He Was Oppressed And Afflicted…servant songs pt 15

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief:( Isaiah 53:7-9)

We are looking at the fourth Servant Song of Isaiah’s prophecy, (Isaiah 52:12-53). The first part of the prophecy(Isaiah 52:13-15) is the LORD’s introduction of His Servant,“Behold my servant… .”

The middle section,(Isaiah 53:1-9) comes in the form of a mournful confession, offered by a chastened and recently enlightened Israel. The Holy Nation has been made to see the suffering servant in an entirely different light. This has forced them to see themselves also and the long, painful history of Israel completely differently than they had previously.

The one whom the nation had long “despised and rejected” turned out to be the Messiah whom Israel had long-awaited! This ignominious figure in Jewish history, whom they had assumed to have suffered and died as a false prophet, and as a blasphemer under the judgment of God Himself, is now revealed to be the chosen One of God.

This man Jesus, of whom Israel had reckoned to have been the cause of so much suffering and hatred of Israel through the centuries, is in fact revealed to be the greatest lover of Israel;

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.(Isaiah 63:9)

Our passage in Isaiah 53 considers the civil trials of Jesus, with the emphasis the compliance of the Saviour, even at the patently sham trial, and the false condemnation which followed it. The King James renders it,

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted; and He opened not his mouth…

But the Hebrew scholar Delitzsch translates the passage

“He was ill-treated, whilst he bowed himself…” ie“suffered voluntarily”.

David Baron notes that a rendering by a Bishop Lowth, in agreement with Cyril and other ancient expositors, rendered this passage thusly,

“It was exacted, and He was made answerable, and He opened not his mouth…”.

The outstanding truth shining through this part of the prophecy is that the Messiah, the suffering servant of Jahweh, took the full responsibility and liability for our sins, he co-signed our note, and offered himself as a payment for our sins.

Like a meek lamb, led to the slaughter, so the Servant, who truly could have testified to his own innocence and successful acquittal, refused to open his mouth in his own defense. He took our place in judgment.

He was taken from prison and from judgment…(KJV)

The idea is that he was violently denied due process, the Hebrew word “taken” , luqqach, means to be snatched or hurried away, an accurate prediction of the unlawful and hurried conditions of Jesus’ trials and condemnation before religious and Civil authorities.

And Who Shall declare His generation?

This is possibly a prophetic allusion to the custom of the Jews to call for anyone to plead on behalf of the one condemned to death, to declare anything in favor of the defendant; innocence or any mitigating factors. Who among Jesus’ contemporaries, stood up for him at his trial, or registered a complaint at the manifestly unjust treatment he was receiving?

…for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

The expression “cut off” implies violence, and also implies being stopped short of fulness, a prediction that the Servant would die at the prime of life. But once again the confession of the nation reverts to the theme of vicarious suffering and death. Israel has always known that Jesus of Nazareth died a violent death and in relative youth.

But now they know and ruefully acknowledge that the Servant was “stricken” , “plagued by God” and “cut off” from life, for the transgressions of God’s people, as a substitute for them.

He made his grave with the wicked, but now they see that contrary to the Talmud and other Jewish legends, the Servant himself wasn’t wicked, though he died on a cross. He died between two thieves, but”He did no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth”.

But with the rich in his death...

The custom of the times was to degrade the condemned even beyond death, by denying them so much as a a dignified burial. Crucified ones were often thrown in unmarked communal graves, or even thrown out into the open.

But as the Psalm says of the Messiah “the LORD would not allow his holy one to see corruption”. Thus to honor him, the LORD put him into the unused tomb of a rich man. THis prediction was remarkable fulfilled in the case of Joseph of Arimathea, a Senator of Israel, who lent his family tomb to Jesus.

But it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, he hath put him to grief…

Here we come to the deepest mystery of this prophecy. The LORD wants us to realize that the sufferings of the Servant spring not primarily from wicked men, neither the Jewish nation or the Gentile Romans. Nor do these sufferings come from Satan and the hosts of hell.

Now the penitential confessors see the deepest meaning of the tragic life of the LORD’s Servant. The Servant is being bruised ,(lit crushed) because of the pleasure of the LORD himself! It pleased the Holy God to crush the servant and to “Put him to grief”, (lit “make him sick”) because He knew, in His Sovereign wisdom that this is what it was going to take to bring about our salvation.

