Isaiah 39:1-8 Envoys from Babylon


It may be difficult for us to think of Judah and Babylon as allies, but in 712 BC it must have seemed the most natural thing in the world. Babylon had been trying to break free of Assyrian domination ever since Babylon was conquered in 745 BC, and Merodach-Baladan (v. 1) was the hero of the resistance. At the same time Hezekiah had become the de facto leader of the anti-Assyrian coalition in southern Palestine. What could make better sense than co-operation between them? It certainly made sense to the Babylonians, who had apparently been watching events in Palestine with keen interest.

Envoys were dispatched with letters and a gift (v. 1), and they found Hezekiah in high spirits. His strength had returned, his storehouses were full, and his little kingdom was well armed and confident. He was flattered at being courted by one so famous, and did everything in his power to impress his distinguished visitors (v. 2). Events have moved too quickly. Action that required careful thought and wise counsel has been taken hastily and without careful consideration from wrong motives and, worst of all, God has not been consulted. But it is a hard truth for Hezekiah to accept. We can sense his defensiveness in the tense exchange of verses 3 and 4, and by the end of the chapter he has descended into pure child-like sulking (v.8).

Isaiah saw only too clearly that in the long term Babylon would prove to be an enemy rather than a friend. The royal treasure which the Babylonians had seen they would eventually carry off as plunder and with it the surviving members of the royal family (vv. 5-7). Hezekiah’s hasty alliance with Babylon was as much symptomatic of lack of trust as the more blatant sin of idol-worship which increasingly blighted the life of the whole nation. The apostasy that took place in his reign was so bad that its effects were irreversible; God decided that Judah would have to be totally demolished, and Babylon would be the instrument He would use.

Isaiah is relentless in hammering home the message that whatever we put trust in, instead of God Himself, will eventually turn on us and destroys us. So, as we come to the end of this crucial central section of the book, we are faced with the grim prospect of exile and the hard questions that it would inevitably throw up: Was there any hope of recovery, or was judgment to be God’s final word to Israel? Had the promises to David been cancelled or only put in suspension? Who was really in control of history, the Lord or the gods of Babylon? Was trust in the God of Israel even possible anymore? Paradoxically, it was precisely in this situation where all the external supports of Israel’s faith had been destroyed, that she was to learn in a deeper way than ever before what real trust in God was all about.

Isaiah 39:1-8 Reflection Questions:

What was the major sin of Hezekiah in verse 2 other than not consulting God?

Have you ever felt like Hezekiah after God has answered your prayers?

Have you had a personal lesson in what trusting God is all about? Journal on it.

Hebrews 5:11-14 The Marks of Spiritual Immaturity


“We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Heb 6:12). This verse summarizes the main message of this difficult (and often misunderstood) section of the epistle. Israel wanted to go back to Egypt; and, as a result, a whole generation failed to inherit what God had promised. They were safely delivered out of Egypt, but they never enjoyed the promised rest in Canaan. We believers today can make the same mistake. If you keep in mind that the emphasis in this section is on making spiritual progress, you will steer safely through misinterpretations that could create problems.

The writer is about to begin his explanation of the heavenly priesthood of Christ, but he is not sure his readers are ready for what he has to teach. The problem is not that he is a dull teacher, but that they are dull hearers! The word translated “dull” in Heb. 5:11 is translated “slothful” in Heb. 6:12. It refers to a condition of spiritual apathy and laziness that prevents spiritual development. What then, are the marks of spiritual immaturity?

Dullness toward the Word (v. 11): These believers started on their “backward journey” by drifting from the Word (Heb. 2:1-4), and then doubting the Word (Heb. 3:7-4:13). As a result, they were now “dull of hearing”; that is, unable to listen to the Word, receive it, and act on it. One of the first symptoms of spiritual regression, or backsliding, is a dullness toward the Bible. Sunday School class is dull, the preaching is dull, anything spiritual is dull.

Inability to share (v. 12a): The ability to share spiritual truth with others is a mark of maturity. Not all Christians have the gift of teaching, but all can share what they learn from the Word. The recipients of this letter had been saved long enough to be able to share God’s truth with others. But, instead of helping others to grow, these Hebrew Christians were in need of learning again the simple teachings of Christian life. They were experiencing a second childhood!

A “baby food” diet (vv. 12b-13): The writer defines the “milk” as “the first principles of the oracles of God” (v. 12). The “meat” of the Word is the teaching about our Lord’s ministry now in heaven as our High Priest. The writer wanted to give this “meat” to them, but they were not ready for it. The “milk” of the Word refers to what Jesus Christ did on earth. The “meat” of the Word refers to what Jesus Christ is doing now in heaven. Of course, even the maturest adult never outgrows milk. As believers, we can still learn much from our Lord’s work on earth. But we must not stop there! We must make spiritual progress, and we can do this only if we learn about Christ’s priestly ministry for us in heaven.

