Short Thoughts – Week 20: Days 134-140

Day 134 – Glory (Part 1)

“I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered.” Genesis 32:30

Glory Week 20 Day 134

Jacob had an all-night wrestling match with God and when he recognized God’s power and holiness, exclaimed, “My life has been delivered!” Coming to a realization of who God is is an unspeakably amazing experience. There are a number of places in the Bible where a human being awakens to the presence of God. In this and the next two readings, let’s consider the glory of God,

The word “glory” is used too casually in our culture. We are surprized by something and exclaim, “Well, glory be!” We taste something wonderful and say it is glorious. But when the word is used in relation to God, we are talking about something far beyond these uses.

The most commonly used Hebrew word translated “glory” in our Bibles means “heaviness” or “weight”. When used of God, the idea of worthiness is part of what we are trying to say. A few other Hebrew words used occasionally of God’s glory carry the thought of magnificence, splendor, majesty, honour, beauty, excellence, and praise. The Greek word “doxa” speaks to the last word in that list: praise.

To help us understand God’s glory, the Spirit has recorded three instances in the Bible where an individual has been allowed to see something of that glory. I’m speaking of Isaiah’s encounter with God in Isaiah 6, Ezekiel’s recording of the shining wheels in Ezekiel 1, and John’s vision of God in Revelation 1.

We begin with Isaiah 6. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” The throne, high and lifted up, speaks to the authority of God. In legislative chambers there is often an impressive chair at the front of the room, and it is likely to be elevated from the floor by a few steps. If the country is a monarchy, we call that chair the “throne” and it is there to represent the authority of the monarch (or in a constitutional monarchy, the authority of the government that has been elected to office). God is sovereign and has real authority. Isaiah 6:4 says, “The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called.” Our God has power.

In addition to authority, God has splendor. Isaiah 6 speaks of the train of His robe that filled the Temple, of angelic creatures called seraphim each with six wings, and of the room being filled with smoke. All of this suggests the awe of the scene that surrounds God on His throne.

Then, there is the character of God. The seraphim say, “Holy. Holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” (verse 3). John Piper said that defining the glory of God is impossible – but he adds that Isaiah 6:3 gives us a clue:

            Now when Isaiah 6:3 says that one angel is crying to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” the next thing he says is this: “The whole earth is full of his . . . ” You might have expected him to say, “holiness,” but he doesn’t say that. He says, “glory.”

                  Intrinsically holy, and the whole earth is full of his glory— from which I stab at a definition, by saying that the glory of God is the manifest beauty of his holiness. It is the going-public of his holiness. It is the way he puts his holiness on display for people to apprehend. So, the glory of God is the holiness of God made manifest.  [–2 ]

We need to add one other thing: how Isaiah reacted to this revelation of God’s glory. In verses 5-8, the prophet responds by saying, “Woe is me. For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” He is acknowledging his sinfulness, his unworthiness to be in the presence of a holy God. One of the seraphim takes a coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s lips and says his sin is “taken away” and “atoned for”. This, of course, reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sin. Isaiah answers the Lord’s question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” with that dedication of himself to God’s service: “Here I am! Send me!”

Your Turn:

  1.  Read Isaiah 6:1-8.
  2. How does the truth of God’s authority impact you? What difference does it make in your life?
  3. How does the truth of God’s splendor impact you? What difference does it make in your life?

Day 135 –  Ezekiel’s Vision of the Glory of God

Week 20 Day 135 Wheels

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. Ezekiel  1:1

It is very difficult to picture Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels as described in Ezekiel 1. The above representation is found in a blog entitled “Eclectic Orthodoxy,” in a post by Fr. Aidan Kimel, dated June 11, 2019.

