The child prophet

The prophet Jeremiah was unique in that his calling to serve as God’s mouthpiece was not a secondary  occupation that temporarily fulfilled God’s need to deliver a message to his people, but a lifelong vocation that Jeremiah had been specifically created for. God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). The Hebrew word translated formed is yatsar (yaw – tsar´). “Yatsar is a technical potter’s word, and it is often used in connection with the potter at work. The word is sometimes used as a general term of ‘craftsmanship or handiwork’…Yatsar is frequently used to describe God’s creative activity, whether literally or figuratively” (3335).

The prophet Isaiah used the word yatsar in connection with God’s  relationship to the nation of Israel and redemption of his people. In general, it could be said that yatsar refers to someone that has been saved or born again. Isaiah spoke of this when he said, “Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:6-7). These words were spoken in the context of God’s redemption of his people. Although it could be said that every person is a child of God, only those that have been redeemed or saved go through a transformational process in which they are conformed into the image of Christ. This process is referred to as sanctification. God said of Jeremiah, “before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, it could be said that Jeremiah was born a fully matured Christian in order to accomplish his vocation as a prophet unto the nations.

One way of looking at a fully mature Christian is to see him as someone that has completely submitted himself to God. He does this because he understands God’s role as Creator and sees himself in the context of a divine order that is intended to accomplish God’s will. Sometimes it is easier for a child to get this perspective than an 80 year old man. When Jesus was a child, he was found in the temple “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Even though Jesus was only twelve, he had the ability to discuss deep theological issues with men that had been studying the scriptures their whole lives. It is possible Jeremiah had this same or a similar capacity and began his ministry as young as 12-14 years of age (Jeremiah 1:6-7).

Jeremiah’s ministry began in 626 B.C., in the fourteenth year of king Josiah’s reign. Josiah was only 22 years old at that time. In the eighth year of his reign, Josiah began to “seek after the God of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:3) and by the eighteenth year of his reign, he had purged the land of idolatry  and begun a building project to repair the house of the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 34:8). So, Jeremiah’s ministry started under positive conditions in the nation of Judah. The people may have expected peace and prosperity to return to their nation because they were doing the right things. Unfortunately, time had run out for God’s people and his judgment was inevitable. The LORD warned Jeremiah of an impending disaster that would come soon. Jeremiah received two visions from God about this event (Jeremiah 1:11-14).

Although is must have been difficult for Jeremiah’s young mind to comprehend all that was about to take place, his ability to “see” the future helped him to grasp the situation ahead for Judah and to communicate it clearly. Twice, the LORD told Jeremiah to not be afraid of or dismayed at the faces of those he had to speak to (Jeremiah 1:8, 17). The Hebrew term for face, paneh (paw – neh´) refers to the look on one’s face or one’s countenance (6440). In other words, Jeremiah was going to have to confront some scary people, but God assured him that he would protect him. He said, “And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee” (Jeremiah 1:19).

 

Denial

The subconscious mind sometimes filters unpleasant thoughts or memories that the unconscious mind wants to get out. Denial is one way this process may work. As a defense mechanism, denial enables a person to avoid confrontation with a personal problem or with reality itself by denying its existence. Unfortunately, dreams often subvert this process and can force a person to accept that a problem really exists.

When the northern kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity in 722 B.C., Judah did not expect to go with them. Because the people of Judah were engaged in religious activities, they thought they would be excused from God’s punishment. In particular, Jerusalem was thought to be a safe haven because the temple of God was there. Priests and false prophets told the people they had nothing to fear because their sacrifices guaranteed God’s protection.

Isaiah used the name Ariel instead of Jerusalem in order to trigger the people’s awareness of danger when he declared, “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be to me as Ariel” (Isaiah 29:1-2). The people’s sacrificial system had become a defense mechanism against their awareness that the Assyrian army was closing in and was about to attack Jerusalem.

Isaiah used the illustration of the subconscious mind at work during sleep in order to convince the people they were in denial about their future. He said, “And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as a hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty” (Isaiah 29:7).

The problem the people needed to acknowledge was they had become spiritually numb and were no longer communicating with God. Although God had been speaking to them, they didn’t hear what he was really saying. They were tuning him out. Isaiah declared:

And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed…Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near to me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me…Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work amongst this people. (Isaiah 29:11, 13-14)

Imagine

Psalm 48 is a vision of a future or end state of the capital of God’s kingdom. The psalmist refers to this city as the “city of God” (Psalm 48:1). Another way of looking at it would be as God’s hometown, the city where he actually lives. It may be hard to imagine God living on earth, but the Messianic name of God, Immanuel, means “with us (is) God” (6005) or God with us.

