Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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A King in Whom Almighty God Is With Us [Family Worship lesson in Isaiah 7:1–9:7]

What hope is there against great enemies and even against our own sin? Isaiah 7:1–9:7 looks forward to the first public reading in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these fifty-four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that Christ alone is the forever-King Who is righteous before God and redeems a remnant whom He makes righteous like Himself.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

2024.07.24 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 7:1–9:7

Read Isaiah 7:1–9:7

Questions from the Scripture text: In whose days does this take place (Isaiah 7:1)? Who go where to make war against them? With what success? What is Ahaz’s house called in Isaiah 7:2? What were they told? With what response? Who speaks to whom in Isaiah 7:3? Whom does Yahweh say to meet? With whom? Where? What does Yahweh say not to do (Isaiah 7:4)? Why will He defend Judah (Isaiah 7:5-6)? What does Yahweh say of their plans (Isaiah 7:7)? What fate will Syria and Ephraim (Israel) suffer, on account of their leaders in their capital cities (Isaiah 7:8-9)? What will happen to Ahaz (and, by extension, Jerusalem and Judah) if he does not believe? What does Yahweh command Ahaz to do in Isaiah 7:10-11? How does Ahaz (supposedly piously) respond (Isaiah 7:12)? But what does Yahweh think of this religiously rationalized disobedience (Isaiah 7:13)? What sign does Yahweh choose instead (Isaiah 7:14)? What will the virgin call her son? What will he reach the age of eating (Isaiah 7:15)? What will he reach the age of reasoning? But what will happen to Israel and Syria before then (Isaiah 7:16)? How (Isaiah 7:17)? And who will begin to shave Judah clean, also, at that time (Isaiah 7:18-20)? What will they have to live off of (Isaiah 7:21-22)? Why not off of crops (Isaiah 7:23-25)? What was Isaiah to take in Isaiah 8:1? And write what quadruple name on it? Who will witness this (Isaiah 8:2)? To whom does Isaiah go in Isaiah 8:3? What does she do? Who picks the name for the son? Why this name (Isaiah 8:4)? To whom does Yahweh speak in Isaiah 8:5? Who have Judah rejoiced in instead of the Lord (Isaiah 8:6)? Whom will the Lord bring upon them for having put their trust in the northern kingdom (Isaiah 8:7-8)? How does the virgin’s son’s name testify against all three peoples (Isaiah 8:9-10)? In what manner does Yahweh now speak to Isaiah (Isaiah 8:11)? What was Ahaz trying to form with Assyria, from which Isaiah was to distance himself (Isaiah 8:12a–b)? What mustn’t he fear when opposing king and people (verse 12c)? Whom should he fear instead (Isaiah 8:13)? What will Yahweh be to Isaiah (Isaiah 8:14)? But what to Israel and Judah? What will happen to many of them (Isaiah 8:15)? What is Isaiah to affirm and protect with those whom he instructs (Isaiah 8:16)? Upon whom is he to wait with them (Isaiah 8:17)? To Whom does he present himself and them (Isaiah 8:18)? What about the people trying to seek spiritual knowledge or power some other way (Isaiah 8:19)? Where, alone, must they seek it (Isaiah 8:20)? How much light do they have without it? What will the one who goes to superstitions instead of the Lord go through (Isaiah 8:21-22)? Where will Assyria bring its darkness first (Isaiah 9:1)? But the what also will be seen there (Isaiah 9:2)? How big will the remnant ultimately be (Isaiah 9:3)? And what will be their experience (verse 3)? Why will they be so glad (Isaiah 9:4)? What will they have to do with the vast amount of spoil (Isaiah 9:5)? How does this multiplication, joy, and victory come about (Isaiah 9:6)? What do we learn about the King by His multi-faceted Name? How long will this last (Isaiah 9:7)? From whose line will He come? What sort of reign will this be? How can all of this come about?

What hope is there against great enemies and even against our own sin? Isaiah 7:1–9:7 looks forward to the first serial reading in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these fifty-four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that Christ alone is the forever-King Who is righteous before God and redeems a remnant whom He makes righteous like Himself. 

