When the Wise Become Fools

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 29.13-14
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 based on merely human rules they have been taught.
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.”

Reflection: When the Wise Become Fools
By Erin Newton

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18). No one wants to be a fool. Yet the message of the gospel seemed so absurd, so counter-intuitive, that Paul described it as foolishness.

Paul was recalling the prophecy that Isaiah had said hundreds of years before him. The way God would redeem his people would be like a hidden message, out of reach for even the most astute. A minority of Israelites were literate. Though tasked with relaying God’s message, they would be unable to read it. The wise would be made fools.

Why were they prohibited from knowing God’s plan? In short, God held them accountable for their lack of faith. Israel was rebuked for false worship performed under the guise of piety. Human rules had been created to facilitate the appearance of worship, but it was merely lip service. Their worship centered upon the performances of religious tasks.

The rules are unspecified in Isaiah’s prophecy. It is not a verse that can be used against different modes of worship in various Christian traditions. At the core of this rebuke is legalism and the pride that accompanies it. When worship becomes performance, people place themselves on the pedestal.

When Jesus spoke parables, he often began with the phrase, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” With all their privileged learning, the Pharisees and Sadducees could not understand the message of Christ. Jesus rebuked them saying, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11.46). The simple parables were foolish to these “experts” who spent more time adding rules than helping the people.

Christians have sometimes created narrow rules that distinguish adherents as “true believers” and labeled nonconformists as non-Christian. The ever-growing attempt to create a sense of us vs. them mentality has been pervasive in Christian history and more so on social media. 

Let us throw off the hindrances of manmade rules that seek to define our devotion and divide the body of Christ. Let our words be more than lip service. Let our hearts trust in the incomprehensible ways of God. Trusting God may look foolish, but it is the power of salvation.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy Name and glory in your praise. — Psalm 106.47

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 29 (Listen -3:55)
Luke 11 (Listen -7:33)

Read more about The Unknown Sage
Positional distrust…can cause us to read wisdom and call it foolishness. It can cause us to hear a blustering fool and call him wise.

Read more about Lady Wisdom
“Does not wisdom call out?” She does, indeed…Let us train our ears to hear the voice of wisdom.

Retched Leaders

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 28.9-10
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 this, do that,
    a rule for this, a rule for that;
    a little here, a little there.”

Reflection: Retched Leaders
By Erin Newton

There is vomit covering the tables. The room is trashed. Perhaps in the corner, there is a person hungover from the previous night’s revelry. The scene sounds like the aftermath of a fraternity party. But this is Israel’s religious elite. This is supposedly where wisdom and justice lived.

The priests and prophets were irresponsible. In their drunkenness, they couldn’t make clear judgments. In their stupor, the prophetic visions were blurred and incoherent. They were unfit for their jobs and the result is a nauseating mess.

But it was not an isolated problem. If a priest could not make a sound judgment about a citizen’s purification status (as was necessary in Old Testament law), then their self-indulgence resulted in the continued corruption of the people.

J. Alec Motyer simplifies the scenario. “This is an acute diagnosis of the human condition: self-satisfaction becomes self-indulgence and issues in self-sufficiency.” Yet the stakes are higher for the priests and prophets, because of their ineptitude those they lead are carried further into sin.

In their stupor and pride, they mocked Isaiah, calling his message infantile or elementary. They claimed his message was nothing but the simple instructions given to children. The message was too basic for them. They didn’t need such simple teaching. They were too important for simplicity.

We have leaders like this today. Some pastors, seminary professors, and social media warriors prefer to pontificate on higher things rather than learn the Golden Rule. If they are rebuked, it is met with arrogant replies of self-justification. Some leaders would rather spend their energy studying the etymological origin of the Greek word for “authority” rather than have mercy on a beaten man on the road to Jericho or sit and listen at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10).

There is a need for theological research which some of us are pursuing. But if we ignore when someone says that we have forgotten how to love God with our whole being and how to love others as ourselves, then we are no better than the puke-covered priests. As leaders, we also risk dragging those who listen down into the cesspool with us. 

The irony is that sophisticated, noted, and prestigious religious leaders still need to hear the elementary teachings of the Bible. The idea that we can ever get over the gospel, mastering the content completely, is a sign that pride has taken hold already.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
How deep I find your thoughts, O God! How great is the sum of them!
If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my lifespan would need to be like yours. — Psalm 139.16-17

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 28 (Listen -4:49)
Luke 10 (Listen -5:40)

Read more about Puking Prophets of Success
We must be restrained, refusing to become drunk on the power and greed our culture gulps down.

Read more about Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath
The picture painted by Jeremiah is a messy nightmare of people dying in pools of their own vomit.

Previsualizations of Promises

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 27.2-6, 13
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. 

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. 

Reflection: Previsualizations of Promises
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 ultimate fulfillment of Israel in the far future.

When we remove things from this context we can misinterpret them. For example, the often-quoted promise that God will “keep in perfect peace” those who trust in God, (Isaiah 26.3) may have been misread by Isaiah’s audience. They could easily have interpreted it as an assurance of earthly political peace and the absence of suffering or conflict. We might do the same.

Of course, we can and should pray this verse and long for peace. However, any earthly peace we create or experience now is representative, not ultimate. This doesn’t mean earthly peace is pointless. Peace we create now points to the peace to come.

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 previsualize Heaven and the City of God, where people can approach God, see his glory, and understand his holiness. 

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

Enslavement in Egypt and exile in Babylon describe our current state. Liberation from Egypt and the rebuilding of the temple previsualize our ultimate future. 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. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises, including Isaiah 26:3.

