Saturday, April 14, 2007

“Isaiah 35:6, Loy!”



Then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the silent shall sing for joy!
Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
and streams will water the wasteland.

Isaiah 35:6

Isaiah 35: A meditation of life in the desert

Last week was the anniversary of my dad’s death. It’s always a tough time of the year, especially for mom… but it’s good to remember, and good to talk about love that never dies. We celebrated in low-key style: my mother, aunt and I shared a wonderful meal, giving thanks for the blessings of life and family, remembering in hope.

This meditation is a celebration of my dad’s faith – the conquering faith that framed his life and lives on even after his passing. May it encourage you to conquer too, today!


A spiritual reality of the desert

The prophecy of Isaiah faces us with the reality of the desert – and not just any desert, but the desert of spirit – the wasteland… the dry, barren places of the heart. The prophecy carries special meaning for those in exile, those facing the lonely stretches of life, perhaps with unanswered prayer or silence from God.

In a sense, the ancient people of Israel lived with one foot in the desert. They understood barrenness. Historically, their nation passed through 40 years of wilderness wandering before inheriting the land. And, even when entering the Promised Land, found that large portions of it were rocky and dry, with few naturally fertile areas, limited water and little planting soil.

They understood the physical desert, and faced it with irrigation and hard work. But today’s text references a far more fearsome desert: the desert of the soul, spiritual loneliness and apparent desertion by God: a desert beyond human resource.

Verses 3 and 4 hint at the emotional depression of this spiritual desert:

Strengthen the trembling hands, steady the weakened knees;
Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear...”


There are some things in life that go far beyond what our human resources can handle. The times when prayers aren’t clearly answered, when medicine can’t seem to help, when doctors shake their heads, when counsel of friends just rings hollow… when the heart seems silent and cold.

Anyone who has walked the dry and barren places of life will understand the feeling of Israel in the spiritual desert. You will understand the cry of the faithful captives, “How long, O Lord how long?” [Psalm 89:46, et al].

Behind these verses of Isaiah is a picture of people in Exile. Can you see them there in a foreign land, with harps hung by the rivers of Babylon? Slaves in a far away land, they lived with only endless desert between them and home... an emptiness deep inside... silenced music of the heart.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
And there we wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1).


The people of Israel faced the problem of the desert. It is our problem too.

The text offers two windows of desert resolution, and both are related to the character of God. The problem of the desert is countered with the presence and promise of God.

A holy presence in the desert

The presence of God is promised in verse 4:

Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear;
Your God will come, He will come with vengeance;
With divine retribution He will come to save you.”


God will come with justice and salvation! These were the words they were waiting to hear!

Verses 5 through 7 flesh out this thought:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground a bubbling spring.


This is an incredible prophecy of God’s future presence, but for people in immediate distress, often these are only words.

Our Lord Jesus said “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” but sometimes it feels as if He has forsaken us. Honestly, don’t you sometimes feel as if you are alone in the journey? If so, realize that in the spiritual desert, this is often a normal feeling.

“My God, why have you forsaken me?” [Psalm 22:1].
“You said great things would happen, but I don’t see them in my life.”


Even John the Baptist felt this way. John was chosen by God to precede Christ, preaching repentance: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” John’s ministry reflected supernatural blessing. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Yet he was thrown in prison for faithfulness to the Gospel! Sitting there on death row, praying for intervention, he fell into depression. He had only done what was right, and now faced the price of his life. In desperation he sent two messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the One, or should we look for another?”

In other words, “If you are the Christ, what am I doing in prison?”

It is fascinating that Jesus answered this question with words from Isaiah:

Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them [Luke 7:22, et al].


In other words, “The kingdom is among you, God has arrived, Messiah is here!” Even in prison, John, rejoice in the presence of God! The work of God is here, in Christ. Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear...Your God will come...” (v. 4).

This is the prophecy of presence in the wastelands, God’s presence for those who believe... the first window of hope in the desert.

A promise of return

The second window of the text is a promise of return.

In the haunts where the jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there; and it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in the Way (v. 7b-8).
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
Gladness and joy will overwhelm them, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (v. 10).


This prophecy of Isaiah captures two time frames, two dimensions – human and cosmic.

The human dimension of this prophecy was fulfilled in part when the sons and daughters of Judah danced through the gates of Zion in return from Babylonian Exile, singing the song of God: “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion!”

