God, Our Healer.
Isaiah 57-58, Revelation 12
“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him.” – Isaiah 57:18-19 ESV
The Israelites of Isaiah’s day were marked by idolatry and spiritual adultery. Over time the numbers of truly righteous individuals dwindled, leaving a spiritual vacuum among the people. But rather than mourn the loss of the righteous, the majority of the Israelites failed to even notice their passing. They continued to practice their idolatry and forsake God. When faced with difficulty or trouble, they turned to their false gods or sought help from foreign kings. Yet they also continued to hedge their bets, turning to God in times of trouble, going through the religious ritual of fasting in the hopes of gaining favor from God. But God wasn’t interested in watching His people go through the motions of false humility. He would not tolerate their false acts of piety. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (Isaiah 58:2 ESV). They wanted God to do the right thing, but they were unwilling to do what was right in His eyes. And they couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t answer their prayers and take notice of their acts of humility. But God informed them, “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:4 ESV). It wasn’t enough for them to look the part of the humble, repentant servant, wearing sackcloth and bowing down before God. He wanted to see true heart change. God wanted their fasting to be accompanied by acts of justice, compassion, kindness, and a reverence for the things of God.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. He had made it clear to the nation of Israel, that their unique status as His chosen people came with a non-negotiable expectation: They were to be holy. “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26 ESV). Their lives were to be lived according to His exacting standards, not those of the world. His people were to keep His law and maintain their moral and ethical purity through the ongoing use of His sacrificial system. But sacrifice without true repentance and sincere heart change was meaningless. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, God had declared that the Israelites were simply going through the motions: “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). They seemed to say and do all the right things, but their hearts weren’t in it. They had given their affections to other things. But God told them what His idea of true fasting and mourning looked like. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7 ESV). God had nothing against fasting and mourning, but He wanted the act to be accompanied by changed attitudes and heartfelt expressions of love for others. This kind of fasting would result in God’s favor. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8 ESV). The psalmist expressed it succinctly. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 ESV). God told Isaiah, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about man?
But men find it hard to express humility. Even those of us who claim to love and follow God have a difficult time coming before Him with a contrite and lowly spirit. Our pride gets in the way. We refuse to see ourselves as He sees us. We justify our sin and rationalize our behavior. We compare ourselves to others and deem ourselves somehow worthy of God’s favor. But God sees us differently. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if there were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (Isaiah 58:2 ESV). Just like the people of Israel, we can so easily find ourselves seeking God and acting as if our so-called righteous deeds somehow earn us favor with Him. We go through the religious motions, showing up at church and doing our daily allotment of pious activities that make us look good to others, but do little to impress God. All the while we fail to realize that we can do nothing to earn God’s favor or live up to His exacting standards. Holiness is impossible for us to pull off, just as it was impossible for the people of Israel. We can’t maintain a lifestyle of righteousness in our own strength. The Israelites knew what they were supposed to do, but just couldn’t muster up the determination to do it on an ongoing basis. And we find ourselves in the same boat. If we are not careful, even as believers, we will find ourselves attempting to live the spiritual life in the strength of our own flesh. We will attempt to live up to God’s standards without His help. Our own pride will convince us that we can somehow pull it off. But like Paul, we simply need to reach the point where we cry out daily, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24 NLT). We simply need to confess our insufficiency and turn to God for the help He has provided through His Son. “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
One of the amazing aspects of God’s great redemptive plan for mankind is revealed in His faithful, consistent and loving interaction with the people of Israel. In spite of their rejection of His sovereign rule over their lives for generations, He never gave up on them. Even when they failed to accept His Son as their Messiah, instead demanding His death on the cross, God did not turn His back on them. While they have never been able to live up to His standards or maintain the life of holiness He demanded of them, He still has plans for them. He is still going to keep His promise to them. In the book of Revelation we get to see into the future where God reveals how He is going to redeem and restore His people. There is a day coming when He will heal them. He will do for them what they could never seem to do for themselves. Even in the midst of the Great Tribulation, when the people of Israel will suffer the most intense persecution they have even had to endure, God will be there. John is given a vision of a woman who is pregnant. She will give birth to a baby, “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5 ESV). The woman represents Israel. The baby is Jesus Christ. After His death and resurrection, God literally “raptured” or snatched up Jesus, taking Him to heaven where He awaits His second coming at the end of the Great Tribulation. But during the last three and a half years of that great time or tribulation, Satan will wage war against the people of Israel. They will have to run for their lives. Jesus warned of this day. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22 ESV). But God will protect His own. “…and the woman [Israel] fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Revelation 12:6 ESV). God will miraculously protect His own. He will care for them, even during one of the most difficult times the earth has ever known. And ultimately, God will bring healing to His people. He will redeem and restore them. God promises, “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him,; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners” (Isaiah 57:18 ESV). God is the great healer. He is the redeemer and restorer. He will do for Israel what He has promised. He is faithful, trustworthy and true to His Word.
Father, thank You for the reassurance of Your faithfulness. You have not abandoned Your people Israel and You have not and will not abandon me. You have even made it possible for me to live uprightly and righteousness in this life. You have given me the capacity, through the power of Your indwelling Spirit, to live humbly and to practice acts of justice, compassion, and kindness – not in my own strength, but Yours. You have made it possible to experience Your healing and help in this life and You have promised me complete healing in the life to come. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men