The Black Holes of Life

  • Author: Ray C. Stedman
Read the Scripture: Isaiah 24-35
Isaiah 24-35

1 See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth
and devastate it;
he will ruin its face
and scatter its inhabitants-

2 it will be the same
for priest as for people,
for master as for servant,
for mistress as for maid,
for seller as for buyer,
for borrower as for lender,
for debtor as for creditor.

3 The earth will be completely laid waste
and totally plundered.
The LORD has spoken this word.

4 The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers,
the exalted of the earth languish.

5 The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.

6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
its people must bear their guilt.
Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up,
and very few are left.

7 The new wine dries up and the vine withers;
all the merrymakers groan.

8 The gaiety of the tambourines is stilled,
the noise of the revelers has stopped,
the joyful harp is silent.

9 No longer do they drink wine with a song;
the beer is bitter to its drinkers.

10 The ruined city lies desolate;
the entrance to every house is barred.

11 In the streets they cry out for wine;
all joy turns to gloom,
all gaiety is banished from the earth.

12 The city is left in ruins,
its gate is battered to pieces.

13 So will it be on the earth
and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
or as when gleanings are left after the grape harvest.

14 They raise their voices, they shout for joy;
from the west they acclaim the LORD's majesty.

15 Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD;
exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel,
in the islands of the sea.

16 From the ends of the earth we hear singing:
"Glory to the Righteous One."
But I said, "I waste away, I waste away!
Woe to me!
The treacherous betray!
With treachery the treacherous betray!"

17 Terror and pit and snare await you,
O people of the earth.

18 Whoever flees at the sound of terror
will fall into a pit;
whoever climbs out of the pit
will be caught in a snare.
The floodgates of the heavens are opened,
the foundations of the earth shake.

19 The earth is broken up,
the earth is split asunder,
the earth is thoroughly shaken.

20 The earth reels like a drunkard,
it sways like a hut in the wind;
so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion
that it falls—never to rise again.

21 In that day the LORD will punish
the powers in the heavens above
and the kings on the earth below.

22 They will be herded together
like prisoners bound in a dungeon;
they will be shut up in prison
and be punished after many days.

23 The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed;
for the LORD Almighty will reign
on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and before its elders, gloriously.

1 O LORD, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done marvelous things,
things planned long ago.

2 You have made the city a heap of rubble,
the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners' stronghold a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.

3 Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
cities of ruthless nations will revere you.

4 You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm driving against a wall

5 and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

6 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.

7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;

8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people
from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.

9 In that day they will say,
"Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the LORD, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."

10 The hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain;
but Moab will be trampled under him
as straw is trampled down in the manure.

11 They will spread out their hands in it,
as a swimmer spreads out his hands to swim.
God will bring down their pride
despite the cleverness of their hands.

12 He will bring down your high fortified walls
and lay them low;
he will bring them down to the ground,
to the very dust.

1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.

2 Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith.

3 You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.

4 Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

5 He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.

6 Feet trample it down—
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor.

7 The path of the righteous is level;
O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.

8 Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

9 My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.

10 Though grace is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil
and regard not the majesty of the LORD.

11 O LORD, your hand is lifted high,
but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame;
let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.

12 LORD, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

13 O LORD, our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.

14 They are now dead, they live no more;
those departed spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
you wiped out all memory of them.

15 You have enlarged the nation, O LORD;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land.

16 LORD, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer.

17 As a woman with child and about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, O LORD.

18 We were with child, we writhed in pain,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth;
we have not given birth to people of the world.

19 But your dead will live;
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.

20 Go, my people, enter your rooms
and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until his wrath has passed by.

21 See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling
to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her;
she will conceal her slain no longer.

1 In that day,
the LORD will punish with his sword,
his fierce, great and powerful sword,
Leviathan the gliding serpent,
Leviathan the coiling serpent;
he will slay the monster of the sea.

2 In that day—
"Sing about a fruitful vineyard:

3 I, the LORD, watch over it;
I water it continually.
I guard it day and night
so that no one may harm it.

4 I am not angry.
If only there were briers and thorns confronting me!
I would march against them in battle;
I would set them all on fire.

5 Or else let them come to me for refuge;
let them make peace with me,
yes, let them make peace with me."

6 In days to come Jacob will take root,
Israel will bud and blossom
and fill all the world with fruit.

7 Has the LORD struck her
as he struck down those who struck her?
Has she been killed
as those were killed who killed her?

8 By warfare and exile you contend with her—
with his fierce blast he drives her out,
as on a day the east wind blows.

9 By this, then, will Jacob's guilt be atoned for,
and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin:
When he makes all the altar stones
to be like chalk stones crushed to pieces,
no Asherah poles or incense altars
will be left standing.

10 The fortified city stands desolate,
an abandoned settlement, forsaken like the desert;
there the calves graze,
there they lie down;
they strip its branches bare.