Ezekiel was a prophet who was taken by the conquering Babylonians from Judah to Babylon around 598 BC. His book covers the years from 593 to 571 BC. In the first chapter of Ezekiel 1, the prophet sees four living creatures (each with a four-sided face of a human, a lion, an ox, and an eagle) and four wheels that go in any of their four directions without turning. Above them lies a great shining expanse and on it, a throne, and there is a great sound. It is the sound of the Almighty who is also described in terms of brightness. The prophet tells us that this was a vision of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

Now, if that was all this passage said, it would not tell us much about God’s glory. But I have so far omitted many details. Ezekiel 1:4-28 is full of descriptive detail. You could imagine that you are flying a little above the surface, or maybe are maneuvering the video camera in a drone, moving from far out, closer and closer to the throne that is first mentioned in verse 28. The atmosphere is dominated by a big cloud surrounded by extreme brightness, and flashing fire, and gleaming metal. Shining brightness is present throughout. You see the four creatures who sparkle “like burnished bronze”. They each have two wings and they follow the Spirit’s leading. They look like “burning coals of fire”, or of torches, and this firry appearance was bright, with lightening flashing as they moved about. You get the idea: brightness, flashing light, gleaming metal, more bright fire and flashing lightening.

But, we haven’t reached the throne yet! There are four wheels accompanying the creatures. These wheels, really wheels within wheels, are like gleaming beryl (which can be a variety of colours, brilliantly shining when light hits the stone). They have tall rims – “tall and awesome” (v. 18) – with eyes all around. They moved at the direction of “the spirit of the living creatures” and above the moving wheels was an expanse of “awe-inspiring” crystal while below them were their wings. These wings made a great noise, described as a noise of many waters, the sound of the Almighty, and the sound of an army. So, once again, we have a scene of brightness and of power.

To cap it all off Ezekiel sees a throne, like sapphire, and on it One who has a human appearance. This One on the throne is also shining, like gleaming metal and fire, from head to toe. Surrounding Him there is a bright rainbow. So, this appears to the prophet as “the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (v. 28). The throne is another symbol of power and authority. Combined with the light, we have a picture of power and glory.

Ezekiel can do nothing else but fall on his face before the Lord and listen to what He has to say.

Your Turn

  1. Read Ezekiel 1.
  2. Notice the similarity of this passage and the one from Isaiah 6. Both show the splendor and glory of God. And both conclude with the prophet bowing in submission to God. Will you take time today to contemplate for a while the majesty of God?
  3. In Isaiah 6, the prophet submitted to God’s call on his life and responded to the vision of God saying, “Here I am, send me.” In Ezekiel 1, the prophet falls down and awaits God’s instruction, which we see in chapter 2. It, too, is a call to ministry: “Son of man, I send you…” (2:3). Having humbled yourself before the Lord, what now is He sending you to do? How can you serve Him?

Day 136  –  Shining Like the Sun

“…and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” Revelation 1:16b

Day 136 Sun

Like the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the one in Revelation chapter 1 shows the Lord in splendorous light. He wears a long robe with a golden sash. His hair is white like wool or snow. His eyes are a flame of fire; his feet like burnished bronze, and his face like the sun shining in full force.

In addition, there is strength or power. He has the voice of the roar of many waters. He holds the seven stars (which represent the seven angels of the seven churches) in His right hand (a symbol of power). A sharp sword extends from His mouth. He declares that He is the eternal one, the resurrected one, and the holder of the keys of death and hades. All of this speaks to His authority.

So, as in Isaiah’s and Ezekiel’s visions, John’s vision is of a God whose glory radiates splendor and power.

The photo above is of a wooded area behind where we live. At night, it is dark and mysterious, sometimes eerie. But when the sun shines on it in the morning it is transformed into a place of beauty, even splendor. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England says this about the sun’s energy, “The power output or luminosity of the Sun is 3.8 x 1026 W, this is the total amount of energy released from the Sun every second. The Sun’s energy is radiated outwards in all directions, consequently the Earth receives only a small fraction of this energy.” [K34 Calculating the Energy Output of the Sun.pdf]  I cannot understand “3.8 x 1026 W”, but I get the picture – it’s a lot! Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John could not grasp the fullness of the brilliance and power of God, but they knew it was a lot! Like the earlier prophets, John falls at His feet (Rev. 1:17), and when told to write down what he saw and heard, then send it out to the seven churches of Asia Minor, he did so. What else can you do? God says, ‘Here’s what I want you to do,” and you either flee another direction like Jonah did at first, or do as instructed, like the Apostle John does here. Hence, we have a message to hear and believe, and to share with others (see Rev. 22:6-21).

Your Turn:

  1. Read Revelation 1 and Revelation 22.
  2. Meditate again on the splendor and power of God. Look for examples around you that illustrate in some small way this splendor and power.
  3. At the end of his book, John gives us Christ’s command to guard the words of scripture and to make them known to others. How dearly do you hold the scriptures?

