Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Isaiah 28:20-26

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 13, 2008

Remember this from Dr. Seuss?

Who am I? My name is Ned.
   I do not like my little bed.
This is not good. This is not right.
   My feet stick out of bed all night.
And when I pull them in, Oh, dear!
   My head sticks out of bed up here!
1

Any parent who’s read the book has thought, “Why doesn’t he get a bigger bed?” The question is obvious—and God now says that Israel is missing the obvious, too.

20 The bed is too short to stretch out on,
     the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.

Here the bed is just being prepared for what was coming. Israel couldn’t possibly hope to stand up to the Assyrian Empire with their little army. And Israel’s faith wasn’t ready, either, since they had turned away from God.

God needs to prepare us, his people, for the gospel. He does this with his law—and the next verse is one of the most remarkable explanations of the working of the law in all of the Bible.

21 The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim,
     he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon—
to do his work, his strange work,
     and perform his task, his alien task.

God’s “strange work…his alien task” is to save mankind. “Perazim” got its name when the Lord “broke out” against the Philistines and David recovered the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 5:20). The people were afraid everything was lost, but the Lord reached in and rescued them. God’s strange work includes using his Law to condemn our sin. He breaks in on our lives and shows us our need for a Savior. He rushes in and stops our sinning short, purging it out of us, calling us to repent. The Law must—must—be used against sin, or else the gospel will be despised. He calls us to repentance to save us: “He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us” (Hosea 6:1).

This is never pleasant. It is never what we want him to do. It is an alien task. But our God, our loving God, does it to save us. He calls out to us with love: “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

But for now, the Lord must accuse his people. They are like the sluggard in the Proverbs who doesn’t feel like plowing when he should and wonders why he doesn’t have a crop in the fall (Proverbs 20:4).

22 Now stop your mocking,
     or your chains will become heavier;
the Lord, the LORD Almighty, has told me
     of the destruction decreed against the whole land. 
23 Listen and hear my voice;
     pay attention and hear what I say.
24 When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
     Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?
25 When he has leveled the surface,
     does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place,
     barley in its plot,
     and spelt in its field?

The farmer doesn’t live to plow, he plows to live. He needs to plow the soil just as the Lord needs to use his Law to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive the seeds of the Gospel. It is not the Lord’s eternal joy to preach law and to condemn and condemn and do nothing but condemn. No, the Lord’s desire is to plant the gospel:

26 His God instructs him
     and teaches him the right way. (NIV)

Instructing the people was the work assigned to the priests (“be very careful to do exactly as the priests…instruct you,” Deuteronomy 24:8). It is work that is never finished as long as we live. It has benefits even for the lifelong believer: “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still,” (Proverbs 9:9). God promises not only to teach us, but to bless us and look after us: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you,” (Psalm 32:8). And God reveals his plans as we deepen in our faith and our understanding: “Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him…The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” (Psalm 25:12-14).

God’s love for us continues forever. His gospel of forgiveness is something he offers to us freely. Let this assurance comfort you: Jesus has paid the ransom price for all of our sins. Through Jesus, we are forgiven. Through Jesus, we have the promise of eternal life.

1 Quote is from “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” (c) 1960, p. 20-21.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.