11 When its twigs are dry, they are broken off
and women come and make fires with them.
For this is a people without understanding;
so their Maker has no compassion on them,
and their Creator shows them no favor.

12 In that day the LORD will thresh from the flowing Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you, O Israelites, will be gathered up one by one. 13 And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

1 Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards,
to the fading flower, his glorious beauty,
set on the head of a fertile valley—
to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine!

2 See, the Lord has one who is powerful and strong.
Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind,
like a driving rain and a flooding downpour,
he will throw it forcefully to the ground.

3 That wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards,
will be trampled underfoot.

4 That fading flower, his glorious beauty,
set on the head of a fertile valley,
will be like a fig ripe before harvest—
as soon as someone sees it and takes it in his hand,
he swallows it.

5 In that day the LORD Almighty
will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath
for the remnant of his people.

6 He will be a spirit of justice
to him who sits in judgment,
a source of strength
to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

7 And these also stagger from wine
and reel from beer:
Priests and prophets stagger from beer
and are befuddled with wine;
they reel from beer,
they stagger when seeing visions,
they stumble when rendering decisions.

8 All the tables are covered with vomit
and there is not a spot without filth.

9 "Who is it he is trying to teach?
To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
to those just taken from the breast?

10 For it is:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule ;
a little here, a little there."

11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,

12 to whom he said,
"This is the resting place, let the weary rest";
and, "This is the place of repose"—
but they would not listen.

13 So then, the word of the LORD to them will become:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule;
a little here, a little there—
so that they will go and fall backward,
be injured and snared and captured.

14 Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.

15 You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the grave we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place."

16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who trusts will never be dismayed.

17 I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.

18 Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the grave will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.

19 As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through."
The understanding of this message
will bring sheer terror.

20 The bed is too short to stretch out on,
the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.

21 The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim,
he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon—
to do his work, his strange work,
and perform his task, his alien task.

22 Now stop your mocking,
or your chains will become heavier;
the Lord, the LORD Almighty, has told me
of the destruction decreed against the whole land.

23 Listen and hear my voice;
pay attention and hear what I say.

24 When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?

25 When he has leveled the surface,
does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place,
barley in its plot,
and spelt in its field?

26 His God instructs him
and teaches him the right way.

27 Caraway is not threshed with a sledge,
nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin;
caraway is beaten out with a rod,
and cummin with a stick.

28 Grain must be ground to make bread;
so one does not go on threshing it forever.
Though he drives the wheels of his threshing cart over it,
his horses do not grind it.

29 All this also comes from the LORD Almighty,
wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.

1 Woe to you, Ariel, Ariel,
the city where David settled!
Add year to year
and let your cycle of festivals go on.

2 Yet I will besiege Ariel;
she will mourn and lament,
she will be to me like an altar hearth.

3 I will encamp against you all around;
I will encircle you with towers
and set up my siege works against you.

4 Brought low, you will speak from the ground;
your speech will mumble out of the dust.
Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth;
out of the dust your speech will whisper.

5 But your many enemies will become like fine dust,
the ruthless hordes like blown chaff.
Suddenly, in an instant,

6 the LORD Almighty will come
with thunder and earthquake and great noise,
with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.

7 Then the hordes of all the nations that fight against Ariel,
that attack her and her fortress and besiege her,
will be as it is with a dream,
with a vision in the night-

8 as when a hungry man dreams that he is eating,
but he awakens, and his hunger remains;
as when a thirsty man dreams that he is drinking,
but he awakens faint, with his thirst unquenched.
So will it be with the hordes of all the nations
that fight against Mount Zion.

9 Be stunned and amazed,
blind yourselves and be sightless;
be drunk, but not from wine,
stagger, but not from beer.

10 The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep:
He has sealed your eyes (the prophets);
he has covered your heads (the seers).

11 For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, "Read this, please," he will answer, "I can't; it is sealed." 12 Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, "Read this, please," he will answer, "I don't know how to read."

13 The Lord says:
"These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men.

14 Therefore once more I will astound these people
with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish."

15 Woe to those who go to great depths
to hide their plans from the LORD,
who do their work in darkness and think,
"Who sees us? Who will know?"

16 You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to him who formed it,
"He did not make me"?
Can the pot say of the potter,
"He knows nothing"?

17 In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field
and the fertile field seem like a forest?

18 In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.

19 Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD;
the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

20 The ruthless will vanish,
the mockers will disappear,
and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down-

21 those who with a word make a man out to be guilty,
who ensnare the defender in court
and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice.

22 Therefore this is what the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, says to the house of Jacob:
"No longer will Jacob be ashamed;
no longer will their faces grow pale.

23 When they see among them their children,
the work of my hands,
they will keep my name holy;
they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob,
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

24 Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding;
those who complain will accept instruction."

