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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Right Kind of “Waiting” Game: Isaiah 30.18


[I presented this at the Capitol Bible Study on 27 August 2014]

The Right Kind of “Waiting” Game
Isaiah 30.18

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30.18)

I read this verse recently to our men who gathered for weekly prayer and talked about it as a backdrop to our time of praying. One of our elders asked me some questions and we began, through email, to talk over this verse in greater detail. From that discussion came this little study. There is a context to this verse that I’ll bring out as we go along, but it seems to me that this particular verse is a hinge verse – like the hinges that keep your door attached to the doorjamb, and make it all work. As odd as this is going to appear at first, let’s begin in the middle of the verse and work our way up and out, and then end by comparing the first statement with the last.

“For the LORD is a God of justice” sounds pretty stiff to many, especially in an environment where we want God to simply be affirming and accepting of all we are and all we do. But in the immediate context of chapter 30, the statement, “for the LORD is a God of justice” is doing two things simultaneously: (1) it is – in the words of C.S. Lewis – God paying us “the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense” (“The Problem of Pain,” 41). And (2) it is giving hope, when it looks like there’s nothing left to hope for! Let me explain.

First, in the verses just before this, God’s people are characterized as rebellious (v.5), they despise God’s word by ignoring and shutting out and closing down anyone who tries to correct them (10-12a), they put their confidence in manipulative, perverse and oppressive measures to get what they want (v.12b-13), and they reject God’s way and God’s help – “For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength." But you were unwilling, and you said, "No! We will flee etc.” (v.15-16). Therefore God is paying them the intolerable compliment by loving them so much, that he takes them more seriously than they take themselves. He is challenging their self-destructive actions and this statement “For the LORD is a God of justice” reminds them that he will hold them accountable. But the goal of this claim is not to destroy, quash, or annihilate them. It is meant to draw them back to him, just like when a loving brother might take a wayward, self-destructive sibling behind the woodshed and apply some wall-to-wall counseling.

Yet in the verses following, God’s people are suffering the consequences of their rebellion. It’s exactly like what the Psalmist says, “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Psalm 81.11-12). So here they are, given over to the consequences of their stubborn hearts, reaping the fruit of following their own counsels, having been dealt “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (v. 20), weeping under the decimating results of their rebellion; enslaved to conquering tyrants and pounding bullies. And so the statement, “for the LORD is a God of justice” speaks hope to those who can no longer see hope, reminding them that he will also hold the tyrants and bullies accountable for their oppressive actions, and he will deliver his people. To put it all together: Sometimes the LORD is a God of justice to you, so that he might be a God of justice for you!

“And therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you” is a real shocker. Something must happen before mercy comes, and that something is what we pray for week after week, month after month, year after year: “Hallowed by thy name”! God’s own renown and reputation, fame and fanfare must rise above all others, so that mercy may freely flow to his people. Think of it this way, if God is truly the greatest good, the rightest right, the holiest holiness, the joyest joy, then for him to be exalted means that good is exalted, right is elevated, holiness is raised high, and joy is made grand! And if that’s the case, then justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5.24). So when you pray, “hallowed be thy name” you are praying Isaiah 30.18 – that God and his honor would be exalted above all human – political – racial – social – economic fame! And the benefit that comes with the answer of that prayer is greater mercy will flow to us and through us to others!

Now we move to the first and last statement of the verse: “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, ( . . . ) blessed are all those who wait for him.” It sounds like there’s a lot of waiting going on here; a lot of delaying, lounging around, watch-checking, and time-wasting! But the Hebrew word translated “wait” at the beginning and the end of this verse is far more exciting and intense than all that. If you care, its chakeh, and it means to long for. That kind of waiting of moms and dads as they stand on the tarmac longingly waiting for their son’s plane to arrive and bring him safely home from Afghanistan; that antsy yearning that paces the floor of the hospital waiting for the doctor to show her face and tell you the surgery was a success and your daughter will recover! Notice that God longingly waits, yearningly waits to be gracious – and specifically to be gracious to a stubborn, rebellious people that he calls his own people! The goal of this whole verse is to invite us – no matter where we are, what we’ve done, who we’ve been – to become the truly blessed people – and the blessed people are those who yearningly long for the God who longs yearningly to be gracious to them!

The truly blessed people are those who wait longingly for this God who longingly waits to be gracious to his people. To crave for him to be exalted in our world knowing that then real goodness is elevated and mercy will rain down mightily. Loving this God who is a God of justice – that he loves his people so much that he will be a God of justice to them, so that he can finally be a God of justice for them! So, the next time an African-American brother or sister says to you, on the way out the door, “Have a blessed day!” come back to this verse. And the next time you say “Have a blessed day,” let this verse shape your meaning – “May you be one of the truly blessed – longingly waiting for this God who longingly waits to be gracious; longingly waiting for this God who exalts himself so mercy can rain down; longingly waiting for this God who is a God of justice to you – sometimes – so that he can be a God of justice for you!”

But maybe, just maybe, you’re sitting there thinking; “Preacher man, I want this God you’re talking about; I have a longing for him – but I hain’t sure he longs for me. Because, you know, I have a past! I have some mileage under me that just might knock your socks off and flip your wig! I don’t think God would even half-way longingly wait for me!” Listen to a man who had a ton of bad – really bad – baggage in his past; a man who was consumed by his libido and lusts for years upon years, leaving behind him a lot of human tragedy; Augustine, who became the senior pastor of the church in hippo North Africa in the fourth century. He says something pretty amazing in his long, 13 chapter prayer to this God who longingly waits to be gracious: by your Son, Jesus Christ “you sought us when we were not seeking you, but sought us that we might seek you” (“Confession,” 11.2). Seek the Lord, who is already seeking you. And the place where you will find him is in Jesus Christ his Son.


Have a blessed day!
{Feel free to re-post or republish this. But as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike}

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