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.

Icarus and Israel

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 22.12-13
12 The Lord, the LORD Almighty,
    called you on that day
to weep and to wail,
    to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth.
13 But see, there is joy and revelry,
    slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep,
    eating of meat and drinking of wine!
“Let us eat and drink,” you say,
    “for tomorrow we die!”

Reflection: Icarus and Israel
By Erin Newton

Icarus was a boy in Greek mythology whose father crafted for him waxen wings. He warned the boy not to fly too close to the sun or too low toward the sea. Icarus was careless and prideful and flew too close. His wings melted under the sun’s rays sending the boy to his death. Even today, people are warned, “Don’t fly too close to the sun!”

The prophet Isaiah turns his attention to Jerusalem again. It is another forecast of judgment upon Israel. The scene breaks with a vision of the people on the rooftops eating, drinking, and being merry.

They are celebrating when they should be lamenting. God commanded his people to repent and show their sorrow. Instead, the people are filled with pride, self-assuredness, and the sense that they are invincible.

Self-sufficiency blinds them from danger. The walls they have built, the weapons they have forged, the armies they have built up give them a sense of security even when God has promised destruction.

In the Valley of Vision, the people are blind. Instead of being alert, looking for God to act, they are drunk on their own power.

Like the Greek tragedy of Icarus, Israel carelessly journeyed outside the parameters set by God. What happens when we are so sure of ourselves, so self-sufficient that we scoff at warnings?

On a large scale, we operate with the attitude that all our ventures will not fail. We have made ourselves a firm foundation built upon our hard work. We rarely need to ask for help and think of ourselves as never wrong. The pains of the world around us are simply beyond the scope of our concern.

On a personal level, we trust in our own goodness. We have lived a Christian life for so long that our good deeds have certainly outnumbered our bad deeds by now… or so we hope. We have a tidy list of Christian chores to do each day that builds our sense of self-sufficiency. We lean heavily into our own understanding and trust in ourselves.

We like to think we aren’t so foolish as to ignore the call to repentance. When we hear about abuse, violence, slander, or intimidation done under the name of Christ, we are forced to react. Do we shrug it off thinking, “I could never commit that sin,” or do we respond with heartfelt grief and sorrow?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be merry and joyful.
Sing to God, sing praises to his Name; exalt him who rides upon the heavens; Yahweh is his Name, rejoice before him!
Father of orphans, defender of widows, God in his holy habitation! — Psalm 68.3-5

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 22 (Listen -3:53)
Luke 4 (Listen -5:27)

Read more about A Sword Unsheathed
The watchmen called out warnings but no one listened…The fire alarms went off but no one fought the fire.

Read more about The Limits of Ministry
God requires watchmen on the wall to faithfully call out warning but holds people responsible for their response.

Be on Lookout

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 21.6-7
6 This is what the Lord says to me:
“Go, post a lookout
    and have him report what he sees.
7 When he sees chariots
    with teams of horses,
riders on donkeys
    or riders on camels,
let him be alert,
    fully alert.”

Reflection: Be on Lookout
By Erin Newton

Ancient cities that stood a chance against an invasion were those with walls and towers. The walls were built to provide protection and watchtowers were a means of looking beyond the immediate landscape. Those on a tower could signal for help, much like the beacons of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings.

Isaiah’s prophecy continues to describe impending disaster. The vision of judgment returns to Babylon though she had been the center of prophecy earlier. This time, God commands Isaiah to send someone to the watchtower to wait for a sign. The lookout was to stay alert, fully alert.

What was the lookout expecting to see? Signs of chariots and horses, people coming from distant lands. The fall of Babylon had been prophesied and they awaited the confirmation, “Babylon has fallen!”

Isaiah preached to his defeated brethren. Exile awaited them. Israel longed to see the fulfillment of the prophecies against their enemies. Yet, the person on the tower was not directing armies. They had to sit by and wait.

What does it mean to be fully alert? In this instance, it is not a call to arms. It means an attentiveness to what is going on around them. It means watching for God to work. To be alert is to be undistracted by the world.

The New Testament continues this call to be alert. Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray in Gethsemane. Peter failed to stay alert but was more than eager to defend Jesus when Judas betrayed him.

Some Christians with a vigilante spirit confuse the call to alertness with a call to arms or a declaration of war. The New Testament is not calling us to be ready to defend our Savior with a sword.

However, there is the call to stay alert for the return of Christ. But those who are alert will be dressed in battle gear unlike any military uniform. “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5.8).

Most often, alertness is linked to prayer. It is the same command from God to Isaiah and Jesus to his disciples. Watch and pray. Perhaps it would serve the Great Commission more if we understood our position on the watchtower as an attentive messenger and not a zealous militia.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 21 (Listen -2:32)
Luke 3 (Listen -5:24)

Read more about The Sword Versus The Cross
They might wave a “Jesus” flag, but they want to be saved by less demanding things. Many want to be saved by the sword.

Read more about Of Pride and The Sword
In scripture the sword is not inanimate. The sword is hungry, with an appetite to devour individuals, races, nations, kings, and empires.

The Fall of a Superpower

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 13.6-8
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
    it will come like destruction from the Almighty.
7 Because of this, all hands will go limp,
    every heart will melt with fear.
8 Terror will seize them,
    pain and anguish will grip them;
    they will writhe like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at each other,
    their faces aflame.

Reflection: The Fall of a Superpower
By Erin Newton

Babylon is one of those places you read about all the time in the Old Testament. It served as the locus for much of the ancient Mesopotamian world during the first and second millennia BCE. Because this important city was part of the empires which dominated Israel, “Babylon” was often used as a token word for all enemies of God.

Isaiah 13 opens a series of “Oracles against the Nations” which describe the coming judgment on the superpowers of the ancient world. Unsurprisingly, Babylon is listed first as it was the dominating nation during Isaiah’s prophetic ministry.

The imagery provides a vision of God’s coming judgment as an army marching upon the enemy. The language speaks more of the emotional response than the specific tactics. Babylon will be gripped with fear and terror. Pain and anguish will come upon this powerful nation. Babylon will be like a woman in labor. She will be unable to flee, caught between painful contractions and escalating agony. The people will look at one another perhaps as a plea for help, only to be met with the same look of fear in their neighbor’s face.

When we read the oracles against other nations, it is easy to distance ourselves from them. We are often tempted to identify with God’s chosen people, the favored character of the story. At times, this is beneficial. It can be a source of hope when the powers in our lives seek to destroy us.  

There is also the need to read these oracles and understand why Babylon was listed as an enemy. Babylon embraced idolatry and morality that was contrary to the law of God. While we often avoid reading ourselves into these texts, it’s important to realize we share in the same sinful nature and are at risk of adopting the practices of the world.  

Thankfully, we are reconciled to God through Christ and need not fear being the enemy of God. We know that we are secure from his wrath because Jesus has endured our judgment. These prophetic passages are a means of examining our lives, ensuring we do not follow the way of Babylon.

It also heralds the supremacy and sovereignty of God throughout the whole world. We are confident that God will judge the powers that seek to destroy our lives. “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand.”

Music: “In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. Let none who look to you be put to shame. — Psalm 25.1-2

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 13 (Listen -3:11)
Matthew 25 (Listen -10:01)

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment
The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to.

Read more about Default Settings for Scripture
The “default settings” of our mindsets about scripture have a big effect on our ability to make use of them