Isaiah 44:24-45:13 Cyrus, the Lord’s shepherd


This important passage about Cyrus bursts upon us rather surprisingly and shockingly at this point. The surprise is that he should be spoken of as the Lord’s shepherd (v. 44:28 and His anointed (v. 45:1), directly after a passage in which idolatry has been so comprehensively condemned. For Cyrus himself was a pagan idolater. As we shall see in verses 45:8-13, the Lord’s choice of such a person was to cause Israel considerable bewilderment. But surely there is an important lesson here which the very placement of this passage serves to drive home. God may disapprove of idolatry but use an idolater for some good purpose. The fact that He uses someone in a specific way does not mean that He approves of that person’s total lifestyle. We should neither stand in judgment on God’s actions nor draw wrong conclusions from them, but praise Him for His sovereignty (v. 45:8). His use of Cyrus to shepherd His people home was a stunning demonstration of that sovereignty.

There has been constant reference to creation and redemption in the preceding chapters. Now these two great themes are woven together in a powerful statement by the Lord of His total mastery of the historical process (vv. 44:24-28). In a sense nothing new is said here; it is more like a summary of all that is already “on the record”, so to speak. But the concentration and power of it are impressive, building to the climactic announcement of verse 28. That this pagan emperor, identified by name, will fulfill so exactly what the Lord has announced beforehand will be the final proof that the Lord is indeed who He claims to be. The fact that Cyrus did in fact do just that is a matter of historical record. The Lord’s claims have been vindicated; He is indeed the Creator and Redeemer, not just for Israel, but of the whole earth.

While Cyrus himself is addressed in verses 45:1-7, the words are not primarily intended for him, but for those who were to wait anxiously for his arrival in Babylon. These verses disclose exactly what is in God’s mind concerning him: how God regards him, what help He will give him and why. Three things are said about Cyrus’ mission in these verses: It would be accomplished by God’s help (vv. 1-3a); it would be accomplished for the sake of God’s people (v. 4); and it would be accomplished so that all (v. 6), including Cyrus himself (v. 3a) might know that the Lord alone is God. In short, God was going to use Cyrus to put His people back in Jerusalem, so that from there, the place He had chosen to be the center of His kingdom on earth, the truth about Him might become known everywhere. In the longer plan of God, of course, it was to Jerusalem that Israel’s true Messiah, the Son of David, eventually came to fulfill His mission, and it was from there that the gospel went out to the whole world.

What an appropriate response verse 8 is to the announcement of Cyrus’s mission. God commands the heavens and the earth to respond by bringing forth righteousness and salvation. This echoes the original creation commands of Genesis 1, but what is in view now is the new creation – the new heavens and the new earth – that will eventually emerge from what Cyrus will accomplish. The restoration of Jerusalem would be only the first step, of course, but God can see what it will lead to. No wonder He is enthusiastic!

Sadly though, God’s people do not share His enthusiasm. They cannot see past the fact that Cyrus is a pagan, and because God’s chosen way of working does not fit their own notions of what is proper, they cannot rejoice in it. They are trapped in small-mindedness, like the Pharisees of later times. And God, we sense, can scarcely contain His exasperation with them in verses 9-10. It is often hard to move beyond theologizing to trusting, but we must do so if we are to exercise the kind of faith which God requires of us and without which we cannot please Him. Theological insolence is the blight of religion in every age, and God is rightly angered by it. But He is not deterred by it. He stoutly defends His sovereign freedom as Creator to use anyone He pleases, and the rightness of His choice of Cyrus (vv. 11-13). But how sad that He has to press on with His good plans for His people in the face of their complaints instead of to the joyful strains of their praise!

Isaiah 44:24-45:13 Reflection Questions:

Have you lost your enthusiasm about God’s ultimate plan? Why or why not?

What does this study say to you about being judgmental of others?

Are you trapped in small-mindedness or are open to the sovereignty of God?

Are you working with or against God’s plan? In what ways will you improve on this?

Hebrews 10:1-18 The Superior Sacrifice


The tenth chapter of Hebrews emphasizes the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in contrast with the imperfect sacrifices that were under the Old Covenant. Our Lord’s superior priesthood belongs to a better order – Melchizedek’s and not Aaron’s. It functions on the basis of a better covenant – the New Covenant – and in a better sanctuary, in heaven. But all this depends on the better sacrifice, which is the theme of this chapter.

