This is what the LORD says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.  If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.  Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me.” … … “There is no peace,” says the LORD , “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 48:17-19,22

As our world struggles with social-media-fuelled violent political unrest and the crippling economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is widespread anxiety and depression, particularly among younger people.

What a timely, gospel-anticipating message Isaiah has for us all in these circumstances!  The LORD longed for his people to experience real rest in the midst of all their worries as Babylon’s powerful expansionist program intimidated them.  That true rest could be theirs if only they would acknowledge his sovereign wisdom and know him as the “God who teaches you what is BEST for you”, even in confronting and distressing circumstances.  If only they would look to him as their Redeemer.  If only they would recognise the benefit of ‘HIS commands’ and make it their aim to ‘walk in HIS ways’ and so reap the promised blessing.

When Horatio Spafford was tested with much more inexplicable and perplexing ‘divine providence’ than most of us would ever have to go through, he called on this passage in Isaiah to comfort and strengthen him, and to enable him to maintain a God-centred perspective: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul’.  … My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”

Do we realise that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is more concerned than we are that we enjoy his PEACE, and the JOY of his abundant BLESSING?  Compare other prophetic pleadings in Proverbs 8:36; Jeremiah 27:13; Ezekiel 18:31; 33:11, and Jesus’ own pleadings over Jerusalem as he entered it to be crucified as our Redeemer: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”  (Luke 13:34).  Let us all earnestly SEEK THE LORD in these troubled times, and thus encourage our young people to do the same.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.  But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf.  With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped his image.  The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur.

Revelation 19:19-20

If there is one thing that the vision given to John makes abundantly clear and unambiguous it is that in the Gospel Age between the First and Second Comings of the Lord Jesus Christ, his Church will be involved in an out-and-out spiritual battle.

This does not sit comfortably with Christians who know their loving Saviour as the ‘Prince of Peace’, but we need to remember his words to his disciples during his earthly ministry: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34), and in the last week of his life on earth: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

It is good for us to keep these ‘promises’ before us today as we experience their fulfilment in the mounting and intensifying attacks on the Church and the outworking of a highly organised undermining of the Scriptural truth we proclaim – in the media, in government legislation, in our schools and universities and at every level of our community life.  But we can take heart from two underlying realities:
(1) that none of this is taking our Sovereign God by surprise; and
(2) that this all-powerful God has already won the Final Battle and that Satan and all his forces, in spite of their cunning, deceptive and seemingly ‘successful’ and invincible influence, will ultimately be defeated, and removed from the scene altogether!

Nevertheless, the battle is certainly on, and we need to recognise it for what it is as a SPIRITUAL battle that can only be fought with SPIRITUAL WEAPONS.  This is why the Apostle Paul outlines for us in detail the NATURE of the battle, and how we are to go about it (Ephesians 6:10-20).  Because of our (or should say ‘my’) propensity to forget all this and to make the mistake of either being discouraged, or just going about it in the wrong way, we (ie ‘I’) need to read Paul’s Battle Plan carefully and OFTEN, taking note of what he says about the ‘belt of TRUTH’, the ‘breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS’, the ‘footwear of the GOSPEL of PEACE’, the ‘shield of FAITH’, the ‘helmet of SALVATION’, and the ‘SWORD of the SPIRIT which is the WORD OF GOD’.

We must note especially the central place of PRAYER in the whole preparation and execution of the campaign.  How are opportunities for combined prayer, and OUR participation in them, going?

The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.  It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down to silence;  it is we who extol the LORD, both now and for evermore.  Praise the LORD.

Psalm 115:16-18

What a challenge these verses give to those of us who are still in ‘the land of the dying’ (NOT ‘the land of the LIVING’ as it is usually erroneously referred to!).

Of course, those of us who have been ‘made ALIVE in Christ’ (Ephesians 2:4-5) WILL be ‘praising the Lord’ for all Eternity beyond the grave, but the Psalmist is really not referring to this, but to the RESPONSIBILITY we have AT PRESENT (hence his ‘NOW and for evermore’) – a responsibility to be singing/shouting the Lord’s praises while ever, whenever and wherever, we have the opportunity.

We look forward to the time when our ‘environment’ will BE “the highest heavens [that] belong to the LORD”, but until then we have been ‘given the earth’, as the place where we are to ‘Praise the LORD!’ – or, in Hebrew, ‘Hallelujah’.  Are we doing this with our whole lives, as well as with our hearts and voices?