How to Read Prophetic Judgment

Scripture Focus: Jude 5
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.

From John: We have referred to this post from 2018 frequently enough on our journey through the prophets this year that it seems fitting to repeat it here. It is never a good idea to dodge the convicting message of a prophet by imagining oneself as the prophet rather than the target of prophecy. May we be more prone to repentance than deflection of blame.

Reflection: How to Read Prophetic Judgment
By John Tillman

There are many passages in the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments that are meant to comfort us. But the more typical function of prophecy is to cause us discomfort.

Examples of both comforting and afflicting passages occur in our readings today—both in Jude and in Isaiah.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30.18

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. — Jude 20-21

“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,
this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant. — Isaiah 30.12-13

Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. — Jude 10-11

When we read prophecy in the Old or New Testament, we often try to identify ourselves with one of the groups mentioned. Are we the prophet? Are we the Israelites? Are we Balaam? Are we the Gentile nations?

This can be an interesting intellectual exercise but is often a waste of time. One reason is it is unhelpful is that when we do this we take it easy on ourselves.

We tend to identify ourselves as the Israelites when prophets are saying comforting things to Israel, but when the prophet is condemning Israel, we imagine ourselves as the righteous prophet and our evil government or evil culture as the target.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that much if we understand who is analogous to the nation of Israel or who is analogous to the nation of Babylon. It matters far more to understand why God is angry, what he requires of us, and what he wants to do through us if we return to him.

Prophecy can spur us on to love and good deeds, to mark a clear path of repentance and clarify the consequences of disobedience. But we blunt the point of prophecy’s spurs when we avoid the probability that we are the ones a prophecy is about. We miss the point of prophecy entirely when we weaponize it to attack others.

The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to. Judgment-filled prophecy is one case in scripture where it is safer to assume it’s about you than others. Once you do this, you can take whatever steps of grace-filled repentance the Holy Spirit directs you to.

Following this approach, we will be far more uncomfortable reading prophecy, but our discomfort will lead to a more richly flourishing faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds, they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 30 (Listen – 5:52)
Jude (Listen – 4:12)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 31 (Listen – 1:49) Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)
Isaiah 32 (Listen – 2:46) Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)

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Living as outcasts in society has nearly always brought healing to the church through suffering.

Read more about Default Settings for Scripture
Scripture is not written as much to us, about us, or about the past as it is for us, about Jesus, and about our future.

The Two Ariels

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 29.18
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.

Reflection: The Two Ariels
By John Tillman

The term for Jerusalem that Isaiah uses, “Ariel,” holds a dual meaning. In one sense it means, “Lion of God,” and implies a mighty hero or an undefeatable warrior. But it can also mean “Hearth of God,” which refers to the altar in the Temple where animals are slain and the blood flowed down as a symbolic propitiation for the nation’s sins. The two Ariels can represent different possibilities for God’s people.

The city’s loss is lamentable precisely because it was preventable. Their words and voices were quick to honor God. They attended festivals. They gathered at the appropriate times on the calendar. They brought the appropriate sacrifices to the Temple. However, prophets, priests, and people had gradually and steadily turned away from God’s simple requirements of the heart—do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

“Judicial hardening” refers to the way God acts in response to our rejection of him and his messages. When we stop listening, he allows us to choose deafness. When we stop seeking, he allows us to be blinded. When we keep muting God on the radio, eventually he destroys the transmitter. When we throw away his newspaper without reading it, God cancels our subscription.

However, even those blinded and deafened are not left without hope. Isaiah declares that a day is coming when even the deaf will hear, and the blind will see. May we pray, opening our hearts, opening our eyes, opening our ears. A broken and contrite heart, he will not despise.

A Prayer for Ariel (based on Isaiah 29)
Lord, we have come near to you only with words.
We have honored you in syllables and slandered you with our sins.

We are not the “Lion of God,” a mighty warrior for justice.
We are only a bloody hearth where our sins soak the earth and testify against us.

Our worship is only rules.
Our sacrifice is only tokens.
Our intelligence is of no account.
Our riches are filth.
We are a rebellious pile of broken pottery
That refused the shaping of your hand.
Forge us, Lord.
Remake us, Lord.
Turn us upside down.
Leave no stone-cold heart unturned and unwarmed by your love.
Let us, the blind, see. That the wayward will gain understanding.
Let us, the deafened, hear. That we who complain will accept instruction.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. — Psalm 69.15

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 29 (Listen – 3:55)
3 John 1 (Listen – 1:51)

Read more about A Worn Out Welcome
When we go into the house of the Lord, is God glad we have come? How can we tell if we have worn out our welcome in God’s house? 

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There is no level of spiritual achievement or growth at which one is not susceptible to hardening of the heart and the spirit.

Puking Prophets of Success

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 28.15
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death, 
with the realm of the dead 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.” 

Reflection: Puking Prophets of Success
By John Tillman

When judgment comes to those who think themselves strong and unassailable, there seem to be two kinds of prophets. 

One kind is the prophets soaked in success, whose thirsts are slaked with the excesses of the culture. Isaiah greets these prophets, comparing them to drunks who continue to revel around a vomit-covered table, still sticky with the remnants of their previous parties. (Isaiah 28.7-8)

These prophets continue to predict that Israel and Judah will be great. They declare good times will return. They misread God’s intention to fulfill his will through the nation as God’s willingness to tolerate any sin among them.

They issue a challenge to Isaiah, (Isaiah 28.9-10) saying to him, “Don’t you know how wise we are? Don’t you see how successful we are? We are not children who need your childish teaching.”

Other prophets see through this spiritual pride and hubris. They are those, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, who call for repentance and understand that God can both bring disaster and save for himself a remnant through which to carry out his purposes.