The need for a better sacrifice (vv. 1-4): Sin, of course, is man’s greatest problem. It has been said well that, “We are not sinners because of sin. We sin because we are sinners.” So, why were the Old Covenant sacrifices inferior? After all, they were ordained by the Lord; and they were in force for hundreds of years. The very nature of the Old Covenant sacrifice made them inferior. The Law was only “a shadow of good things to come” and not the reality itself. The sacrificial system was a type or picture of the work our Lord would accomplish on the cross. This meant that the system was temporary, and therefore could accomplish nothing permanent. The very repetition of the sacrifices day after day, and the Day of Atonement year after year, pointed out the entire system’s weakness.

The provision of the better sacrifice (vv. 5-9): It was God who provided the sacrifice and not man! The verses in Psalm 40:6-8 makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant sacrifices. Each of the offerings typified the sacrifice of Christ and revealed some aspect of His word on the cross (see Lev. 1-7). Twice in these verses (see Heb. 10:6, 8) the writer stated that God “had no pleasure” in Old Covenant sacrifices. This does not suggest that the old sacrifices were wrong, or that sincere worshipers received no benefit from obeying God’s Law. It only means that God had no delight in sacrifices as such, apart from the obedient hearts of the worshipers. No amount of sacrifice could substitute for obedience. Jesus came to do the Father’s will. This will is the New Covenant that has replaced the Old Covenant. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has taken away the first covenant and established the second.

The effectiveness of the better sacrifice (v. 10): Believers have been set apart (“sanctified”) by the offering of Christ’s body once for all. No Old Covenant sacrifice could do that. An Old Covenant worshiper had to be purified from ceremonial defilement repeatedly. But a New Covenant saint is set apart finally and completely.

Christ’s sacrifice need not be repeated (vv. 11-18): Again the writer contrasted the Old Covenant high priest with Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest. The fact that Jesus sat down after He ascended to the Father is proof that His work was completed. The ministry of the priests in the tabernacle and temple was never done and never different: they offered the same sacrifices day after day. This constant repetition was proof that their sacrifices did not take away sins. What tens of thousands of animal sacrifices could not accomplish, Jesus accomplished with one sacrifice forever!

The phrase “sat down” refers us again to Psalm 110:1. Christ is in the place of exaltation and victory. When He returns, He shall overcome every enemy and establish His righteous kingdom. Those who have trusted Him need not fear, for they have been “perfected forever” (v. 14). Believers are complete in Him (Col. 2:10). We have a perfect standing before God because of the finished work of Jesus Christ. How do we know personally that we have this perfect standing before God? Because of the witness of the Holy Spirit through the Word (vv. 15-18). The witness of the Spirit is based on the work of the Son and is given through the words of Scripture. The New Covenant believer can say that his/her sins and iniquities are remembered no more. There is “no more offering for sin” (v. 18) and no more remembrance of sin!

Hebrews 10:1-18 Reflection Questions:

How does it make you feel knowing what Jesus did on the cross for you?

Do you have complete trust in what Jesus did or are you trying to earn your way to redemption?

Knowing what Christ has done, how free do you feel and what are going to do with that freedom?

Isaiah 44:6-23 Idolatry

Idolatry is the worst sin of all, because it moves God to the periphery of our lives and puts something else in His place. It gives to something else the glory that should be God’s alone. Chameleon-like, it constantly disguises itself so that we are scarcely aware of its presence, even when we are most in the grip of it. Greed, Paul tells us, is idolatry, because it turns us away from God towards things, and makes the pursuit of them the passion of our lives. Today’s world is no less given over to idolatry than the ancient one; it’s just that its cruder forms were more prevalent then. Of course, idolatry was a pagan practice; Israel was forbidden to have anything to do with it. Yet it always held a fatal attraction for them, even in its crudest forms, because it seemed to work.

It was not just the primitive and backward people who practiced it, but the cultured and powerful – the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians. And of course they attributed their success to the power of their gods. How absurd, then, for their humiliated victims to maintain that their God, the Lord, was supreme and that the gods of their conquerors were mere nothings. At times they must have doubted it themselves, and yet they were called to be witnesses to precisely that fact (vv. 6-8).

This is the context in which we see Isaiah’s broadside attack against idolatry in verses 9-20. Its purpose is to expose the real character of idolatry so that Israel will have no illusions about it. The truth is, that idolatry is not only deeply offensive to God, it is also fundamentally absurd; those who indulge in it feed on ashes and their deluded hearts deceive them (v. 20). Human beings make idols (v. 9), but the Lord has made Israel (v. 21), and displays His glory through her (v. 23b). What an honor! And it is an honor that we have inherited as the people of God today!

