Have you ever noticed that nothing threatens holy people for long? Have you ever noticed that when you run into trouble, all you have to do is pray and the problems are solved? You haven’t? Hmm.
At first glance, that’s what Isaiah 25:1-12 seems to say: God has just done something wonderful in destroying the enemy’s stronghold and is promising more wonderful things in the future. Isaiah praises God as a refuge, a shelter from the storm. It certainly didn’t look like that to his audience.
The historical background for this passage is the military threat from Assyria. When the Assyrian army wasn’t at the gates, its ambassadors were breathing threats. When Isaiah first preached this chapter, everyone knew that Nineveh, the enemy’s stronghold, was intact and sending out hordes of bullies. Where could anyone go for refuge?
Look at all the dismal news in our own country. I once had to study six months of newspapers from 1893. I almost stopped reading the current papers, because I was reading the same news from a hundred years earlier.
Look at your own circumstances. Personally, I have lived and worked in a number of different places. When I move, a lot of the same troubles follow me, and sometimes new ones turn up.
What’s going on here? We read the Scripture and see some great promises, but then we look around us. What we read and what we see don’t correspond very closely.
But headlines and circumstances are not legitimate grounds for doubting God. In order to see fuller truth, we have to read Scripture more closely and look around us more carefully. In my Bible the previous chapter is headed “The Lord’s Devastation of the Earth.” God reveals his wrath against sin. Isaiah 24:6 says, “Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.”
Yet for every expression of God’s wrath, nearby there is an expression of his love and his intention to restore his people to his covenant. That’s what the 25th chapter is.
In Isaiah’s time, people could hear his words of hope and encouragement, and look around and ask, “Yes, but what about Nineveh?” We can look around and ask, “Where is Nineveh?” Well, archeologists know where it used to be.
Neither Isaiah nor anyone who heard this oracle lived to see the fulfillment of his promise, but they could look back on other times of crisis and see that God had done exactly what he said he would.
There are two kinds of prophecies in the Bible: those that have been fulfilled and those that have not been fulfilled–yet. As Habakkuk wrote, “though the vision tarry, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
God’s timing can be very frustrating, but we ought to look past the momentary disappointments. Our passage gives us grounds for tremendous hope. Now, if we have something, if we can see it, we can’t hope for it. Hope means we have nothing but a promise, but that we are waiting patiently to receive the fulfillment.
Generations of God’s people have lived and died without seeing the fullness of his promises. Whatever God does for us in this lifetime is merely a down payment. But one day we will stand before God and recognize that we have been conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. That is the day about which Isaiah said, “In that day they will say, surely this is our God. We trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him. Let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation (25:9). ” There is no reason to wait until then to make that our confession.
Originally published in The All-Purpose Guru on September 15, 2009.