Recent Posts
Lowell Brueckner

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

The High and the Lowly


52. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 57

The righteous perish

I have found that the Lord will often arrange circumstances, to order my thoughts in a certain direction. Just this morning, someone asked me the meaning of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7: “You know what is restraining him now… Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.” Briefly, I explained my view (along with many other Christians) that “the mystery of lawlessness” is restrained by the Holy Spirit-indwelt church and, when the Lord comes to take her away, the antichrist will be unleashed without restraint in the world.

Now I find this verse before us: “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity” (v.1). Had there been ten righteous people in Sodom, they would have averted its disaster. The principle, concerning the raptured church, holds true today every time that a righteous man goes to be with the Lord. They are the salt of the earth (a means of preserving it). A restraining force is taken away from before the flood of lawlessness, and this world becomes a little worse as a result.

The righteous man is spared calamity. It came to my mind in the second half of the 20th Century, when a number of true and influential servants of God left this world behind, that they had been spared much grief and calamity. In the sovereign will of God, we stay here to lament and battle against the increasing evil. Others do not take it to heart or understand, and they conform to the times. They wonder why a minority among them are so upset and speak so negatively against the modes and trends in the church and society, which surrounds it. One day, Christ’s true bride will be taken away and the world will be left without a godly influence.

Not only are the devout saved from woes coming on the earth, but even death is no enemy for them. Their bodies rest in the graves; their spirits enter into the peace of heaven: “He enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness” (v.2). The apostle Paul gives us very clear doctrine on rest and confidence after death, especially in his letter to the Philippians and in the second letter to the Corinthians: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain… I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Phil.1:21-24). “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”  (2 Co.5:6,8).

Spiritual adultery

How many times in the Bible are we obligated to consider the state, not only of the righteous, but of those who walk in rebellion? It is impossible to be exclusively positive and remain true to the Word of God. In verse three we see “sons of the sorceress, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman”. Spiritual adultery points to idolatry. I suppose that a good synonym of sons, in the biblical sense, would be products… spiritual results produced in those who follow sorcery, instead of true religion, adultery rather than faithfulness and looseness, instead of having stable character. These have turned their back on the truth.

The Lord demands that they think about their condition. It is the work of a prophet and the preacher to make their audience think. “Whom are you mocking?” Think about what you are doing! You not only contradict, you “open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue.” You are extremely contrary and openly abusive in your language. These things are put to them as a question. Are you not products of lies and deceit? They walk outside the perimeters of truth, in the broad way of deception, which leads to a sinful lifestyle (v.4).

The only hope is that they will see this, admit it and confess it, so that listening to their own speech, it will reveal an open door to the heart. The ministry of Jesus continued in the same vein as the prophets: “The evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk.6:45). It is incumbent on His spokesmen to reveal the same truth, and often the rebukes must exceed the praise and comfort.  

“Enflaming yourselves…” (KJV) Intense evil desires lead to extreme sexual and murderous acts. What may be surprising is that it is religion that carries these lusts to fulfillment in an attempt to legitimize and justify them. The Israelites practiced idolatry in groves of trees, having male and female religious prostitutes, and went so far as to offer their children in sacrifice to Molech, following the religion of the Canaanites (v.5). Nothing has changed in the cruel human heart, although the methods and appearances today are more subtle and sophisticated. Millions participate in killing babies in the womb and vote in favor of homosexual liberty.

The Israelites built their idols from the low-lying river beds to the high places on the mountains, mixing in the religious rites taught in the book of Leviticus. They attempted to blend the lowest forms of paganism with the high ceremonial practices of their law (v.6,7). Can the attempt to include God, along with idol worship, appease Him? To the extreme forms of sexual perversion and cruelty were added the most debasing heathen rites. There is no cause for us to look on them condescendingly in this day, when society has adopted evolution, a radical evidence of godless religion.  

In figurative language, verse eight points to the descending direction that they are taking and the growth of its acceptance: “Behind the door… you have uncovered your bed… you have loved their bed… you have made it wide.” They have made peace with the world around them and are in love with its ways.

The New Testament people are not exempt. James accuses them: You adulterous people! (similar term to those used by Isaiah in verse 3) Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas.4:4). John had to define true Christianity to the church in his day, just as Isaiah had to redefine godliness to Israel: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn.2:15, 16).

The erring ways of the religious entered the realm of international politics, borrowing from foreign deities. From there, religion degraded into demonism: “You journeyed to the king with oil and multiplied your perfumes; you sent your envoys far off, and sent down even to Sheol” (v.9). In the true nature of politics, they maintained their optimism in the face of repetitive failure: “You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, ‘It is hopeless’; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint” (v.10). It is amazing to observe to what length people will go to keep a positive attitude.