What a mystery!

We could fathom some malevolent evil, crushing the innocent sufferer, but here in the confession of Israel, we stand in awe and horror, and ask ourselves, is this what had to be?.

For we behold the truth that the Servant, whose whole life was a none but a demonstration of fidelity to God, sincerity, compassion, truth , and holy love, is crushed at the hands of The LORD of love, holiness and glory, .

As Baron put it,

“Here is not only the mystery of suffering innocence;but of innocent suffering at the hands of righteousness and perfect love”.

How could it be? Why did it have to be so? The Righteous God had to make a Righteous way to accept you and I, unrighteous sinners, into his presence. For So God loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…

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He Shall Justify The Many…servant songs pt 16

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.(Isaiah 53:10-12)

It was the LORD himself who crushed the Servant, it pleased Him to do so. The plight of sinful man required this self offering as a substitution, for a righteous God can only receive sinners on righteous terms. Sin must be paid for, Holiness must be satisfied, the punishment must be carried out.

The LORD appointed the Servant, that He might take our place in the judgment of our sin. All of the humiliation, pain, perplexity and estrangement that He experienced, is summed up in this terse, “He(the LORD) hath put him (the Servant) to grief“. It can also read, “He hath made him sick”.

The death of the Servant was an offering of propitiation for our sins, that is a satisfaction offering. All of the demands of the broken law of God, and the offended holiness of God against sinners, have been satisfied by the offering of the Servant.

…when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin…This is addressed to the reader or hearer of this prophecy, “… When You make His life your sin offering…”. We are to approach God solely by the offering of this life, for this is the only sacrifice acceptable to God.

…he shall see his seed Death will not be the last word for the Servant, for the Servant will see the outcome of his agony, a believing seed will arise out of his work. He will be the source of a congregation , redeemed by His blood. They will be faithful and true believers in Him, and in the God whom He came to reveal.

…he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand… The Servant will live forever. This refers to the promise given in Psalms to David’s seed,

He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever. His glory is great in thy salvation: honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him. For thou hast made him most blessed for ever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.(Psalm 21:4-6)

God’s pleasure, (to redeem sinful men unto Himself), will succeed by the hand of the willing Servant. There will be many of every tribe and tongue who shall come to know the “only true God” through the work of the servant. The good purposes of the Lord shall flourish by the suffering of this one.

…He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied… This too is a reference to the resurrection of the Servant, and the satisfactory outcome of his work. He will see the result of what he suffered for, and will be satisfied. It will have been worth pouring out his very soul to death, when He sees the redeemed company, knowing and loving God.

…by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities… Accepting in humble faith, the report of what the Servant has done for us; with all of it’s implications as to our persons, (that we are sinners in need of redemption, utterly separated from God by our sins), amounts to saving faith.

Knowing and receiving the risen Servant of the LORD, and his work of sin bearing, taking upon himself the guilt for our sins, is the only way sinful man can be justified before a holy God. It is the God appointed way to be saved.

As “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness“, even so the many, who simply believe the report of the Servant, shall receive as a free gift right standing with God. This is only possible because the offering of the Servant has satisfied the claims against us, and given the LORD a Righteous way to justify us.

What glorious mystery! That we sinners can be justified by faith in the one who took our place in judgment before the Lord, dying under the penalty of God’s law in our place. Truly with tears streamiing down our eyes we sing ;

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain-
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace-
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray-
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Amazing love- how can it be” That thou my King shoudst die for me?

Hallelujah!

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He was Numbered With The Sinners…servant songs 14

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.(Isaiah 53:7-9)

The Servant Songs of Isaiah, are an increasingly detailed unveiling of the task assigned to the one God chose to “bring Jacob back to God“, and to “reveal God’s splendor to the ends of the earth”. How would this be accomplished?

The Servant will live close to God, he will be his disciple, listening daily for his word. His devotion to God will bring upon him the hatred and reproach of a world which has rejected God. He will even be tempted to be weary, and made to think that all has been in vain, for the Servant will be fully human.

