Isaiah 17-18

Isaiah pronounces an oracle of judgment against Damascus. He treats Ephraim and Syria together as they have linked themselves in an alliance.¹ The city will be gone, and only few will be left. The land will be futile.

“In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.” (Isaiah 17:7-8)

They will realize their idols are useless when they see the God’s Angel Army. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the true God who rules over the whole earth and shapes the history of the kingdoms.

“For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain.” (Isaiah 17:10-11)

They have forgotten God who saved them. They have not remembered their God of Refuge. Every effort they put in for a harvest will go to ruin because they did not remember God.

At that time tribute will be brought to the Lord of hosts from a people tall and smooth, from a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide, to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 18:7)

The powerful people and nations will bow down before God and come to the Holy City.

“In any case, the name of the Lord here is a significant theological concept. The name is a synonym for character or reputation. Why will the nations of the earth flow to Jerusalem? Because of the character of her God: righteous, but loving; all-powerful, but tender; judge, but deliverer, etc. We are all drawn to his place because there is truly none like him (40:25).”²

God, you are the only true God who created everything and saved me from my sin and death. You are the only One on whom I can and should put my trust. Every good thing in my life is because of your mercy and grace. Help me remember you every day. Help me grow in my love for you. Help me grow in obedience and faithfulness to please you and be pleased because you’re pleased. I love you, Lord.

 

 

¹John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 350.

²John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 363.

2 Corinthians 10:1-12

I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 10:2)

Some people from Corinth thought Paul was walking according to the flesh, that he was timid and ineffective in his ministry to the Corinthian church. But he was merely being meek and gentle, following the example of Christ. “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!” (2 Cor. 10:1)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Cor. 10:3-6)

This is a siege metaphor Paul uses to describe his ministry. He pulls down the strongholds by the divine power which is the weapons of his warfare clearly not of the flesh. He destroys arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God. Then as a victor he takes every thought captive like as a prisoner to obey Christ.

One thing to notice is that he fights against arguments and opinion not people. As we talk with people especially when we talk about topics that relate to spiritual reality, we notice arguments and opinions that are contrary to the biblical reality and worldview. That is when we are to with meekness and gentleness but also with boldness take siege of those arguments and opinions. We do that with love towards people who are having those thought paradigms. We do it because we care, because we love, because we want to free them. But also because we care about others who are around them as well.

“The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:11–12)

Jesus is the Lord. Everything that is lifted up will be brought low. The Lord alone will be exalted. The Lord alone deserves and is worthy.

Lord God, examine my heart and reveal anything that has been lifted high causing disobedience in my life. I want to obey you in all things, because I know to obey you is the path to life and success. You command us for our good. Everything you tell us to do is good for us, because you love us. We know it because you were willing to die for us and you did. Take my every thought captive so that I obey you. Destroy the strongholds of thought that rebel against you in my life. May I have no wall built up against you to separate myself from you. Have all of me. I am yours. You are my Lord.

Isaiah 13-14

God punishes Babylon. Yes, he used them to teach a lesson to Israel, but after all, Babylon itself is a wicked nation. And God restores Jacob and lets Jacob taunt Babylon. God’s heart is fixed on Jacob, his children, always. Sometimes God disciplines his children and his people, but that’s exactly because he loves them and wants them to love him and be like him. Those who believe in Jesus are God’s children and his people. Eventually, God wants us to be able to taunt our enemies. He destroys them himself for us. God is on our side. He is a Father who loves his children. No Babylon can destroy us. They might be used by God to transform our hearts to love God and make us more loving, but they can never completely destroy us. God loves us.

Isaiah 9:8-10:34

God hates pride and arrogance of heart.

“Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” But the LORD raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies. The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth.” (Isa. 9:9b-12a)

People of Samaria thought they could restore what was ruined themselves, but God raises another adversaries to judge the arrogance of the people. The degree to which the people of God rejected him was so great, God’s anger didn’t subside easily. “For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still” (Isa. 9:12b). God’s feelings for his people are so very real and personal. He cannot simply overlook rejection from his lover and pretend that nothing happened.

“For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” (Isa. 9:12b, 17b, 21b, 10:4b)

This exact statement appears four times in this passage: first because of Israel’s pride and arrogance, second they did not turn to God who struck them and everyone is godless and an evildoer (Isa. 9:13, 17), third due to their wickedness and insatiable cruelty against each other (Isa. 9:18, 20), and lastly they forsake the needy and rob the poor of their right. Basically, they abandoned God and justice and turned to wickedness and cruelty.

God does not overlook such evil. God is a holy and righteous God. It matters to him that we love him and we take him seriously. It matters to him that we love each other and maintain peace and harmony and justice within ourselves.

God uses Assyria as “the rod of [his] anger” (Isa. 10:5). It may seem by purely humanly perspective that it is simply a political conquest by a more powerful nation, but behind it all God has his grand plan, and Assyria also will be punished later. “When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes” (Isa. 10:12).

So Israel will be destroyed. And Assyria will also be destroyed. What a tragic end… Well, not really.

