Triumph

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
The battle bow shall be cut off.
He shall speak peace to the nations;
His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.’
“As for you also,
Because of the blood of your covenant,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to the stronghold,
You prisoners of hope.
Even today I declare
That I will restore double to you.
For I have bent Judah, My bow,
Fitted the bow with Ephraim,
And raised up your sons, O Zion,
Against your sons, O Greece,
And made you like the sword of a mighty man.” (Zechariah 9:9-13)

All four of the Gospels in the New Testament describe Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem the week before he was crucified. Two of them, John and Matthew, quote God’s words about the king riding on a donkey. It was a prophesy that Jesus fulfilled. But the expectations of God’s people regarding the nature of the coming Messiah was something other than what God had in mind. While they saw a conqueror bent on overthrowing the Roman government—a thought heavy on the minds of Jesus’ disciples and the adoring crowds that cast palm branches at his feet—Jesus’ throne was not earthly, but instead was heavenly. The fulfillment of God’s words to Zechariah was far grander than the disciples or anyone else ever imagined. Jesus was not king just of Israel, but of the universe itself—of all that there was. And he intended to reign in the hearts of his people forever. Of course, God made his intent clear, when he told the Israelites that he would get rid of the weapons of war from their hands, when he spoke of salvation and peace. Our weapons are not the weapons of this world, but rather spiritual. God has conquered sin and brought salvation to us all.

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God Loves

“Up, up! Flee from the land of the north,” says the Lord; “for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven,” says the Lord. “Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.”

For thus says the Lord of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me.

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the Lord. “Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you. And the Lord will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!” (Zechariah 2:6-13)

God so loved the world, not just the nice people. Zechariah prophesied to the newly returned former captives from Babylon about seventy years after Jeremiah. While they were rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple, God told his people to rejoice because he was bringing non-Israelites to join them. God was not just the Jewish God, he was the God for everyone.

That the Jewish people thought in terms of Yahweh being only for themselves was normal for the ancient world. The gods of Egypt were just that, the gods of Egypt. Same with the gods of Babylon, Greece and Rome. It was culturally unnatural to think of one’s gods in universal terms. But that is precisely the message that God was trying to get across to his people. Now that they had returned from Babylon, they understood at last that they were to worship no other gods but Yahweh. At that point, the prophets began working on them to broaden their comprehension of something God had maintained as far back as the first chapter of Genesis: not only was Yahweh the only God they could worship, not only was he the only God that existed, he was not the exclusive property of the Israelites.

Not until persecution in the first century forced the early Jewish disciples of Jesus to share the Gospel, did the universality of Israel’s God finally make sense to them. God really is for everybody, even those we don’t care about.

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Discipline

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst;
And I will not come with terror.
“They shall walk after the LORD.
He will roar like a lion.
When He roars,
Then His sons shall come trembling from the west;
They shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt,
Like a dove from the land of Assyria.
And I will let them dwell in their houses,”
Says the LORD.
“Ephraim has encircled Me with lies,
And the house of Israel with deceit;
But Judah still walks with God,
Even with the Holy One who is faithful. (Hosea 11:8-12)

It is hard to punish those we love. God knew that he had to punish the Israelites for cheating on him with other gods, but it was something that caused internal conflict. God would rather have only blessed the Israelites. He wanted them to be happy and at ease. But he also wanted them to be the best that they could be. He knew what it was that they really needed and to his great sorrow, he knew they needed to be disciplined. Had he been merely human, then he might have given in to his preference to bless them. Human beings, often times, will allow their emotions to get the better of them. But God was not human and so he could rise above his emotions and do what so desperately needed to be done: to discipline his people on account of their sins.

In the end, God knew, his people would be okay. As unpleasant as discipline is for both the disciplined and the one doing the discipline, the outcome invariably leads to something very good. Children raised by parents who discipline them turn out far better than children who always get their way, who never face criticism, or who never get told no. In the end, we are happier and better off for the punishment than if we hadn’t gotten it.

