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medal July 21 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: 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 metals, while their country’s flags are raised and their country’s national anthems are played. They have toiled hard and long in their training. There have been setbacks, and at times they have felt that their efforts were useless; 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 good 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 to be rewarded by God?

The people of Israel at this time in their history were in exile. Isaiah prophesies that her sister nation, Judah, would also soon be taken into exile. While they were in exile some would repent but feel forgotten by God. Their misery would continue without any relief in sight. That’s not supposed to happen, is it? Have you ever felt forgotten by God? God never forgets, but sometimes he is silent. To those who are true servants of God, Hebrews 6:10 says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them, ” (NIV). The LORD said to those repentant exiles, “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, hang in there. Keep doing good things and living right. Salvation is near.

It is not only to the exiled Jews that God promised salvation; he also extended his grace to non-Jewish people (Jewish proselytes) as well. The rewards given to them are found in Isaiah 56:5-7:

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 (NIV).

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

Why do bad things happen to good people? That is a question that is often asked by those who have witnessed this. There were righteous people in exile who suffered just as much as the rest of the Israelites. Sometimes, because of our associations, we cannot escape the punishment on the unrighteous. Their wickedness affects us. But even in this God is gracious. Listen to what God says in Isaiah 57:1-2:

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 (NIV).

That is certainly a new perspective for many of us. To those who are physically persecuted for Christ, death can sometimes be preferred to life (Galatians 2:20). Death for a righteous person is peace (this is not, however, an endorsement for mercy killing or suicide. Our bodies belong to God (1Corinthians 6:19). It is God who should make the decisions of life and death, not us). There is no peace, however, for the wicked (Isaiah 57:21). Those “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 were not soon fulfilled they could be assured that their inheritance would come later as they reside in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21).

To those in exile who had not yet repented but were not beyond hope, God gave this message. He says,

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).

Are you considering repentance but have not yet given up your life of sin? God will accept you now if you 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 Israelites were in misery while in exile. They cried out to the LORD and fasted. It seemed that they were seeking the LORD but many were not. They were 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? God 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 and justice and mercy. God looked on the Israelites in exile and saw no righteousness and no justice, so he did what they could not do; he became their righteousness and justice. What God did for Israel, he also did for us through his son, Jesus. 1Peter 2:24 says, “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,” (NIV). The prophet Isaiah 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). He 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 would end. He would bring them back to their land. This happened when King Cyrus of Persia signed 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 60:21a says, “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever.” Jesus is coming back for us, too, to all trust in him for their salvation. We wait expectantly for him.

Lessons to live by:

  • Is your religion true or false? Do you have a personal relationship with the God of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ? Do you practice your religion or do you pretend? God wants us to act with righteousness and justice and mercy.
  • Do you want a place in God’s kingdom? Are you considering repentance but have not yet given up your life of sin? God will accept you if you come to him in true humility and faith. (more...)
  • There is no peace for the wicked.
  • Do you think God has forgotten you? Do you want to be rewarded for your faithfulness? Hang in there. 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 on him (2Timothy 4:8).

Today’s Bible memory 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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