With Isaiah on the Water

Illustration: Spring finds a lot of folks enjoying the outdoors, relishing the blessings of creation. I completely track with that. When I unloaded the kayak from the truck and put in at the water’s edge recently, a father and his two children were fishing for bream. I could see their bright lime green and blaze orange corks floating on the water. A light wind blew across the lake. Around the edge of the lake, yellow-green pollen coagulated on the shoreline in bubbly hillocks. The sun had another 90 minutes before it would descend upon the ridge to the west. The light breeze was already beginning to taper off. It was just right for kayaking. The last 90 minutes of these spring days are nearly perfect for kayaking and paddle boarding. A young couple was paddle boarding near where I put in my kayak, and we exchanged pleasantries about the evening.

I took the prophet Isaiah kayaking with me. Isaiah, from the 700s B.C., the poetic prophet who held forth the truth to Israel and Judah in the 700s-late 600s B.C.  Isaiah’s messages were not for the faint of heart. He spoke about God’s holiness, about man’s sin, about God’s sovereign plan to execute judgment his own way and for his own glory. Listen to how direct Isaiah’s message was:

Ah, sinful nation,

   a people laden with iniquity,

offspring of evildoers,

   children who deal corruptly!

They have forsaken the LORD,

   they have despised the Holy One of Israel,

   they are utterly estranged. (Isaiah 1:4, ESV)

That’s not the sort of message that wins popularity contests. But Isaiah, like all authentic prophets, spoke the truth. He was God’s man who “spoke truth to power,” as a hackneyed phrase puts it. He saw his nation immersed in sin. It was not primarily a political tragedy; it was not primarily an economic tragedy; it was not primarily a military tragedy; it was not primarily a racial or ethnic tragedy. It was a sin tragedy. And God’s prophet longed to see people humble themselves before God so that judgment would not fall upon them. God had sovereignly created and ordained a nation, Israel, to be a light to the nations. But they fell short; they became idolatrous; they wanted to be like the world’s other nations; they didn’t have hearts faithful to the Lord. In precise fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies, Israel and Judah (the northern and southern kingdoms respectively) were conquered by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Judgment came in the forms of invasions, in abominable forms of moral melee, and in the forms of control by wicked empires by reprobate rulers. All this I thought about as I paddled the lake in my kayak.

Connection: As I paddled and slid out to deeper water, a mallard paddled by me, just a few yards out. Mallards are stunningly beautiful. The richness of the green head, the necklace of white ringing the throat, the sable eyes behind the bright yellow bill, and the ways the water beads upon their feathers. I tried to take some pictures with my iPhone as he moved with apparent ease across the lake and occasionally dipped his head under now and again in rhythmic beauty. It all seemed so natural. He was doing exactly what he was designed for. His legs paddled invisibly below the surface; his colors advertised his place among his own; the lake provided seeds and stems for his diet, etc. All seemed in order.

And yet, I thought, how differently humanity is portrayed in Isaiah’s words, and, ergo, in the eyes of God. We tend to kick against the goads. We tend to rebel. We are moral creatures. We have choice. We don’t just swim upon the surface of life and eat. No, we are God’s special creatures, created for fellowship with him and with one another and with the earth. But we’ve made a mess of things. Again I listened to Isaiah’s words and felt the irony as I imbibed the peace of the evening. Listen to God’s heart for people via his prophet, Isaiah:

                                    Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:

                                    though your sins are like scarlet,

                                       they shall be as white as snow;

                                    though they are red like crimson,

                                       they shall become like wool.

                                    If you are willing and obedient,

                                       you shall eat the good of the land;

                                    but if you refuse and rebel,

                                       you shall be eaten by the sword;

                                       for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20, ESV)

Takeaway: I have never been a political person; I don’t like how politics tends to replace God in people’s lives. When people neither know nor fear the Lord, they fashion God substitutes. In short, they prove what the Scriptures teach, namely, that sinful man is an idolater. And very often that idolatry in world history has led to tyrannical government. It is a form of judgment allowed by God to teach and discipline us. Isaiah knew it, and he proclaimed it to all who would listen in his day.

God sent prophets to speak the truth, to point even to the obvious when necessary, to bear witness to God’s way vs. sinful men’s ways. “Let us reason together,” the Lord said through Isaiah.

Yes, Lord, I pray we would, for we seem very unlike this mallard swimming past me on the lake this evening. He seems to be right where he is supposed to be, and doing things the way you intended. May you raise up faithful truth-tellers to warn the bellicose, to woo the backslidden, and to welcome the prodigals. May you raise them up, Lord, and make them faithful.

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