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King of Tyre

Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD:

“You were the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The sardius, topaz, and diamond,
Beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold.
The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes
Was prepared for you on the day you were created.
“You were the anointed cherub who covers;
I established you;
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.
You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created,
Till iniquity was found in you.
“By the abundance of your trading
You became filled with violence within,
And you sinned;
Therefore I cast you as a profane thing
Out of the mountain of God;
And I destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the fiery stones.
“Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor;
I cast you to the ground,
I laid you before kings,
That they might gaze at you.
“You defiled your sanctuaries
By the multitude of your iniquities,
By the iniquity of your trading;
Therefore I brought fire from your midst;
It devoured you,
And I turned you to ashes upon the earth
In the sight of all who saw you. (Ezekiel 28:11-18)

We are neither the masters of our fates nor the captains of our souls. Sometimes, like the King of Tyre, we forget that. Tyre was a prosperous city whose wealth came from its extensive trade. God compared its king to the first human in paradise and described his destruction in language similar to Adam’s expulsion from Eden. Like Adam, the king of Tyre had it all. But like Adam, he would lose it all. First the Babylonians would repeatedly sack Tyre, and then Alexander the Great would destroy it.

The king of Tyre was called a cherub because, as the anointed king of the city, he guarded it. Cherubs were a kind of angel, usually pictured as a winged lion, like the images that flanked the thrones of Assyrian kings. Like most Middle Eastern despots of the time, the king of Tyre believed himself to be a god. But thanks to the fact that human beings, even kings, are mortal—God easily put him in his place.

No matter how much control we may think we have of our lives, no matter how well off we may be, our lives and our fortunes are in God’s hands, not ours.

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Bottled Up

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners.”

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.

Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us?”

So I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: Say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. And you will do as I have done. You will not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners.’” (Ezekiel 24:15-22)

What if you weren’t allowed to cry? Ezekiel was taken into Babylonian captivity a few years before the Babylonians had burned Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Ezekiel prophesied to Israelites who had been carried off around the same time. God often had him act out his prophetic messages. For instance, Ezekiel once went outside, put a brick down in the dirt, and laid siege to it as a child might play with toy soldiers. It illustrated what Babylon was going to do to Jerusalem. This time, the illustration of God’s message was personally devastating for Ezekiel. God told him his beloved wife would die. Worse, he wouldn’t even be permitted the normal Jewish mourning rituals: no torn garments, no outward weeping.

What Ezekiel was asked to do was something strange. It served to illustrate the nature of the coming disaster: when Jerusalem fell, the people of Israel would feel sorrow, but they would not have the opportunity to express it. God wanted them to recognize the sheer horror of what was to come.

Keeping his sorrow bottled up inside was a nearly unbearable burden for Ezekiel.

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Perspective

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the instruction of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: ‘You said, “Woe is me now! For the Lord has added grief to my sorrow. I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest.” ’

“Thus you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, what I have built I will break down, and what I have planted I will pluck up, that is, this whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the Lord. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.”’” (Jeremiah 45:1-5)

Losing perspective is very easy. Baruch, the man who had served as Jeremiah’s secretary for years, writing down the words that he received from God, was overcome by his own suffering and fell into despair. God told him to get over it. In the first place, it wasn’t all about him. In the second place, God promised to protect him and keep him alive, no matter where he went, no matter what he had to face.
When everything goes wrong, it is hard to avoid Baruch’s attitude. All we want then is for the pain to go away. When we face financial ruin, when someone close to us dies, when we become seriously ill, the only thing that can make us feel good, the only thing we care to hear, is that we have money, that our loved one is not really dead, or that there is a miracle cure that will make us all better.

God told Baruch not to seek great things for himself. Instead, he should be satisfied to simply be alive. Bad things happen in life and if you’re going to be alive, you’re going to experience some bad things. That’s how it works. The question Baruch had to answer for himself, and that we need to answer for ourselves, is simply this: isn’t a life with God enough?