1 "Woe to the obstinate children,"
declares the LORD,
"to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;

2 who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh's protection,
to Egypt's shade for refuge.

3 But Pharaoh's protection will be to your shame,
Egypt's shade will bring you disgrace.

4 Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,

5 everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace."

6 An oracle concerning the animals of the Negev:
Through a land of hardship and distress,
of lions and lionesses,
of adders and darting snakes,
the envoys carry their riches on donkeys' backs,
their treasures on the humps of camels,
to that unprofitable nation,

7 to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless.
Therefore I call her
Rahab the Do-Nothing.

8 Go now, write it on a tablet for them,
inscribe it on a scroll,
that for the days to come
it may be an everlasting witness.

9 These are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD's instruction.

10 They say to the seers,
"See no more visions!"
and to the prophets,
"Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.

11 Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!"

12 Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says:
"Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,

13 this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant.

14 It will break in pieces like pottery,
shattered so mercilessly
that among its pieces not a fragment will be found
for taking coals from a hearth
or scooping water out of a cistern."

15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.

16 You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

17 A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill."

18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." 22 Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, "Away with you!"

23 He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. 24 The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. 25 In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. 26 The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.

27 See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar,
with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke;
his lips are full of wrath,
and his tongue is a consuming fire.

28 His breath is like a rushing torrent,
rising up to the neck.
He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction;
he places in the jaws of the peoples
a bit that leads them astray.

29 And you will sing
as on the night you celebrate a holy festival;
your hearts will rejoice
as when people go up with flutes
to the mountain of the LORD,
to the Rock of Israel.

30 The LORD will cause men to hear his majestic voice
and will make them see his arm coming down
with raging anger and consuming fire,
with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail.

31 The voice of the LORD will shatter Assyria;
with his scepter he will strike them down.

32 Every stroke the LORD lays on them
with his punishing rod
will be to the music of tambourines and harps,
as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm.

33 Topheth has long been prepared;
it has been made ready for the king.
Its fire pit has been made deep and wide,
with an abundance of fire and wood;
the breath of the LORD,
like a stream of burning sulfur,
sets it ablaze.

1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the LORD.

2 Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster;
he does not take back his words.
He will rise up against the house of the wicked,
against those who help evildoers.

3 But the Egyptians are men and not God;
their horses are flesh and not spirit.
When the LORD stretches out his hand,
he who helps will stumble,
he who is helped will fall;
both will perish together.

4 This is what the LORD says to me:
"As a lion growls,
a great lion over his prey—
and though a whole band of shepherds
is called together against him,
he is not frightened by their shouts
or disturbed by their clamor—
so the LORD Almighty will come down
to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.

5 Like birds hovering overhead,
the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem;
he will shield it and deliver it,
he will 'pass over' it and will rescue it."

6 Return to him you have so greatly revolted against, O Israelites. 7 For in that day every one of you will reject the idols of silver and gold your sinful hands have made.

8 "Assyria will fall by a sword that is not of man;
a sword, not of mortals, will devour them.
They will flee before the sword
and their young men will be put to forced labor.

9 Their stronghold will fall because of terror;
at sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic,"
declares the LORD,
whose fire is in Zion,
whose furnace is in Jerusalem.

1 See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.

2 Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

3 Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will listen.

4 The mind of the rash will know and understand,
and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.

5 No longer will the fool be called noble
nor the scoundrel be highly respected.

6 For the fool speaks folly,
his mind is busy with evil:
He practices ungodliness
and spreads error concerning the LORD;
the hungry he leaves empty
and from the thirsty he withholds water.

7 The scoundrel's methods are wicked,
he makes up evil schemes
to destroy the poor with lies,
even when the plea of the needy is just.

8 But the noble man makes noble plans,
and by noble deeds he stands.

9 You women who are so complacent,
rise up and listen to me;
you daughters who feel secure,
hear what I have to say!

10 In little more than a year
you who feel secure will tremble;
the grape harvest will fail,
and the harvest of fruit will not come.

11 Tremble, you complacent women;
shudder, you daughters who feel secure!
Strip off your clothes,
put sackcloth around your waists.

12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields,
for the fruitful vines

13 and for the land of my people,
a land overgrown with thorns and briers—
yes, mourn for all houses of merriment
and for this city of revelry.

14 The fortress will be abandoned,
the noisy city deserted;
citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever,
the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks,

15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.

16 Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.

17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.

18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.

19 Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,

20 how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

1 Woe to you, O destroyer,
you who have not been destroyed!
Woe to you, O traitor,
you who have not been betrayed!
When you stop destroying,
you will be destroyed;
when you stop betraying,
you will be betrayed.

2 O LORD, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.

3 At the thunder of your voice, the peoples flee;
when you rise up, the nations scatter.

4 Your plunder, O nations, is harvested as by young locusts;
like a swarm of locusts men pounce on it.

5 The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.

6 He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.

7 Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
the envoys of peace weep bitterly.

