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Isaiah 8, "The Rock"

Isaiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  55:04
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We are living in times of distress. Our sin and idolatry as a nation is bringing times of conflict, violence, and economic stress. Human nature looks for sanctuary, some protection from these things. We either look to a leader who will solve these problems, or we look for an answer within ourselves. And these inevitably leave us disgruntled, disappointed, and disillusioned. Our passage today gives us an alternative. Isaiah tells us to wait in hope on the LORD and look to the sign of His promise, and we will find a sanctuary.

Choose Your Leaders Wisely

verses 1-10
For those that are inclined to find sanctuary in a leader during times of distress, the Bible offers us plenty of warning. Take the nation of Israel for example. They had God with them, but they demanded a human king. So, God provided one. The first one wasn’t so good, but...
King David was a man after God’s own heart. He united the twelve tribes of Israel and the nation flourished. He built his capital at Jerusalem, a city on Mount Zion, which was on the border between Judah, the largest of the twelve tribes, and Benjamin, the smallest. Jerusalem means “spreader of peace”. And it had a supply of water from the Gihon spring outside the city, flowing to a pool in Jerusalem known as Shiloah, or Siloam. (This matters because washing in the pool of Siloam is the act Jesus chooses to deliver a blind man from walking in darkness in John 9.)
Under King David’s grandson, Rehoboam, ten tribes north of Judah separated themselves from David’s dynasty. Their new king was a corrupt leader. First, he created a new capital for the northern tribes in the city of Samaria. Second, for political reasons, he created a new religious system for his people, to keep them from attending worship in the Temple, located in Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah.
The northern tribes were not just rejecting the king God ordained to unite twelve tribes. Their new king led them into rejecting God Himself. The people of Israel are following a blind guide, and walk in darkness for generations. Idolatry fills the land with injustice, and God must cleanse the land and His people. If you read the Bible, God’s preferred method of cleansing His people is also the one that provides light to those in darkness: His word. So...
The LORD speaks to Isaiah in this chapter.
Last week we saw the LORD give King Ahaz a sign of God’s promises. It was a son born to a woman, named Immanuel, God is with us. Today, we see a sign for all the people of Judah. It’s another son, this time with a different name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, “speedy spoil, hasty plunder”. This poor kid has a name that reminds people that robbers smash, grab, and leave a mess in the living room. But this mess will be in the northern tribes of Israel and the nation of Syria.
“Once more the word is about to become flesh (cf. 7:3) in the birth of Isaiah’s second son.” Motyer, Alec. Isaiah (p. 106). IVP. Kindle Edition.
This time, Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz will be a sign that the northern tribes will be taken away as spoil.
Verses 5-10 - Instead of the peaceful streams of living water in Jerusalem at the pool of Shiloah, Israel will experience the flood waters of the mighty Euphrates River, famous for its violent flood stage, representing the Assyrian Empire in conquest mode. But the promise of verses 9-10 is
Isaiah 8:9 (ESV)
Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered; give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered; strap on your armor and be shattered.
Isaiah 8:10 (ESV)
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us.
When your own schemes and plans fail, who do you blame? Israel’s plans to establish their own kingdom without God, using alliances with other nations, was failing. God was still with Judah, but the coming conquest of Assyria would be a warning to them as well. When world events shake our security and disturb our comfort, it could be that God is trying to get our attention, to warn us. What is He saying?

Fear the Right One

verses 11-15 - The LORD might be doing something no one understands. He is able to use world events and the decisions of powerful men to carry out His plans. He might even be using the “conspiracies” of men to accomplish a bigger purpose.
Conspiracy theories are powerful. They have power because we like to blame our problems on someone “higher up”, and the way of the world is to create conspiracy theories to explain these problems. The problem with looking for conspiracies is the fear it produces. Fearing people and their conspiracies gets a lot of people into a lot of trouble. It doesn’t resolve anything. And it robs you of peace, joy, rest, and love for your neighbor. And worse than that, it robs you of the opportunity to fear the One who should be feared but also trusted.
The LORD Himself speaks to Isaiah “with His strong hand upon” him. Even faithful leaders can fall into the snare of walking in the way of their faithless people, especially in the way of fearing powerful men. To convince Isaiah that he should fear the right person, the LORD uses a heavy-handed approach. I don’t know what it would be like to have the strong hand of the LORD God upon me, but I imagine it’s an unforgettable experience.
It might have felt something like having a large, heavy stone laid on him. Have you ever been trapped under such a heavy weight, it took all your breath away and you couldn’t get out from under it? That’s what the LORD says He is like. He is the unavoidable foundation stone for all of life. You can try to get around Him or build on some other foundation. But when He moves in your life, you’ll find He upends everything and everyone else you have leaned on for security and significance.
And He’s unavoidable. At some point in your life, you will have to reckon with God. You will either make Him your sanctuary (v. 14), your safe place, or an offensive stumbling block to your life. He has a way of getting your attention. And if you don’t run to Him to be your sanctuary, He will find ways to trip you up, trap you, ensnare you. Not because He’s mean, but because He loves you. And you won’t find anyone else both so honest and holy to condemn your sin and strong and kind enough to save you from your sin.
We see this in Jesus, God with us.
1 Peter 2:4–5 (ESV)
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
When you come to Jesus Christ, God with us, for your salvation, He becomes your sanctuary from the powers in this world that can overwhelm you like a flood in their ruthlessness. The people you fear will take more than they give. But Jesus always provides real life. He makes you a living stone in a spiritual house, a holy priesthood. In other words, He will make your life into something of greater value. He will use you to bring others to God.
But for 2,000 years, Jesus has been fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah. He has been the test of faith for Jews and Gentiles alike.
1 Peter 2:8 (ESV)
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
Romans 9:30–33 (ESV)
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why?
Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
God doesn’t do anything in the same way we do things. He defies our expectations. Who would have thought that the God who demands righteous obedience would take on flesh to fulfill righteousness for us, and die on the cross for our unrighteousness? Righteous obedience happens as we pursue faith in Jesus Christ.
Pursuing righteousness by faith in Christ isn’t easy. It can be a lot of waiting for God to do things we can’t. It can often mean believing in God’s words and in His promises even when circumstances tell me I shouldn’t.