We have quite a large portion of text today, because this is really all one section in the book of Isaiah. On the whole, chapters 6–12 are dealing with the coming King, as He is necessitated by, and pointed to by, what is currently occurring in Judah and Israel. Isaiah 7:1–9:7 cover God’s dealings with Judah in the south. Then Isaiah 9:8–11:16 parallel them, but this time in His dealings with Israel in the north. Then, there is a closing hymn (chapter 12) making personal/individual application of this promised salvation. For today, we see how Ahaz’s anxiety, self-reliance, and false spirituality necessitate the coming of the true Forever-King.

Circumstances that threaten to move our hearts (Isaiah 7:1–9). Fear can take our hearts off of trust in the Lord and devotion to Him. Even though he was “the house of David,” the threat of an alliance against him, between Syria and Israel, moved Ahaz’s and the people’s heart “as the trees of the woods are moved with wind” (Isaiah 7:2). So the Lord sends Isaiah and his oddly named son (“Remnant Returns”) to rebuke the king for this anxiety (v4) and inform him that he is about to make the same mistake as Syria and Ephraim (the northern kingdom, often called Israel, or by its capital city, Samaria). They have disregarded that the most important, practical reality that is exists is  God Himself, and God will crush their plans, but if Ahaz disregards God by anxiety, then he and his plans will not be established either (Isaiah 7:6-9).

The false spirituality that threatens to destroy our houses (Isaiah 7:10–8:8). People make all sorts of spiritual-sounding excuses for not obeying the Lord. They excuse their laxity in using God’s means or obeying God’s law by saying they “have a relationship not a religion.” Or by saying that they are “letting go and letting God.” Or because “they wouldn’t be sincere enough yet (as if that will ever be true in this life!) and want their service or obedience to come from sincerity.” As we’ve been seeing in Romans, the logic of the flesh can use the language of the Bible, but it always boils down to the same thing: not doing what God says, and blaming God Himself for our not doing it. Dreadful!

This is what is going on in Isaiah 7:10–13. Yahweh gives Ahaz a direct command to ask for a sign that He will defeat Syria and Ephraim (Isaiah 7:10-11), but Ahaz refuses on spiritual grounds (Isaiah 7:12). He even does it in overly dramatic fashion (verse 12), which is often the case with those whose spirituality is bursts of sensationalism or sentimentality, rather than steady faith and obedience. Rather than be impressed with Ahaz’s piety, the Lord is simply offended by his disobedience (Isaiah 7:13). 

So the Lord gives him a sign now not of Syria and Ephraim’s destruction, but of Judah’s own destruction! To affirm this, a virgin will bear a son (Isaiah 7:14), and the destruction that this son affirms will come upon Syria and Ephraim by the time the son is old enough to each cheese and act rationally (Isaiah 7:15-16). But the Lord will also bring Assyria (whom Ahaz was trusting in instead of the Lord, cf. 2 Kings 16:7–9) to punish Judah devastatingly (Isaiah 7:17-25).

Immanuel. God is with us. But if He is with us while we disobey Him and trust in others, He will be “with” us by way of the rod of His wrath. And in the symmetrical wisdom and justice of His providence, whatever we have hoped in instead of Him, He will make the instrument of our suffering.

What is needed is a King in Whom, and for Whom, God is with us as the One perfectly to be obeyed and entirely to be trusted. Ahaz is of the house of David (Isaiah 7:2Isaiah 7:13Isaiah 7:17), but the promised King is not Ahaz but one who will be according to the name of the son of the sign. 

At this point, another son is born, with the same purpose: to show how foolish it was for Ahaz and Judah to be so afraid of Syria and Ephraim. Before the child speaks his first words (Isaiah 8:4, a much earlier age than weaning in that culture), the threat that had frightened them so much will be gone. By the birth of the new son, the Immanuel child’s name is “freed” to refer only to the future King. This new prophecy-child is a much more blunt reference to what Assyria is about to do: “Speed-Soil-Haste-Booty” (Isaiah 8:1–3). But the king of Assyria won’t be stopping up north; thanks to Ahaz’s unbelief and disobedience, he will move right along to despoil Judah as well (Isaiah 8:6-8). 

The steady confidence and obedience that characterize God’s remnant (Isaiah 8:9-22). Not everyone will be like Ahaz and the majority of the church in his day. There will be those who do not fear the alliances of other men (Isaiah 8:9-10) or trust in alliances of their own (Isaiah 8:12), but they will join Isaiah (Isaiah 8:11) in fearing (Isaiah 8:13) and trusting (Isaiah 8:14a) God alone. 