“In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.” (Isa. 10:20-21)

A remnant of Israel will return. They will no more lean on human powers and idols, but will lean on God. They’ll truly love God. They’ll respond in love to God with their genuine heart because God has spared them from their well-deserved judgment. God is both just and gracious, righteous and loving.

“Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: “O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction.” (Isa. 10:24-25)

God’s fury will come to an end. His anger will be directed to their destruction. God promises redemption of his people. His deepest motive was never destruction of his people. His motive was to win them back, restore them as true children of God who genuinely desire and love God, to transform their hearts and not just behaviors.

There was another time when God’s justice and loving grace met. There was another time when his anger was directed to another’s destruction. It was on the cross two thousand years ago when Jesus took the wrath of God on behalf of humanity. The godlessness and wickedness and lack of peace and love and harmony on earth caused by humanity necessitated the consequence of God’s righteous judgment. Yet, God loves us too much to rid us completely. So he sent his Son, and allowed his anger to be directed to him instead. His fury has ended on the cross.

God’s judgment on Israel and on Assyria was absolutely righteous. But his grace surprisingly spared a remnant of Israel to survive and turn back to God. God’s grace demonstrated on the cross was infinitely more radical because unlike Assyria the One to whom God’s anger was directed was sinless. God’s wrath on Jesus was completely unfair, infinitely more unfair than his dealings with Israel and Assyria. Yet, innocent Jesus died on the cross. It cannot be explained apart from God’s love. It is the proof that God loves us. His love made everything that Jesus went through happen.

God’s motive is to win us back. He fiercely loves and desires us. He goes through the cosmic trouble in order to prove his love for us and transform our hearts. The sad reality is that not everyone will believe in this wonderful news, the gospel. But those who believe, God will redeem. They will turn back to God, and God has completely destroyed the ultimate enemy of humanity, Death, the result of our sin.

God loves us. He showed his love through the cross. He defeated our worst enemy. The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.

Let God love us

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Like a week ago, I was on the bus, and there were not many people on the bus. The weather was very nice, everyone seemed relaxed and content enjoying the view outside including this person who was on the wheelchair looking a bit emaciated.

At one bus stop among a small crowd came on board a guy clearly in a real jolly mood. He sat down in front of the person in a wheelchair, and cheerfully said hi. I almost thought he knew the person since there was no sign of hesitation whatsoever in how he greeted him.

But it became clear when the person expressed his confusion, “I don’t think I know you.” The happy guy said, “Oh no, you probably don’t,” and then tried to continue what he so confidently thought would be a pleasant small talk on the bus in a beautiful sunny day.

However, the conversation didn’t go as he expected. He tried asking about his health, specifically about the person’s back since he looked pretty stiff, but the person didn’t take it well. Then the happy guy turned it into a joke, trying to lighten the mood, but now the person really took offense. Finally, the person said in a voice that implied some period of extended time of anger and bitterness, “I don’t trust you because I don’t think you’re genuine. The joke’s not on me, it’s on you.”

That was it, no more conversation. The bus became dead silent. Then everyone including myself in the bus went back into the blindfold mode that is particularly characteristic of the Canadian culture, hypnotizing and telling ourselves, “I don’t know what just happened. Better not make any scene. Just pretend nothing happened.”

Cultural stereotyping aside, what I realized from that incident was that you can’t help a person if he/she doesn’t trust you. No matter how much you want to help others, if their hearts are not open to receive help, you can’t really give it. Obviously, the same goes the other way around. You can’t receive anything if you don’t trust those who have what you need.

Then, I thought about my life. In my whole life, there is not much I can do purely by myself without any help whatsoever from others. I have a bad tendency to try to solve all my problems in life solely within my abilities and none of others. It’s my pride and ego isolating myself and keeping me in the dark and helpless. But if I think about it, indeed there is so very little that I can achieve just by my own might.

The whole earth is maintained by something. Yes, there is brokenness and evil and chaos in this world it seems, but by and large the universe is being orchestrated by order and love. It is God. He maintains it. He is in control. He will eventually make everything restored and right too.

And God is reaching out to me today. And to you. He says hello this morning again. He hops on the “bus” of our life and greets us with the most beautiful smile hoping to have a pleasant conversation. And he is not even a stranger. He created us, he is our father, he died for us out of his love, he promises total acceptance, if only we trust him.

But we must trust him. He cannot make us do that. He is gentle and personal, not authoritarian nor abstract. He has already done everything we could ask for. True love and acceptance, significance and security, intimacy and protection. Now we must open our hearts to receive it.

God is waiting for us. He has so much wonderful stuff stored for us. Not just big things like dream and career and etc., but also small details in our lives too, to make our everyday full of joy and love and happiness and thankfulness. We might as well stop trying to control everything ourselves, and lay our lives to him who is truly in control.

Then we’ll know freedom. Let us let God love us.

2 Corinthians 5:11-6:10

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This entire passage is absolutely beautiful. I feel like I should memorize the whole thing! Second Corinthians I think is becoming my favorite book of the Bible.

Paul constantly appeals to their conscience. But he makes sure that he is not commending himself. People look at outside appearance and judge according to the worldly standard of power and influence and whatever value that is lifted high as the ultimate. But Paul is different. He boasts about not the outside but about “what is in the heart” (2 Cor. 5:12b).

