I’m reading in Isaiah for my personal study right now. I’ve found perhaps the saddest verse I’ve read, and perhaps the most uplifting and encouraging verse I’ve read so far in chapter 30. For several chapters, Isaiah has been delivering the visions given to him by Jehovah, scenes of destruction and woe, to Israel and Judah for their rebellion. These were the consequences for their sin, for paying lip service to God but removing their hearts (29:13), for dismissing His power and His presence (29:15-16). These people had told their prophets and seers (their preachers) to stop telling them the truth. They only wanted pleasant words, illusions (30:9-11). The consequences for their rebellion, their lack of reverence and respect for the One who created them, loved them, cared for them, saved them over and over, was they would be shattered so completely there wouldn’t be a piece left big enough to scoop up water from a stream (30:12-14).
In verse 15 of chapter 30, Jehovah God tells them that all they had to do was return to Him and rest in Him, and He would have saved them; to settle in Him, be still, and place their confidence in Him, and He would strengthen them again against all their enemies – like He did when they went into the Promised land. And here’s the part that is so desperately sad: “But they were not willing.”
Reading this, seeing the apostasy of the nation of Israel as they gradually turned their backs on their God, I scratch my head in puzzlement at why they wouldn’t listen, why they wouldn’t obey and return to the One who loved them so. I’ve got a bird’s eye view, you see, and I can easily turn back to Genesis and Exodus, to Deuteronomy and Joshua, to the Chronicles and the records of the Kings and see over and over the saving hand of God, His intervention in miraculous ways, His provision and care for His chosen people. Over and over He ministered to them, He reached out to them, He reminded them how much He loved them. And over and over they turned their backs on Him. They sniffed around the false gods of their neighbors, they became complacent in their own worship, honoring the system of sacrifice more than the One to whom they brought the sacrifices. They allowed all manner of vile things into their cities and their homes, but thought they were just fine as long as they went to the temple and killed a goat or a lamb. That’s all they had to do and they could retain the favor and blessing of Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts.
It’s insulting to read that. I’m insulted on God’s behalf when I read the accounting of how flippant and irreverent the nation of Israel became. They reduced Creator God to a figurehead. They gave Him all the importance of a statue – revered, yes; honored, yes. They could point to this statue and tell of His exploits, tell of the miracles and wonders of the past, recite His history, and boastfully claim that this was their God. But they walked away and turned their backs on the reality of Yahweh. They allowed the worship of other gods into the sacred space of their hearts and removed Jehovah’s access, yet still claimed His blessings and benefits.
Knowing this, reading this, it is obvious that this system was not sustainable. No one, even the most compassionate, loving, merciful Creator God, could allow this to continue unchecked. He had no choice but to enact consequences. He begged them for centuries to return to Him. He entreated them, He pleaded with them. But they were not willing.
I can find myself insulted (as I mentioned), baffled and angry at the children of Israel for their hearts toward God. Then I think about my own history.
I think about the fact that I grew up with a mother and father who love Jesus, who took me to church as often as the doors were open, who instilled in me the truth of His word, who modeled a relationship with God. Did they do it perfectly? Of course not. But it was sincere and genuine. It was true faith that was lived out before me as I grew up. As a young adult I took steps into my own personal faith in Jesus. I enjoyed listening to messages and reading my Bible. I know I felt the conviction and correction of my loving Creator when I strayed from His truth. But the cares and concerns of the world around me choked out the burgeoning faith, and I began to stray.
I strayed and wandered, all while living my life, getting married, having a child of my own. There was a season when my daughter was a toddler where her only exposure to the truth of Creator God was because her paternal grandmother took her to church. I strayed so far from what I knew was right that I ended up in an adulterous affair. It took me getting caught to turn my heart back to God. I was shattered. There were pieces of me all over the floor, pieces so small I couldn’t put them back together again, only He could.
For a period of about four to five years I followed Him, as best as I was able. I studied and devoured His word. My Bible from that time period is filled with highlighted passages, hand-written notes in margins, underlined words and verses. Once again I was in church as often as the doors were open. I kept a prayer journal, and had a habit of typing up favored verses on bookmark sized paper, mixing up fonts and styles to emphasize words, then printing them out and laminating them. I still have some in my new Bible, from all those years ago.
It was one of those bookmarks that helped me connect what I was reading in Isaiah to my own personal history.
I strayed again. Pressure and weakness of spirit turned my heart away from God again, this time for good, or so I thought. This time I was done. I walked away from everything I knew to be right, everything I knew to be true. I fully embraced the world around me, its values and mores, it’s callous dismissal of anything to do with God. I dismissed God. For a time, I clung to His promises and His blessings without allowing Him into my own heart. I honored Him with my lip service, but removed my heart far from Him, and my reverence for Him consisted of tradition learned by rote (Isaiah 30:13). Then I gave up even that. I walked away.
I stayed gone for many years this time. Longer than I ever had. I truly believed that I was perfectly fine on my own, didn’t need God. I don’t know when the truth began to seep into my consciousness, that I was in trouble, that I was miserable, but that I had forfeited my right to call out to Him. Eventually I knew that in order to ask for His help, I would have to abandon some behaviors. I would have to remove the idol I worshiped from the throne in my heart and allow Him to take His rightful place there. But I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. I wasn’t willing.
Then I shattered again. I was sitting on the back porch of a dear friend’s house when my heart broke into a million pieces. When I faced the truth that my life was not sustainable as it was, that it was destroying me. And yet I still did not turn back to Him. All I would have had to do was repent and rest in Him, to be quiet before Him and trust in Him, and He would have saved me from the wreckage of my life and strengthened me. But I was not willing.
I devolved, spiraling further and further down in to misery, covering the pain with alcohol and wild behavior, ignoring the truth being whispered in my heart. Until I was shattered. My collapse was like the smashing of a potter’s jar, so ruthlessly shattered that a sherd was not found among its pieces to take fire from a hearth or to scoop water from a cistern (Isaiah 30:14). I was not just in pieces, I was the dust from those pieces.
But there in the dust came the willingness. It may have been because I had tried everything else and knew that nothing worked, but it was willingness. That’s all He needed.
Isaiah 30:18-21 says, ‘Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him. O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you the bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher, will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.’
Oh what mercy, what compassion Almighty God has on this pathetic, pitiful people He created! He is marvelous, wonderful, compassionate and gracious. He is endlessly faithful and true. He is love. He will surely be gracious to us at the sound of our cries; when He hears them, He will answer us. He didn’t have to listen to me on the morning of August 17, 2020, when I said “You’re all I have left, I might as well try You.” He didn’t have to hear me and certainly didn’t have to answer me. But He did.
Wherever I walk throughout the rest of this life He gave me, He will not hide Himself from me as long as my heart is turned toward Him. He will guide me wherever I go.
In the shattering, He still shelters. In the hurt, He heals. I am His, and I have hope.