Boasting when humility is needed: Isaiah 9

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Today’s reading: Isaiah 9-12.

Between two major prophecies about the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah tucks a little story about the foolish pride of the Israelites. Before the story Isaiah proclaims that a child is born, the wonderful counselor who will be the prince of peace and establish a righteous government on David’s throne for all time. After the story the prophet describes the millennial kingdom of the Messiah when even nature is restored to peaceful coexistence as the wolf lives with the lamb and the lion eats straw like the ox. But the Messiah’s kingdom lies somewhere in the future. The present reality consists of foolish men who ignore God’s rebuke and pridefully believe they have the power to overcome the consequences of their sin.

The story goes like this. The northern kingdom of Israel has suffered much from the attacks of the Assyrians. Though God has allowed this invasion to discipline the Israelites, the people of the northern kingdom have failed to see God’s hand at work. Like any proud people who have been attacked, they vow to rebuild and fight back. They say, “the bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stones.” We’ll build it back better than before! No humility, no contrition, no searching for God’s favor – just proud boasting. If the tone sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same language we hear from our leaders when we suffer any kind of attack. For the Israelites, the story ends sadly as within a few years Assyria completely defeats them and destroys their nation.

Jonathan Cahn, who leads a worship center for Messianic Jews and Gentile believers, has written a book, The Harbinger, based on this story. He points out how our reaction after the attacks of September 11, 2001, was eerily similar to the words of the ancient Israelites. In Congress, Tom Daschle quoted the exact words of the boasting Israelites in Isaiah 9 as he proclaimed America’s resolve to rebuild. The point of Cahn’s book, and the intent of Isaiah’s story, is to humble us and teach us to repent when God allows calamity to overtake us. God gives grace to the humble, but pride leads to destruction. America continues to suffer in many ways because of its rebellion against God. Humility has to start with individuals, however. Now is the time for each of us to examine our own hearts and confess our personal rebellion against God, so that God can pour out his grace on us. That grace comes through faith in the Prince of Peace that Isaiah foretold. He is coming back to rule and reign, and his kingdom will unite Jews and Gentiles in worship and obedience.

They say, in the pride and stoutness of their heart, Let God himself do his worst; we will hold our own, and make our part good with him. If he ruin our houses, we will repair them, and make them stronger and finer than they were before. our landlord shall not turn us out of doors, though we pay him no rent, but we will keep in possession. If the houses that were built of bricks be demolished in the war, we will rebuild them with hewn stones, that shall not so easily be thrown down. If the enemy cut down the sycamores, we will plant cedars in the room of them. we will make a hand of God’s judgments, gain by them, and so outbrave them. Note, Those are ripening apace for ruin whose hearts are unhumbled under humbling providences; for God will walk contrary to those who thus walk contrary to him and provoke him to jealousy, as if they were stronger than he. – Matthew Henry

Image by Tim Lucas on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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