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medal July 21 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Isaiah 56, 57, 58, 59, 60

The Rewards of Righteousness

At the end of every Olympic event, there are winners who stand on the podium to receive their gold, silver, or bronze medals, while their country’s flags are raised. The national anthem of the gold medalist is then played. All of them have toiled hard and long in their training. There have been setbacks, and at times they felt like quitting; they believed they could never attain greatness again. However, someone encouraged them just at the right time and they persevered. Few of us can achieve at an Olympic level but everyone likes recognition. At the end of our lives, there will be rewards for those who try to please the LORD. What we do now will affect the kinds of awards we might expect later. Some of us may say, “well, I am not very special. I do menial things for people. Will I be awarded, too, or forgotten? Do we need to be in a special class to be remembered? What is required for God to reward us?

The people of Israel at this time in their history are in exile. Isaiah prophesies that her sister nation, Judah, will suffer the same fate. While they are in exile, some will repent but feel forgotten by God. The LORD says to them, “maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1, NIV). In other words, persevere. Keep doing good things and living right—salvation is near.

God not only promises salvation to the exiled Jews; He also extends His grace to non-Jewish people (Jewish proselytes) as well. He says,

To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:5-7, NIV).

The watchmen of Israel (probably a reference to false prophets, priests and leaders of the people), however, will be blind, lazy like dogs, and greedy of personal gain, even when they are in exile. They will also continue in idol worship and wicked deeds. We might think they would realize that their deceptive ways got them into this mess but unfortunately not.

Why do bad things happen to good people? This question is often asked by those who have witnessed it. There were righteous people in exile who suffered just as much as the rest of the Israelites. Like the Israelites, sometimes, because of our associations, we cannot escape the punishment on the wicked—their bad deeds affect us. But even in this, God is gracious. The LORD says,

The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death (Isaiah 57:1-2, NIV).

This is a new perspective for many of us. To those who are physically persecuted for their faith, death can sometimes be preferred to life (Galatians 2:20). Death is peace because of their spiritual life through Christ. It is the LORD, however, who should make the decisions of life and death, not us.

There is no peace, Isaiah says, for the wicked (Isaiah 57:21). Those Jewish “followers of God,” who in reality are false and wicked, will be cut out of the will. They will not inherit the land, “but the man who makes me [God] his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13, NIV). If this prophecy is not soon fulfilled they can be assured that their inheritance will come later as they reside in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21).

To those in exile who have not yet repented and are not beyond hope, God gives this message:

For this is what the high and lofty One says-- he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “ I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me-- the breath of man that I have created.

I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the LORD. “And I will heal them” (Isaiah 57:15-21, NIV).

Are any of us considering repentance but have not yet given up our life of sin? God will accept us now if we come to him in true humility and faith. God says, “I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation” (2Corinthians 6:2b, NIV, more...)

The exiled Israelites are in misery. They cry out to the LORD and fast. It seems they are seeking the LORD but many were not. They are just trying to get God’s attention to end their misery. Isaiah 58 gives the right reasons to fast.

Why do we go to church, fast and pray, and do things in Jesus’ name? Do we do it to be noticed or to get God’s attention? The LORD is more interested in the true, heart-felt practice of religion rather than just the pretense of righteousness. He wants us to act with righteousness, justice, and mercy.

God looks on the exiled Israelites and sees no righteousness and justice, so He does what they can't do—He becomes their righteousness and justice. The prophet Isaiah then says to Israel, “the Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares the LORD” (Isaiah 59:20, NIV).

What God did for Israel, He later did for us through His Son, Jesus. The Apostle Peter wrote, “He himself [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree [the cross of Calvary], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1Peter 2:24, NIV). God will save us, too, if we will turn from our sins and accept Christ’s death on the cross to heal us (more...).

Eventually, the days of sorrow in Israel’s exile will end. He will bring them back to their land. This will happen when King Cyrus of Persia signs a decree allowing them to return.

Today, Israel is again in its time of sorrow. Many are in their own land but are threatened on every side. After a terrible time of Tribulation (Revelation 6-21), Jesus is coming back to be their Savior. Isaiah says, “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever” (Isaiah 60:21a). Jesus is coming back for us, too, for all who trust in Him for their salvation. We wait expectantly for Him.

Lessons to Live By

  • Is our religion true or false? Do we have a personal relationship with the God of the universe through His Son Jesus Christ? Do we practice our religion or pretend? God wants us to act with righteousness, justice, and mercy.
  • Do we want a place in God’s kingdom? Are any of us considering repentance but have not yet given up our life of sin? God will accept us if we come to Him in true humility and faith. (more...)
  • There is no peace for the wicked.
  • Do any of us think God has forgotten us? Do we want to be rewarded for our faithfulness? Persevere. Keep doing the will of the LORD and wait expectantly for Him.
  • God heals the spiritually wounded.
  • Jesus is coming back to reward those who patiently wait for Him (2Timothy 4:8).

Focus Verse

Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12, NIV).

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A Look Ahead: Hope for the Hurting

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