Rebuilding the Foundations
Isaiah begins by giving us a time frame for his prophetic career. He prophesied from the time of Uzziah, who died in 758 BC to the reign of Hezekiah, who died in 697. Hezekiah reigned 29 years and Isaiah was around at least for the 14th year of his reign (Isaiah 37-39), so he prophesied for at least 45 years.
An apocryphal book called The Martyrdom of Isaiah says that Isaiah was martyred under Manasseh, Hezekiah's son, by being sawn in two. The mention of such a martyrdom in Hebrews 11:37 is almost certainly a reference to this book. However, had Isaiah really lived until the time of Manasseh, surely he would have mentioned him with the other kings in verse 1.
It is easy to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament histories and prophecies of judgment, without catching issues that apply to us today. Verses 2-3 of Isaiah 1 are an excellent example.
Here the Lord complains that the Israelites are his children, but they don't understand him or know who he is. Even oxen and donkeys know their masters, but the Israelites have failed to know or understand the One who is not only their Master, but their Father and Husband as well.
This did not happen because they simply forgot him or because he's invisible and easy to overlook as we live our lives. He is a mighty God who continually worked miracles in Israel. God tells us through Isaiah that the problem is "they have rebelled against me."
Israel not only does not know; they don't even consider.
Israel is a nation that grew up in captivity. Only by the great deliverance of God were they freed. Only by the hand of the Almighty were they able to obtain their land. They had national songs, singers, a temple, sacrifices, a priesthood, feasts and Sabbaths that were all meant to remind them of the mighty deeds of God.
But they forgot because they didn't want to know. Knowing involves responsibility. Knowing involves living differently than the impulses and desires of our body would drive us to live. So Israel rebelled, and they forgot. They forgot because they wanted to forget.
This is just as true in the USA. The US is forgetting God. They consider him invisible and absent, but the real problem is that they are not looking. They don't know because they are in rebellion, and they don't want to know.
Those of us who name the name of the King are at fault, too. We don't consider because considering is dangerous. The darkness grows in our nation, and we complain, but we do not consider. We could look at the past. We could look at what the saints did in the past when the world around them became frighteningly dark.
We would find that they mourned, they prayed, they fasted. They cried out for God to intervene, and he did ... over and over again.
We who name the name of the King, we know. We know, but do we consider? This is the USA. We are so comfortable. When we see that we are not reaching those around us, we try to make them as comfortable as we are. We offer them Starbucks and basketball courts in hope that the church will prove even more comfortable than the world.
We will never out-comfort and out-entertain Hollywood and Disney. It is one of those things God cannot do because he is not willing to do. His call is for men and women to forsake their comforts and luxuries because they have seen him as the Great and Awesome King.
Let us consider our ways. How much of our effort is devoted to the Kingdom of God, and how much is devoted to our own comfort? Even more pertinently, how much of our money is devoted to the Kingdom of God, and how much is devoted to our own comfort?
This little jaunt through three verses at the beginning of Isaiah convicted me deeply. The biggest issue was very simple: Starbucks.
I am not going to tell anyone else what to do, but for me, I know I cannot justify to God that I need that $2 coffee or that $4 specialty drink. Three things compound the problem, wounding my heart even more:
I am not suggesting you do what I do—or what I started doing today in my conviction and my horror at myself. I am not prepared to tell Christians that spending money on specialty drinks at Starbucks is sin. I am prepared to ask those who think of themselves as disciples to consider. I am asking you to compare what you do and what you spend for your comfort to what you do and spend for the Kingdom of God.
I can tell you from experience that if my readers take this to heart, it will convict those who least need convicting and float on by those who most need it. I'm not sure what to do about that except mention it. Are we disciples of the Great King, Jesus the Son of God? Or are we followers of the mediocre Christian traditions of the United States?