Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
GOD TELLS HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL TO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH MAN.
II Timothy 3:1-5
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 94:1 (79:5)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
People can do a lot. We can place men on the moon, can put a home in space and survive in the MIR space station quite reasonably for a number of months. We can talk with loved ones on the far side of the globe as if they're sitting beside us, can perform surgery so that severed fingers are re-attached, can build computers the size of your pocket and in them place more information than in a library full of books. We're a smart lot, us humans, able to do an awful lot. Sure, we've done some pretty bad damage to the environment in our pursuit of discovery and comfort, but with the same resourcefulness and success that we've mastered space travel and micro-surgery we surely can conquer the challenges of pollution and population growth .
We think pretty much of ourselves. And who can blame us? A scarce 200 years ago the first white settlers arrived in Australia, and look at what we've built up! A mere 50 years ago the first Free Reformed migrant landed on Australia's shores, and truly, we've accomplished a lot in those 50 years! Churches, schools, houses, shops, factories: you name it, we're got it. A pat on the shoulder for the human race, and don't forget the Christians: we've worked so hard for what we've got today. Yes, there's room for an extra cocktail .
The Lord, my beloved, does not agree. Almighty God moves mortal
Isaiah to tell his compatriots to forget about people, to have
nothing to do with people, to whistle a lower tune about the human
race, to dress and act and walk and talk like those who know that
man is but dust, dependent, able to live only by the grace of
sovereign God. The gospel of human bankruptcy that God in mercy
directed to arrogant Israel in Isaiah's day is equally directed
to us today, for our salvation's sake. So I proclaim to you God's
Word this morning with this theme:
GOD TELLS HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL TO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH MAN.
1. why this message was necessary
2. how this message would be enforced
1. The words of chap 2:22 tie together chapters 2 and 3. Indeed, in this one brief verse we have the message of these two chapters in a nutshell.
"Sever yourselves from such a man," we read in our translations. That's not such a happy translation. Literally, God has Isaiah instruct Israel to cease from mankind, to leave the human race, forsake man. Isaiah's point is not that the people ought to sever themselves from one particular kind of person; the point is rather that they are no longer to have anything to do any more with man as such.
The command strikes us as strange, even impossible. We can understand a command to people of Israel to have no more to do with people of Egypt or of Assyria. But a command to people to have nothing to do with people - no, we find that somewhat difficult to grasp. Would God wish for people to part ways from each other, become hermits? Yet that's not at all a Scriptural thought either; God would have people be a communion of saints - more on that this afternoon.
Yet this, beloved, is precisely what the text says: have no more to do with man. In fact, the original even makes clear that it is for one's own advantage, one's own benefit, that one is to have no more to do with man.
The prophet's point, brothers and sisters, is that people are not to elevate the human race. That is the reason why Isaiah makes a point of describing -in the second line of our text- who the man is with whom one is to have nothing to do. Says Isaiah of the human race: "breath is in his nostrils." The reference of that line is to God's act on the sixth day of creation. Gen 2 says it: God collected dust from the ground, formed this dust into a man, "and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (vs 7). The result of this creating activity was that this dust-in-the-form-of-man "became a living being". In other words, man isn't alive in and of himself; of himself man is but dust, clay - dead. He is alive only because One greater than he sovereignly made him alive. And just as much as Another made man alive in the first place, so is man also dependent on this Other to stay alive. As is pointed up elsewhere in Scripture: it is God who sovereignly "turns man back to the dust" (Ps 90:3), who takes away from him the breath of life He once was pleased to give.
What, then, is the human race? Quite something? Worthy of a pat on the back? It's not very flattering, beloved: of himself man is dust, is dirt, is mud, is nothing. In the words of Isaiah at the end of our text: "of what account is he?!" The answer is so obvious: given that he can't even live on his own, given that he's alive only by the sovereign power of the Creator (who can take that breath away at any moment), it is folly to build on man, to value man highly, to count on man.
Here, my brothers and sisters, is an estimation of man that is
rejected in our day. Society has adopted as truth the theory
of Evolution, and with that theory the notion of the 'survival
of the fittest'. Well, the human race has survived -observe how
superior man is to 'other animals'!- and so the conclusion appears
so justified: man is quite something, the human race a pretty
smart lot. Let it be impressed upon us, beloved: one can be optimistic
about the human race of itself only if one throws out the doctrine
of creation which God revealed in Gen 1 & 2. Fix it in your
minds, congregation: man without God is of no account, is but
finite breath, and so: have nothing to do with man!