Day 137  –  A House of Prayer

“… these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;” Isaiah 56:7

Day 137 House of Prayer    An African Church meets – photo by Torchbearer Foundation

The Book of Isaiah is the second-most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament (after Psalms). It is also one of the four most-quoted by Jesus Himself. In this and the next eight devotionals we will explore several of the most-quoted passages from Isaiah. Let’s begin with Isaiah 56:7: “My house of prayer”.

In the context of this phrase we see Isaiah presenting a message about what constitutes proper and acceptable worship. True worship of God means several things:

  • Keeping justice, 56:1
  • Not profaning the Sabbath, 56:2
  • Participation by foreigners who love the Lord – they should not consider themselves separated from God, 56:3, 6
  • Participation by any who please God, including those who suffer a physical deformity (e.g., eunuchs), 56:4 – they will be given a “name” in God’s house
  • Participation by those considered outcasts by society, 56:8

Thus, all who keep justice, do not profane the Sabbath, love the Lord, and please God will be “welcomed” at God’s altar. God’s house is called a “house of prayer” that is open to “all peoples”.

The emphasis in Isaiah is on including those society tends to reject – people “different” from me – foreigners, outcasts, and others who look different than me. God welcomes these as He does us, anyone who loves Him, respects Him, and pleases Him.

This phrase (“house of prayer”) is quoted three times in the New Testament, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In each case, it is Jesus who uses the term and the occasion is just after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and as the Lord entered the Temple precincts only to discover crass commercialism taking place. Money changers had a profitable business going on as worshippers from outside Israel needed to change their currency for the local money so they could purchase sacrificial animals or birds. The merchants no doubt inflated the exchange value to their own advantage, hence Jesus called them robbers (Matt. 21:13). The Temple, which was  intended to be a “house of prayer,” had become a “den of robbers”. This had happened under the supervision of the religious leaders who rejected the honour given Him by the children: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:15) –  a messianic title, Jesus reminded them, quoting Psalm 8:2.

By claiming to be the Messiah, the Lord rightly called the Temple “My” house of prayer.

So, why did Jesus call this place a “house of prayer”? Prayer suggests a connection and intimacy between God and humans. All of what takes place in the place where people gather for worship should be characterized by that connection and intimacy. That connection should be there in our singing, welcoming and greeting of one another, giving, preaching, and praying. The activities of a worship service should be more than ritual, more than custom or formality. We are reminded by this description of a place of worship that we need to have our own hearts focused on God during our time there. The title “house of prayer” can stand for all the elements of worship, not just the act of praying. Singing, teaching, and other parts of a service time are not always things we do only while communicating with God. We also sing folk songs and patriotic songs and songs about human love, etc., We also deliver or attend to times  of teaching about any number of topics. But in our church services we are singing in response to God’s revelation of Himself and the teaching is scripture-focused. So, to call the place where these things take place “a house of teaching” or “a house of song” would not be enough. But prayer always should involve direct conversation with God and, thus, “a house of prayer” is a good overall term for the Temple of Jesus’ day or the church and its services of today. And, in keeping with the Old Testament teaching of Isaiah 56:7, this gathering place is for all who love God, not just a select few.

Your Turn:

  1. Read Isaiah 56:1-8 and Matthew 21:1-17.
  2. How welcoming is your church to people “different” from the majority of attendees– different perhaps by nationality, race, colour, status in society, etc.?
  3. Are there any activities allowed in your gathering place that Jesus would consider at odds to the purpose of your worship?
  4. How can you personally contribute to the biblical reasons for meeting together for worship?

Day 138  –  A Voice

A voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lordmake straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Isaiah 40:3

Day 138 Voice                                        Billy Graham, 1918-2018, a 20th century “voice”

Isaiah knew the Babylonian captivity was coming; he also knew that God had longer-range plans of return. With that in mind, the prophet said that a “Voice” would be heard, a voice of comfort that would point to the coming Messiah. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” this voice would say as he assured his hearers of good news and a glorious future.