Isaiah predicts that the Servant would have a ministry of the Word. He is called to establish truth in the earth, to a world which has long since rejected truth.His bearing with people will be gentle, he throws no one away, not even a “dimly burning flax“, or “a bruised reed“. He will speak the Father’s Word to the weary ones, refreshing them, restoring them to God. The broken, ruined and stained will be revived by the ministry of God’s servant.

But we realize as these songs unfold, that the task of worldwide reconciliation to God demands something much more of the Servant than teaching people, and bearing long with difficult ones. It becomes obvious that the task assigned to the Servant to “establish truth” and righteousness in the earth, and “to bring Jacob back to God“, demands an ultimate service; the laying down of His life as a substitutionary sacrifice. The Servant takes our place in Judgment. He pours out his own life for ours.

He was oppressed and afflicted yet opened not his mouth… This is a reference to the trial of the servant before human judgment. The Servant is silent when all of his “rights” are denied him, He offers no self-defense, no argument in his favor.He is like a lamb, led to the slaughter, completely compliant, in the face of outrageous injustice to his person.

He was taken from prison and from judgment:…the emphasis again is on the injustice of his trial and imprisonment. He was stripped of all of his rights and denied “due process”when He was led out to die an unjust death.

…who shall declare his generation? – The sense is ‘Who among his contemporaries even gave it a thought?’ Or, an alternative understanding is,’Who among his contemporaries spoke out for him?’. The idea is that his own generation did not recognize the Servant, they were indifferent to what happened to him, not seeing the significance of his actions.

…for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken… The Word “Cut off” , gazar, always has a violent meaning in the Hebrew bible. He was slain, he died a violent death, He was taken out at a relatively young age.

Why must the Servant die such a violent death? The answering phrase literally continues, “…Because of the rebellion of my people, the blow to Him/to them”. Motyer has it in his commentary, “…my people whose was the blow/to whom the blow belonged.”* The blow that should have landed on we, his redeemed people, instead landed on God’s servant.

… And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death… The text says literally, that “He was assigned a grave with the wicked ones…” . This was startlingly fulfilled in the gospel account of Jesus hanging on a cross between two thieves. Jesus warned his disciples the night he was betrayed that the scripture in Isaiah must be fulfilled, that in him, “He was numbered with the transgressors”.

We are also startled and amazed, by the next clause, that the Servant would be assigned a tomb, “…with the Rich one in his deaths…”. Note that the “wicked ones” are plural, but the “Rich one is singular”. He is talking about specific details, actual people. Jesus was executed between two malefactors, but buried in a rich Senator’s personal tomb. Isaiah saw that detail, 700 years earlier.

…because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth…Either this is saying, that the Servant was tried, and executed as a sinner, “Even though he had done no violence…”, or it is saying that the Servant was given an honorable burial after these outrages, “because he had done no violence…”. It could be both are true, and that like other prophecies, it has a dual meaning.

* Inter Varsity Press, The Prophecy of Isaiah Motyer, Alec

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The Vicarious Sufferer…4th Servant Song pt 13

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.(Isaiah 53:4-6)

We have been looking at the 4th Servant Song from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It seems that the Song is divided into three parts; 1) Introduction,(Is 52:13-15), 2) The Penitential confession of the Nation of Israel, (Is 53:1-9), and finally 3), the Benefits that the Servant gained, (Is 53:10-12).

We are in the middle section, which is written in the form of a sorrowful confession by the nation, which has been made to acknowledge their complete failure to understand the nature of the Servant and his divinely appointed task.

At the end of time, in the day of the LORD’s intervention into human affairs, Israel will come to realize that Jesus, “the man the nation abhorred…despised and rejected”, is none less than the long-awaited Messiah, sent by God to save them.

One of the things they will suddenly see, when finally the veil is lifted from their eyes, is that the sufferings of Jesus were vicarious sufferings, and that Jesus was carrying out a priestly role in his life and Passion at the hands of gentiles and Jews.