Israel as a whole stumbles over this salvation by faith in God’s Immanuel (Isaiah 8:14-15, cf. Romans 9:31–33), but there are those whose only hope, and sure hope, is “God with us” (Isaiah 8:10c). Trusting in their own works at the time of Jesus and Paul was just a new variation upon the theme of Israel’s trusting in man—whether Ahaz’s political/military maneuverings or even their own “charismatic” movement that looked for man’s sensationalism (Isaiah 8:19) even over God’s actual miraculous provision in Christ. But their self-made hope in the king, and self-made way of “approaching God” will fail them, and they will curse their former hopes (Isaiah 8:21) as they suffer the consequences (Isaiah 8:22).

The same continues in the churches whose approach to increasing in number is by what they think will draw people in, or whose approach to improving performance is by techniques of men instead of means of grace, or whose idea of worship is what feels spiritual instead of what God has commanded. All of these are stumblings over the rock of offense.

On the contrary, God’s remnant sticks only to the Scripture (Isaiah 8:20). They see no dawn, no beginning or ray of light, except whatever is in the Bible. If we belong to Immanuel, let His perfect obedience and trust be our worthiness and hope before God, and let us seek to be conformed to Him in how we respond to the reality that God is with us in our lives. Let us walk with God steadily, in the way that He has commanded, rather than trusting our wits in lives, which we punctuate with outbursts of what feels spiritual to us.

The Immanuel to come (Isaiah 9:1–7). With his brother “Speed-Soil-Haste-Booty” having taken over the role of “indicator of what Assyria is about to do,” there is still the ultimate question of what will come of the House of David. The promise of 2 Samuel 7:12–16 stands over-against the likes of Ahaz. Upon whose shoulder will the government be? How will David’s throne and kingdom finally have a forever-king upon it? 

Salvation will come to the unexpected. Zebulun and Naphtali were the least among Israel, intermixed with Gentiles, and would have been the first upon whom the darkness of Assyria descended (Isaiah 9:1-2, cf. Isaiah 8:22). But God’s ways are not like ours. Ahaz assessed things by relative human strength. God’s strength to save is displayed especially in weakness! So this is precisely where the great light shines (Isaiah 9:2). This comes literally true in the One Who still identifies Himself as from Nazareth, even sitting upon the throne of glory (cf. Acts 22:8)! 

And His salvation has come not only to these “second-class” Israelites (Samaria) but even to the Gentiles (nations) themselves (the ends of the earth). Thus the “remnant” from before is now a multitude in Isaiah 9:3. And it is not just their number but their joy that has increased. The deliverance is pictured by metaphor where the spoils of war are now not being taken away by Assyria, but stacked neatly outside the homes of God’s redeemed people. There will be no need for firewood, when there is such an abundance of yokes, staffs, rods, sandals, and battle-clothing (Isaiah 9:4-5). 

How will this unexpectedly broad, unexpectedly great, salvation come? This section of oddly named children—Remnant-Returns, God-with-Us, and Speed-Soil-Haste-Booty—concludes with another Son. When He finally comes, we learn that He too must be born of a virgin. But that will be more than a miraculous sign of a great work of God; it will be necessary for His spotlessness because of His identity as Wonderful (the God Whom Manoah met, cf. Judges 13:18), Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Several of these are already obviously divine names. By the time Christ has come, and the Spirit has given us the rest of Holy Scripture, we find that every single one of them is a divine Name! 

Yahweh is zealous to keep His promise of a Forever-King to David, zealous to fulfill His plan of redemption that drives all of history. He is redeeming for Himself a people who will hallow Him, fear Him, trust Him, and obey Him in steady faithfulness and exceeding joy. And His zeal will accomplish this in Jesus Christ! 

Are you among the remnant-multitude? Is your King’s obeying God and trusting God your own worthiness and hope before God? Are you being conformed to Him in your own trust and obedience? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us for being anxious like Ahaz. Forgive us for hoping in our own efforst. Forgive us for being impressed with manmade spirituality. Consider us in Christ, Who has trusted in You perfectly. And receive us as He represents us, saying “behold I and the children whom You have given Me.” For, we are Yours in Christ, and we come to You through Him alone, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP130 “LORD, from the Depths to You I Cried” or TPH434 “A Debtor to Mercy Alone”

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

When to Save Your Breath [Family Worship lesson in Proverbs 23:9]

Pastor teaches his family a selection from “the Proverb of the day.” In this verse of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that if we haven’t been assigned to talk, and the Lord Himself means little to someone, we mustn’t spend wise words on them.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

Dead Men Keep No Commandments [Children's Catechism 103—Theology Simply Explained]

Pastor walks his children through Children’s Catechism question 103—especially explaining how the remaining of the dead, former self within the believer means that even he does not keep God’s commandments perfectly in this life.

