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June 5 lesson: God Foretells Destruction

May 31, 2022
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God Foretells Destruction

Summer Quarter: Partners in a New Creation
Unit 1: God Delivers and Restores


Sunday school lesson for the week of June 5, 2022
By Dr. Jay Harris


Lesson scripture: Isaiah 47:10-15

The summer’s theme: Partners in a New Creation

In this season we will be exploring the partnership between God and us in a new creation. We will learn more about who God is and who we are in relation to God. We will learn about the new creation God is bringing about and how God seeks to involve us. This divine endeavor is God’s grand purpose both for creation and for our lives. There is an affirmation of faith from The United Church of Canada that is included in the United Methodist Hymnal. It affirms that we are not alone, that the world in which we live belongs to God, that God is still creating it, and God has called the Church to be involved.

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God. 

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Biblical Context for the Unit

Over the next four weeks, in the first of three units this summer, we will explore passages in Isaiah under the title, “God Delivers and Restores.” Remember that in the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 40 begins a new section. Chapters 1-39 address God’s people in the 8th Century, B.C., where the major threat is the Assyrian Empire. It contains warnings and visions designed to motivate God’s people to repent before destruction and judgment come. Chapter 40 begins a new theme. The time period addressed is more than 150 years later. God’s people have been held captive by another superpower, the Babylonian Empire. God’s people have already been undergoing the discipline of captivity and exile. They also know that their homeland was destroyed by the Babylonian army. Their need is for hope in the midst of despair. In Chapter 40, the message from God is a word of comfort and hope for their return home. The theme that “God delivers and restores” summarizes well the chapters of Isaiah beginning with Chapter 40.

What God Must Do to Free God’s People

The title for today’s lesson is “God Foretells Destruction.” This title perhaps misses the larger point because the destruction being foretold is happening to the Babylonian Empire, which has held God’s people in captivity. In other words, the destruction coming to Babylon is good news for God’s people! This is the announcement of God’s deliverance from a foreign power and the beginning of what will be their restoration back to their homeland. God’s people will witness God’s judgment coming upon their enemy. What should they learn from the judgment of Babylon?

Learning from the Judgment of Babylon

Not surprisingly, the lessons that Babylon should learn are also lessons God’s people should learn. God addresses Babylon’s pride and its false sense of security. “You felt secure in your wickedness; you said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’” Mighty Babylon and its rulers felt that there was no higher authority to whom they had to answer. They felt secure in the wisdom and knowledge they had, because of where it had gotten them. Their false sense of security, however, led them astray. They did not stop at any point to consider that their ways were wicked, nor did they care. In their pride and arrogance, they did not stop to think about the oppression that they inflicted on smaller nations like Judah, the cradle of God’s people. For the Babylonians, “might makes right.” Their military ability to brutally subjugate nations told them that they had a divine right to act as they had. Their actions however were morally wrong. They inflicted suffering upon others. This is what happens when the powerful think there is no one else to whom they must answer.

The prophet, however, was announcing that God, not Babylon, would have the last say. “But evil shall come upon you, which you cannot charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, which you will not be able to ward off; and ruin shall come on you suddenly, of which you know nothing.” The tables were turning on the Babylonians. God’s people had been held captive in Babylon for so long with no end in sight to their misery and suffering. They could not imagine that they could ever be delivered from so powerful a foe as the mighty Babylonian army. God was saying through the prophet, however, that God is the one and only true God who created the earth and stretched out the heavens. God has all the nations and peoples available to use for his purposes. We begin learning in Chapter 45 that God was already raising up the Persian ruler, Cyrus, to build an army more powerful than the Babylonian army. God would use Cyrus and the Persian army to defeat the oppressor of God’s people. The Babylonians, through the worship of their idols, would not be able to charm their way out or ward off their destruction. Their destruction would happen so suddenly that they would not see it coming.

Next, we hear the prophet taunting the Babylonians and their religious superstitions. “Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed, perhaps you may inspire terror. You are wearied with your many consultations; let those who study the heavens stand up and save you, those who gaze at the stars, and at each new moon predict what shall befall you.” The Babylonian Empire had persisted in their oppression of smaller nations and their people because they felt that their deities had authorized them to do so and had aided them in all their military victories. They believed that their system of idol worship, their spells, and their astrological consultations had assured them of remaining on top as a world power. They believed that their reign over others for all eternity was literally written in the stars.