Thus the fourth verse could literally be rendered,

Verily they were our griefs ( or sicknesses) which He bore,and our sorrows ( or pains) with which He burdened himself…”

The word nasa, to bear is a technical Levitical term used of the sacrifices, for example of the “scapegoat” offering, from Leviticus 16

And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.(Leviticus 16:21-22)

The idea is that the sacrifice takes upon itself the sins, or takes responsibility or bears the penalty of, the sins of the worshippers. The fourth Servant Song is teaching that the true anti-type to the scapegoat offering is the Messiah himself. On the day that God opens Israel’s eyes, they shall see it and confess to it with sorrow and love.

Matthew 8 says that the physical healings of Jesus were a fulfillment of Isaiah 53,

When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.(Matthew 8:16-17)

It is true that sickness and disease are part of the curse, there would be none had man not sinned. The Messiah truly did come into the world and suffer to effect a complete salvation for those who worship him. This blood bought salvation shall ultimately be fully realized, for all of the affects of sin, pain, guilt, God estrangement, sickness, guilt, etc, will be done away. Surely He bore our griefs…

The Apostle Peter uses Isaiah 53 to proclaim this as well, when he reminded us that it was Jesus,

… Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.(I Peter 2:24)

The self incriminating confession of Israel’s blindness continues ;

(lit) “…But we regarded Him as stricken (Plagued),smitten of God and afflicted (bowed down under suffering)…”

The expressions, “Plagued”, “Smitten of God”, and “bowed down under suffering” all refer to the fate of one under the judgment of God for sins such as blasphemy.

We have already refered to the Talmudic epitaphs for Jesus; the Rabbis and Sages call him Jeshu ( May His name Be blotted out), the “Hanged one”,(cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree), a convicted magician, “the transgressor” who deserved such suffering and crushing.

But they will freely confess on that day that in their blindness they have only been terribly half right. This Servant of he LORD was indeed plagued, smitten and crushed by the LORD, but not for his own sins, for he did no sin, he never broke faith with God, but for all of ours!

It was for our transgressions that He was wounded(literally pierced through) …

Transgression is high-handed sin against God. God draws a line and forbids us to step over it, and we step right over it in defiance…because we won’t even have God rule us. But the Servant of the LORD was pierced through to death for our transgressions.

…He was bruised ( literally crushed) for our iniquities….

Our Iniquities, refer to our lawlessness. The Servant of the Lord was “crushed” under the wrath of God, for the lawlessness which estranged us from the Judge of all of the earth. This language of Him bearing our iniquities and our transgressions, cries out that the Servant is a vicarious substitute.

The sacrificial system ordained by God presupposes wrath and satisfaction by substitute. Torrents of blood flowed out of Jerusalem on feast days and even in the course of the daily temple services. There is nothing new to the Bible about substitution offerings, they have been around since the garden of Eden, when God killed an animal to clothe Adam and Eve.

There are those now, even within the confessing church, who question the justice of vicarious suffering, one Anglican Bishop going so far as to blasphemously suggest that Jesus suffering and dying in our place is some kind of “cosmic child abuse”.

The Cross: Cosmic Child Abuse Or Fitting?

But the reconciliation of man to God has as much to do with Righteousness as it does mercy. The Righteous God can only reconcile us in a Righteous way. The demands of the Law of God must be met; holiness and justice cry out for satisfaction.

At the end, when God opens her eyes, Israel will finally see and confess, that the one whom they had long rejected, was the Servant God appointed to make expiation* for them.

* To make right a wrong, to atone, to propitiate.

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He Was Despised…servant songs pt 12

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.(Isaiah 53:1-3)

It is the climax of human history, the apocalypse, the very end of the world. The Jewish people are surrounded on all sides by armies who have amassed themselves together to wipe them out! Israel’s enemies have never been so seemingly close to achieving their goal .

Suddenly something happens which is totally unexpected, Israel’s God reveals himself . The embattled nation dimly recognizes Him as the one whom they had once shunned and pierced. It is now evident that the Messiah/Saviour who has come to them in their most desperate hour, bears the marks of crucifixion!

The nation of Israel reels. It was Him all along? The Nazarene? Jesus ? Everything they thought they knew of their own history, scripture, and law has been upended. In the darkest hour, the 2500 year old prophecy of Zechariah is fulfilled, “They shall look upon ME whom they have pierced and they shall mourn as for an only Son…”.

