July 17 — Dreams — Song 5-8. Recently, I had a dream about golf. (All my dreams about golf are nightmares.) I was getting ready to tee off on the first hole but instead of having a ball to hit, it was a small rabbit covered with white feathers instead of fur. Dreams often have ties to reality (like golf) but also contain bizarre disconnects with reality (like rabbits with feathers). One thing that makes the Song of Solomon difficult to understand is that it seems to include a dream sequence (3:1—6:3) introduced with, “On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not” (cf. also 5:2). It includes a nightmarish encounter with watchmen who beat her (5:7). That middle section of the book emphasizes the tension of restricted love before marriage but the book concludes with the relaxed and unrestrained joy of being married to the one you love.
July 18 — Isaiah — Isaiah 1-2. Today we enter the large section of the OT prophets. The prophet’s job was not only to foretell the future but to proclaim what is right and what is wrong—not a popular task. According to Fee and Stuart’s book, “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth,” less than 5% of the message of these prophets predict events that will happen in NT times, less than 2% about the coming Messiah, and less than 1% about things yet in the future for us (e.g., “… neither shall they learn war anymore”—2:4). As can be seen by the following “Simplified Overview of Isaiah” from the ESV Study Bible, the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are focused primarily on the spiritually deteriorated condition of Israel and the harassment and eventual take-over of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians, who were sent in judgment against God’s sinful people. As Isaiah cried out against the spiritual drift of the people of God in his day (e.g., 2:6), we need to recognize and guard against our own tendency to drift toward the standards and practices of the secular majority around us. We don’t want our “many prayers” to be hindered because our “hands are full of blood” (1:15).
July 19 — Bigger Percentage — Isaiah 3-5. One of our readers pointed out to me that I left out something very important yesterday when I quoted the OT foretelling prophecy percentages from Fee and Stuart’s book. That is that in addition to the approximately 8% of OT prophecy that points to the NT times and later, there is a much larger percentage of prophecy that points to more immediate events that were fulfilled in OT times. As I read through the three chapters assigned for today, I noted that all of chapter 3, except for vv. 9-12, is predictive prophecy; essentially all of chapter 4 is prophecy foretelling the coming Messiah; in chapter 5, vv. 5-6, 8-10, 13-17, and 24-30 speak of specific future results that would follow Israel’s sin. So, if these three chapters were representative of all the OT prophets, almost 73% of the content is foretelling prophecy. Two verses stuck out to me today that describe our current cultural atmosphere: “… they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it” (3:9) and “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (5:20). May we be bright lights that shine into this darkness!
July 20 — Messiah — Isaiah 6-9. Many things in this passage point to the coming Messiah. The partially-fulfilled prophecy of the birth of Immanuel (“God with us”) with the maiden in Isaiah’s time (7:14) was ultimately fulfilled with the virgin Mary in Jesus’ day. There is even a geographical, Messiah-connected prophecy that, despite the destruction of the northern kingdom, “in the latter time he has made glorious … the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (9:1). Then the famous passage beginning with, “For to us a child is born …” (9:6-7), describes this coming King. Other things to look for in this book, submitted by one reader from the Big Ideas in Isaiah (see the Quick View Bible): 1) Earthly alliances disappoint, but trusting God brings salvation. 2) Because God is holy and loving, he must punish the rebellious; but he will eventually redeem those who repent. 3) God is the ultimate King who is just and righteous. 4) God promises to send the Messiah, who will bring justice and salvation to all who believe.
July 21 — Jesse’s Shoot — Isaiah 10-12. Twice in this passage David’s father, Jesse, is mentioned, both times referring to the climax of the kingly line of David with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. He is a “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (11:1) and “the root of Jesse” (11:10). Paul quotes the latter verse in Rom. 15:12 when talking about Christ becoming “a servant to the circumcised … to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” (Rom. 15:8). Isaiah concluded today’s reading for those of us who have drawn “water from the wells of salvation” (12:3), that our mandate as Christians is to “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted” (12:4). How can you do that today?
July 22 — Surrounded — Isaiah 13-15. Today we read about four oppressing nations that surrounded the land of Judah and Israel in Isaiah’s day. Babylon to the east received the divine curse that the city that would rule an empire, would “never be inhabited or lived in for all generations” (13:20), a situation that still exists in its location in present-day Iraq. Assyria, the kingdom to the north, had already invaded Israel but God said, “I will break the Assyrian in my land” (14:25). To the west were the Philistines who were a perpetual problem for God’s people but God told them to “melt in fear” (14:31) because of the destroying judgment heading their way. Finally, to the southeast of the Promised Land, the people of Moab, the incestuous descendants of Lot, would be “laid waste in a night” (15:1). We are also becoming surrounded today by anti-Christian oppressors in our local and national cultures, but they will not prevail. God always wins and He always brings His people through hardships, both personal and national.
July 23 — Just Love — Isaiah 16-19. After the prophecy about Moab concluded in chapter 16, Isaiah moved on in chapter 18 to other countries to the far south: Cush (modern southern Egypt, northern Sudan, and part of Ethiopia) and then northern Egypt in chapter 19. Before that, however, there was a prophecy of judgment regarding the alliance between the rebellious northern kingdom of Israel (capital: Samaria) and Syria (capital: Damascus): “The fortress will disappear from Ephraim and the kingdom from Damascus” (17:3). Because Israel turned away from God, they were not protected by Him and both they and Syria were crushed by Assyria in 732-721 B.C. “For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge” (17:10). God did leave a remnant of His people there, however (“gleanings will be left in it”—17:6), where the Jew would “look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel” (17:7). The God of justice always punishes evil but He is also the God of love who always promotes good.