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Prayer

This is what the LORD says:
I will answer your prayers
because I have set a time
when I will help
by coming to save you.
I have chosen you
to take my promise of hope
to other nations.
You will rebuild the country
from its ruins,
then people will come
and settle there.
You will set prisoners free
from dark dungeons
to see the light of day.
On their way home,
they will find plenty to eat,
even on barren hills.
They won’t go hungry
or get thirsty;
they won’t be bothered
by the scorching sun
or hot desert winds.
I will be merciful
while leading them along
to streams of water.
I will level the mountains
and make roads.
Then my people will return
from distant lands
in the north and the west
and from the city of Syene. (Isaiah 49:8-12)

[insight]
There is no doubt that God will answer our prayers. But God has his own time and way of doing it. Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. Seventy years of captivity followed. People prayed for deliverance, just as their ancestors had prayed for deliverance from the Egyptians—for four hundred long years. Sometimes there is a gap between when a prayer is offered and when it is answered.

We pray for healing, we pray that those we love will be restored, that they will be protected, that they will not die or hurt. When our loved ones die, when they don’t come home from war, when the bank forecloses, when the job is lost, when whatever we fear most comes upon us, we may think that God has forsaken us, that he didn’t hear our prayer.

But God has a time and way of answering that is nothing like we expect. We live such short lives and see so little of the overall plan of God. There is more to eternity than the seventy years of a human lifespan. God has all the time in the world—all the time in eternity—to answer your prayer. Your loved ones will be resurrected, and you’ll walk on streets of gold. God has prepared rooms in his mansion just for you. All your dreams will come true. We just need to broaden our perspective—and widen our expectations. We expect too little of God. God’s answers are not limited to a window of merely seventy years.

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Poor and Needy

When the poor and needy
are dying of thirst
and cannot find water,
I, the LORD God of Israel,
will come to their rescue.
I won’t forget them.
I will make rivers flow
on mountain peaks.
I will send streams
to fill the valleys.
Dry and barren land
will flow with springs
and become a lake.
I will fill the desert
with all kinds of trees—
cedars, acacias, and myrtles;
olive and cypress trees;
fir trees and pines.
Everyone will see this
and know that I,
the holy LORD God of Israel,
created it all. (Isaiah 41:17-20)

God will take care of us. The Israelites had been taken captive by their enemies and it was not for no reason. God had warned them of the coming calamity and made it clear to them that they were being punished, much as a parent would give his child the rules, warn him of impending punishment, and then carry it out. But, like a parent, God did not disown his child; God did not punish in order to ruin their lives. Rather, God had the best of intentions and reassured his people that he would still provide for their needs. They need not fear that they would dry up and blow away.

Certainly, while the nation was in captivity and oppressed, the fields were left fallow and those places that needed irrigation were left unwatered. But that changed when the people returned. The barren places bloomed once again, the water flowed, and everyone had plenty to eat and drink. God will always provide for his people. He will never abandon them. Punishment does not mean our destruction, ever.

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Being a Prophet

In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it— at that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.

Then the LORD said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, ‘See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?’ ” (Isaiah 20:1-6)

Being a prophet is not the glamorous job a lot of people imagine it to be. Sure, it might be nice to have a direct line to God, but on the downside, he doesn’t always call at convenient times. And what he wants you to say is rarely going to be popular or win friends. Certainly you won’t get rich off it; in fact, it is unlikely to be beneficial to your life at all if you’re thinking only in terms of being comfortable.

Israel relied on Egypt to protect them from Assyria. God wanted to show Israel that this was a mistake: Egypt wouldn’t even be able to protect itself from the Assyrians, let alone do anything to help Israel. Trusting in everything and everyone but God would prove embarrassing. The Egyptians would see exile, and those who witnessed it would see more than they bargained for.

God recognized that giving speeches was not the only way to communicate. There was also storytelling, acting, and art. So Isaiah got to be a living parable to illustrate the message God wanted to get across. God was good at communicating and he knew how to get an audience’s attention. Having Isaiah run around without clothes certainly got people’s attention—especially since he did it for three years. Why so long? Perhaps, like any other message, even a naked prophet tended to get ignored. We don’t always like to listen to God, no matter how well he tells the story.

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