The “puking prophets” of success are taking refuge in a lie. (Isaiah 28.15) They claim they do not need to be dictated to. They claim they should not be treated as children. But Isaiah knows that they will be soon treated worse. They will be enslaved and strictly dictated to, “do this, do that.”

The prophets of success often find great crowds and eager hearers. Paul warns Timothy of this principle in the New Testament (2 Timothy 4.3) and it is still with us today. We must learn a lesson from the fate of these popular, prideful, and puking prophets. 

By hubris they are humiliated. By turning away they become blind. By not listening they become deaf. By not feeling they become insensate.

To be part of God’s remnant, we must be humble, coming “as little children” to Christ, begging to see and repent of our sins. We must be restrained, refusing to become drunk on the power and greed our culture gulps down. 

We must open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear, and open our hearts to feel the uncomfortable, the painful, the hurtful truths of what is happening around us. In times of judgment, Christ’s remnant must work with his strength to ease, to comfort, and heal.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. — Psalm 25.7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 28 (Listen – 4:49)
2 John 1 (Listen – 1:50)

Read more about Sufferings and False Prophets
When prophets warn of disaster, people often reject the simple, life-saving courses of action they recommend in favor of idolatry, conspiracies, and lies.

Read more about Much Demanded
Much has been given to us. May we praise God in thankfulness for it, serve our neighbor in humbleness with it, and challenge every form of oppression with it.

Knowing Promises in Part

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 26.3
3 You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.

Isaiah 27.2-6
2 …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.

Reflection: Knowing Promises in Part
By John Tillman

In many of Isaiah’s writings three things are being described at the same time—the destruction of Israel in the immediate future, the return from exile in the near future, and the reconstruction of Israel in the far future.

Perhaps one of the most often quoted bits of Isaiah that we remove from its context is the promise to “keep in perfect peace” those who trust in God. (Isaiah 26.3) 

Isaiah’s audience may have misread this promise as an assurance of earthly political peace and the absence of suffering or conflict. Many modern readers make this same mistake. It is not invalid for us to pray this verse and long for peace. However, we should understand that earthly peace we can experience now is partial and temporary and only foreshadows the peace to come.

Throughout the scriptures, God gives his people previsualizations of ultimate reality. These are intermediary places or persons or events that stand as a picture of the promises of God. 

The Tabernacle and the Temple of Jerusalem are previsualizations of Heaven and the City of God, where people can approach God, see his glory, and understand his holiness. 

Joseph, Moses, and David are previsualizations of a suffering servant, a liberating savior, and a reigning king that are fulfilled in Jesus.

The enslavement in Egypt with eventual liberation and exodus, and the exile to Babylon with eventual return and rebuilding are previsualizations of our current state and our ultimate eternal destiny. We live now as exiles and foreigners in a world enslaved and ruled by sin, but one day we will be ultimately freed and the world we are meant to live in will be rebuilt.

In this context we will experience the ultimate fulfillment of the peace promised in Isaiah 26:3. This passage is part of a section (Isaiah 25-27) that refers to the coming of God’s eternal city to Earth, also described in Revelation. (Isaiah 25.6-8; Revelation 21.1-7). This banquet is for all the peoples of the world and every face will be covered in tears, yet God himself will wipe those tears away. 

As we take refuge in him and make peace with him, he will wipe every tear from our eyes and we will bear the fruit that we were always intended to bear. (Isaiah 27.5-6) This promise we may know and fulfill now in part, but then, we will know fully and be fully known. (1 Corinthians 13.12)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 27 (Listen – 2:16)
1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)

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When we make room for God in our hearts and lives, he will enter.
And when our lives are over, we will awake in the house of God.

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We, in Christ, can see ourselves in both the unworthy and shamed stump, and in the new supernatural growth of the remnant.

What We Do In Remembrance

Scripture Focus: 1 John 4.19-21
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Reflection: What We Do In Remembrance
By John Tillman 

Holidays in a time of pandemic are strange, aren’t they?

Most have gone through Lent and now Eastertide without gathering or celebrating as normal, and now on Memorial Day in the United States, we attempt to remember those who gave their lives in active military service without the traditional large gatherings, family cookouts, and other, more formal solemnities. 

While military service members who have died are the focus of this day, it is difficult for our minds not to turn to the many doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who are not active military members, but have died fighting a very real war against a very real virus. 

Medical personnel have been enduring stresses, schedules, and dangers similar to those they would experience in wartime. Their stresses and dangers are real and are exacerbated by the war-like tenor of public and political grandstanding by so many political leaders, and unfortunately some faith leaders, on the issues surrounding the crisis. 

So, on this Memorial Day let us remember that in word and in deed we are charged, commanded, and compelled by the Holy Spirit of God to enact and speak love in tangible ways to those around us. 

May we do so in remembrance of Jesus. We are called to strip ourselves of pride and clothe ourselves for service in ways that others deem unseemly or demeaning. We are charged to take up our cross and clothe ourselves not in “rights” but in righteousness.  

We do this not because we are loving people, but because He is a loving God. We love because of him (1 John 4.19) and hate in spite of him. If we do not or will not show love to others, we are in rebellion against God’s Holy Spirit (1 John 4.20) and are hardening our hearts, becoming more and more insensitive to His leading and to needs around us.

On this day, and on all the days to come, may we allow the Holy Spirit to re-soften our hearts toward his leading and toward our neighbors’ needs. May we be led toward loving actions and may loving and truthful words be placed on our tongues and on our keyboards. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence; and that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 26 (Listen – 2:58)
1 John 4 (Listen – 2:58)

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Whether in politics or in the church, so many of our leaders lead in the opposite way that Jesus described to his disciples, each lording their power over one another.

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