Unskillful in using the Word (v. 14): As we grow in the Word, we learn to use it in daily life. As we apply the Word, we exercise our “spiritual senses” and develop spiritual discernment. An immature believer will listen to any preacher on the radio or television and not be able to identify whether or not he is true to the Scriptures. Just as our physical bodies have senses without which we could not function, so our inner “spiritual man” has “spiritual senses” (see Ps. 34:8 & Matt. 13:16). As we feed on the Word of God and apply it in daily life, our inner “spiritual senses” get their exercise and become strong and keen.

The ability to discern good from evil is a vital part of Christian maturity. The nation of Israel in Moses’ day lacked this discernment and failed to claim its promised inheritance. The readers of this letter were in danger of making the same mistake. It is impossible to stand still in the Christian life: we either go forward and claim God’s blessing, or we go backward and wander about aimlessly. Most Christians are “betweeners,” they are between Egypt and Canaan – out of the place of danger, but not yet into the place of rest and rich inheritance; they are between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – saved by the blood but not yet enjoying newness of resurrection life.

Hebrews 5:11-14 Reflection Questions:

Are you a “betweener”?

Are you taking advantage of your rich inheritance?

Have you become spiritually lazy or are you spiritually active?

Isaiah 38:1-22 Hezekiah’s Illness


The opening phrase, “In those days”, is deliberately vague and gives only a general indication of the time-frame of the narrative. In fact, this chapter and the next are effectively a flashback to something that happened before the events that have just been described. The deliverance of Jerusalem as pronounced here has already taken place in the previous chapter. So we have stepped back in time and back from the broad canvas of international events, to pick up something far more intimate and private (v. 1). It’s the crisis behind the crisis, so to speak.

For an individual of course, sickness can be just as much a crisis as an invasion is for a nation. Illness, especially if it is serious, brings us face to face with our mortality, and can put our trust in God on a razor’s edge. This is precisely the situation in which we find Hezekiah in this chapter. He is ill – very ill – and the word from Isaiah is that he is going to die (v. 1). Hezekiah is deeply shaken by the news. He turns his face to the wall and weeps bitterly (vv. 2-3). It is a helpful reminder to pray for our leaders. We have a tendency to forget that they are subject to the same weakness as ourselves. It can be very lonely at the top.

But Hezekiah is not alone, and his faith is not utterly extinguished. He does not just weep; he prays (v. 3). It’s a far cry from the robust prayer of 37:14-17 (it’s harder to be strong in a personal crisis than in a national one), but it is a prayer none the less, and shows that his face is turned, not just to the wall, but also to God. There is no praise, no pious resignation to the divine will, no expressed desire that God may be glorified – just a muted cry for help. It’s not much of a prayer, but it’s all he is capable of at this moment. But this is precisely the kind of backdrop against which God’s splendid grace shines to fullest advantage. And that is certainly the case here. Hezekiah is granted not only what he asked for, but much more. The Lord will add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s own life – and he will also defend and deliver Jerusalem (vv. 5-6). No wonder Hezekiah prayed with more robust faith next time! He learned something in this crisis which strengthened him for the next.

In verses 7-8 Hezekiah is given a sign to assure him that the Lord will indeed do as he has promised. According to verse 22 he had requested such a sign, an indication that his faith had not yet reached a point of confident rest. But at least he was disposed to believe, in contrast to Ahaz, who had refused to accept a sign when one was offered (7:10-13). There is all the difference in the world between someone who is disposed to believe and someone who is not. It is the difference between light and darkness. Hezekiah recovered as the Lord said he would.

In a sense, by the time we reach verse 9 of this chapter everything of importance has already happened. But in fact what follows is the most significant part of all, for here Hezekiah reflects, with the benefit of hindsight, on all that the experience has meant to him (vv. 9-20). Such lessons are priceless, but often it is only looking back, as Hezekiah does here, that we can see how suffering has been the means God has used to teach them to us.

But now it is time for us to widen our perspective again, for although Hezekiah was a human being like ourselves, he was also the king of a nation which had a unique place in God’s purposes. Because of this, his sickness and recovery could not be purely private affairs; they had the potential to change the course of history, as we will see in our study of chapter 39.

Isaiah 38:1-22 Reflection Questions:

Are you going through or have you gone through a personal crisis? How did it impact your faith?