In the fourth Servant Song, Isaiah predicts the heartfelt confession that the prodigal son nation of Israel, long estranged from her God, will make at that point in time ;

…he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.(Isaiah 53:1-3)

He is despised and rejected of men;…When men don’t ignore Him, they usually scorn or hate him, rejecting Him virulently. To this day, they often refuse to give any credence to Him, and loathe the implications of his life and ministry. Somehow they sense instinctively that this man reveals the very secrets of their own hearts, therefore they hate and shun him.

There is something about Him that brings out in men either an instinctive abhorrence , or an attraction, as it is written, “He came unto His own and His own received him not… but as many as received him…”. He does not and cannot ‘fit in’ with the Age, He is always separate, isolated, the outsider.

…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…This is a man completely familiar with the human condition. He knows by experience what sorrow and grief , weakness and limitation are all about. The Messiah entered into our human dilemma, experiencing death in all of its toxic forms.

…and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not…What is it about him that causes so many to turn away? To be tempted to be ashamed to even so much as associate with Him? Why does he have to promise reward for those who will confess him before their own generation?

We confess that there was a time for all of us, (the believing community of the Servant), that we couldn’t look at Him, we turned away from him in shame and horror. Was it that our own age so hated Him, and we didn’t want to share in His reproach ?

Is it a sad, misguided allegiance with the rest of the world that “despises and rejects” Him whom God has sent? Could it be that we know deeply that His suffering is a testimony to our own sinfulness, weakness, and rebellion ? Does He not evoke the deepest wells of God hatred in the hearts of Adam’s proud sons and daughters?

So we have all turned away our faces from Him at one time or anther. We have laughed at him, taking out own seat with the rest of the scorners who cynically mock him in our own age. Our estimation of Him has been faulty, we didn’t see anything special in Him, nothing to regard or be in awe of.

But all that tells us is that our own faculties of judgment are so utterly corrupt, and that sin has made us all hopelessly bankrupt, morally and spiritually, unable to see truth, Beauty and genuine Holiness and goodness, when it is presented to us.He, the Servant, is rejected of men, but precious to God.

The Jewish nation has had many figures in her history, many noble and more than a few ignoble. But far and away the one figure in Jewish history who has invoked the most intense despite, and loathing among them , has been Jesus of Nazareth.

I quote the Hebrew Christian author of the last century, David Baron;

“No person in the history of the Jews has provoked such deep-seated abhorrence, as He who came only to bless them and on the cross prayed for them,”Father forgive them, they know not what they have done…”…Their hatred of Him was intense and mysterious…All through the centuries no name has provoked such intense abhorrence among the Jews as Jesus…I have known personally most amiable, and as men, lovable characters among the Jews; but immediately the name “Jesus” was mentioned, a change came over their countenances, and they would fall into a passion of anger….How often it has been my lot to witness some of my people almost mad with rage – clenching their fists, gnashing their teeth, and spitting on the ground at the very mention of that name which to the believer is “As an ointment poured fourth”….Israel’s atitude to our Lord Jesus may be gathered also from their literature. In the filthy legends about him in the Talmud and more modern productions, the very names by which he is called are blasphemous. The precious name Yeshua has been changed to Yeshu,(an acronym meaning ‘May his name and memory be blotted out’)…He is often styled “the Transgressor” and another frequently used term, “Tolui( “the hanged One”) which is equivalent to “the accursed one”.( Baron, The Servant of Jehovah)

But the Jewish people are a microcosm of the entire Human race, their unbelief and rejection of their own Messiah is a type of all of our own bitterness towards God. How did we eventually  come to love Jesus, whom we once would have (and did) crucified?

He revealed himself to us in grace and Mercy, as He will soon to his own original chosen people! Hallelujah!

Surely He has Bourne our griefs

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Syria’s Agonizing Future Foretold…

(This is a rerun in view of recent developments) 

The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid.(Isaiah 17:2)

To get an idea of just how apocalyptic our times actually are, consider recent events of heartbreaking and shattering significance , in the Middle East , just since the 2011 Arab Sring , which I wrote about in my book A Sword On The Land: The Muslim World in Bible Prophecy ,

Egypt went from being a relatively stable nation run by Hosni Mubarek, an ally in the war on terror and a hard headed realist, then descended into a time of bloody unrest and even civil war, due to Washington DC’s insertion of the once banned Muslim Brotherhood into Egypt’s politics. It took a coup to take the country out of the grip of the brutal Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi , but the country remains in tension.