8 The highways are deserted,
no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
its witnesses are despised,
no one is respected.

9 The land mourns and wastes away,
Lebanon is ashamed and withers;
Sharon is like the Arabah,
and Bashan and Carmel drop their leaves.

10 "Now will I arise," says the LORD.
"Now will I be exalted;
now will I be lifted up.

11 You conceive chaff,
you give birth to straw;
your breath is a fire that consumes you.

12 The peoples will be burned as if to lime;
like cut thornbushes they will be set ablaze."

13 You who are far away, hear what I have done;
you who are near, acknowledge my power!

14 The sinners in Zion are terrified;
trembling grips the godless:
"Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?"

15 He who walks righteously
and speaks what is right,
who rejects gain from extortion
and keeps his hand from accepting bribes,
who stops his ears against plots of murder
and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil-

16 this is the man who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
His bread will be supplied,
and water will not fail him.

17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
and view a land that stretches afar.

18 In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror:
"Where is that chief officer?
Where is the one who took the revenue?
Where is the officer in charge of the towers?"

19 You will see those arrogant people no more,
those people of an obscure speech,
with their strange, incomprehensible tongue.

20 Look upon Zion, the city of our festivals;
your eyes will see Jerusalem,
a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;
its stakes will never be pulled up,
nor any of its ropes broken.

21 There the LORD will be our Mighty One.
It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars will ride them,
no mighty ship will sail them.

22 For the LORD is our judge,
the LORD is our lawgiver,
the LORD is our king;
it is he who will save us.

23 Your rigging hangs loose:
The mast is not held secure,
the sail is not spread.
Then an abundance of spoils will be divided
and even the lame will carry off plunder.

24 No one living in Zion will say, "I am ill";
and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.

1 Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!

2 The LORD is angry with all nations;
his wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter.

3 Their slain will be thrown out,
their dead bodies will send up a stench;
the mountains will be soaked with their blood.

4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved
and the sky rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

5 My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
see, it descends in judgment on Edom,
the people I have totally destroyed.

6 The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood,
it is covered with fat—
the blood of lambs and goats,
fat from the kidneys of rams.
For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah
and a great slaughter in Edom.

7 And the wild oxen will fall with them,
the bull calves and the great bulls.
Their land will be drenched with blood,
and the dust will be soaked with fat.

8 For the LORD has a day of vengeance,
a year of retribution, to uphold Zion's cause.

9 Edom's streams will be turned into pitch,
her dust into burning sulfur;
her land will become blazing pitch!

10 It will not be quenched night and day;
its smoke will rise forever.
From generation to generation it will lie desolate;
no one will ever pass through it again.

11 The desert owl and screech owl will possess it;
the great owl and the raven will nest there.
God will stretch out over Edom
the measuring line of chaos
and the plumb line of desolation.

12 Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom,
all her princes will vanish away.

13 Thorns will overrun her citadels,
nettles and brambles her strongholds.
She will become a haunt for jackals,
a home for owls.

14 Desert creatures will meet with hyenas,
and wild goats will bleat to each other;
there the night creatures will also repose
and find for themselves places of rest.

15 The owl will nest there and lay eggs,
she will hatch them, and care for her young under the shadow of her wings;
there also the falcons will gather,
each with its mate.

16 Look in the scroll of the LORD and read:
None of these will be missing,
not one will lack her mate.
For it is his mouth that has given the order,
and his Spirit will gather them together.

17 He allots their portions;
his hand distributes them by measure.
They will possess it forever
and dwell there from generation to generation.

1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.

3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;

4 say to those with fearful hearts,
"Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you."

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.

7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.

9 No lion will be there,
nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

10 and the ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

New International Version

I saw Halley's Comet this week. I thought I had better see it since I will not be here when it comes around again. It was not too impressive. As I observed it through binoculars, it seemed to be nothing more than a bright star with a little tail. But seeing it reminded me of the wonders that have been discovered by astronomers in recent years as they have been able to go beyond the earth's atmosphere to see things they could not see before. One of those marvels is what has been called the "Black Holes" of space. These strange phenomena are referred to as the "sewers" of space because they seem to swallow up stars. Even whole galaxies pour into them and disappear. Astronomers have surmised that "Black Holes" are huge, incredibly dense stars, so powerful in their gravitational force that even light cannot escape from them and thus we cannot see them.

As I read about those "Black Holes" I thought immediately of what is called in the book of Revelation "the bottomless pit." That term seemed to be an apt description of those space phenomena. Here is what the opening verses of Revelation 20 describe as the use that God makes of the "bottomless pit."

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. (Revelation 20:1-3 RSV)

That "bottomless pit" comes at the end of the great period of trouble upon the earth, yet future, of which our Lord Jesus himself said, "then shall be great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of time, no, nor ever shall be," (Matthew 24:21).

