I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

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You will say in that day:

“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,

for though you were angry with me,

your anger turned away,

that you might comfort me.”

Isaiah 12: 1

 

The Prophet is looking ahead to a time in the future when God’s people, in his case the nation of Israel, will recognize their sinful disobedience of God and God’s faithfulness to them. Isaiah anticipates something that he has not seen. He dreams of the people’s repentant hearts. He is also very aware of God’s nature and of His desire for reconciliation with people. I doubt that Isaiah fully comprehends how God will cause this reconciliation to happen. He just knows that it will occur, and he accepts it on faith that it will be affected by the actions of God’s own Messiah. Isaiah doesn’t need to know more than this to trust God fully.

 

From where we reside in the long history of humanity, we have a different view upon God’s redemptive work. We have the testimony of God’s Word and of generations of people with all of it speaking the praises of Jesus, God’s Messiah, who has come and given His all to grant to everyone who believes that peace and salvation that God has always desired for us to enjoy. There is no question in my mind that I do not deserve the loving embrace with which God continually holds me. My thoughts and actions would seem to require a response that is comprised of punishment and rejection. Yet God grants grace and acceptance to me.

 

When I am disobedient and defiant, God provides me with His truth. As I turn away from love and embrace my own passions and desires, God shows me His better way. In all that I do out of willfulness, pride, anger, or fear; God walks with me and redirects my mind and my heart toward His righteous purposes. In Christ all people have been granted the gift of the ability to live with Isaiah’s hymn of thankfulness and praise on our lips during every hour of each day. In Christ we are given the comfort and the peace that come only in and through close relationship with God.

This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet. “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew 2: 14, 15

 

As Matthew wrote down these words from Hosea 11, he was quoting a passage that was very dear to the Jewish people. The full text speaks to the love that God had for His people, Israel. It reminded them that God had rescued them from their captivity and that He had given them a dwelling place of their own. It also evokes the reality of the presence of God in their midst. It was a place to dwell; that is land to subdue and till, and the presence of God in that place that defined God’s chosen people. However, as he relates this passage Matthew’s eyes had been opened to understand the true meaning behind the prophet’s words.

 

Although at the time of their original writing Hosea was speaking about the nation of Israel, God meant much more than just that. He was also indicating the way that all people could be brought out of that place of exile where we had been taken as captives to sin. I think that a part of this entire narrative of the flight of Jesus’ family from the threat of death at Herod’s hands is related to the way that Jesus does, in fact, know from experience all that we do encounter in living in this world. Although He was just a child, I would imagine that Jesus did recall this time of exile and separation, and this understanding influences His ability to connect with each of us as we live apart from our true home.

 

Without Christ we are living in a form of what Hosea was calling Egypt. This is a place of utter separation from God. It is outside of His kingdom. It is a place where we can be as good as we can possibly be, work diligently and hard, and seek to do great good; yet, we will not truly accomplish anything of eternal worth or possess a place of dwelling in God’s presence. Christ understands that evil has taken our hearts and minds captive and that Satan is attempting to hold people as hostages for his own selfish purposes. Jesus, the Christ, leads us out of that kingdom of death. He brings us into the kingdom of God; then, Christ grants calling, mission and purpose to each of His people as we engage the work of bringing glory to God’s name.

 

 

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;

do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.

Isaiah 54: 2

 

At the end of many days the thing that I want most is to just get home, close the door, turn off the phone, and settle in with my immediate family. Note these key words here: close, turn off, and immediate. There is little room here for any one or anything from the outside of my home, and there is little interest in expanding that environment either. Now Isaiah 54 is about the nation of Israel and it is not written to give me personal instruction; so, I don’t really need to listen to it beyond enjoying the poetry. Well, I think that last idea is wrong.

 

Yes this is about the nation of Israel who are God’s people, and in Christ, we are God’s people. Also, national character influences the actions of its citizens, and the actions of each of us build our character, which has a tangible influence on our nation’s character. So, what is Isaiah talking about when he tells Israel to expand the perimeter of its tents? He is saying to be hopeful and to be open to take in each and everyone who comes your way. God is telling His children to open our hearts and our homes to the prospect of an increase in our numbers that will come from God’s blessing us with natural children and with the spiritual family made up of those who come to us from the outside.

 

God wants me to set aside my weary self-protection and open my doors to my neighbor. He tells me to tie back the flaps to my tent as a sign of hospitality so that the outsider will know that it is safe to come to my house for comfort and rest. The means and the methods of doing this vary greatly depending on our differing situations and various local cultures. Yet, even with these differences, God’s commitment to us remains the same. He promises an increase in our families that is based upon His provision of peace and reconciliation God asks us to open our hearts and our minds to His understanding of neighbor and of family, and the Lord wants us to approach our world with open arms that are ready to greet the foreigner with a welcoming embrace.

 

 

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel;

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43: 1

 

Are these the words of a proud father welcoming home a child who has gone a bit far beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior? In a sense, yes they are. But the deviation from the standard of acceptability has been far beyond what most people would allow, and that defiant journey has involved the outright rejection of God and of His righteousness. Isaiah has just finished describing how much the nation of Israel deserves to receive God’s anger and punishment for their sinful thoughts and actions. Yet, here is God’s voice speaking words of comfort. The Father is reminding the people of their special place in His heart, and telling them that they are redeemed by His loving grace.

 

Although the Lord is addressing Israel specifically and directly here in Isaiah, I think that Paul’s words in Romans give us all a clear understanding of our equal place in God’s redemptive plan. So, I also think that anyone of any race or nationality can and should take to heart God’s words of warning and His promises of grace whether they are written in the Old Testament or in the New. There is no one, myself absolutely included, who has not been deaf and blind, who has not refused to see what God has made plainly evident, and who has not sinned against the Lord. We all stand with Israel in our guilt.

 

Yet that is the Lord’s point. He created and formed each of us; so, He knows us beyond any of our ability to comprehend. The Father does not desire for any of His people to live out our lives, to end our days and to spend our eternity apart from Him. In Christ He has provided us with the way and the means to end our period of separation and enter into life. But here is where the story of God’s promise to a nation known as Israel and our own individual narratives diverge. The Lord has promised an end of time restoration to something that He knows as Israel, and He has promised the opportunity to accept Christ as Lord and Savior to each of us so that we can be redeemed. God’s heart desires to call us by name; thus, Christ calls to each of us to accept Him so that God can truly call us by name saying, “Come to me my beloved child and know my peace.”