A Voice in the
Wilderness

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" the Ox knows its Owner "
(Isaiah 1)
    "Give heed, O heavens, and hear, O earth! For Jehovah has spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, but they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the ass his masterís manger, but Israel does not know; My people have not discerned. Woe, sinful nation, a people heavy with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children who corrupt! They have forsaken Jehovah; they have scorned the Holy One of Israel. They are estranged backward." (Is1:2-4)
The next few monthly articles will be from the first few chapters of Isaiah. They are MOST FITTING to the days in which we find ourselves. (for reader perspective, depending on how world events may have progressed by article due dates, as quickly as things change these days this year: these lessons are being prepared in May)

In these chapters God was originally speaking to wayward Israel. But what is said to Israel could just as easily be said about that which is called "church". Many from the church presume that Israel is NO MORE, and that the church has 'replaced' Israel. So, even assuming that faulty scenario for the sake of argument, those who feel that way can also assume these passages speak to them. Yes, God "brought up children", Israel, and made a nation of them. God also, through the Holy Spirit, raised up the Church; those who "receive" Christ are "children of God" (Jn1:12) Both entities (Israel and Church) started out following God, but both are in a state where they could be likened to a "tenth...whose stump remains...the holy seed" (6:13) Jesus spoke of the "few" who find "life". (Mt7:14) As Paul says, "Not all those of Israel are Israel" (Rom9:6b), the understanding is clear: Not all those claiming affinity to God, and call out God's name repeatedly, belong to God.

God is "ONE". (Deut6:4) God does "not change" (Mal3:6) Jesus Christ is the "same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb13:8) Whatever God's standards of righteousness and holiness were in millennia past are the same today. God may have dealt with mankind under different covenants and dispensations through different periods in history; but Obedience to His holiness has never changed, and disobedience and rejection of His Holy Will has always met with His displeasure and wrath. Just because the Church is under the so-called "age of -grace-" does not give us -license-. That is one of today's scourges...

    "For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were set forth to this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God, even our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ju1:4)
If God punished Israel under the Law, the Church which has better understanding of the fulfillment of the Law through the blood of Jesus Christ has fewer excuses. The Church cannot claim, "We didn't know!"
    "Anyone who rejected Mosesí Law dies without mercy before two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled on the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of Grace? For we know Him who has said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. And again, The Lord will judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb10:28-31)
If anything, with the greater knowledge, the Church should be -MORE- holy than was the standard for Israel in the OT. As Jesus parabled...
    "But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more." (Lk12:48)
The Church cannot claim: Because we are under grace, God will let more things 'slide'; it's not so much "black and white" to be militant about but there are "gray areas"; or: It doesn't matter as much, because of graaaeeeesss.
    "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Let it not be! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Rom6:1-2)
And so we come to God's "reasonings" (vs18): Animals know their owners and masters. Wild animals even know the ones who feed them. BUT 'Israel does not know'

They are like this dog that belongs to my neighbor. (She has a full name, but for this article let's just call her "J") It is the only dog of its kind I have ever known in all my life. Please understand: animals and I typically get along well. The sparrows know who feeds them bread and come fluttering around even when I come out the door without bread. This one crow also recognizes my -call- when I see it perched atop an area tree or power pole, and I call and put out bread for it. Under the right circumstances, if I specify to it, it will even take just -its- bread, not what I had put out for the sparrows, even though the two are side-by-side on the driveway. Dogs across the back fence and I get along. The previous neighbor's dog would bark and whine for me to come over, reach over the fence to pet him. Some new neighbors recently moved in to the other side of this neighbor, and even though I've never yet petted them, their dogs already -know- me from across two yards/fences. Years ago I used to visit this one family regularly, and when I might knock on the door, the dog would come barking; but when I then uttered her name, the barks turned into whines and yelps of delight, and her tail would "flap flap" against the door as it wagged, as she turned, waiting for somebody to come open the door to me. But in four years "J" has still not -accepted- me as 'belonging' next door (even though I was there first and she is the newcomer), but is full of barks, snarls, growls, snaps, etc. of the vicious demon-possessed 'rabid' variety.

Israel during Isaiah's day, and the Church today, is towards God like "J" is to me. Four years is nearly half-a-lifetime in dog years. Israel had 40 years in the wilderness, several hundred years under the judges, and several centuries under its kings. Through all those years Israel (nationally) was like a yo-yo: up-and-down...out-and-back. Historically it is typically assumed that the Church has had periods of apostasy and then of revival. But I suspect that church history is really like Israel was. Even in Ahab and Jezebel's days where the nation was totally given over to Baal worship, God tells Elijah that there are 7000 faithful. Even in the darker periods of church history, there have always been the faithful "few" (the ones who were persecuted and martyred by the established "church"). And those periods of so-called "revival" was it -really- drawing to God, or was it like today's charismania with its demonic signs and wonders of usurpation and mocking of God's authority?