There are many passages of Scripture that point to that terrible period of judgment that is coming upon the earth. In the section of Isaiah we come to today, beginning with Chapter 24, there is a vivid description of that time of trouble that lies yet ahead for the nations of earth. Recognize how clearly this accords with what is in the book of Revelation.

Behold, the Lord will lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
  and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priests;
  as with the slave, so with his master;
  as with the maid, so with her mistress;
  as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower;
  as with the creditor, so with the debtor
[all classes of earth are judged alike].
The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
  for the Lord has spoken this word.
The earth mourns and withers,
  the world languishes and withers;
  the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
  under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws,
  violated the statutes,
  broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
  and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched,
  and few men are left. (Isaiah 24:1-6 RSV)

Further word of this devastation is given later in the chapter.

The earth is utterly broken,
  the earth is rent asunder,
  the earth is violently shaken.
The earth staggers like a drunken man,
  it sways like a hut;
its transgression lies heavy upon it,
  and it falls, and will not rise again.
On that day the Lord will punish
  the host of heaven, in heaven[that is the devil and all his angels],
  and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
They will be gathered together
  as prisoners in a pit[a bottomless pit];
they will be shut up in a prison,
  and after many days they will be punished. (Isaiah 24:19-22 RSV)

Most obviously that parallels what the book of Revelation says.

In Isaiah 25 the prophet looks beyond this time to the new heavens and the new earth.

And he[God] will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations[the veil of blindness to truth]. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us." This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation." (Isaiah 25:7-9RSV)

What a beautiful picture that is, in contrast to the first. Chapters 26 and 27 return to the terrible time of judgment coming on the earth. We will not take time to read these, though I urge you to read them through at your leisure. Beginning with Chapter 28 the prophet introduces a series of six "woes." These are like stop signs, warning of some danger that lies ahead.

The word "woe" does not necessarily mean "You're going to get it." It really means "Beware, watch out; you are about to be drawn into a black hole of destruction." While these "woes" focus primarily upon Judah and Jerusalem (picturing the time of trouble that awaits Israel before her hour of deliverance comes) let us also remember that the Apostle Paul tells us that all these things that happened to Israel are "written down for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come," (1 Corinthians 10:11b RSV). What is literal and physical to Israel is a picture of the spiritual peril we face in our own lives. If we are not careful we too may be drawn into a time of terrible destruction. (I do not have time to develop the literal application to Israel, so I will focus solely on the spiritual application to our own lives.)

The first "woe" is found in Chapter 28.

Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
  and to the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
  which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
  like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
  he will cast down to the earth with violence.
The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
  will be trodden under foot; (Isaiah 28:1-3 RSV)

This is further described in Verse 7:

These also reel with wine
  and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
  they are confused with wine,
  they stagger with strong drink;
they err in vision,
  they stumble in giving judgment.
For all tables are full of vomit,
  no place is without filthiness. (Isaiah 28:7-8 RSV)

At first glance these terrible words seem to describe the danger of alcoholism, picturing the ultimate fate into which one who has given himself to strong drink can be drawn. This is in line with many other Scriptures which warn about intoxication, drug abuse, or anything that takes over the body and the mind. But this is figurative language, primarily. This "woe" is pronounced on Samaria, the chief city of the tribe of Ephraim, and the capital of northern Israel, which stood like a crown, on a hill above fertile valleys. It is a picture of the moral condition of the inhabitants of Samaria. History tells us that these people were given over to the love of fleshly pleasures; they lived for luxury.

This, then, is a warning against loving the good life so much that it becomes the chief aim of life. Such a lifestyle produces a paralysis of the spirit. People become dull and apathetic. They stagger about like drunken men, finally giving themselves over to shameful filth and debauchery. This is a description, then, of uncontrolled self-pleasing -- the "self-actualization" we hear so much of today. The New Testament warns of times when "men shall be lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God," (2 Timothy 3:4 RSV). This is what Isaiah is warning about. He raises a "Danger Ahead" sign. Woe to those who go this route.

This is a great peril to spiritually-minded people. Do you sometimes catch yourself wanting more of the luxuries of life, thinking constantly of a new car, a new house, of climbing the corporate ladder, etc.? Yesterday's Hippie (who wanted to drop out of life) has become today's Yuppie, who is trying to get as much of the material values of life as he can. We are surrounded with this here in Silicon Valley. We are constantly besieged by appeals to accumulate the "good things of life." The advent of the California lottery has introduced television scenes of people participating in the "big spin." There is a new fever seeming to possess people, to spend their hard-earned dollars on lottery tickets, hoping they will be the one in five million who will suddenly be made rich beyond their wildest dreams. This is the spirit of our age. There is great danger in it. That is what this "woe" is about. Beware! Watch out! You are being sucked into something that can be spiritually destructive. With each of these warnings, a way of escape is given. This is always the way of Scripture. Here it is stated in Chapter 28, Verses 9-10:

"Whom will he[God] teach knowledge,
  and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
  those taken from the breast?
For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
  line upon line, line upon line,
  here a little, there a little." (Isaiah 28:9-10 RSV)

That is a beautiful description of how the Bible is written. Unlike theological books, there is not a chapter on sin, another on heaven, another on angels, etc. The Bible mixes it all together, interspersing one truth with another, so that a balanced approach to life is given, "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little."

