romans 8:31-34.
9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. Who will condemn Me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.
“Condemn” means proven guilty. The Servant is confident of a favourable judgment. The vindication, in Jesus’ trials, did not spare Him the unjust punishment, even though the charges did not stick (see further study references). In the same way we experience injustice at the hands of men, but the verdict of heaven is a resounding ‘not guilty’ and freedom from any shame. There is also destruction for those involved in the wrongful action.
Jesus challenged His enemies: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”, John 8:46.
“The moths” – what John Wesley called ‘the secret curse’ of destruction of false accusers, reiterated in Isaiah 51:8.
For further study, see Matthew 27:3–4, 19, 24; Mark 15:3; Luke 23:4, 10, 14–15, 41; John 8:46; John 19:6 and the ultimate vindication, 1 Timothy 3:16.
This is a picture of utter devotion and obedience in the face of harsh treatment and false accusation. There is a courtroom scene where accusations are made, defence made and the Lord’s judgment will be pronounced after the legalities are thrashed out.
Earlier readers would have seen this as applying to Isaiah himself – Israel had a poor record of heeding God’s messages and honouring God’s messengers.
How does this sit with us? Life is frequently unfair and a particular difficulty Christians have is being singled out for harsh treatment, often at the hands of religious people. Bad things do happen to people who are by no means bad or deserving of it. The extreme case was the mock trial and then execution of Jesus. This passage reminds us that eventually false accusers self-destruct and vindication by the Lord is assured – but people of malicious intent still have free will to cause a lot of hurt through their slander.
It took faith for the first disciples to hold on to God’s greater plan and it took them time to see God’s purpose in it all, even though they had been taught and reminded by Jesus Himself. It takes faith for us to hold on to God’s goodness and promises when everything appears to be under the devil’s domination, knowing that “because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced – who will condemn me?” Faith that is not stretched and tested is not mature faith.
For reflection, or as a discussion starter
When everything is going wrong and spiritual oppression is causing confusion, does God speak and how do we best position ourselves to hear Him?
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6
God calls the consecrated people to the court of His covenant – both heaven and earth together
Together with Psalms 46-49, this psalm is part of a liturgy of five sections which are all about the recalling and renewing of covenant by God’s covenant people. It has three parts in all: announcing the Lord coming to call His people to account; The Lord’s words of correction for those whose intentions are righteous; and the Lord’s rebuke of those of unrighteous intention – called ‘the wicked”. We are just reading the first part of this, but it is helpful to know the whole context.
1 The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
- This psalm includes seven titles and names of God, three in the first sentence.
2 From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
3 Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.
- Fire and storm are often used to describe the intense presence of God, as in the Mount Sinai encounter, Exodus 19:16-18.
4 He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that He may judge his people:
- Best seen as God exercising righteous rule over His people. God’s judgment is linked to His righteousness, and can mean vindication as well as punishment.
5 “Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
- Sacrifices were part of the ritual that sealed the covenant.
- The privilege that comes from being in covenant with Almighty God as provider and protector, also brings with it the responsibility of covenant.
For further study, see Exodus 24:3-7
6 And the heavens proclaim His righteousness, for He is a God of justice.
- “For He is a God of justice” is rendered “for God Himself is judge” in earlier NIV and ESV. “Judge” is used as a title for God in Psalm 94:2 – the Hebrew for king and judge are sometimes used interchangeably.
- “His righteousness” in the Psalms and in the OT refers to His faithfulness in acting as the divine King of kings, following up on commitments He has expressed, including protection for the poor and justice for the oppressed, Psalm 4:1.
For further study, see Psalm 27:7, Psalm 102:2, Genesis 32:6-12
We don’t have priests offering animal sacrifices to seal the covenant (v.5) but a New Covenant in Christ Jesus, sealed in His blood. So is God still a God of righteous justice, experienced in wrath as well as love, whose presence can be fire and storm as well as shekinah glory, intimacy and peace?
In churches where it is usual for members to be admitted on the basis of having a story of their personal encounter with Jesus and perhaps making the choice to be baptised as a believer, public confession of sin is generally de-emphasised and sometimes left out altogether. The sense of being called together to be accountable to God in His righteousness comes as a challenge to what can become a casual approach to worship, lacking in awe and reverence.
Many liturgical churches do have confession of sin, often at the start of a service as a ‘first things first’ statement, and reflections of self-examination e.g. in the prayer of Humble Accession. The danger here is not a lack of reverence, but rather an unhelpful reinforcement of unworthiness and condemnation which is not what the Father wants for His children, Romans 8:1-2.
However, seasons of reflection, encounter and repentance are often times when God speaks prophetically to encourage His people. Where the experience of God’s leading, answered prayer and hearing His voice is diminished, these few verses offer a remedy. Allow God to be the just judge and so discover what is wrong.
For reflection and discussion
How do we, post-resurrection and relating to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, celebrate and renew our covenant relationship with Him? What does God really want from us?
Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11