But such an honor calls for constant vigilance, for the danger of idolatry in one or other of its enticing forms is always with us. Remember, Isaiah says; remember the truth (v. 21). Our eyes and ears are constantly bombarded with lies about God and attractive alternatives to serving Him, and we will be swamped by them unless we constantly call the truth to mind. This is where meditation on Scripture is such a strengthening thing for us, for it is full of the greatness and glory and faithfulness of God. But what if we do stray, and slip into idolatrous patterns of thought or behavior? Return, says Isaiah, to the one who redeemed you (v. 22). We are all going to need a lot of forgiving on our way to our final rest, and the great news of the gospel is that it is available to us. The one condition is that we return and seek God for whenever we stray. Finally, sing for joy (v. 23). This last exhortation is addressed to heavens and earth, mountains, forests and trees, and in a sense they do praise Him; it is only humankind that is idolatrous. But surely, of all created things it is those made in God’s image who ought to praise Him most, and of them, the redeemed most of all. And those who do will find that the battle is won; it is impossible for idolatry to get a foothold in a joyful, praising heart.

Isaiah 44:6-23 Reflection Questions:

Other than greed, what other forms of idolatry does Paul warn us against?

Why do you think sin seems to be attractive and successful?

How do you keep yourself from giving into the temptations and lies that bombard us daily?

Hebrews 9:15-28 Covenant and Blood


The Old Testament system, which provides the prefigurement for Christ’s sacrifice, was a gory affair indeed. During the thousand-plus years of the old covenant, there were more than a million animal sacrifices. So considering that each bull’s sacrifice spilled a gallon or two of blood, and each goat a quart, the old covenant truly rested on a sea of blood. Why the perpetual sea of blood? For one main reason – to teach that sin demands the shedding of blood. It demonstrates that sin both brings and demands death. Steaming blood provided the sign – even the smell – of the old covenant. Thus, the devout worshiper of the old covenant came with a definite awareness, first, that sin requires death – second, that such a sacrifice required a spirit of repentance – third, that he was pleading the mercy of God – and, fourth, in some cases, that a great sin-bearer was coming.

Of course, the old covenant system was flawed in that, by design, it could only deal with sins of ignorance and could never completely clear one’s conscience. But then came Jesus with the new covenant in His own blood – a superior blood sacrifice that completely atoned for sins and completely cleared the conscience. Jesus was no uncomprehending, unwilling animal, but rather a perfect God-man who consciously set His will to atone for our sins. He is therefore a superior Savior and priest. With this being understood, the logic of verse 15 and the following verses becomes clear.

The job of mediator is to arbitrate in order to bring two parties together; here, the Holy God and sinful humanity. As the Father’s mediator, it is Christ’s job to bridge the vast gulf and obtain entrance for us into God’s holy presence. His sacrifice is the medium of arbitration, because His shed blood is both retroactive and proactive in bringing forgiveness for sins. The point in verses 16-17 is that Christ’s death activated His incredibly rich will – a fact alluded to by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9. Think of the benefits we enjoy because of Christ’s death: forgiveness, a clear conscience, peace, purpose, and ultimately eternal life in Heaven! All this is impossible apart from His death. And it is all activated by His death.

The writer wants his readers to understand that the old covenant law was initiated with a pronounced spilling of sacrificial blood that prefigured Christ’s blood in initiating the new covenant. The noun “blood” is used six times in verses 18-22. The old covenant sailed on a sea of blood, for two fast reasons. First, to emphasize the seriousness of sin; the Bible takes sin seriously, more than any other religious scripture. Sin alienates one from God; sin is rooted in the hearts of humanity. Sin cannot be vindicated by any self-help program. Sin leads to death – and it will not be denied. The second reason is the costliness of forgiveness; death is the payment. It will either be Christ’s life or our life!

Having demonstrated the importance of blood/death in the old covenant, the writer now describes the surpassing effect of Christ’s sacrifice in establishing the new covenant. He begins by stating that the better sacrifice of Christ brings better purity (v. 23). Next, the writer expresses that Jesus’ blood grants us a better representation before the Father (v. 24), and as a further evidence of the superiority of Jesus’ shed blood is its efficacy (vv. 25-28a). Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient and thus needed no repeating. He is our constant priest, but this in no way suggests that He is perpetually offering Himself. The sacrifice was so monumental and efficacious that it could only be once-for-all. His blood is totally sufficient. The sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death is the centerpiece of our salvation.