This verse sets forth the way to avoid being trapped by the seductive lure of the good life. Study your Bible! Read what God says. Look at life as he sees it. See through the allurement of the television commercials! Remember the words of Paul in Romans 12: "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed ..." (Romans 12:2a KJV). Let your thinking be changed. Let the word of truth transform your view of life so that you see life as it really is. That is the way of deliverance.

Our Lord Jesus put it very beautifully in one verse in the Sermon on the Mount: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and [then] all these things will be added unto you," (Matthew 6:33 KJV). Many Christians have reversed that, giving themselves continually to efforts to get ahead, forgetting that they are to put first the things of God. Forget about status symbols and accumulation of wealth. Seek godliness first -- concern yourself with being a righteous man or woman right where you are. The promise is that then God can trust you with the things of wealth. All these things that "the Gentiles seek after," Jesus said, "can then be added safely to you," ( Matthew 6:32). A second "woe" opens Chapter 29. Your version may say "Ho," but it is really the same word in Hebrew.

Ho[Woe to] Ariel, Ariel,
  the city where David encamped!
Add year to year;
  let the feasts run their round.
Yet I will distress Ariel,
  and there shall be moaning and lamentation,
  and she shall be to me like an Ariel.
And I will encamp against you round about,
  and will besiege you with towers
  and I will raise siege works against you.
Then deep from the earth you shall speak,
  from low in the dust your words shall come;
your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost,
  and your speech shall whisper out of the dust. (Isaiah 29:1-4 RSV)

Ariel is another name for Jerusalem ("the city where David encamped"). The word means "the Lion of God," or another meaning is, "the altar of God." As is the case with Hebrew words, both meanings apply. Jerusalem was intended of God to have been a lion and an altar to the nations of the earth. A lion is a symbol of authority, while an altar is the symbol of moral cleansing. The nation Israel was to have spoken to the world with authority gained through the cleansing of God. But what has Jerusalem and Israel become instead? We get a very vivid description of it in Verses 13-14 of this same chapter:

And the Lord said:
"Because this people draw near with their mouth
  and honor me with their lips,
  while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote;
therefore, behold, I will again
  do marvelous things with this people,
  wonderful and marvelous;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
  and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid." (Isaiah 29:13-14 RSV)

Israel's problem was what we would call "mechanical religion," meaningless, external conformity to a performance of religious things. This is a grave danger. When you feel yourself becoming dull spiritually, it is a warning sign that says, "Watch out! You are headed for trouble.'' This happens to all of us on occasion. It is healthy to ask yourself at times, "Have I lost my zest for God? Do I sing the hymns mechanically? Do the truths of Scripture appear to me dull and common place? Have I lost the sense of joy in my Christian experience?" That is a danger sign. That is what this "woe" is referring to. There is a Black Hole ahead into which you are being drawn. God's provision for this is found in the latter part of Verse 5 and in Verse 6:

And in an instant, suddenly,
  you will be visited by the Lord of hosts
with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
  with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. (Isaiah 29:5b-6 RSV)

Suddenly God will send into your life some experience -- a disaster, perhaps -- something that will get your immediate and undivided attention. That is God's action to wake you up to the danger of drifting away from the vitality of a spiritual walk.

I have always appreciated the story of the two students at Duke University who went to a costume party dressed as blue devils, the mascots of Duke. They started out to the party, but by mistake they stumbled into a prayer meeting, setting off a great exodus through the doors and windows. One rather stout lady became wedged in a pew and began to scream in terror. Forgetting that they were causing her agony, the two young men rushed forward to help her. As she saw them advancing she raised her hand and said, "Stop! Don't you come any further. I want you to know that I have been a member of this church for 25 years -- but I've been on your side all the time!" That is what we call a moment of truth. It is a very valuable experience.

At times God will send something that wakes you up suddenly to the drift in your life. This is why he has spoken so helpfully through the prophets and the apostles, warning us of the danger of spiritual drift and the danger of mechanically living as a Christian. The third "woe" comes in the middle of Chapter 29. Verse 15:

Woe to those who hide deep from the Lord their counsel,
  whose deeds are in the dark,
  and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?"
You turn things upside down!
  Shall the potter be regarded as the clay;
that the thing made should say of its maker,
  "He did not make me";
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
  "He has no understanding"? (Isaiah 29:15-16 RSV)

Here the danger is the error of thinking that the Lord does not see what is going on in your life. This is a widespread danger today among Christians. Some actually believe they can allow evil thoughts, pornography, bitterness, attitudes of hate and rebellion, etc., to pervade their minds and that God does not see this, and even if he does, he will do nothing about it.