Was your faith strengthened? Are you learning from your crises?

Why do you think it’s important to look back in hindsight on your personal crises?

Hebrews 5:1-10 High Priest, High Qualifications


What a sight the high priest must have been in the bright sunlight of Palestine as he approached the tabernacle – white linen, blue robe – the gold on his turban and the chains and in the fabrics he wore, gleaming yellow in the sun – the gems on his shoulders and over his heart lit to their full colors – golden bells ringing musically with each step!

The image of the high priest is a sanctifying picture when seriously contemplated – and it surely has served as such for pious Jews over the ages. But it is also sadly true that one could don the high priestly vestments and appear outwardly qualified, but fall tragically short of the inner qualifications so necessary to effective ministry. It is these inner qualifications with which our text deals in verses 1-4 before it goes on to demonstrate in verses 5-10 how Christ, our great High Priest, meets and supersedes every qualification – proving he is the priest who will get the stressed-out little church through its stormy seas. As we consider this matter of priestly qualifications, we will do well to keep the image of the Aaronic high priest before us – because Jesus is the fulfillment of everything he symbolized. The writer opens this section by asserting in verses 1-4 the three essential qualifications for one who would aspire to be high priest – namely, solidarity, sympathy, and selection.

Solidarity, oneness with humanity, was fundamental to priestly ministry and is explicitly stated in verse 1. No angel, no celestial being, no deceased soul could function as high priest. He had to be a living human being – a mortal like everyone else. The reason of course, is that his primary function was representative – “to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” The solidarity factor was essential to effective priestly ministry, as it is today in pastoral ministry, and the universal requirement is, as it has always been, a real man with a real link to God and a real bond to man.

Sympathy; this anticipates the next quality for the human priesthood, which is sympathy or compassion (vv. 2-3). The ideal high priest had an inner disposition that enabled him to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.” As to why he could be so gently disposed, our text suggests that it is because of two inner awarenesses. First he was aware that he, though high priest, was a sinner for he had “to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (v. 3). The other awareness was that he was himself “beset with weakness” (v. 2b). He shared in the universal “community of weakness” of all mankind. This of course, has primary reference to moral weakness, but it also means human weakness generally (body, intellect, emotion).

Selection; the third and final qualification is straightforward – the high priestly position must spring from divine selection (v. 4). All Israel’s priests were to come only through divine appointment. Attempts to do otherwise met with catastrophic judgment. No genuine priest ever arrogated himself to the high priestly office. All were sovereignly chosen. Therefore, a proper priest was filled with deep humility. His work was never a career. It was a divine calling. How appealing this was to the Hebrew mind, and quite frankly to us! The ideal high priest was a man of incomparable attractiveness.

Could anything or anyone ever exceed this ideal in attractiveness of efficacy?  The answer is a resounding “Yes!” – Jesus Christ! He too was a product of divine selection (vv. 5-6). Not only was Christ divinely chosen, but He was chosen for two offices – the ultimate royal office and the ultimate priestly office, as shown by two Old Testament Scriptures (Ps. 2:7; Ps. 110:4). So our author gives us a stupendous truth: Jesus is both eternal King and eternal Priest. And it all came to Him by the ordaining word of God the Father. Jesus did not seek it! Neither did Jesus clutch the office of king and high priest. His only goal was to glorify God the Father. Jesus’ priesthood is therefore; far superior to that of Aaron. Aaron’s was temporal, but Jesus is a priest of the same kind as Melchizedek. There was no succession of priests and hence no “order” from Melchizedek. Jesus’ priesthood is without ending or beginning!

Not only is Jesus superior as to His divine selection to be king and priest – He is also superior in His solidarity with His people (vv. 7-9). Here we see that the prime example of Jesus’ solidarity (His participating fully in the human condition) was His agony in the garden of Gethsemane where “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death” (v. 7). Jesus placed the exercise of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence under the direction of God the Father when He came to earth in the Incarnation. This explains His flashes of supernatural knowledge and power while on earth.

So authentic was Jesus’ solidarity with human kind that He “learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect… (vv. 8-9). This “does not mean Jesus passed from disobedience to obedience.” Nor does it mean that He developed from imperfection to perfection. The idea is that He became complete in His human experience. Now, in His completeness, His perfection, He is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (v. 9). His solidarity with us means He can save us to the uttermost. Christ is our triumphant, eternal Savior. His superior selection as both King and Priest, coupled with His superior solidarity with us, makes Him far superior in sympathy to the high priest of old. Can anyone miss the message to the little church on the high seas? This was their High Priest and our High Priest in life’s uncertain seas today as well. Jesus persevered in submissive prayer in Gethsemane and was heard, and our prayers will be heard also if we persevere. May we avail ourselves of Him day by day!