Q103. Can any man keep these ten commandments perfectly? No mere man, since the fall of Adam, ever did or can keep the ten commandments perfectly.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

Loving God, Self, and Neighbor [Westminster Shorter Catechism 42—Theology Simply Explained]

Pastor walks his children through Westminster Shorter Catechism question 42—especially explaining how loving God with one’s whole being is the purpose of our existence, and the only true way to love oneself, which demands that we also desire the same for our neighbor.

Q42. What is the sum of the ten commandments? The sum of the ten commandments is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

I'm at the End of My Rope! [Family Worship lesson in Psalm 119:81–88]

What can a believer do when he is at the end of his rope? Psalm 119:81–88 looks forward to the opening portion of morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these eight verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that, even at the end of his rope, the believer must persist in crying out to God for the life he needs to keep searching God’s Word and keeping the testimonies of God’s mouth.
(click here to DOWNLOAD mp3/pdf files of this lesson)

2024.07.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 119:81–88

Read Psalm 119:81–88

Questions from the Scripture text: What is the psalmist’s soul doing (Psalm 119:81a)? For what? In what does he hope (verse 81b)? What is happening to his eyes (Psalm 119:82a)? From what? What has he been searching the Word to ask (verse 82b)? To what does he compare himself in Psalm 119:83a? What has He still not done (verse 83b)? What does he ask in Psalm 119:84a? What is he looking forward to at the end of these days (verse 84b)? Upon whom will He execute judgment? What have the proud done to him (Psalm 119:85a)? What did they violate (verse 85b)? What is true of God’s commandments (Psalm 119:86a)? But what is true of his attackers (verse 86b)? What does he want from God (verse 86c)? What have the persecutors nearly done (Psalm 119:87a)? But what has the psalmist still not done (verse 87b)? What does He ask God to give him in Psalm 119:88a? According to what? In order to do what (verse 88b)? 

What can a believer do when he is at the end of his rope? Psalm 119:81–88 looks forward to the opening portion of morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these eight verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that, even at the end of his rope, the believer must persist in crying out to God for the life he needs to keep searching God’s Word and keeping the testimonies of God’s mouth.  

At the end of his rope, Psalm 119:81-84. The agony in these verses is intense. “faints” (Psalm 119:81a) is translating a word that means his soul has been entirely consumed in looking for relief from God. Still, he hasn’t given up. It would be wicked to look for salvation elsewhere, and wickedly unbelieving to give up as if there wasn’t hope for it with God. 

It’s not just baby believers who end up like this. The psalmist knows what he should do: look to God for comfort by way of His Word! The problem is that this is exactly what he has been doing, and he still hasn’t found relief. It’s not just that his soul is consumed; the same word is now translated “fail” with respect to his eyes (Psalm 119:82a). 

Our eyes have been created to behold God’s manifold works of goodness and wisdom, but especially to behold God’s Word. I hope, dear reader, that this is how you like to use your eyes. Isn’t it marvelous? God has given us physical organs by which we may look at His Word! The psalmist has been looking for God’s comfort in God’s comforting Word, but alas! He has not been able to obtain the comfort that he knows is there.

Recently, in studying Matthew 9:17, we thought about how wineskin bottles begin as pliable and slowly firm in their shape. But a wineskin that is too close to fire, or exposed to smoke, could dry out too quickly, with shrinkage in undesirable ways, and become too brittle (and, if used for wine, burst because the wine is still fermenting!). This is how the psalmist feels about his life—prematurely dried out and unable to fulfill his function (Psalm 119:83a). Still, he is looking to God’s Word not just for comfort (Psalm 119:82) but for direction (Psalm 119:83), especially in his distress and despair.