This general picture of our text requires more detail. Why was it that Isaiah reminded Israel of the limitations of the human race? Israel, after all, was the Church of the Old Testament who both had God's Word and regularly heard God's Word. As a result of instruction from parents and elders, as well as in the regular instruction of the priests and Levites, each Israelite was thoroughly acquainted with the book of Genesis and so with what God had revealed about the limitations of mankind; all knew that man was but dust, had the breath of life in his nostrils only because of the power of God. No believers in the theory of evolution there! Yet God moved Isaiah to remind Israel of what man actually was, moved Isaiah to instruct Israel to have no more to do with man.
Why that was? That, brothers and sisters, was because Israel
did not put into practice what they claimed to believe.
One can say that you believe the words of Gen 2, but if
you don't act accordingly, your confession is empty, is
Why do I say that Israel did not put into practice what they claimed to believe? Consider, congregation, the material recorded in the verses surrounding our text. We learn from chaps 2 & 3 of Isaiah's prophecies that Israel in practice believed that mankind was quite something. More, they thought that they themselves were quite something. What strikes one in reading these two chapters is the repeated mention of pride, of haughtiness. Consider ch 2:11, a verse that's virtually repeated word for word in 2:17; God mentions "the lofty looks of man", mentions "the haughtiness of men". The verses 12-16 make mention of the cedars of Lebanon, the oaks of Bashan, the high mountains, the uplifted hills, the high towers, the fortified walls, and the impressive merchant ships, and the point of these references is that the people of Israel compared themselves to such exalted items of creation. Formidable cedars, immense oaks, towering mountains, impressive towers: such is what the people of Israel thought themselves to be. Pride.
In chap 3 Isaiah gives us details about how this high-nosed haughtiness in Israel became apparent in practice. The men, says the prophet in chap 3:14,15, have no hesitation to walk all over the poor. We read even about "grinding the face of the poor" (vs 15). Here certainly is no concern for others; here is instead simply a concern for oneself, one's own comfort.
That attitude on the part of the men of this Old Testament church was shared by the women of the church. Beginning with 3:16, Isaiah describes what the "daughters of Zion" were like. Says he of these sisters of the congregation: they "are haughty and walk with outstretched necks" (vs 16). What they're doing? These ladies of Israel were not satisfied with the instruction of God to cleave to their own husbands and be content with them; rather, they dressed in such a way, and walked in such a way, as to catch the attention of other men. Instead of denying themselves in favour of pursuing the well-being of the husbands for whom they were created, these sisters of the congregation pursued their own interests. This was so very, very different from the attitude of Sarah toward her husband Abraham; this lady of the church, say the Scriptures, understood that God had placed breath in her nostrils so that she could be a help for husband Abraham. So "Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord," writes Peter (I Pet 3:6). Hers wasn't "the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of find clothing" for her own benefit and comfort, but hers was rather "the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit" (I Pet 3:3f). But the ladies of the Old Testament Church of Isaiah's time had a whole different spirit; instead of accepting their place in creation, instead of accepting their position beside their husbands, they arrogantly set aside God's law and pursued their own fancies. And in as much as the men were the victims of the haughty attitudes of their women (for they no longer had wives in the sense that God intended it in the beginning), were these men of the church reaping the fruits of their arrogant attitude toward the poor.
Yet even that, beloved, is not all. To understand the pride that dominated the church of Isaiah's days, the prophet tells us also where this arrogance, this pride in the Church of his day come from. God had made clear to Israel long ago that they were to be different from other nations, were to serve no idols, were to listen to no soothsayers, were instead to walk in humble obedience to God's law (cf, eg, Dt 18:9ff). But what did Israel do? Says the prophet in chap 2:6: "they are filled with eastern ways," so that "they are soothsayers like the Philistines." To say it in today's language: Israel practiced meditation, followed the horoscopes, hinged their future on the advice of iridologists. This betrayed lack of trust in their Creator, their Redeemer, and so was arrogance.
Materialism too was rampant in Israel. Ch 2:7: "their land
is also full of silver and gold, And there is no end to their
treasures." The same is true of horses and chariots. Did
the people of Israel demonstrate dependence on their Creator?
Not so, beloved. It's just as with the eastern ways and the
soothsayers; by building up around them an abundance of created
goods, these members of the Old Testament church demonstrated
that they did not feel secure in God's hands; they felt secure
with their God only when they had houses and horses and silver
and soothsayers around them. And that, we know, comes down to
idolatry. And idolatry in turn is nothing else than arrogance,
nothing else than knowing it better than God. It was that attitude
of arrogance toward God in the first place that resulted in the
callousness of the men toward the poor and the selfishness of
the women toward their husbands.
