This post was originally written in the summer of 2003, just as our network of house churches was taking off and experiencing great growth and exciting momentum. I removed it from the reprinted study notes for consistency in format. So, I post it here that it may live on in cyberspace. Enjoy!
I ask for your indulgence as I break into the first person voice and speak from my heart.
On my first read through of chapter 28 I was struck by the indictment against the leaders (both religious and political) of Judah. As I studied the passage further I became even more intrigued.
First, let’s step through the basic outline of the passage.
Isaiah 28:1-6 Ephraim (representing the Northern Kingdom of Israel) was a beautiful wreath, now it will be destroyed.
Isaiah 28:7-10 The leaders are drunkards who will not listen to Isaiah’s instruction.
Isaiah 28:11-15 Since you won’t listen to Isaiah, you will hear God’s instruction through the foreign tongue of your oppressor.
Isaiah 28:16-19 God will use this coming judgement to clear up your faulty thinking
Isaiah 28:20-22 Your way of thinking isn’t good enough and God has to bring this destruction to correct it.
Isaiah 28:23-29 A parable from farming. A farmer does what he needs to do in the proper time to bring about the harvest. Sometimes it requires threshing and beating in its appropriate application.
There are two things that jumped out at me from this chapter. The first is what grabbed me on the intitial run through. The second one was confusing to me at first, but then jumped to life after studying it.
The burden of leadership
First, I was struck, in vv. 7-8, by the fact that the priests and prophets staggered from beer and mocked the message of Isaiah. I’m sure this grabbed me because I play the role of the priest and prophet in our community. Throughout our reading of the Proverbs and now Isaiah I have been continually reminded of the responsibility placed on those in leadership. In our current culture there is a saying, “speed of the leader, speed of the team.”
As our community grows there will be an increasing need to raise up new leaders to pastor the new house church communities. These leaders will be called upon to shepherd and disciple other people.
Each one of you is a leader in someone’s life. Whether it be your children, your coworkers, or a friend, you have influence in that person or those people’s lives. It doesn’t matter if it is 1 person or 100,000 people, the responsibility of leadership is the same. Our decisions and our behaviors will influence other people’s decisions and behaviors.
The reason the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were corrupt was because the king, the prophets, and the priests allowed themselves to be enticed by the popular thought processes and value systems of the world around them. Instead of being the bright light on the hill to bring the hope and truth of God to the world around them, the people of God capitulated to the military strategies and pagan value system of their neighbors. The priests and prophets were profiting from their position. The wealthy were getting wealthier while the poor were suffering. The social and religious elite were getting drunk and reveling in their privileged positions while the needs of the people were being ignored.
Isaiah was bold enough to speak up against such injustice. He took the harsh, yet gracious, truth to the people and boldly proclaimed the Word of God to them. Sometimes I wonder which prophet I am. Am I Isaiah, or am I the drunkard.
I know that’s heavy stuff. My prayer is that God would never let me become comfortable with what we are doing, but would always give us the courage to speak truth in love to each other. Please pray for our leaders and for those emerging leaders who will be taking on the next house communities. May we “guard our hearts” and lead people deeper into the heart of God.
Don’t Beat the Wheat!
The second thing is found in vv. 23-29. Much like Jesus preached using common farming parables and analogies, so here Isaiah, a wonderful preacher, uses the analogy of a farmer to explain what God is doing. The teachers who were mocking Isaiah’s message could not understand how Isaiah could believe that God would destroy Jerusalem when it was His holy city. Isaiah said that God was treating Israel the same way a farmer treats his field. In order to get the proper harvest, sometimes it is necessary to cut into the soil, turn it over, and cultivate it. This is a very violent act. The violence continues as he says that the wheat must be threshed and the spices must be crushed in order to harvest the good fruit. In other words, there is a time and a place for everything, and the only way God was going to be able to salvage anything out of His people was to take them to the threshing floor!!
There is a second aspect to the harvesting analogy that I thought was amazing. The farmer knows how to treat the crops according to their kind. Wheat must be threshed, not beaten. If you beat wheat it would turn into flour prematurely and the powder would be mixed with the chaff. Cummin, on the other hand, has to be beaten in order to be separated from its plant.
My mind immediately attached this to our continual use of personalities in the process of making disciples. If you are interacting with another human, — whether it be in marriage, friendship, work, church, or parenting — this lesson is applicable. You must treat the person in the way that person must be treated. Some people are wheat, others are cummin. Some people’s personalities are such that they are very emotional and need to treated softly and conscientiously. Others are very logical and don’t respond unless you square off with them and speak pointed truth at their face. The emotionally centered person is like the wheat that must allow the wind to blow away the chaff. The logically centered person is like the cummin that must be beaten in order to be fruitful. If you beat the wheat, it is ruined. If you throw the cummin to the wind it will remain unchanged.
The next time you interact with someone, before you speak, ask yourself, “do I know what kind of personality this person has. Am I about to use the most appropriate method of communicating with them that will be received with openness and teachability. Or, am I about to engage in a painful and destructive interaction.”
Let’s strive, as a community, to take the time to get to know each other’s uniqueness and learn how to enhance each other’s strengths and polish each other’s rough edges.