God describes Israel as sick and full of sores. (please read the passage) Open gaping wounds that haven't been tended to. And even the "remnant" is like Sodom and Gomorrah. (vs9) The -worst- of the bad has been taken captive, and the remnant (Sardis) has a -name- they are -pretending- to be, but are "dead". (Re3:1)

So God retorts to worldly Israel, sarcastically calling them "Sodom and Gomorrah", a name which still sticks in Rev11:8 relative to how the two prophets get killed...

    "What good to Me are your many sacrifices? ...I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams... nor do I delight in the blood of bulls [and] goats" (vs11)
You faithfully don't neglect the "assembling of yourselves together" (Heb10:25), but...
    "...who has required this at your hand, to trample My courts?" (vs12)

    "Take away from Me the noise of your songs; for I will not hear the melody of your lutes [guitars]." (Am5:23)

Oh, but... We've just come to "praaaaaise the Lord"! As we "lift Your name on high" God replies...
    "And when you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you. Even though you multiply prayers, I will not hear" (vs15)
Why does God not hear prayers?
    "Behold, Jehovahís hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But YOUR INIQUITIES have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, that He will not hear." (Is59:1-2)
Furthermore, instead of feeding, the shepherds are fleecing the flock...
    "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! says Jehovah. Therefore thus says Jehovah the God of Israel, against the shepherds who feed My people, You have scattered My flock, and have driven them away, and have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings, says Jehovah." (Jer23:1-2)
The rulers (leaders) are thieves. (vs23) Instead of helping those in need, they rent TV time to coerce people to send in their "seed monies". "Plant your $1000 seed". What if you're too poor and the credit card debt is wracked up due to hard times? Use -that- credit card to "plant the seed" (wrack up -more- debt) and send the money to them. Whereas Paul says about giving...
    "For if something is presented eagerly, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." (2Co8:12)
The false-church engages in worship, spreads out their hands upward, goes through all sorts of motions of "having church". God calls it the "wicked festivals" and "abomination". (vs13) If a True Believer happens into their congregation, sees all the evil and obeys God to...
    "Cry aloud, do not spare; lift up your voice like a shofar, and declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins." (Is58:1)
what do they do? They do like "J". They snarl, bark, growl, snap and bite. They claim to -know- the Lord, but when one of God's True Followers comes along, they reject. They behave like their "father the devil" whom Peter describes...
    "...your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." (1Pt5:8)
They -claim- to know the Lord, but they are characterized by all these descriptive verses in this passage, which God hates and calls abomination. They "do not forsake [their] assemblies", but God retorts: Why do you bother? Who asked you to do all this "[trampling] in My courts?" (vs12)

And what does God say? They "[DO] NOT KNOW" (vs3) All their "claims for Christ" are -LIES-. It's a sham. In today's vernacular: it's "bogus"! Those who claim to be christian, are not. They are seed of evildoers, heavy with iniquity and corruption.

But is God only a vengeful and wrathful God? To Israel He invites...

    "Come now and let us reason together, says Jehovah: Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken." (vs18-20)
Yes, it is a grim picture. Not only does God -NOT- accept their worship, he calls them a "harlot" for all their unfaithfulness! (vs21) What they -think- they have, if likened to wine, it is "diluted with water" (vs22) It's not the real thing. (Anybody reading those words try to convince me that Jesus did not make -real- wine. Jn2:10 Or that they took 'grape juice' to the feasts. De14:26) Anyway... what they make -claims- about is NOT REAL.

BUT... there -can- be forgiveness... God offers it... albeit with conditions. God's forgiveness is not today's false-church message of "graaaeeesss" in which the preacher spreads his arms out wide and invites, "God accepts you JUST AS YOU ARE...you DON'T NEED TO CHANGE A THING" Furthermore, God sees all the -WORTH- that is in you, that's why He accepts you; that is "graaaeeesss".

NO!! God sees all the rottenness, sickness and open sores. He sees that there is -NO- WORTH. He sees that...

    "...we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like a menstruation cloth. And we all fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Is64:6)
He sees us squirming in the blood of afterbirth and says,
    "Live! Yes, I said to you in your blood, Live!" (Ezk16:6)
-THAT- is GRACE!