Notice how the prophet reacts to that. Verse 16 is a cry of amazement: "You turn things upside down! Do you really think that the One who made you does not know you, that he does not understand what is going on in your life?" It is incredible that anyone would allow himself to think that way. Yet many people feel that God is so remote from their lives he has no real interest in what they are doing. When we begin to feel that way we are in need of a warning, a stop sign that says, "Watch out! You are drifting into danger." Verses 18-19 describe what that condition requires.

In that day the deaf shall hear
  the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
  the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
  and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:18-19 RSV)

Notice the change of attitude. Instead of proud confidence that they can go on their own way with impunity there is a change. Those who have been deaf to the words of God begin to read the words of the Book; the eyes of the blind are able to see, and the meek again experience fresh joy in the Lord. Bring your condition to God and ask him to restore to you the joy, the sense of vitality, the living quality of truth. The latter part of Verse 23 shows what will happen to those who do this.

They will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,
  and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. (Isaiah 29:23b RSV)

Rather than imagining God to be unconcerned and indifferent, they will wonder at his majesty and greatness.

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,
  and those who murmur will accept instruction. (Isaiah 29:24 RSV)

That is the mercy of God, raising a warning signal to men to turn and recover the blessing they have proudly set aside. The fourth "woe" comes in the opening verse of Chapter 30:

"Woe to the rebellious children," says the Lord,
  "who carry out a plan, but not mine;
and who make a league, but not of my spirit,
  that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
  without asking for my counsel,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh,
  and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!" (Isaiah 30:1-2 RSV)

This is the danger of self-confidence, the danger of an arrogant and rebellious spirit that despises God's counsel. Someone has well said,

Trained men's minds are spread so thin
  They let all sorts of darkness in.
When they find light, they tend to doubt it.
  They don't love light, just talk about it.

This is the condition of man who really do not want to hear what the Lord says. Verse 9 further describes such people:

For they are a rebellious people,
  lying sons,
sons who will not hear
  the instruction of the Lord;
who say to the seers "See not,"
and to the prophets, "Prophesy not to us what is right;
  speak to us smooth things,
  prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path,
  let us hear no more of the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 30:9-11 RSV)

What a rebellious, arrogant spirit that describes! Such a one is headed for a Black Hole of destruction. It lies not far ahead. Verse 15 describes what is needed.

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." (Isaiah 30:15a RSV)

Here is a marvelous invitation. God is saying, "You are headed for trouble, but if you will turn around you will find what you are looking for 'in quietness and trust shall be your strength.'" The condition of the one who responds is described in Verses 20-22:

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your silver-covered graven images and your gold-plated molten images[your false gods]. You will scatter them as unclean things; you will say to them, "Begone!" (Isaiah 30:20-22 RSV)

The effect of truth upon a life is that of guidance: one hears a voice behind saying, "The decision you have made is right; walk in it." He will turn away from the false gods of the world: lust, pleasure, fame, the pursuit of public recognition and self-exaltation and find quietness. Your Teacher will instruct you from the Word itself. The fifth "woe" is in Chapter 31:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
  and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
  and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
  or consult the Lord!
And yet he is wise and brings disaster,
  he does not call back his words,
but will arise against the house of the evildoers,
  and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. (Isaiah 31:1-2 RSV)

Here the danger lies not in self-confidence but in a misplaced confidence, in trusting the counsel of another-especially (as it is pointed out here) that which is pictured by Egypt. Egypt is always a symbol of the world in its wisdom. Here is a warning against following this kind of worldly wisdom. The problem with it is stated in Verse 3:

The Egyptians are men and not God;
  and their horses are flesh and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
  the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall,
and they will all perish together. (Isaiah 31:3 RSV)

I see that happening to many people who take the judgment of the world instead of the counsel of God. Many have brought their marital problems to counselors who were unbelievers and were told, "If you do not get along with your mate, get a divorce. You don't have to subject yourself to strife." Some have followed this advice, and have found, as the prophet warns here, "the Egyptians are but men, and their horses are but flesh." They will all perish at last. Taking such counsel will only open you up to far greater agony and pain than you had before.