In the chapters of Isaiah leading up to this we are told a very different story. It was the one true God of the universe, the God of Jacob, who had allowed world events to unfold as they had. God had used this time in the life of God’s people Israel to show them the error of their ways in their rebellion against God. Now, after they had learned the spiritual lessons of their exile and had come to repent of their sinful ways, God was ready to deliver his people and restore them. God would now bring about the destruction of the Babylonians. The scales of justice were being balanced. Justice meant mercy for God’s people and judgment for the Babylonians. Their many spells and consultations could do nothing to save them at this point. “See, they are like stubble, the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before! Such to you are those with whom you have labored, who have trafficked with you from your youth; they all wander about in their own paths; there is no one to save you.

It was important for God’s people to picture the future when the Babylonians would be defeated and their false gods unmasked. In past generations, God’s people had once been lured into the idolatry practiced by neighboring nations. It was important for God’s people to imagine the idols and artifacts of the Babylonians’ world-view being consumed by fire. God wanted God’s people to imagine not just a small campfire, but a fire sweeping across a field of stubble. God wanted to wipe away the lure of idols once and for all from the collective mind of God’s people. In bringing down the Babylonian Empire, God was also proving the futility of their idolatrous worldview. What would grow in its place in the mindset of God’s people is the importance of seeking God and God’s way and worshiping God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and with all one’s might.

What Should We Learn?

What do we make of the references to astrology? Is it wrong to consult your horoscope in the newspaper? Just how superstitious are you? Do you fancy yourself to have psychic powers? Are you drawn to new age mysticism? How gullible are you to what you read on the Internet and in social media? With what do you feed your mind? The Babylonians had this whole pseudo-religious thought-world in which they thought they could charm the forces around them, ward off bad luck, and consult various supernatural entities and powers. The same thing exists today, unfortunately, even among people who identify themselves as Christians. Where does it exist the most? It exists the most when our thought-world is not informed by sound, biblical teaching. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 should serve as a warning to us: “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away into myths.”

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.” If a way can seem right to us, isn’t this is a situation fraught with danger? What can guide us to the truth of what truly is right and what is wrong? According to Isaiah, Babylon’s wisdom and knowledge led its people astray. The people of Babylon felt secure in their wickedness. Without God’s Word to guide us, our self-styled wisdom and knowledge can lead us astray. We can have a false sense of security while walking a self-destructive path. Perhaps most telling of all, the people of Babylon said, “no one sees me. I am, and there is no one beside me.” Not only should we be guided by a knowledge of God’s Word, we should have trusted brothers and sisters in Christ surrounding us. We should ask them to hold us accountable, and empower these friends in various ways to do so. Are you a part of an accountability group of some kind?

If we are to be partners with God in a new creation, we should embrace the theological worldview of the book of Isaiah. We should believe in one God who has created the earth and stretched the heavens. We should believe that the God who created the universe is the God revealed in the Bible. We should want to fill our minds with the grand story of the way God has revealed himself to Abraham and Sarah and to their offspring who grew to be God’s people Israel. We learn in this account that Israel is not some shining example of righteousness. They just happened to be the ones entrusted by God to receive God’s laws, learn God’s ways, and model this divine way of life to their neighbors. We learn from their failures and the story of God’s redemptive love and actions to form them and give them hope. Ultimately, we learn about God, our partner in God’s new creation, through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We believe that God continues to be revealed through the Holy Spirit empowering God’s people in this age to be the Church – from the time of the apostles to now. The God revealed in the Old and New Testaments has created and is creating. We are not alone. We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God!

Prayer

Creator God, you cause to us hope for an abundant life lived in partnership with you. Help us to build our lives on the foundation of your Word, that we may learn the joy of being accountable to you, through our Lord Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Amen.

Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at jharris@sgaumc.com. Find his plot-driven guide to reading the Bible, the “Layered Bible Journey,” at www.layeredbiblejourney.com.

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