Hebrews 5:1-10 Reflection Questions:

What was Jesus’ response to the high priest during His time here on earth?

Why is it important for us to know about this today in the twenty first century (see 1Pet. 2:9)?

What message have you received from this study?

Hebrews 4:14-16 Our Great High Priest


Moses did not lead the people of Israel into the promised rest; in fact he himself was forbidden to enter the land. Joshua led them into their physical rest, but not into the promised spiritual rest. But what about Aaron, the first high priest? Is it possible that the Aaronic priesthood, with all of its sacrifices and ceremonies, could bring a troubled soul into rest? The Hebrew Christians who received this letter were sorely tempted to return to the religion of their fathers. After all any Jew could travel to Jerusalem and see the temple and the priests ministering at the altar. Here was something real, visible, and concrete. When a person is going through persecution, as these Hebrew Christians were, it is much easier to walk by sight than by faith. Some of us have doubted the Lord under much less provocation than these people were enduring. The central theme of Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, what He is now doing in heaven on behalf of His people. Is the high priestly ministry of Christ superior to that of Aaron and his successors? Yes it is, and the writer proves it.

Jesus Christ is the GREAT High Priest (v. 14). No Old Testament priest could assume that title. But in what does our Lord’s greatness consist? To begin with, Jesus Christ is both God and Man. He is “Jesus, the Son of God.” The name “Jesus” means “Savior” and identifies His humanity and His ministry on earth. “Son of God” affirms His deity and the fact that He is God. In His unique person, Jesus Christ unites Deity and humanity, so that He can bring people to God and bring to people all that God has for them.

Not only in His person, but also in His position Jesus Christ is great. Aaron and his successors ministered in the tabernacle and temple precincts, once a year entering the holy of holies. But Jesus Christ has “passed through the heavens.” When He ascended to the Father, Jesus Christ passed through the atmospheric heavens and the planetary heavens into the third heaven where God dwells (2 Cor. 12:2). How much better is it to have a High Priest who ministers in a heavenly tabernacle than in an earthly one!

But there is another aspect to Christ’s position: not only is He in heaven, but He is enthroned. His throne is “the throne of grace” (v. 16). The mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant was God’s throne in Israel (Ex. 25:17-22), but it could never be called “a throne of grace.” Grace does not veil itself from people. Grace does not hide itself in a tent. Furthermore the common people were not permitted to enter the holy precincts of the tabernacle and the temple, and the priests got only as far as the veil, and only on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). But every believer in Christ is invited, and is even encouraged to “come boldly unto the throne of grace”! What a great throne it is because our Great High Priest is ministering there. Something else makes Him great: He is ministering mercy and grace to those who come for help. Mercy means that God does not give us what we do deserve; grace means that He gives us what we do not deserve. No Old Testament high priest could minister mercy and grace in quite the same way.

Now because of the superiority of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, over Aaron, two important conclusions can be drawn. First, there is no need in giving up our profession just because we are going through testing and trial (v. 14). The word translated “profession” means “confession.” These Hebrew Christians were tempted to give up their confession of faith in Christ and their confidence in Him. It was not a matter of giving up their salvation, since salvation through Christ is eternal (Heb. 5:9). It was a matter of their public confession of faith. By returning to the Old Testament system they would be telling everyone that they had no faith in Christ (Gal. 2:11-21).

The second conclusion is this: there is no need to go back because we can come boldly into the presence of God and get the help we need (v. 16). No trial is too great, no temptation is too strong, but that Jesus Christ can give us the mercy and grace that we need, when we need it. “But He is so far away!” we may argue. “And He is the perfect Son of God! What can He know about the problems of weak sinners like us?”

But that is a part of His greatness! When He was ministering on earth in a human body, He experienced all that we experience, and even more. After all, a sinless person would feel temptations and trials in a much greater way than you and I could ever feel them. Christ was tempted, yet He did not sin; and He is able to help us when we are tempted. If we fail to hold fast our confession, we are not proving that Jesus Christ has failed. We are only telling the world that we failed to draw on His grace and mercy when it was freely available to us.

Hebrews 4:14-16 Reflection Questions:

When you have been tempted and gone through trials have you held onto your confession of faith?

How often do you need the mercy and grace from Jesus Christ? Journal them so you can always remember!

Have you ever gone boldly into the presence of God to get the help you need? How has that helped your confession of faith?