But as we said, there are "conditions". What conditions?

    "If you are WILLING and OBEDIENT, you shall eat the good of the land" (vs19)
To Israel the sign of God's pleasure and blessing was -physical- prosperity in the land. This was God's response to their -obedience-. But are we not saved by "grace through faith...not of works"? (Eph2:8-9) Ah, but... even in the NT the Gospel is also likened to being "obedient to the faith" (Ac6:7, Rom1:5, 16:26) And what is the cause for judgment?
    "...but the one disobeying the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (Jn3:36b)
Israel was into -works-. What did Jesus say was the work of God?
    "This is the work of God, that you believe into Him whom He sent." (Jn6:29)
It is not that God wants all sorts of fantastic -works- and -deeds- from us. All He seeks is a "willing" heart. (vs19) Just like in the days of the judges, when God raised up the 'handfuls' of men to fight when Israel had been rebellious but then cried out to God for deliverance, against insurmountable odds, the praise is to those who "willingly...offered themselves" (Jdg5:2,9) On several occasions God took those relatively 'few' -willing- people, and effected victories against their enemies. As Jonathan would say, "for nothing restrains Jehovah, to save by many or by few." (1Sa14:6) Jonathan was a -willing- instrument.

God does not expect a 'perfect' faith. When Jesus asked, the father replies, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!" (Mk9:24) The father was -willing- to turn his son over to Jesus for healing. Even Saving Faith is a "gift" (Eph2:8); it is the "faith of Christ". (Ga2:16, Php3:9) We don't have -enough- faith; but God -provides- for us what is lacking.

    "But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken" (vs20)
All God wants from us is obedience. That's all He asked of Adam and Eve. In the very beginning there was only -one- law, that's all: Don't eat that (certain) fruit. Otherwise the earth was before them. Have dominion over it (Ge1:26), name all the animals (Ge2:19); it's all for you (Is45:12); Go for it! But they disobeyed. They rejected the authority God gave them, and instead lusted for the serpent's offer; not to be content to be -under- God's authority, but to contrive to become 'equal' with God...to -compete- with God. (Ge3:5, Is14:14) And so that's what man has been doing... rejecting God.

And yes, so too with Israel and the church. Adam and Eve started out following God, until they rebelled. Israel experienced God's deliverance and followed, "All that Jehovah has spoken we will do" (Ex19:8) And the church, similarly, began with growth "turning the world upside down" with the Gospel. (Ac17:6)

But of Israel, God replied...

    "Oh, that this heart of theirs would be fully yielded, to fear Me and to keep all My commandments at all times, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (De5:29)
But history has shown that, except for the 'individuals' who remained faithful here and there, Israel as a whole has been in rebellion...even today. Even today they cling to "Judaism"... not Jehovah God.

In spite of that, God also promised to restore Israel. Of the church in its apostasy, Laodicea is promised to be vomited out of His mouth. (Re3:16) But faithful Philadelphia will be saved from God's wrath. (Re3:9-10) Of Israel...

    "Therefore says the Lord, Jehovah of Hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah! I will be eased of My adversaries, and avenge Myself of My enemies. And I will turn back My hand upon you, and refine your dross, as with lye, and remove all your alloy. And I will return your judges as at the first; and your advisers, as at the beginning; then you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her returning ones with righteousness." (vs24-27)
Dross is the impurities of smelting. Israel was commanded not to 'mix' things, the seeds of their crops, breeds of cattle, or the threads of their cloth. (Le19:19) It was symbolism of holiness. But they mixed with the world and embraced pagan idols. So God promises to remove the dross, and also the "alloy"... the -mixing- together of different kinds of things... to again make them holy... that is: separate and distinct from filth and evil.

And God promises to restore Righteousness and Justice. This will be done, of course, as Messiah sets up the throne of David, "to order it and establish it" (Is9:6-7) As Paul says...

    "And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins." (Rom11:26-27, Jer31:31-34)
And then Israel will again -know- God (as the ox knows its owner). Right now...
    "...they refuse to know Me, says Jehovah" (Jer9:6)
And have experienced God's judgment. The dumb 'ox' knows its owner, but Israel has been like "J", -refusing- to know: "Israel does not know". They have forsaken and scorned God. But in spite of that God's grace has also promised...
    "And I will GIVE THEM A HEART TO KNOW ME, that I am Jehovah; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. For they shall return to Me with their whole heart." (Jer24:7)
Amen!

Next Chapter: Top of the Mountains
Other Isaiah Studies


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