Libya was also a stable Arab country, which offered her citizens amazing benefits for all of her citizens; full health care, full education, a monthly share of the nations oil revenues, and government help in housing, and basic needs. Libya was Africa’s richest and perhaps most stable Muslim country.

Though he admittedly had participated in terrorism in the past against the West, Gaddaffi co-operated in the war on terror also, and voluntarily relinquished his nation’s nuclear stockpile when the Gulf war 2 began in 2003.

But all of that ended when the Obama administration and the European Union decided Gaddaffi had to go.  The nation’s leader  was paraded through the streets and tortured on live television by a baying Muslim mob, then slaughtered. Libya has descended into a hellish chaos of warring factions, terrorism, corruption, rape, murder and violence to this day.

The hasty withdrawal of the US military from the hard won Iraq theater of war, virtually turned that nation and parts of Syria also into a hell scenario as well, leaving a vacuum which is being contested by factions such as the Kurds, the Shiites of Iran and Iraq, and ISIS, the Sunni militia which seized an area the size of the state of Indiana,and declared the resurrection of the Caliphate, the Sunni central authority which had been disbanded in 1922. This has released a reign of terror, Sharia imposition, sexual slave markets, Christian and Yazidi persecution, the resumption of beheading and crucifixion as punishments throughout the area.

Iraq had been the home of (recently 2,000,000) Chaldean Christians for 2000 years, going back to the days of the Apostles! Their number now, after US and western intervention and hasty withdrawal? Less than 200,000 remain. This is nothing less than genocide.

Then the West turned their attention to Syria, a nation of 22 million people, (almost ten million of which have gone into exile). Do we realize the magnitude of the suffering?  Half of a modern nation’s population has had to leave their homeland? ill ions flowed into Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and now up into Europe and America. (None into the Sunni oil producing nations such as Saudi Arabia).

The double proxy war between Russia and the United States, and between the Sunni and Shiite world of Islam is so savage, whole cities have been deserted and ten million people have been displaced. Almost a million have been killed, and countless others have been maimed or wounded.

These are just four countries, I could go on and on! Egypt, the largest Arab nation in the world, Libya, Iraq, and Syria,   decimated! Dissected and bombed and crushed, with millions streaming throughout the world, uprooted, homeless and battle hardened in many cases.

We often are so overwhelmed by one apocalyptic scenario crowding out the previous and the previous one before that, we are almost benumbed.

But all of this was foretold by the Prophets of the Bible, and what we are seeing is a portent of even more astonishing and nightmarish scenarios.

 

Damascus shall be a heap of rubble, it shall no more be a city…

Damascus is known as the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. The prophets Elijah and Elisha went there to minister to Assyrian Kings. The blinded Saul of Tarsus was led by the hand to a home on Damascus’s Straight street, where he found his Christ, and recovered his sight. That very street still exists in Damascus.

This Ancient city has a rich history spanning thousands of years, encompassing influxes of Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders, Byzantines, and Muslims. The population of Damascus currently is about 85 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 5 percent other.

But according to scripture, the city is doomed to utter destruction in the last days, as are several other Arab cities.

Presently Damascus is the capital of Syria, which is ruled by Bashir Assad, a secular Arab leader, but also an implacable enemy of Israel. Assad’s Ba’athist ruling party is a relic of the Pan Arabist, fascist, secular experiments of the 1960′s and 70′s. The other notable Ba’athist government was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which has since been dismantled.

Assad is an Alawite Muslim, but his rule has been secular. Assad’s Syria has been a harshly ruled police state, with the Alawite minority ruling over the Sunni majority, breeding much resentment .

Bashir’s allies are the Iranian shiite regime and the Russians, as well as the Shiite south of Lebanon(Hezbullah) and the Shiites of Yemen and southern Arabia.

He is opposed by the Sunnis of Syria,Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and their patron the United States,and the EU.