The amazing thing about Psalm 48 is that it appears to have been written after Israel was taken into captivity. The purpose of the psalm was probably twofold. First, it was a statement of faith that Jerusalem would survive Assyrian attack. Second, the psalm provided hope to those who dared to imagine that God’s presence on earth would one day be a reality.

The ability to imagine themselves as the final victors over every kingdom on earth gave the Israelites strength to endure their most difficult challenge, exile from their homeland. With hopeful expectation, the psalmist stated, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion” (Psalm 48:2). In other words, he wanted us to imagine the city of Good as a bright light that brings joy to the faces of everyone that sees it.

In addition to portraying the city of God as a place of hope, the psalmist also described mount Zion as an impenetrable fortress. The city’s elevation, proximity to the desert, and access to a water supply made it a perfect place of refuge, but the presence of God’s temple made it an intimidating citadel that seemed beyond capture. The psalmist declared, “For lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled and hasted away” (Psalm 48:4-5).

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the city of God is its eternal existence. God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was that he would give them the land of Canaan for ever (Genesis 13:15). When Jesus establishes his kingdom on earth, it says in Luke 1:33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” According to this promise, the psalmist stated, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever” (Psalm 48:8).

Trying to imagine a city without end would be impossible if it weren’t for the concept we have of heaven. Even though we can’t see it, we know heaven exists and that it is God’s home right now. Somehow, in the future, heaven and earth will intersect in such a way that eternal life will be natural for human beings. The key to this intersection is Jesus and his triumph over death. As if to explain the need for death to occur before there could be eternal life, the psalmist stated, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14).

 

Idolatry

God’s judgment of the Israelites was not motivated by a desire to end his relationship with his chosen people, but a desire to rid the nation of Israel of idolatry. In response to a vision of two plagues that would devastate the land and starve the people to death, Amos prayed that the Lord God would forgive his people and cease from judging them. It says in Amos 7:3 and 7:6 the LORD repented, meaning he decided on a new course of action (5162).

The new course was described in a vision recorded in Amos 7:7-9:

Thus he shewed me: and behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, a plumbline, Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: and the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.

A plumbline is a tool used in the construction of walls and buildings. It consists of a weight suspended from a string used as a vertical reference line to ensure the structure is centered. It finds the vertical axis pointing to the center of gravity. A plumbline is used to make sure the structure will remain upright over long periods of time and can withstand the pressure of outside forces. Typicallly, a master craftsman will rely on a plumbline to guarantee his work will pass inspection.

The reference to a plumbline in Amos’ vision was linked to the rebuilding of the temple and wall surrounding Jerusalem. Amos was the first prophet to warn the people of their impending destruction and yet, in the midst of his message was a sign from the Lord that there would be restoration in the future. The key to understanding God’s judgment can be found in 1 Kings 12:32 where it says, Jeroboam sacrificed unto the calves he had made upon an altar in Beth-el.

Beth-el was the location where Jacob saw a ladder that reached to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending on it (Genesis 28:12). After he awoke from his dream, Jacob said, “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven…And he called the name of that place Beth-el” (Genesis 28:17, 19). From the time of Jeroboam I to Jeroboam II, almost 200 years, the kings of Israel had been making sacrifices to two golden calves in the same location that Jacob identified as the house of God.

 

Not just a man

The remarkable thing about Isaiah’s prophecy of the last days was not that he saw what would happen thousands of years after his death, but that Isaiah’s vision came 700 years before the Messiah, Jesus Christ was born. There was still a huge gap in the outcome of the nation of Judah that needed to be filled in.

Beginning with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God had spoken of an eternal kingdom that his people would inherit (Genesis 17:6-7). On his deathbed, Jacob foretold the future of his descendants and made reference to the last days (Genesis 49:1). Speaking of his son Judah’s inheritance, Jacob said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10).

The word Shiloh is an epithet of the Messiah (7886). What Jacob was saying was that Judah’s family would be kept in tact until the Messiah was born. The bloodline of Jesus had to be traced back to Abraham in order for God’s promise to be validated and verifiable to those who would question his lineage. At the time when Isaiah spoke to the nation of Judah, it was on the verge of extinction. Although they didn’t know it yet, the northern kingdom of Israel was about to be completely wiped out by Assyria, and Judah was next on Assyria’s list.