Choose Your Spiritual Guides Carefully

If choosing the wrong leader can result in a flood of disaster, choosing the wrong spiritual guide will result in a life turned wasteland. Isaiah concludes this chapter with the warning in verses 16-22 that living by the word of God often requires waiting in hope more than immediate gratification.
During this time of distress for the faithful people of Judah, the LORD is hiding His face. When you face a time like this there are two alternatives. Isaiah says, as for me and my disciples, the faithful remnant who are still learning the word of God, we wait in hope (v. 17).
Isaiah 8:17 ESV
I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.
The alternative is to look for easy answers, or quicker ones. In verse 19,
Isaiah 8:19 ESV
And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?
Isaiah says that people are paying for an immediate answer in their impatience. Mediums and necromancers are what we would call psychics. They consult the spirits of those who have “crossed over” for spiritual guidance. These are the guides who charge for services. Ironically, the answers aren’t always as clear as one would like. Some of the most famous ancient oracles were known for getting their recipients into trouble. Like King Croesus, who went to fight the Persians and was told, “You will destroy a great empire.” It ended up being his own.
Today, maybe psychics are only for a select few, but there are plenty of “experts” offering you answers to all life’s questions for a small charge, like the cost of their book or online seminar. You can waste a lot of money and time and end up in a spiritual wasteland as you learn that the answers that worked for one person to increase their internal synergies, or invest in themselves, or find meaning in their work, or put together an investment strategy don’t actually guide you into peace and spiritual flourishing. When these easy answers don’t provide what they promise, the people
Isaiah 8:21 ESV
They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.
Isaiah 8:22 ESV
And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
But you don’t have to walk in darkness or blame your leaders, or God. Isaiah’s words to us are,
Isaiah 8:17 ESV
I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.
Waiting in hope is not the same as doing nothing. It’s keeping our eyes open for the signs God has provided that He is working all things according to His plan to fulfill His promises. Isaiah points the people of Judah to the signs God has given.
Isaiah 8:18 ESV
Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.
God is on His throne. And when things looked their darkest, He sent a sign that He is with us. It was His Son, Jesus. Waiting on the Lord in hope is looking for the places Jesus is at work in our midst and around us, and joining Him in that work. We will invest and give and love and disadvantage ourselves to advantage someone else, in hope that Jesus Christ is our sanctuary from the storm of God’s wrath, and from whatever men may conspire against us.
The world around us is choosing the wrong leaders. They fear the wrong people. And they are seeking easy answers from guides who are leading them into spiritual wastelands.
Isaiah 8:12 ESV
“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
Isaiah 8:13 ESV
But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
Isaiah 8:14 (ESV)
And he will become a sanctuary
Next week we will see that waiting in hope on the Lord provides us light for our path, but this week, we see that we have a sanctuary in this time of distress.
Questions for discussion
Have you ever been part of a church or home building project? Why does a solid foundation matter?
What are the means of security people are looking for in our uncertainty as a nation?
What are some ways the church in America has depended on leaders or self-reliance that keep us from relying on God?
What does honor, fear, and dread of the LORD God look like in attitude and action?
In what ways is Jesus both the sign that God is with us and that God’s judgment can come like a flood?
What are the dark places in our society in which we as Jesus’ disciples should be speaking His teaching and testimony (Isaiah 8:20)? Is God calling you or our church to do that in some specific way?
How do God’s words guard us from conspiracy theories and fearing men?
What is one way you can apply this passage this week?
Who is someone you can share this passage with this week?
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