The Syrian regime has waged a decades long war against the Muslim brotherhood, at one time even cordoning off large sections of Hama(Syria’s fourth largest city, and a long time Muslim Brotherhood stronghold), and carpet bombing entire sectors where Brotherhood sympathizers lived.killing 20,000. Bulldozers leveled the rubble of what were once teeming neighborhoods.

Israel sees Bashir, the Russians and the Iranians as the more dangerous coalition, although they have recently been menaced by ISIS, which is a Sunni expression of terror.

Israel has recently sent air sorties up to Damascus and bombed Syrian stores of weapons  of mass destruction, just outside of Damascus.

A dreadful thing which has not ever happened in history is about to occur, Damascus will cease from being a city, no longer will it be a seat of Government, a heap of rubble is it’s future.

Jeremiah implies that shortly before her destruction, Damascus will be surprised that Jerusalem is not “deserted” as she expected, this causes Damascus to lose heart herself.

Damascus has grown feeble; 
She turns to flee, 
And fear has seized her.
Anguish and sorrows have taken her like a woman in labor. 
Why is the city of praise not deserted, the city of My joy? 
Therefore her young men shall fall in her streets, 
And all the men of war shall be cut off in that day,” says the LORD of hosts. 
“ I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus, 
And it shall consume the palaces of Ben-Hadad.”( Jeremiah 49:24-27)

Whatever the provocation, the destruction of Damascus will reflect badly upon Israel in the court of world opinion. The world will turn on Israel, blaming her for what happens to Damascus. What little favor Israel had enjoyed up till then will shrivel up, it will resemble the last few olives left after the shaking of the olive tree by the reapers.

“ In that day it shall come to pass 
That the glory of Jacob will wane, 
And the fatness of his flesh grow lean. 
It shall be as when the harvester gathers the grain, 
And reaps the heads with his arm; 
It shall be as he who gathers heads of grain 
In the Valley of Rephaim. 
Yet gleaning grapes will be left in it, 
Like the shaking of an olive tree, 
Two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bough, 
Four or five in its most fruitful branches,” 
Says the LORD God of Israel.(Isaiah 17:4-6)

Damascus shall be obliterated in the context of a wider war, which will be destructive of other Arab cities as well, such as the area we call Gaza, which is a terrorist state designated as part of the U.N.imposed “two state solution”, but which God calls, “the nation not desired”…

Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together,
O undesirable nation, 
Before the decree is issued, 
Or the day passes like chaff, 
Before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you, 
Before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you! (Zechariah 2:1-2)

For Gaza shall be forsaken, 
And Ashkelon desolate; 
They shall drive out Ashdod at noonday, 
And Ekron shall be uprooted. 
Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, 
The nation of the Cherethites! 
The word of the LORD is against you, 
O Canaan, land of the Philistines: (Zephaniah 2:4-5)

The one positive aspect of these terrible times, is that even the hardest of men will begin to seek the living God,

In that day a man will look to his Maker,
And his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 17:7)

Zechariah echoes Isaiah,

The burden of the word of the LORD in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel, shall be toward the LORD.(Zechariah 9:1)

The international outcry that will be raised against Israel will be unprecedented. The nations line up to register complaint in the U.N., newspaper headlines will scream, pundits will wax eloquent with moral indignation, religious leaders will pontificate against Israel, her former lovers will leave her, and it will be extremely unfashionable to stand with God’s chosen people in that day.

Woe to the multitude of many people 
Who make a noise like the roar of the seas, 
And to the rushing of nations 
That make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! 
13 The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters; …(Isaiah 17:11-12)

But the outcry will merely be the prelude to the outpouring of Divine wrath upon all nations . Tribulation such as never occurred upon the earth, the wind and the sea raging, and men’s hearts failing them for fear…

But God will rebuke them and they will flee far away, 
And be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind, 
Like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.(Isaiah 17: 13-14)

But it is as in the evening, which seems always darkest before dawn, such is the tribulation and time of Jacob’s trouble, as Isaiah says,

Then behold, at eventide, trouble! 
And before the morning, he is no more. 
This is the portion of those who plunder us, 
And the lot of those who rob us.(Isaiah 17:14)

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What We Didn’t Understand…servant songs pt 11

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

Isaiah 53, the fourth Servant Song, takes the perspective of the congregation, the beneficiaries of God’s Servant. We see in this song, that for the most part, the Servant is misinterpreted due to His sufferings and overall rejection by the nation. The last thing any of us would have expected, when considering God’s plan to restore Israel and save the whole world, would be a suffering and apparently defeated Messiah!