Finally, the question in Psalm 119:84a isn’t just a random inquiry about the length of his life. Combined with verse 84b, it becomes apparent that the psalmist knows what three thousand subsequent years of believers have experienced: sometimes we don’t get justice in this life. The psalmist trusts the Lord; he continues to call himself “Your servant.” But as a finite creature, he doesn’t know how long he can bear up under the attacks. So it is natural that he cries out to know how long this might end up lasting. 

It is important to learn from this verse that it is permittable to raise our complaint to God—to express to Him our agony and difficulty under His providence. This is very different from complaining against Him, whether to others, in our hearts, or even to Him Himself. All of these are wicked, and we know it. The godly heart might be confused by his remaining sinfulness and tendency to complain against God: can it be right to tell God how hard on us His providence is? So for three thousand years, the Lord has given to His people this Psalm to sing, pray, and learn from.

But not at the end of his resources, Psalm 119:85-88. When the believer’s experience, and especially his own heart, is letting him down, there is one place of recourse: God Himself. As the proud persecutors have been plotting against (“digging pits for,” Psalm 119:85a) him, it has been against God’s faithful law (verse 85b, Psalm 119:86b). verse 86a literally says, “All Your commandments are faithfulness.” Here is something that we can always rely upon: God’s Word is as faithful as He is. 

This is why the psalmist is sure that the persecutors will be judged (Psalm 119:84b), and why he refuses to abandon living according to God’s Word Himself. God’s justice guarantees that help will come—though perhaps, as we observed in Psalm 119:84, only after death. 

Still, God Himself is the help. When the believer is at the end of his rope, he is not at the end of his resources. The strength that we have is limited, but we are not a closed system. In fact, we are continually sustained by the Lord. So being at the end of our rope does not mean that we are at the end of our resources. For, God Himself is our great Resource!

This gives rise to one of the most honest Christian prayers there is: “Help me!” It’s grievous that “God help me” has become a byword to so many, when it is a proper watchword for the believer. Dear reader, may it be a reflex of your heart to look to the Lord (and cry to Him!) for help as often as you feel your need of it. Not just when it feels like other resources have failed, but in every use of the means that He Himself has given and supports.  

There is a glimmer (however small) of hope even in the statement of Psalm 119:87a. Those who have almost made an end of him are on the earth. But God is in heaven! Just as He is constant in faithfulness, so also He is almighty in power. And with the fullness of His divine being, His covenant love (“lovingkindness,” Psalm 119:88a) bends itself devotedly, unwaveringly, unstoppably upon the objects of God’s eternal, electing affection. 

“Revive me” is literally “make me live”! Every creature lives every moment only by the goodness of God (cf. Psalm 104). He makes all men live. In Him, we live and move and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28). For the believer, His making us live comes not only in His ordinary goodness to all the creatures, but in the covenant love that brought us to faith in the first place. 

Finally, note the primary purpose for which the believer desires this life to be continued to himself: “so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.” He is not again asking for some idea of how long this will be, or for the judgment to fall now on the persecutors (though such requests are appropriate). His primary desire is that he might continue to keep God’s Word. 

Why? Not just because it is morally and judicially right or even covenantally obligatory, but because it is personal. It is “the testimony of Your mouth.” It is breathed out by this God Who has made the saint and loved the saint and redeemed the saint. And this is the great thing that he hopes to do with the life that the Lord continues to him: to keep that personal testimony that has personally come from the Lord’s “mouth.” Keeping God’s Word isn’t just moral; it’s personal. If you are reading this or hearing this, the Lord is continuing to you your life. Isn’t He doing so in order that you might know Him and His love to you and devote your own life to the keeping of His Word?!

When have you felt like your soul was used up, your eyes were used up with looking in the Bible for help, and your life was dried up and brittle? How much of your inner thought life and interaction with God is a crying out to Him for help? How are you making it the great project of the life that He has continued to you that you would “keep the testimony of His mouth”?

Sample prayer:  Lord, when all our soul, our eyes, our life are used up in looking for comfort from Your Word, still, our hope is in You. Help us! All Your commandments are faithfulness, and all of Scripture is the personal testimony that has been breathed out by You. So, in Your steadfast, covenant love, continue to us, now, our life. And grant that we would devote that life to keeping the testimony of Your mouth—offering worship to You by Your own grace, that we might live entire lives of worship unto You by that same grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whose Name we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP119K “My Soul Is Fainting” or TPH119K “My Soul for Your Salvation Yearns”