Rend the Heavens and Come Down

In Worship by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

Heaven Torn Open
Can we hope for the prophet’s vision coming true?
by Patrick D. Odum

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…” (Isaiah 64:1)

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

He’s seen a lot of years, this prophet, this man of God. He’s lived a lifetime at the chaotic center of his nation’s political and spiritual life. He’s been loved, hated, admired, and feared, often all at the same time, by kings, priests, and people alike. He’s hoped for the best from his countrymen and seen the worst for so long that he rarely dares to hope anymore. He’s seen kings born, prayed that each would be THE king that the Lord has promised him will arise to deliver his people, and been disappointed each time. Never has one been able to carry the hopes of his people.

He’d give up on dreams of salvation if God would let him.

He’s seen more war than anyone should have to. As his nation has failed to the people that God had called them to be all those centuries ago, the parade of oppressors has grown long. Boys he played with as a child never got the chance to grow up, dying in battle or from hunger and sickness brought on by siege. Cropland has been scorched and ruined. Houses torn down. Whole families sold into slavery. Most of the nation’s citizens deported to other places, the land once “flowing with milk and honey” left desolate for the few people left in it to scrape out a living.

And of all the images of destruction in his mind, the worst is the last time he saw Jerusalem. The image still wakes him up shaking, with tears streaming down his cheeks. The walls destroyed. The houses and buildings on fire. The palace in ruins. The dead in the streets. And worst of all, the black smoke rising from the wreckage of what was once the house of the Lord. The Holy of Holies, its sanctity protected for centuries, desecrated by Gentiles. The altar torn down. The furnishings gathering dust in a pagan treasury. The Ark of the Covenant taken. He’s seen the tragedy unfolding for decades, powerless to stop it. Unable even to promise that it would be over soon. Only able to explain it as judgment from God; it’s not that God has failed to protect his people, but that they have failed to keep his covenant. “How then can we be saved?” he wonders. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:5-6)

The old prophet knows. He knows the stories; how God intervened in history for the nation of Israel time and time again. “You did awesome things that we did not expect,” he says to God, like a man who wants to believe that it might be so again. Though he knows his people’s sin, knows that God has probably written them off forever and knows that they deserve no better, still the hope lingers. “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father,” he reminds God, plaintively. “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:8-9)

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.”

But that’s too much to hope for, isn’t it? That God would tear aside the sky and come down to earth on behalf of people who don’t reverence him or obey him? That he would come to the aid of people whose faithlessness and neglect had left the temple erected in their hearts in ruins? Maybe the faithful, the pure, the righteous could expect God to descend and save. But the selfish? The immoral? The dishonest? The unjust? What claim have they on the goodwill of the God they have shunned? At some point doesn’t even a loving father lose patience with a defiant child? Doesn’t the potter eventually discard a flawed pot made with impure clay and begin again?

The old prophet expects too much. When God leaves heaven to save, it’s for the good people. The faithful. The Abrahams, the Joshuas, the Moseses, the Elijahs, the Elishas. God may indeed come near to save those with the vision to see him and the faith to obey him. But to visit these stubborn people, to come to save them? Pipe dreams, the people say. And maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s only awakening false hope to talk about a baby named Immanuel — “God With Us.” Maybe it’s foolishness to promise a coming King to reign on the throne of David forever. Maybe the old man isn’t a prophet at all — just a foolish, deluded old codger who can’t face reality.

Maybe he is. Maybe he is a foolish, deluded, worn-out old man. Maybe he’s ready for a soft bed in a cozy room with nice padded walls at the prophets’ retirement home. Maybe it’s nonsense to think that God would tear through the sky to save his people. If so, it’s even more ludicrous to imagine the hopes of his people contained in the tiny body of a gurgling infant. But nonsense or not, deluded or not, the fire will not leave his heart. Still he prays the same prayer: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”

He wants to be ready when the heavens
tear and his King takes his throne.
And he hopes, sometimes in spite of himself. And he waits. And he keeps himself pure and righteous. Because he wants to be ready when the heavens tear and his King takes his throne and leads his people to salvation.
For this old prophet, he would only see that day through the eyes of hope and faith. Ah, but for another one, the dream comes true!

Now there was a man named Simeon who lived in Jerusalem. He was a righteous man and very devout. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he eagerly expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Lord, now I can die in peace! As you promised me, I have seen the Savior you have given to all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:25-32)

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