Isaiah predicts that Israel would actually believe that the Servant was a figure under God’s judgment, suffering the just recompense of a blasphemer. Did he not hang on a tree ? Is that not the mark of a man cursed of God? Didn’t the Pagan Kings of Canaan hang on trees. in Joshua? Isn’t that the fate of Saul, Absalom and the children of Saul? Is it not written in the law of Moses.

And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God); that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.(Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

The man hanging between heaven and earth, derelict of all of his friends and lovers, and even abandoned by God himself, truly was cursed by God. He is even made to wear the crown of the curse, for thorns and thistles are the result of our sin and defection from God. This tormented soul, writhing in agony, suspended between heaven and earth , helpless before his jeering enemies, is a horrifying object of pity.

And He is alone. The Servant must alone represent the whole of humanity, “all we like sheep”. Thus he is radically separated from all of us. The prophecy juxtaposes the plural ‘all we…” and “us” over against the singular, “He…himself…”, who took our place in judgment as a substitute.

“He is despised…we hid our faces from him…”

“Surely He bore our griefs…”

“All we like sheep have gone astray, but the Lord laid the iniquity of us all upon Him“.

This utter isolation and complete estrangement that he underwent is the end of Sin; the absolute cutting off from all that makes life bearable. It is where sin takes a person in the end and for eternity, utter aloneness. “He is despised and rejected…a man of sorrows…” Small wonder they esteemed him “smitten of God and afflicted”.No person could ever be so alone as the Servant of the Lord was, when he stood as our scapegoat, our sin bearing substitute.

This was the stumbling block for Saul of Tarsus, it is what caused him to utterly hate the name of Jesus, and all who called upon his name. How dare they proclaim that the Messiah of Israel, died the death of a man cursed of God! He that hangs is cursed of God!! How could they say that Messiah was accursed? The Messiah represents triumph and victory, not ignoble death.

It would take a revelation from God to see the truth hidden in the horrifying sight of the Servant of God, hanging there,suffering and defeated… . His hands and feet are pierced and bound, he is so helpless he couldn’t even wipe away his sweat and tears, nor cover his naked body before the crowd of onlookers. What could he have possibly done to have incurred this wrath?

The Prophet Isaiah reveals to us what we couldn’t understand in any other way.

‘This man was cursed of God indeed, there is no denying it…But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:…the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. This is what we didn’t see, that His sufferings were vicarious, he was bearing the sufferings we deserved, for the Servant’s work was to become our scape goat, and to take upon himself the punishment for our sins,iniquities and transgressions.

The word “wounded” is a word that refers to piercing, He was pierced for our transgressions. Transgressions are acts of open defiance and rebellion. The word “Bruised” means ‘crushed’, the Servant was crushed on account of our iniquities, that is the lawless, perversity of our nature.

The God appointed sacrificial system ordained that an Ox be one of the offerings. What does an Ox do for man? The Ox is the strong, bearing the heavy burden for the weak. Isaiah tells us that the Servant “took up on himself our griefs, and sorrows…” and carried them away for us, unto judgment and death. All of the foul consequence of our sin, the anxiety and fear, stress, regret, shame, confusion, sorrow, physical and mental ache, in short everything that squeezes out our life as a result of our sin, He shouldered for us.

Isaiah reveals to us also, that the horror the Servant underwent, was penal. In his passion, He was taking upon himself the “chastisement necessary to our peace with God…”, the stripes were what we deserved. This is what it took to give us peace with God, nothing less. Someone had to pay, justice had to be satisfied, the demands of holiness had to be answered!

So the Servant took the place of the many, that is, of all of us. So this was the mysterious task appointed the Servant by God. This is what it would take to “Bring Jacob back to God…“and to shine the light of God’s salvation into the darkness of the nations.

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