Panic, Pleasure and a Pandemic

God’s Word is timeless. It’s also timely. I was reminded of that again last week in my devotional reading from Isaiah. This week, I (Rick) will post some life lessons from Isaiah 22.

In the opening verses of Isaiah 22, we find the people in Jerusalem all stirred up.  As we read further, we find out why.  The nation’s leaders had fled the city, seeking to escape impending danger.  Their attempt to find safety elsewhere proved futile; these leaders were captured and the residents of the city left to fend for themselves. No wonder they are stirred up. 

Isaiah perceives this is going to end badly for Jerusalem. The people are spiritually compromised and God has “taken away the covering of Judah” (22:8). As he waits for judgment to come, Isaiah laments for “the destruction of the daughter of my people” (22:4).

What happens next is both telling and tragic.  Sensing danger, the people of Jerusalem spring into action.  They gather weapons. They repair breaches in the city wall.  They replenish the city’s water supply, preparing for a siege (see verses 8-11).

What they don’t do is seek the Lord’s perspective or his protection. Isaiah indicts them:   “But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago” (22:11).

But it’s even worse than that.

The Lord wanted his people to look to him with humble, repentant hearts: “In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth” (12). But the opposite happened: “and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” The residents of Jerusalem throw a party. Realizing the future is uncertain, they choose to live it up in the moment. Instead of repentance, they choose revelery.

God’s people had lost sight of a crucial truth: God sovereignly controls all of life’s events. As the Lord declares, “I am the Lord and there is no other. . . I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). The Lord allows trouble (as with Job) or sends it (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68). He also provides protection (Psalm 27:1-5) and brings deliverance (Psalm 28:7-9). Times of trouble should only deepen our desire to look to him for direction and protection. As Psalm 105:4 exhorts us: “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Here’s a warning for all of us living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Sensing danger, some of us will spring into action. We gather masks and gloves. We develop procedures and protocols to limit the spread of the virus. We stock up on food so we can avoid too many trips to the grocery store. None of these measures are inherently wrong. In fact, they can be considered wise: “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Prov. 27:12). However, if we fail to look to the Lord as our ultimate protector, if we rely on our own efforts to protect ourselves, we follow the flawed example of the people in Jerusalem.

We can also respond to this pandemic by trying to insulate ourselves with pleasure. We binge on food and drink. Or binge watch Netflix. We try to squeeze all the enjoyment out of life we can. Again, enjoying life is a good thing. Unless it becomes the way we distract ourselves from God’s attempts to get our attention.

Isaiah reminds us: the most important thing we can do in troubled times (or anytime) is to look to the Lord and seek Him.

This reminder from Isaiah 22 has been timely for me. As a president of a college and seminary, I am actively engaged in planning for the upcoming school year in light of the current pandemic. Our leadership team has been surveying the situation, assessing our vulnerabilities and opportunities in order to determine the best way forward.

Still, the most important thing we can do is to look to the Lord, asking Him to provide direction and protection. As S. D. Gordon reminds us, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”

As you face difficult decisions in the midst of this pandemic, remember the life lesson from Isaiah 22. Without God’s covering, our best efforts and actions will fail. But as we look to Him with humble, trusting hearts, we find hope and receive His help.

““You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”

S.D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Prayer

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