For the week of July 21, 2007 / 6 Av 5767
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27
Telling It Like It Is
Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. (Isaiah 1:7)
In the opening chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah we encounter a very negative description of life in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). The interesting thing about this is that it probably isn't an accurate description of what was going on around him when he spoke these words. If my understanding is correct, Isaiah lived during a basically prosperous time. While there were various threats from the world powers of his day, for the most part, things were pretty good.
What Isaiah spoke of was not to happen until some time much later, when the Land would become completely desolate and the people carried away into exile. Yet he spoke of it as if it were the current reality. This is what it was like for many of the prophets. Their understanding of life was affected more by what they saw in the future, than whatever the current circumstances suggested.
Note that what the prophets were saying were not simply predictions. They were not just foretelling future events. Their speaking of the future was intimately connected to the welfare of the people to whom they were addressing as well as to those who would read their words in future generations.
People tend to derive their understanding of life from their circumstances. If things are going well, then we must be doing what's right. If things are bad, then we tend to seek change to make our lives better. This way of thinking neglects the influences of forces outside of our control. It is a way of thinking that disregards God and our fundamental need to submit to his will. It is a way of thinking that forgets that God is the Ruler of the Universe and of our circumstances.
The prophet comes with a message of God's reality. He cuts through the fog of life's circumstances. He comes to heal our spiritual nearsightedness, bringing into focus the implications of our current way of life.
It is too bad that the prophets are rarely heeded. They are too often seen as party poopers - they are the "glass-is-half-empty" kind of people. But the issue isn't over how positive or negative their message is, but rather over whether or not they are telling the truth.
Discerning the validity of their message isn't really that difficult to do. It is not as if the messages of the biblical prophets came out of nowhere. Their words of warning and promise were firmly founded upon God's earlier revelation to Israel through the Torah. The Torah clearly warned that if the people did not submit to God then they would be in big trouble. That's basically what prophets such as Isaiah were saying. They understood where the hearts of the people of their day were at and knew that they were heading down a destructive road. I don't think they were just figuring it out on their own, however. God enabled them to see what was really going on and where it would lead. Their job, then, was to tell it like it is.
We need people today who, like the prophets of old, are willing to tell it like it is. Even with the threats of global terrorism, world-wide epidemics, and unrest in many places, most of us think everything is just fine, when it is not. If we would be willing to compare our lives with the standards of God in his Word, how would we see the world today? And if we were brave enough to see it, who would be willing to tell it like it is?
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