About 700 years later, John the Baptist would say, “I am the voice.” (John 1:23) What was the “voice” to say? Isaiah expanded on the ministry of the voice:

  • Isaiah 40:3-4, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain shall be made low; the uneven land shall become level, and the rough places a plane.” Approaching Jerusalem from the east, you move from the plains to rugged country. The picture here is of valleys rising and mountains falling, so as to create level ground. That makes it easier for a victorious king to come along and claim the victory. In the heart of individuals, the preparation for the King consists of repentance and an open and welcoming heart. Thus, John made clear that he, himself, was not the approaching, victorious King. He also said that this coming King was the sacrificial Lamb who would die for the sins of humankind (John 1:29). And he said, “This is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)
  • Isaiah 40:5, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed… for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A victorious king comes in triumphant splendor. The Lord Jesus’ splendor in His time of earthly ministry was shown in His righteous character, His power over nature and disease, His wisdom in answering His questioners and in His teaching, His obedience to the Father, His victory over death, and His accension. It was John the Baptist’s task to be the voice of preparation for the coming Messiah. One day, “all flesh” shall see His glory. (v. 5b)
  • Isaiah 40:6-8, “A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is as grass and all its beauty is as the flower of the field…the people are grass, the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” There is beauty in the natural world, even in what the kingdoms of the earth create, but none of that lasts. What God says lasts forever.
  • Isaiah 40:9-11, “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald the good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald the good news…Behold the Lord God comes with might…His reward is with him…He will tend the flock like a shepherd…” The voice will proclaim that the Lord has come. This is the good news. It is news of a loving, caring shepherd who gathers His lambs and gently leads.

“As it is written,” John did this – preparing the way for Jesus (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). Jesus also was a voice – He was a voice in the sense that He was a teacher who fulfilled two other prophecies of Isaiah’s: First, Is. 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour…” In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus said He was doing this as He spoke.

Second, Isaiah 54:1 foretold, “All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.” Jesus rebuked those who rejected Him and His teaching, saying, “It is written in the Prophets,  ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me…” He was the Lord God, come to earth.

And through every generation, God calls people to be proclaimers, teachers, preachers of the good news. In Romans 10:14-15 Paul remembers Isaiah 52.7 and writes, “14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good  news!” The Isaiah passage is celebrating the arrival of a good news messenger and points out that the message is one of peace, happiness, salvation, and victory. We who take the gospel to others today likewise have beautiful feet! This is so even though many hearers will reject the message (see Romans 10:16-21 where in verses 20-21, Paul quotes from Isaiah 65:1-2).

Thus, John the Baptist modelled for us in his preaching and teaching, pointing listeners to the Lord Jesus, explaining who He is and what He was to do for them, and warning about the prospect of rejection.

Your Turn:

  1. Read Isaiah 40:3, 61:1, 54:13, 52:7, 65:1-2 and the corresponding New Testament passages Matthew 33:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4; 4:17-21; John 6:45; Romans 10:10-21.
  2. The Isaiah passages quoted in this reflection concern the necessity of preaching, its focus (Jesus Christ), its potential rejection, as well as its glorious fulfillment. The possibility of rejection should not deter the messenger.

Day 139  –    Closed Eyes

 And he said, “Go, and say to this people “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’10  Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy,and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,and understand with their heart, and turn and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9-10

Day 139 Eyes

Our cat appears to be intently watching and listening. He has open eyes and ears. I recall taking the funeral service for a close friend who had succumbed to a terminal illness. I was emotionally on edge and wondered how I would get through this. But I took courage from the expression on the face of one of the assembled mourners. Sometimes in speaking, you catch a glimpse of someone who is right with you, taking it all in, eyes and ears open. But, other times, people are not so responsive. It is about these latter ones that God speaks in Isaiah 6:9-10.

This passage is quoted in five New Testament books. In Matthew 13:14, Mark 4:12, and Luke 8:10 Jesus used the Isaiah verse when explaining why He spoke in parables. The parables contain much truth and insight into God’s plan and purposes. His followers listened closely and to them, He gave added insight into the meaning of certain parables: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to  them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but for the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 13:12) Then the Lord quoted Isaiah 6:9 and added, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

In other words, those who sincerely pay attention to God’s words are given increasing understanding. Those who refuse to look and listen will gradually lose even the bits they do understand. John added his own commentary on Isaiah 6:9 when he said that many did not believe in Jesus even when He performed many miracles in plain sight. The indifference toward and outright refusal of Jesus was, said John, a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (John 12:39-40). The apostle Paul agreed, saying to religious leaders in Rome who rejected the evidence  in Moses’ writings and in the prophets concerning Jesus, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet…” and then quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 (see Acts 28:23-29).