Rather than working their problems through according to the guidance of the Lord, there is a commitment among many to such wrong advice. Young people are told, "Sex is only natural. Go for it." This is the spirit that has taken over the schools and most of public life. But that is worldly counsel which is from Egypt. Businessmen are told that lying, cheating and sharp business practices are all right. Business is business, as the saving goes. But that too is from Egypt, the counsel of the world. What should one do? The answer comes in the opening words of Chapter 32, which is part of this fifth woe:

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
  and princes will rule in justice. (Isaiah 32:1 RSV)

What you need is a King in your life, the Lord himself who will rule in righteousness and justice. You will then find,

Each[man] will be like a hiding place from the wind,
  a covert from the tempest,
like streams of water in a dry place,
  like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
  and the ears of those who hear will hearken.
The mind of the rash will have good judgment,
  and the tongue of the stammerers will speak readily and distinctly. (Isaiah 32:2-4 RSV)

What a difference it makes if you have a King in your life! The Lord himself will be to you like a "hiding place from the wind, like streams of water in a dry place." This beautifully describes the refreshment of spirit that comes to those who, while walking in the midst of life and not trying to run away from it, feed their inner life with the strength and beauty of the Lord their God. How wonderfully this describes the escape from the danger of a misplaced confidence. The final "woe" is found in Chapter 33.

Woe to you, destroyer,
  who yourself have not been destroyed;
you treacherous one,
  with whom none has dealt treacherously!
When you have ceased to destroy,
  you will be destroyed;
and when you have made an end of dealing treacherously,
  you will be dealt with treacherously. (Isaiah 33:1 RSV)

This "woe" is different than the others in that it is not pronounced upon Judah, Jerusalem, or Israel, but upon its enemies, specifically upon the nation Assyria. It is not, therefore, a chastisement of a loving Father, but the just retribution of an angry Judge. The evil that is punished here is treachery, unwarranted attack, cruelty.

Christians can be guilty of this too. In our bulletin this morning there is a poignant plea for prayer from someone who says, "I can't control my tongue. I have a habit of lashing out at people. I hurt and cut them. I have a critical spirit." A failure to judge ourselves and a tendency to attack others is frequently found among Christians. You can be a victim of that kind of attack as well. In either case, when we ask "What can we do about it?" the answer is given in Verse 2:

O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for thee.
  Be our arm every morning,
  our salvation in the time of trouble. (Isaiah 33:2 RSV)

This is a prayer from the heart. As we sang a few moments ago, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4), is a prayer that ought to be on our lips every day. The prayer, "Be our arm every, morning," depicts a spirit that is aware of its fatal tendencies and asks God for help daily in the midst of the pressures of life. Verses 21-22 state what God promises in this connection.

But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
  a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
  nor stately ship can pass[no warship can attack].
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler,
  the Lord is our king; he will save us. (Isaiah 33:21-22 RSV)

There are the six Black Holes of life: Self-pleasing, religious externalism, self-deceit, wrongly placed confidence, rebellious attitude, and cruel attacks upon others.

These are the danger areas where God in his mercy erects a sign that says, "Stop! Listen! Beware!" The Apostle Paul gives us a marvelous explanation of God's dealings with us in this connection. "If we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened, so that we may not be condemned along with the world," (1 Corinthians 11:31-32 RSV).

How foolish we are to follow the values and counsels of the world, poured daily into our minds through television, radio, and the press. Let us never forget that it is the world that is suffering from illusions and delusions. Its principles are wrong, hurtful and destructive. Much of the agony of life comes from the commitment that people often unconsciously make to these principles. But God has given us guidelines and wisdom from on high.

Isaiah 34, which returns to the final judgments of earth, is another terrible scene. But it emerges at last in Chapter 35 in a beautiful picture of the inner life of those who rest upon the strength of God in the midst of the world around.

Strengthen the weak hands,
  and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
  "Be strong, fear not!
Behold, your God
  will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
  He will come and save you."[That is the refuge of the believer.]
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
  and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a hart,
  and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness
  and streams in the desert; (Isaiah 35:3-6 RSV)

Verse 8:

And a highway shall be there,
  and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not pass over it,
  and fools shall not err therein.
No lion shall be there,
  nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
  but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
  and come to Zion with singing,
  with everlasting joy upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
  and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:8-10 RSV)

Those beautiful words will be literally fulfilled to Israel in the day of their return to the Messiah. But they describe the heritage of believers right now.

Our inheritance is peace, love and joy. Inwardly we are to have those no matter what the world around us is like. If we feed upon the riches of truth given to us, and live in daily fellowship with the Lord who is our present possession, then those refreshing graces will possess our hearts. I close with the marvelous words of James Russell Lowed,

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone that's strong.
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.

Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadows.
Keeping watch above his own.


Thank you, Lord, for these wonderful words of reassurance, that you know and understand life to the full and You tell us what it is like if we will but listen. Remove the blindness from our eyes. Open our hearts to the great riches that are waiting for us in fellowship with our living, loving Lord. Help us to pursue these, to become obedient to truth, to be searchers after the revelation that you have given that we may be effective and powerful in our witness in the world in which we live today. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Title: The Black Holes of Life Author: Ray C. Stedman
   Date:January 12, 1986
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