It's not at all a pretty picture that Isaiah portrays of Israelite culture. From our vantage point so many centuries later, we recognise it as sin, as unbelief. It was fine for the people of Israel to read their Bibles and to believe Gen 2, but -we sense it- to act as they did showed up their hypocrisy; they didn't really believe what God had revealed about what man actually was.
It's of interest to note, then, congregation, that the New Testament Scriptures forecast the coming of the same attitude. Paul writes to Timothy that the New Testament dispensation will witness "perilous times". For, says Paul, "men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud." And that, we are to note, is written not of the unbelieving world but rather of persons in the Church of Jesus Christ (cf vs 5).
Well, beloved, if arrogance, confidence in the human race could characterise the Old Testament church, if pride and being busy with the self is foretold for the New Testament dispensation, we surely will do well to look carefully at ourselves. Our society has much confidence in the ability of the human race. Do you? Our society demonstrates its confidence in the human race by concentrating on the Self, considering the Self the most important person in one's life. How important are You to you? Our society demonstrates its arrogant attitude toward God by thumbing its nose at God and God's laws; we'll do what pleases us regardless of God's commands. Do you in practice thumb your nose to God's laws in order to satisfy your own desires?
Recall the women in Israel of Is 3. They displayed their arrogance toward God by walking "with outstretched necks And wanton eyes", walking and dressing in such a way as to draw attention to their bodies. Sisters in the congregation: how do you dress? How do you dress your daughters? The apostle Peter reminds us that the adornment of the Christian may not be "merely outward - arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel." Rather, he says, let your manner of dress, let what the other sees of you, "be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (I Pet 3:4). We readily understand that Peter's words describe a vastly different woman than the ones Isaiah describes. Where do you fit in? What to you is more important: the body or the heart? The figure or the faith? Yourself or God?? You say you believe the message of Gen 2, that man is but dust, dependent on God for life and breath and everything. Do you in fact show yourself to be hypocritical by treasuring your body??
The men of Is 3 walked all over the poor, had no regard for the Little Men in their pursuit of personal comfort, the nurture of the stomach, the Self. Where, dear brothers of the congregation, do you fit in? Recall Jesus' parable of the Rich Fool. Said the man to himself after he'd pulled down his barns and built bigger ones: "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." "But," said Jesus in the punch line of the parable, "God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you" (Lu 12:16ff). That is: the God who gave life in the first place takes it at His time. We understand, then, that the Lord would not have us be men as the brothers of Is 3 or the fool of Jesus' parable. Well then, where do you fit in? You say you believe the message of Gen 2, that man is but dust, dependent on God for life and breath and everything. Do you in fact show yourself to be hypocritical by treasuring comforts for yourself - at the expense of others in need?
You see, beloved: to be busy with the Self, to pursue the figure,
to pursue the comforts, to pursue the niceties of this life demonstrates
that you -like the Israelites of Isaiah's days- have too inflated
a thought of what people are, demonstrates that you forget your
total dependence on God for life itself. And that is arrogance.
2. Therefore, beloved people of God, hear what the Spirit of God says to the Church of both the Old Testament and the New Testament: "sever yourselves from man," have no more to do with man. Would you exalt man, as if the human race is quite something? Would you exalt man, as if you yourself are quite something? How foolish; man lives by the power and will of God Most High, man is dependent on God, man is nothing of himself; in the day God takes your breath away you return to the dust from which you were taken. So: have nothing to do with man, do not think much of yourself, do not be much involved with the self.
That was God's command to Israel of old, and that, beloved, remains God's command to His Israel of today. In order to make sure that this instruction was understood by Israel of old, God pledged to humble Israel, pledged to spell out to Israel what mankind really was. Ch 2:19: God promises that the terror of the Lord God will descend upon Israel so that those arrogant men with their houses full of silver and gold, and their feet defiled by the faces of the poor, would crawl into the caves of the earth and the holes of the ground, and give up their priceless idols to the rats and the bats. And the women, says God at the end of chap 3, would loose their outward adornments of anklets and necklaces and earrings and scarfs and mascara and ointments, and would find their perfumes replaced by stench, their hairdo by baldness, their party dress with a potato sack (vs 18ff). All that's left is shame, humility. That is God's plan for arrogant Israel: people shall know that people are nothing.
Nor was that all that God would do to enforce upon Israel His message that they should have nothing to do with man. In the beginning of chap 3 God announced His intent to take away all food and drink from Jerusalem and Judah; the deacons would have a massive task trying to look after the needy (vs 1). More, the leaders of the people -the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain and the lieutenant- all the leaders of the people would be taken away from Jerusalem and Judah; Israel as a nation would have no government, Israel as the Old Testament church would have no elders (3:2f). Yet in as much as somebody must rule would the new rulers be boys and babes (3:4f), inexperienced mavericks who haven't a clue how to run the nation, how to the govern the church. Result? Predictably, it would be anarchy. Vs 5: "the people will be oppressed, Every one by another and every one by his neighbour; The child will be insolent to the elder, And the base to the honourable."