Finally Christ’s blood gives us a better hope that He “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (v. 28b). Here we have a brilliant fresh perspective on the return of Christ. Our Lord Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary “to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (v. 24), and He “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (v. 28). Hallelujah! – He is coming again as both King and Priest. The blood of Christ may be a stumbling block to a lost world. But for the heart that knows the depth of its sin and its lostness, the metaphor of the sea of blood is sweet because it means Jesus gave His life for us.

Hebrews 9:15-28 Reflection Questions:

What were your thoughts of the “sea of blood” before this study? Was it disgusting or is it sweet because of what it represented?

What stands out for you in this study?

Isaiah 43:14-44:5 The Lord’s Promise of Victory


“I am the Lord… your King” (vv. 14-15): Here we have the third word of encouragement. If Israel was to witness to the truth about the Lord by a return to Jerusalem, those for whom this might seem impossible would need assurance that the enemy that held them was not invincible. This is what verses 14-15 affirm. In this short oracle mighty Babylon is framed and diminished by the greater reality of Israel’s God (vv. 14a, 15b). As these words cascade out, God’s people are powerfully reminded of all they know about God and His commitment to them. And to this is added a promise addressed to the specific situation of exile (v. 14b). Babylon was certainly a terrible reality, but the greater reality by far was the Lord’s absolute sovereignty, and unswerving commitment to His people. How aptly the last line sums it up: I am the Lord…the King.

“See, I am doing a new thing!” (vv. 16-21): So much for Babylon. But for those who were to leave it at last, there would be other obstacles to be faced, including the desert and the long journey home – the subject of the next word of encouragement in verses 16-21. It was going to be a hard journey for those who were able to make it for two reasons; first, it was across unknown country, (those able to make the journey were born in exile), second, Jerusalem was 500 to 900 miles away depending on the route. The returnees could expect t be travelling for at least four months through harsh terrain, in which they would be vulnerable not only to exhaustion but also to attack by bandits. The wilderness meant hardship and danger. In a sense the wilderness was just as frightening a thing as Babylon. With this in view Isaiah speaks of former things and a new thing. Verses 16-21 are full of allusions to the exodus from Egypt centuries before, and the journey through the desert to Canaan – former things which were fundamental to Israel’s whole existence as the covenant people of God. But then, paradoxically, having deliberately called them to mind, Isaiah diverts attention from them: Forget the former things…See, I am doing a new thing (vv. 18-19). Isaiah wants them to remember that the wilderness has been conquered before and, armed with that knowledge, to go forward and to conquer it again. As they do so, they can be assured that the Lord goes before them to make a way for them through the desert, just as He made one for their ancestors (v. 19). They can be the witness God has created them to be only by going forward with God, by grasping the new thing He has for them (v. 21).

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions” (vv. 22-28): The fifth word of encouragement at first sight seems to be nothing of the kind. It consists largely of an indictment of Israel for its corrupt worship. Israel’s worship was such a farce, such a misrepresentation of the truth, that the Lord did not regard it as worship of Himself at all. It was utterly repugnant to Him. So He consigned Israel and its leaders to destruction, and those who survived to the disgrace of exile (v. 28). They had burdened the Lord with their sins and wearied Him with their offences (v. 24b) until His patience had been exhausted. The only solution was to accept their past, with the verdict that God had pronounced on it, and then to reach out with both hands and grasp the forgiveness that He offered them (v. 25).

“I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring” (vv. 44:1-5): The chapter division at 44:1 is particularly unfortunate because 44:1-5 is in fact the sixth and final word of encouragement that caps the whole series. And what a climax it is! All the attention is now focused on the future, a future as different from the past as light is from darkness. As water poured on thirsty land causes it to burst into life again, so the Lord will pour out His Spirit on Israel’s descendants (v. 3). They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplars by a flowing stream (v. 4). So blessed will they be; that total outsiders will join them, forsaking their paganism and gladly swear allegiance to Israel’s God. Jacob will no longer be a shameful name, but a glorious one, held in honor by all (v. 5). All this of course, is exactly what was promised to Abraham: a great name, many descendants, blessing overflowing to all the families of the earth. This final word of encouragement to Israel rests upon the bedrock of God’s faithfulness, and strongly affirms His commitment to fulfill His promises to them and through them. All God’s promises would eventually find their resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ, to the glory of God!

Isaiah 43:14-44:5 Reflection Questions:

Are you being held by an enemy (addiction, illness, relationship, etc.) that seems impossible to overcome? How does today’s study encourage you?

What new thing is God doing for you?

What is the most encouraging message of all in verses 22-28 in this study? Why?