What can we learn from this frequent use of the Isaiah passage?

  • It is often religious people who are unseeing and deaf to the teachings of scripture.
  • Much of scripture is hidden to unbelievers, but enough is plain to those who will look into it and listen.
  • To be seeing and hearing means to have a heart open to what God wants to say to us, and to be perceiving and understanding.
  • God sends us knowing that many will choose not to listen.
  • If a heart is hardened toward God, our preaching and teaching will result in even more hardening.
  • Even though many refuse the word, we are to continue to share the good news about Jesus. There are those waiting to see and willing to listen. “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him…” (John 12:42) “And some were convinced by what he said.” (Acts 28:24)

Your Turn:

  1. Read Isaiah 6.
  2. Have you known people who refused the gospel for years but in the end accepted the truth and the Saviour? Thank God for these and for the penetrating power of His Word.
  3. From your own walk with God, have you noticed growing understanding of the scripture? Thank Him for that and for those who persisted to teach you.
  4. Are you paying attention to God today?

Day 140  –  LIGHT

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness have seen a great light.”     Isaiah 9:2

Day 130 Light

Each day my weather app tells me how many hours and minutes of daylight I can expect that day in my part of southern Canada, and when the sun will rise and when it will set. Leading up to June 20-22 the sunset time gets later and later and the hours of daylight longer (to a little over 15 hours). From then to December 20-22, the total daylight hours recede to about 9 hours. I quite enjoy the lead-up to late June!

In the Bible there is a focus on light, beginning in Genesis 1:3-4 when God creates light out of darkness on the first day of creation. Then, in Exodus 13:21 God gives the Israelites who have left Egypt a pillar of fire to give them light when required to travel  at night. Later still, David writes in Psalm 119:130 that the Word of God gives light or understanding. That takes us to the New Testament where Jesus is described as the Light of the world (John 3:19; 8:12). And, in the future kingdom it is said that there is no need for the sun because the glory of God and the presence of the Lamb gives the new temple light (Rev. 21:23-24).  So, from beginning to end, from creation to new creation, there is light.

This brings us to the next reflection from the Book of Isaiah. In chapter 9 we read that a people and region, described as a place of darkness, would be given great light. The region was the northern territories of around the Sea of Galilee, which included Zebulon and Naphtali. It was from this region that Jesus came – being raised in Nazareth of Zebulon, and centring much of His ministry around the Sea of Galilee. This area was most exposed to attack from other nations. It was known as “Galilee of the nations” because of Gentile influence. By Isaiah’s time it had a large Gentile population, and that meant a lesser Jewish influence. Thus, it was, spiritually, a “dark” place.

In Isaiah 9 this description is given, then in verse 6, “a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. The Child was Jesus and thus this passage is used to introduce Jesus as “a great light” (Matt. 4:15-16), and “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). Paul finds another Isaiah passage (49:6) that uses similar language: “I will make you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” He applies this to himself as one called to be the apostle to the Gentiles, saying, “…we are turning to the Gentiles for the Lord commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47). In the Book of Acts we see Gentiles welcomed into the church, alongside Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah–Saviour. So, the Light would reach the Gentile world, but not push aside the Jews. In Luke 2:32 Simeon blesses the Child Jesus as a light to the Gentiles and a “glory to your people Israel”.

Your Turn:

  1. Read Isaiah 9:1-7.
  2. In the part of the world in which you  live, are there evidences of spiritual darkness?
  3. How has the preaching of the good news of Jesus penetrated the darkness of your own soul and of your community?
  4. In the 1970s I lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in western Canada. Our church (and the community at large) was positively affected by revival, in which people in many churches confessed various sins, previously hidden. For a brief history of the revival, which began in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and its impact on the community as a whole, see . Note these results that were seen outside the churches: “The chief of police reported to the local papers that there were many people coming to the police station reporting the crimes they themselves had committed. Store owners were shocked by the number of people confessing to shoplifting.”