Isaiah 25-27 describes the coming of God’s heavenly city to Earth, similar to John’s account 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. 

We can take refuge in him and make peace with him. As we do, 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 Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field;
When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more. — Psalm 103.15-16

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 27 (Listen -2:16)
Luke 9 (Listen -8:05)

Read more about Fruitful in Suffering
Joseph shows us a preview of Jesus, the suffering servant, upon whom the Holy Spirit would rest and be given without limit.

Read more about Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
Daniel’s protest softened the heart of a king and changed the leadership of an entire nation. What might ours change today?

A Difficult Birth

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 26.17-18
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life.

Reflection: A Difficult Birth
By John Tillman

Humanity was created to create. God’s command in Eden was to enhance, to cultivate, to grow—to birth more life from life. Despite our fallenness, we can take up our Edenic call to birth goodness. Birthing life is a holy and painful process and it does not always go smoothly.

Isaiah describes an agonizing and difficult birth. The woman strains, groans, and cries in her effort. But after all of that sweat, pain, and blood, she has no child to hold. She hasn’t birthed anything at all—only “wind” or ruach.

Ruach is a common word meaning wind, breath, or spirit. Ecclesiastes 2.11 uses it to express a similar feeling of uselessness and pointlessness. After all his work, even working with the blessing of divine wisdom that was beyond any other human, Solomon came up short. All his labor was meaningless. A chasing after ruach.

Isaiah sits in mournful disappointment following this failed birth. Israel was supposed to birth goodness, salvation, and life into the world. Instead, they brought death, enslavement, and evil. 

We may feel similar disappointment. Like Israel, the church is to birth goodness, salvation, and life into the world by being Christ’s embodied presence. It is a difficult birth. Despite all our labor we may at times despair. Has the church failed? Is our labor meaningless?

John picks up Isaiah’s image of a woman in labor in Revelation. John encouraged his readers that birthing is not over and it will not fail. The woman in Revelation is supernaturally assisted in her birth. (Revelation 12.2-6) Today, God’s people still struggle in labor, and God still steps in to supernaturally help us. 

“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.” — Samwise Gamgee, The Two Towers

In a way, we are all Samwise. Gardeners, meekly navigating an impossible course between mighty foes. By rights, we shouldn’t be here. We aren’t strong enough to bear this burden. Yet, where we are incapable or fall short, God will step in.

Along with us, God strains, groans, and cries as a woman in labor. (Isaiah 42.14; 49.15) People, groups, or nations may fail now, but God won’t. In the end tears, sweat, and blood will all be wiped away by God’s tender hand.

There will come a day when the difficulty of labor will be forgotten in the joy of the birth of God’s kingdom. (John 16.21-22) “…and no one will take away your joy.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 26 (Listen -2:58)
Luke 8 (Listen -8:09)

Read more about This Present Age
You have placed us here and called us now, to live for you in this place, in this culture, in this time.

Read more about New Year, New Adam, New CreationBetter than a baby new year, Jesus is a new Adam. All creation will be renewed in him.

Kingmakers Unmade

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 23.8-9
8 Who planned this against Tyre, 
the bestower of crowns, 
whose merchants are princes, 
whose traders are renowned in the earth? 
9 The Lord Almighty planned it, 
to bring down her pride in all her splendor 
and to humble all who are renowned on the earth. 

Reflection: Kingmakers Unmade
By John Tillman

Until Alexander the Great built a land bridge to completely destroy the city 300 years before Christ, Tyre had been an island beloved by kings. It made its fortune and gained power by trade across the sea in many luxurious items.

Tyre was a city-state that, historically, was friendly to Israel. Tyre’s king, sent gifts to David and his son sent gifts to Solomon. Tyre remained on friendly economic terms with Israel. Historians partly credit the vast power, influence, and wealth of Tyre to its strategic location and its partnership with the most powerful kings Israel would ever have.

Isaiah called Tyre “bestower of crowns” and they were connected through trade to royalty across the Mediterranean and throughout the region. “Tyrian purple” was traded with Egypt and Israel and the color remained a mark of royalty and wealth through the New Testament and the Roman Empire.

The term “kingmaker” refers to those who through wealth, power, guile, or all three elevate someone of their choosing to a position of power. You probably know the names of some modern kingmakers. They don’t usually want to be the king. That’s too much work. They just want to pick a king of their liking. Their wealth and influence afford them the opportunity to shape the world.

This is not necessarily bad. It is part of the Edenic command to “subdue” the earth and create growth, blessing, and abundance. Originally this meant agriculture, but economic growth is just agriculture of a different kind. Historically, however, the wealthy and influential tend to end up like Tyre.

Jesus wasn’t joking when he said how hard it was for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. Wealth has unique and difficult dangers that can poison us. Long before the rich young ruler sadly walked away from Jesus, Tyre was given as an example to the world that God would end the pride of those who elevated themselves.

Tyre is a universal warning to all people but even more so to those of us blessed with even moderate wealth. Theoretically, wealth is a neutral tool—neither evil nor good. But in practice, as we shape our world with this tool, it is exceedingly rare that it does not also shape us. 

We should take care that our hearts are shaped by Jesus’ warning and that we use our resources to shape a world that testifies to his kingship.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90.12

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 23 (Listen -2:50)
Luke 5 (Listen -5:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 24 (Listen -3:11)Luke 6 (Listen 6:46)
Isaiah 25 (Listen -1:59)Luke 7 (Listen -7:14)

Read more about Solomon’s Folly
We are so easily overawed by wealth and wealth so easily overturns our morality.

Read more about Urgent Desire for More
The wealthy young man wasn’t ready to give up earning and he didn’t yet trust what he would stand to inherit.