This human aspect was also partially fulfilled in 1948 when, against all odds, Israel once again became a nation, Jews returning to Jerusalem from the scattered corners of the earth.

A tension in desert promise

But today we live in the harsh reality of bombs and terrorists in the city of David. The haunt of jackals has not yet been replaced by flowering plants. Every bomb that explodes only proves that the cosmic reach of this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled.

The cosmic dimension promises a Highway of Holiness, purity of heart and conquered jackals.

But we aren’t there yet.

This is the striking tension of the kingdom: God’s presence is with us, yet at times we walk in silence; the promise of return is real, yet the desert has not fully blossomed.

The Highway of Holiness is not yet perfectly clear. We still walk the haunts of jackals. In a very real sense there is both now and not yet to the kingdom of God. Jesus said that the rule of God would be now in our hearts, yet it was to come over all the earth.

This is the exact vision that Job saw in darkness. In the midst of pain and doubt, he looked up and saw the truth: I know that my Redeemer liveth, and He shall stand upon the earth on the latter day (Job 19:25f). “My Redeemer lives – but there is coming a time He will stand upon the earth.” “In my flesh I shall see God!

This is the tension of faith. It is the desert.

It is the interim between God’s revelation and final rule.

For people in Exile, the promise was ironclad: return would happen, the wilderness would once again blossom, the “years that the locust had eaten would be restored” (Joel 2:25). But they waited for that in hope.

They took the promise on a balance of faith and believed the outcome a foregone conclusion.

“Isaiah 35:6, Loy!”

My father understood this concept very well. He was crippled by polio at an early age, yet did not give up faith. At 11 years old he went from being the fastest kid in his class to the one who could not walk. He went from being a baseball prodigy to the one who could not throw a ball. But stricken in body he did not shrink in soul. He accepted partial healing of body and the vast inner wholeness that Scripture brought him. He would do what he could, and then say with a smile, “Isaiah 35:6, boys!” “Isaiah 35:6!” “The lame man will leap like a deer!”’

In one of my last conversations with him, I had to leave for Chicago, knowing he was at death’s door. In tears I told him that if I did not see him again, I’d see him over there, and we’d play ball like we were meant to – with him in a whole body: No more sitting on a wooden box trying to bat a ball with one hand! No more wishing he could run with us! He would run whole and free. He looked at me, smiled, and in his weak voice said,

“Isaiah 35:6, Loy!” “Isaiah 35:6!” “I’m going to run like a deer!”


For him the words were yet not yet fulfilled, but he lived in the promise as a reality.

Is the desert real? Is it a problem? Yes, it is... but not without the presence and promise of God!

Christ’s victory is assured. He stands as conqueror over the gathered forces of darkness! There is great power for the one who will see, even while walking the burning sand, the vision of the dew kissed rose. Even within the haunts of jackals, rich grass yet will grow.

The thirsty ground will be a bubbling spring!

Perhaps you’ve been waiting long for the desert to bloom like a rose. If so, dare to believe that He is present and working now. Can you see your desert blossoming with future life?

On the basis of these verses, can you ask, “What is God doing in the barren places of my life?”

This text gives the supernatural truth that those who experience exile in their lives, those who pass through the wilderness, those who are weak and hard pressed may shout for joy, for God can and will transform all things.

Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear;
Your God will come...With divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground a bubbling spring!


Where you need it most, may it be so.

Selah.

2 comments:

AP said...

Loy,

Thanks for sharing this powerful message of promise. The words to this song by Bob Fitts & Gary Sadler came flooding into my heart as I read your post...

Say to those who are fearful hearted,
"Do not be afraid,
The Lord your God is strong,
with His mighty arm,
When you call on His name,
He will come and save.”

He will come and save you;
He will come and save you
Say to the weary one,
"Your God will surely come"
He will come and save you

He will come and save you;
He will come and save you
Lift up your eyes to Him,
you will arise again,
He will come and save you

Say to those who are broken hearted,
"Do not lose your faith,
The Lord your God is strong,
with His loving arms,
When you call on His name,
He will come and save."

He will come and save you;
He will come and save you
Say to the weary one,
"Your God will surely come"
He will come and save you

He will come and save you;
He will come and save you
Lift up your eyes to Him,
you will arise again,
He will come and save you

Purple Birdie said...

God bless you for sharing the testimony of your father, and in doing so, the testimony of your own faith shines clear. :) I hope to watch the game sometime over there.
God bless~J