Back in 56:1, Jewish people exhorted to live particular lifestyle, follow particular principles because God was about to do something big. Word didn’t exist in 8th century BC, today we’d call it living counter-culturally. Swimming upstream. Going against the flow. No big surprise really, God called his people to show their identity by actions, choices, priorities. All of that while living in culture radically opposed to following the true God. Much wrong with society in which God’s people were immersed, required to function; we’ll get into details shortly, but are surprisingly similar to what is around us today.
Creating a God-fearing (Christian) sub-culture not an option for Jews, patronizing only plumbers and mechanics and carpenters and grocers and merchants with same worldview they had. God required them to maintain right thoughts and desires and actions while interacting daily with people with much different priorities. Would have been easy for them to look at God’s promises on one hand, at circumstances and culture on the other, wonder how God could possibly bring about his purpose given quality of material he had to work with.
God had much to say to people of Isaiah’s day – leaders responsible for spiritual and political well-being of the people. The shepherds, charged with watching over and guarding the flock of God. The society at large was nothing to write home about and God had words for them, too. Strong words of condemnation that should have aroused them to corrective action. Lest the righteous get the wrong idea, God gently but powerfully encourages and comforts the saints. Perhaps most heartening: God’s promise of his presence with the faithful.
A. shepherds v.56:9-12
neglectful (9) God had appointed shepherds to care for his flock – watch and warn, guard and protect flock from harm. Instead, so neglectful of duties it’s like open season with no limit; shepherds doing their own thing, flock is left to own devices with nothing to stop predators from attacking.
blind (10a) Can you think of anything more useless and ineffective than blind watchman? Having duty to warn of danger, cannot see it approaching. Compound that with ignorance – spiritual leaders responsible for well-being of flock but unable to recognize danger even if they could see it.
mute (10b) Can’t even rely on faithful sheepdog to help, dogs are mute; sheepdog without bark has no way to communicate with sheep. Is unable to fulfill necessary role to keep flock together, alert them to danger, signal location of sheep that has wandered off.
lazy (10c) Now sinfulness of underlying character becomes more evident. Lazy and indolent, not wanting to rock the boat, unwilling to expend effort necessary to do job well. Just coasting, living on borrowed capital stored up at previous time.
greedy (11a) Insatiable appetites, never satisfied with what they have, always wanting more. Focused on personal desires instead of others’ needs.
clueless (11b) Charged with duties of shepherds but having no discernment, unfit for task and unable to meet needs of those dependent on them.
self-serving (11c) Far more serious, not even interested in what the sheep need, only care about self.
complacent (12) Eat, drink, be merry, tomorrow will be same-o, same-o. Nothing to worry about, keep doing what we’re doing.
B. society v.57:1, 3-13a, 20-21
callous (1) Society at large no better off than leaders; in fact, plagued with similar character. Shouldn’t be surprise, that leaders are reflection of basic cultural values. If shepherds were callous to needs of sheep, it follows the sheep will be callous to needs and circumstances of one another.
immoral (3,4b,8) Just as sheep follow lead of shepherd, so one generation follows example of previous one. Immorality in one generation only gets worse in the next as children are influenced by model of parents. Newton’s second law – increasing disorder – reflected in communication of values among people apart from God’s overruling.
irreverent (4a,11) Outward evidence of inward character deficit: attack those on other side with ridicule, contempt. Sneering hostility expressed toward God and his people fueled by arrogance and absence of fear of God. “I see no evidence of God, therefore I have nothing to fear.”
idolaters (5-7) Like their corrupt shepherds, sheep pursue what will satisfy their own desires. It’s an irrational chasing of pleasure – free sex and free abortion, offering sacrifice to dead/deaf/dumb blocks of wood and stone, a god of own defining.
jaded (9-10) Wearied with pursuit of things that don’t satisfy, refuse to give up; persist in the chase, going to mind-boggling lengths to be satisfied and not achieving it. Always on to more / bigger / better / brighter in hopes that finally will do it. Relentlessly running away from the only answer, God.
desperately misguided (12-13a) Trusting in own goodness, works, power of useless idols to deal with ultimate reality. God declares none of that will help, all so inconsequential that slightest breeze will blow it all away.
hopeless (20-21) Restless, always in turmoil, unable to find peace, wicked are without genuine hope. Even more ominous – God says there is no hope for those who persist in wickedness, who trust in own merits for deliverance.
C. saints v.2, 13b-19
So where’s the hope, what’s the alternative? Where do we find solution for discouragement, where do we find one who can deliver from an uncertain or unpleasant future? LOOK UP!
peace and security (2) There IS peace for the righteous, because they trust in God to deal with enemies and situations and circumstances beyond their control. There IS security for the righteous, because they trust in God to protect them. For the righteous, matters not whether you live or die – you are safe in God’s keeping, your soul and its destiny are secure in care of Heavenly Father.
inheritance (13b) The righteous have a sure inheritance because its not of their own making; is a gracious gift of God to them that are his. Also not a treasure found on Wall Street or Fort Knox or seen with earthly eyes or valued with earthly wisdom. Money can’t buy it, genius can’t acquire it, it’s a benefit that graciously accompanies adoption into royal family.
forward progress (14) Saints are assured of forward progress – there will be no insurmountable obstacles on the road to holiness and heaven. What might seem to be greatest obstacle, death, is in reality the greatest blessing for righteous – is what ushers believer into immediate presence of God.
presence (15a) Great news! Don’t have to wait until death to experience God’s presence; eternal Holy One who dwells on high (remember, LOOK UP!) also dwells with his people; not the proud and arrogant and self-sufficient but the humble who depend on him.
nourishing and sustaining (15b) God is with his people to lift their spirits, encourage, cheer up and revive those who are discouraged. God is always present in order to sustain and nourish souls of his children, provide all they need to serve him faithfully and arrive safely home.
compassion (16) Heavenly Father, Holy One knows his children’s needs, also knows their limits – how much they can endure of both persecution and correction.
healing and restoration (17-18) Even for some who might seem to be incorrigible, rebellious backsliders, God promises to heal and restore to fellowship.
reason for celebration (19) When God promises healing, those both near and far off can be assured of peace and hope. God gives them reason to celebrate – not their own accomplishments but rejoicing in his mercy and grace.
Are you discouraged? At your wit’s end? Frustrated? Are you just plodding along, one day like the next? Are you unsure of what future holds for you? Are you pretty sure your future isn’t pretty? LOOK UP! Turn your eyes to Jesus. Matters not whether it’s the first time in true faith, the bazillionth time. He stands ready to save, to help, to encourage and sustain.
Are you doing OK? Trusting in the Lord, walking each day by faith, growing closer to him each day? Your neighbor isn’t. Your brother or sister or son or daughter or parent or coworker isn’t. They need to hear the good news – there’s a God who loves sinners and will surely receive and forgive all who come to him by faith. As the Lord brings these lost souls across your path, trust him to give you the words and then speak up, tell them to LOOK UP!