Before we point fingers and wonder why the Israelites kept going astray, we have to realize we do the same thing. We know what’s best for us, and yet we often do just the opposite. Think about exercising or eating healthy. We know those are good things — but then sinking your teeth into a juicy burger or savoring the last bite of your favorite calorie- packed dessert can be very alluring.
For the Israelites, they were tempted by something that wasn’t good for them—false gods. God had warned them, and yet the pattern repeats itself once again. God’s choice of a rescue looks a little different this time. We meet Gideon, a farmer. And God sends an angel of the Lord to say to Gideon, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”
Have you ever meditated on exactly how powerful God is? As our story of crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land comes to a conclusion, we shouldn’t rush past what we just read. We saw God at work in drying up the river so his people could walk across. “He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”
Forever is a long time. We are included in the ones who are to know about this. It says “all nations.” How powerful is God? In this instance, he held back the water from flowing. A river during flood season. We’ve probably all seen dams along a river holding back the water. What a mighty spectacle of a contraption needed to keep water cooped up!
Are we as hard-headed as those in Judah? Do we look to the might of men instead of the majesty of God? Isaiah is pointing out to us again “What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.” Can you imagine how hard it was for Isaiah to sit back and watch his friends and neighbors continue in their sinful ways?
We probably have friends and family, too, who are content going about their lives with little attention to God, much less giving him the respect he deserves. It is frustrating for me to see the indifference. Does it help that I read passages like this and realize that people today aren’t acting that much different than those in Isaiah’s day? Maybe just a little. Not many of us are looking to Egypt for help!
Jerusalem is called the “Valley of Vision” here because it is where God often revealed himself. The people seem oblivious to the warnings they are being given. They are not repenting and putting their trust in God. They are doing all sorts of things, like partying, recreating on their rooftops, and preparing, all by their own power. “But you never ask for help from the One who did all this. You never considered the One who planned this long ago.” If they could only see how easy God was making it for them to be safe and secure. 2 Chronicles 7:14 sums it up nicely. “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”
How often to do we do a similar thing? We go about our business, making plans, executing those plans, and then wonder why our plans fail. Perhaps we, too, missed the crucial piece of asking God first. Had we asked for God’s help, his input, his blessing, we may have received a message that our plans weren’t quite right. God’s plans never fail. Shouldn’t we want to make sure we are doing things God’s way?
Today’s reading is full of hope for the future. The warnings of destruction will be partnered with glimmers of hope. We can see that pattern playing out in our lives too. For every trial and valley of struggle, we can rejoice in the light at the end of the tunnel. We know there is an end in sight. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” We can put our hope in Jesus. He was sent to this earth to be our light in the darkness. He is a light so bright that darkness cannot and will not ever overtake it.
Here we see what many Christians believe is a prophetic reference to the Messiah, the light of the world. “But in that day, the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious.” The restoration Isaiah is speaking of will be truly manifested in the coming of Jesus. Years later, Jeremiah speaks of this branch as well, “For the time is coming, says the Lord, when I will place a righteous Branch on King David’s throne. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. And this is his name: ‘The Lord is Our Righteousness.’ In that day Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety.” What a beautiful word from God to give people hope.