To many, he seems weird. Some people even think he is crazy. But he doesn’t care so much. “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (2 Cor. 5:13). He doesn’t care about what others think of him as much. It is not the opinions of others that control him, but God’s love!

“For the love of Christ controls us,” (2 Cor. 5:14a)

What a beautiful thing to say! I wanna be controlled by God’s love. Too many times, I’m rather controlled by other things that I temporarily put my trust on. My selfish desire, comfort, people, career, studies, whatever. I am often controlled by those things rather than by God’s love. I want to be controlled by his love. What a beautiful thing it would be! I want to be touched by God’s love so deeply that I wouldn’t even think about following other idols of my heart. I want to be firm in his love that I stand strong in the face of oppositions and temptations unswerving without being led toward either right or left.

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this; that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor. 5: 14-15)

Jesus died for me. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). He sacrificed for me. This life that I am living right now is not mine but God’s. It is a gift. And I did absolutely nothing to deserve such gift. Only the opposite. But “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18b-19) God does not count my trespasses against me. I’ve been reconciled with God by the work of Christ. And now he sends me.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20)

Paul was not what some people thought he was. He was not endorsing himself. He wasn’t trying to be a great leader for his selfish ambition. His motivation was infinitely deeper and purer. He was simply moved by God’s love. God becoming sin for him so that he can be regarded perfectly righteous before God, that was more than enough of a motivation to put up with people misunderstanding him. He wasn’t controlled by public opinion, he was being led by the love of God.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:16-17)

Now, we are not to regard anyone according to a kind of perspective that is limited by this world only. We look ahead into the future kingdom of God, we look widely with our spiritual eyes. First we look at Jesus as whom he says he is, not just a mere human being regarded to be cursed by God just because of his apparent suffering and death on the cross. We consider his resurrection and his glory and the grand plan of God’s salvation of the entire humanity. We then look at ourselves as new creation. It doesn’t matter what country I was born, what kind of government I was born into, what kind of race I am, what kind of education and experiences I had, what kind of past I have. I am a new creation, accepted perfectly by God as fellow heir of Christ who will rule in the kingdom of God that is surely coming. And we regard others with eternal perspective as well. No matter their background, they are living souls, images of God, created by God, invited by God to be loved and accepted by him into his kingdom. Yes, there are complicated histories of the past in this world, and we should take them into consideration. But at the same time, we should always remind ourselves of the sure picture of the future kingdom, the reality that is to come. We are to anticipate God’s restored world and humanity and start living it here on earth in considerate and loving manner.

Paul’s ministry was indeed difficult one. He went through “great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger,” (2 Cor. 6:5b), yet he maintained and demonstrated “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God, with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise” (2 Cor. 6:6-8a). He did it because of God’s love. God’s love moved him. And when he was in God’s love, he had it all. He was invincible. He was undestroyable. He could go through every obstacle and suffering with faith.

“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:8b-10)

God, may your love capture my heart completely so that I will be completely controlled by your love in all I do and all I am.

Isaiah 9:1-7

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“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” (Isa. 9:1)

When God used Isaiah to proclaim his messages for his people, Israel was worshiping idols who couldn’t hear though they have ears and couldn’t see though they had eyes. And they themselves were becoming blind and deaf to the living God. The people of Israel put their trust in mere created idols instead of in the living God. And the personal and living God, Yahweh, is a jealous God. The Assyrians were coming to destroy them in the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali.

But in God, there is always hope. He wants us to turn back to him. He wants us back. No matter how harsh or unreasonable or incomprehensible it might seem, God’s ultimate motive is always us. He wants us. He loves us. That’s why everything that happened happened.

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.” (Isa. 9:2-5)

No more darkness. The nation is abundant with its people in joy. The fullest joy possible like the joy at the harvest and after victory over war. The heavy burden and the hard rod of the oppressor is gone. Everything that reminds of those painful times are completely burned up. That’s what God promises. The true happy ending. Hope. The ultimate hope of the humanity.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6)

Jesus Christ, the Messiah. God promised them that he would come. He came. The secret, the mystery is no longer hidden from us. We have the promise of God. He has kept his promise of the Old Testament. Surely, He will keep his promises of the New Testament.

“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isa. 9:7)

His kingdom will be forever. And the zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. The zeal of God. He is indeed very zealous toward us. His love is not just intellectual or conceptual nor abstract. His love is real. He is a personal God. He wants a relationship. He wants love, trust, intimacy, faith, loyalty, and integrity. And he works for it. He did all the work. He came down. He suffered for our sake. He became vulnerable. It was his zeal that did it.

Simple fact about myself is that I lack zeal. I have good intentions. I even claim I have answers to some important questions. But love, I’m no good at love because I lack zeal. How can I have zeal like God? How can I have real love so that I wouldn’t mind going through difficulties and suffering for the sake of others and for God? How can I stand firm in the face of opposition and temptation? I lack zeal.. God, help me learn from you. Let your love and zeal touch my heart deeply so that I will have the passion like yours. I’m afraid I’m all talk and nothing else.

Help me see your zeal toward me, and teach me your love.