The Lord questions them again to bring them to reason. He asks them about the great deity, to which they are paying attention, so that they forget their true God. “Whom did you dread and fear… and did not remember me…?” Lies prevail against truth. Man’s fear of false gods, over the true God, only shows his innate rebellion against his Creator. His treason is plain and simple, proven by his beliefs and practices. It is the only explanation for the road that he is taking, from Isaiah’s day to this one. Even God’s mercy and forbearance lends to an increasing lack of godly fear, rather than bringing them to repentance.

Self-righteousness is only another form of rebellion and, in His day, Jesus called it by its name… hypocrisy! It is sin in its most destructive and dangerous state, because it exalts the ego and despises grace. It is the idolatry of self-worship. The very best that can be said about humanity’s good deeds and outward religion fall far short of heaven’s approval (v.12). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the apostle said (Ro.3:23), and he teaches the same doctrine in Romans, chapters 2 and 3, that Isaiah is showing in this verse.

Living in Heaven… Present Tense

The consequences of idolatry are best seen in a time of crisis, when God abandons the idolater to the impotence of his idols. I know of no clearer manifestation of the hopelessness of faith in false gods as we see in the face-off between the 450 prophets of Baal and Elijah. This doleful statement moves me, whenever I read it: “There was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention” (1 K.18:29). Weigh this against the promise of a prayer-answering God: “He who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain” (v.13).

God’s way, rather than degradation, is the way of edification. When a believer makes God’s way his way, everything works out, and nothing can stand in his way. “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way” (v.14). A veteran missionary used to say, “God’s way doesn’t cost, it pays!” It is obviously the right road to take and to refuse to turn in His direction is insanity. The world’s population has chosen the highway of vanity and ruin, while a small minority yield to the lordship of Christ and reap the benefits.

Meditate worshipfully before these words from heaven’s throne room, some of the most inspiring, not only in this book, but in the entire Bible: “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (v.15). If you need encouragement, the best thing you can do is look up to the high and lofty One and see to it that He is your Lord, in whom you put your trust. Isaiah insists that He is the Holy One of Israel and His name must, in all circumstances, be hallowed.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” (1 P.3:18). The gospel is the way to the throne room of God for the one, who is ready to humble himself and submit to Him. He lifts us up to the high and holy place according to a doctrine that Paul makes very clear, stating that God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:6). As I heard someone expound, not long ago, this is present, not future tense. Heaven, then, is not a goal, but a present position and reality for the believer. He is a contrite and lowly soul, who has been revived through the new birth. The one condition that God requires from us in order to enjoy communion with Him, is that of humility.

There is so much more to be said, but I must force myself to go forward in order to end my comments on this chapter. Verse 16 gives us wonderful insight into the nature of God, the prime purpose of the entire written revelation. It shows us two things, concerning God’s wrath in relation to His people… 1) He is slow to anger and 2) His anger is momentary. We emphasized that truth in a previous chapter. Here He says, “I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry.” He is our Creator and has compassion for His creation: “For the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made.

There is no need to justify ourselves or hide our sin. God reacts this way in full knowledge of our sinful condition: “I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners…” (v.17,18). Notice… the chastised person continued to backslide in his own way. He needed the healing touch of God to heal his backslidings and lead him to the road of comfort. Salvation is of God and only of God.

“Creating the fruit of the lips.” We look to the Word for an interpretation of the Word. Please notice Hebrews 13:15: “Through him (Jesus, v.12) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips…” Through Jesus and the work of His cross, we obtain forgiveness of sins. No one offers up love and praise like the forgiven sinner. This is the “Gospel of Isaiah” that points us to the healing, comforting and loving grace of Jesus Christ, creating a life full of praise.

Once again, we have a loving, passionate invitation, as we saw in chapter 55. There it was an invitation to come and partake of living water and a rich feast at the Lord’s table, while here we have an invitation to peace: “Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the Lord, and I will heal him” (v.19). Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Ac.2:39). It is a call to reconciliation and to peace with the high and lofty One, who inhabits eternity, but lifts us up into His presence by grace. It is to the near and the far, as far away as Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Australia is from Jerusalem. It is as far away in time as the 21st Century is to 700 B.C., but the timeless, living word of God is today and in this place, at our disposal.

If I had to choose, I think you know that I would much rather write, as I have written concerning verses 13-19. However, the Holy Spirit, in His loving concern for the wicked, obligates us to raise one more word of warning. The sinner is outside the range of God’s peace and all that we have seen in these former verses. Where he exists, there is no peace, “but the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet.” There is no counsel, no psychology, to calm the troubled soul, who is under eternal condemnation. It is humanly impossible to do anything for him. “There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked” (v.20,21). This world offers no answer to his dilemma; the only hope comes from above. It comes from God made flesh, sent from above to this earth, to bring the wicked and his wickedness to an end, through the power of His cross.


Post a Comment