See there, beloved, the fruit God promised on Israel's love for
self and the resulting arrogance and pride; the fruit is abusive
folk, a generation "disobedient to heir parents, ungrateful,
, without self-control, brutal
The humbling chastisement God promised in chaps 2 & 3 came to pass. After the Old Testament Church was urged by various prophets for some 130 more years to repent of their hard-nosed arrogance, the Lord permitted the city of Jerusalem to fall into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar took from the city "all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor," took away also king Jehoiachin, "his officials, and the chief men of the land" (II K 24:14ff). Result? Boys became their princes, Zedekiah at age 21 became king without the guidance of wizened counsellors. In his cockiness he revolted against Nebuchadnezzar so that the king of Babylon again besieged the city. This time "the famine [became] so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land" (II K 25:3); the whole stay of bread and the whole stay of water was taken away. The men who once had looked with arrogant pride upon the poor, and the women who once had strutted haughtily in their latest fashions, now found themselves led out of the city with ropes around their necks, bound for the shame of exile in a strange land. The new government Nebuchadnezzar set up in Jerusalem under the leadership of Gedaliah found itself the victim of abusive treatment; Gedaliah himself was assassinated, and the remaining people in fright fled to the safety of Pharaoh in Egypt (II K 25:25f).
What then was left of the material wealth Israel had collected?
'Twas all cast to the rats and the bats (Is 2:20). What was
left of the fineries of the women? Only stench and baldness,
sackcloth and shame (3:24). Was there then any reason for the
brothers and sisters of the Old Testament Church still to be proud
of themselves, to be busy with themselves, still to think much
of man? Their pride was shown to be empty; man was nothing,
nothing, a creature of no account.... The people of Israel had
held the form of religion, but had denied the power of it. And
lo, now nothing was left, nothing; the people of Israel was scattered
in the land of exile....
The Lord our God, brothers and sisters, is not unpredictable. The arrogance and pride of Israel was rooted in self love; these brothers and sisters of old thought much of themselves, doted on themselves. God humbled the Old Testament Church both by taking away their economic prosperity and by raising up an abusive generation who oppressed older and younger alike.
The Lord our God is not unpredictable. As He did in the days of Israel, so He does today. Not for nothing does the apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy mention first that people are "lovers of themselves" and (so) "lovers of money", and then say that they are "boasters, proud". That's the lesson of Isaiah 2 & 3: pride is the child of loving oneself. And not for nothing are the next adjectives Paul mentions in II Tim 3 the terms "abusive" and "disobedient to parents". It is the instruction of Is 2 & 3 that the arrogance flowing out of self-love is punished with an insolent youth who grind the faces of their seniors in the dirt. Paul has learned from Old Testament revelation that one generation's abuse of authorities, disobedience to parents, ungratefulness to seniors, unholiness in attitude, is nothing else than God's chastisement upon an older generation that was caught up in self-love.
And consider now what we see in the world of today, beloved. Have we not seen a generation, even an era, of super confidence in the human race? It was widely believed: people can do it, we can conquer earth's problems, overcome life's challenges. But the promised curse of God unfolds: a generation focused on the Self and human ability has spawned a younger generation that knows no respect for parents, that is "unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited" (NIV). You see: the Lord our God is not unpredictable.
Herein lies a warning for the church. To accept the truth of Genesis
2, embrace that fact that we are nothing, dust alive by the power
of God Almighty: that's easy to write into our confessions, easy
to say with our mouths also. But to live the consequence -have
nothing to do with man- that's quite something else. To the degree
that we fail to live and dress and act in a fashion consistent
with what we say we believe, to that same degree we shall experience
the penalty of God as promised in the prophecies of Isaiah. It's
one thing to have the form of religion -that's not so hard- but
it's quite another to have the power of it, quite another to put
into practice precisely what we believe.
This is the gospel of Is 2 &3, the gospel also of II Tim 3.
God has given His only Son to pay for sins. In His love for
the redeemed, God does not want anyone lost. For that reason
He speaks so candidly, so pointedly. It is love from God that
He warns us so seriously to acknowledge in word and in deed what
we really are: simply dust, alive by the power of our Father in
Jesus Christ. God would have you, beloved, to acknowledge it
- lest there be need to for Him to humble you, as Israel of old
was humbled. Amen.