God’s judgment of Judah was intended to bring the people back to their senses. Although worship took place in God’s temple, the people’s hearts were far from the LORD, and their behavior reflected the cultures of the nations surrounding them. The most significant problem God intended them to deal with was their desire to be like everyone else. Isaiah posed a question to reveal their fault. “Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isaiah 2:22).

The point Isaiah was making was that a mere man could not save God’s people. Although it was known that the Messiah would be a man, it was known at that time that he would also be God. Because king David was told that his son would reign for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), David assumed his son would become immortal. I don’t think David, or anyone else, expected the immortal God to become a man.

Isaiah spoke of blessings that indicated God’s judgment of Judah would prepare its people for the supernatural birth of their Messiah. “In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel…When the LORD shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the Spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning” (Isaiah 4:2,4).

 

The last days

After Isaiah presented the LORD’s case against Judah and Jerusalem, he shifted gears and focused on the future. In the transition, Isaiah made it clear that God had given up on Judah’s kings. He no longer expected his people to do his will. Instead, the LORD would accomplish his purposes through a single person, the Messiah, who would once and for all triumph over God’s enemies.

Isaiah described the time period in the future he was referring to as “the last days” (Isaiah 2:2). The term “last days” is used frequently today in connection with Bible prophecy. The last days are always associated with the reign of the Messiah, but there is a discrepancy as to whether or not the last days occur before or after the return of Christ. According to Isaiah’s message, all nations would worship the LORD in the same location (Isaiah 2:2) and God’s law would be the law everyone was judged by (Isaiah 2:3).

Adistinct difference in the last days that indicates this time period has not yet occurred is there will be no war. It says in Isaiah 2:4, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” This description is in stark contrast to what we are experiencing in the world today. At the time when Isaiah delivered his message, Judah’s army played an important role in the lifestyle of its people. The thought that weapons would no longer be needed must have made the people wonder if Isaiah had lost his mind.

Within the context of the last days, Isaiah talked about a day in which “the LORD alone shall be exalted” (Isaiah 2:11, 17). The Hebrew word translated day in this verse is yôwm (yome). Yowm can refer to a 24-hour period of time, but within the context of the last days, Isaiah was most likely focusing on the beginning or initiation of the last days, which would occur when the LORD was exalted over all other rulers on earth. “Yowm can also signify a period of time of unspecified duration” (3117). In that case, Isaiah may have been suggesting that the day of the LORD would begin during the last days and continue on for an indefinite period of time.

A characteristic of the last days that Isaiah made clear was that it would take place on this side of eternity. In other words, time will exist during the last days, so life as we know it will still be going on. With this in mind, it is understandable why the people thought the Messiah, Jesus, would establish his kingdom immediately. The point the people of Judah missed was that God’s kingdom would include everyone. The integration of Jewish and Gentile cultures had not taken place when Jesus was born. Therefore, God had to first make a way for everyone to know the LORD.

The voice of reason

The ministry of Isaiah the prophet began when king Uzziah died in 740 B.C. and spanned four generations of kings until at least 697 B.C., when Manasseh began a coregency with his father king Hezikiah. Isaiah opens his message by stating he has received a vision from the LORD that pertains to Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1). The purpose of this divine communication was to reveal what was going to happen, so the people would be prepared for it. Unfortunately, Isaiah’s message was ignored, or at least not taken seriously, until it was clear Judah was on the pathway to destruction.

At the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, circumstances contradicted what he said was going to happen. During king Uzziah’s reign, Judah had increased in strength and was expanding its borders. Uzziah’s military successes caused Judah’s enemies to retreat and remain at a distance, allowing his army to grow to more than 300,000 men. While Uzziah was very methodical in his approach to managing his kingdom, he was also innovative and could compete with the strongest of nations for precious resources.

Isaiah’s opening comment indicates the issue was a matter of loyalty. “Hear, O heaven, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider” (Isaiah 1:2-3). The Hebrew word translated consider, biyn means to separate mentally or distinguish (995). Biyn has to do with wisdom and  is associated with paying attention to something or noticing what is going on.

When we have considered something, it will affect our behavior and guide our actions. It can lead to change if it has affected our way of thinking. Considering takes place in the heart, not the mind, and it is not the same as thinking about something. It could be said that to consider something is to give it a place in your heart. In essence, to consider something is to let it affect you. Whether it is a thought or a person, considering expresses an attachment that indicates approval or affection.

One of the main points the LORD wanted his people to consider was his forgiveness of their sins. It says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” At this point in Israel’s history, God’s plan of redemption applied only to them. With the exception of the city of Nineveh, no other nation had experienced God’s forgiveness. And yet, Judah did not consider God’s favor important to their success.