We all know the story…
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
That day, the ground received the blood of an innocent man, and a river named “Blood of the Innocents” was born.
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
With these words from the broken heart of God, a breath went forth to rest on the surface of the river, a wind not swayed by the powerful current. These words breathed into the timeline of humanity would find those hearts appointed to receive them – those who stand at the banks of the river, and turn their eyes to heaven in dismay….
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
In Jerusalem, this wind found a man named Isaiah:
Darkness had fallen, but Isaiah drew close to his lamp and continued to write. It did not matter to him that his words would be rolled up and sealed for a later time. As long as the Lord spoke to him, he would not lay aside his pen. At least he would do so until he became so overwhelmed by the vision that he lapsed into stillness, weeping, or sleep. At times, it felt that his eyes had seen more than one man could endure. He had seen the Lord in all his glory, and it had nearly destroyed him. He had also seen man in all of his depravity. He saw man’s disregard for the power and majesty of God, and he saw the results: endless war, distorted justice, and relentless grief, and finally, he saw God’s cleansing fire wash over the land in an act of divine wrath and mercy. He grieved for the innocent, but also for the guilty. At one time, they too were young children drinking blindly from the waters of an unholy river!
Isaiah paused in his writing. His visions usually fell into two categories – judgment for rejecting the Lord, and promise of eventual restoration. But occasionally, he saw the words he had written find a different fulfillment. In rare sacred moments, Isaiah caught glimpses of HIM! He didn’t look the same as when the old prophet had first seen him in his vision, but there was no doubt. It was the Lord walking the earth in humble human form! Isaiah longed for the wind to catch him up like Elijah, and carry him back to the presence of his Lord. But it was not to be.
And just like the people of Isaiah’s time refused his words, Isaiah could see that the Lord himself would also be rejected. It was incomprehensible to the prophet.
He knew that this vision was somehow linked to the word he had just received. He turned his attention back to the scroll.
This is what the Lord says:
and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”
Justice for all! It was dear to the heart of the creator. He had built provision into the law to require just treatment among people, and with each generation, it was disregarded by those in power. While many considered themselves holy because they did not bow their knees to Baal or Molech, they were totally blind to the fact that they had become their own gods, creating their own laws, and building their own kingdoms. Isaiah saw the inevitable result of such idolatry. He had suffered in his attempts to sway the hearts of kings and commoners alike. There had been seasons of repentance, but the hearts of God’s people would turn away once again. Isaiah carried the weight of his failures as he did his own skin. Yet, he had seen the Lord himself speak the same words to the people of his day. His vision of what the people of that time would do the Lord himself had devastated him. The fact that the Holy One of Israel was also rejected reminded Isaiah that the problem did not lie with the messenger. The problem was the heart of the people.
Isaiah had been speaking to the people for generations, beginning with Uzziah. From the beginning, it had been part of his message,
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow!
Nothing changed, at least not for long. Justice was forever trampled by the selfish desires of men. Isaiah returned to the words he had been writing. The Lord was speaking on behalf of foreigners, eunuchs, and all who held fast to his covenant – announcing that he, himself, would bring them into his presence. He would declare their sacrifices to be acceptable. What a contrast to the message Isaiah delivered to the rulers and leaders of Judah:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
As Isaiah meditated on these words, the vision once again came to life as he saw the Lord standing in the temple. Well, it was not exactly the same as the temple he knew, but he recognized the nature of what was happening. It was a never-ending cycle, just wrapped in a different cloak. Arrogance and greed led to unholy walls of separation and abuse of the powerless. Who had the authority to reject the one that the Lord has declared worthy? Who held people to a higher standard than the one set by God himself? Who would rob from God’s people and not expect judgment? Yet, the vision was clear; men were attempting to sell holiness. The temple had become nothing more than another marketplace where those in power profited from those in need. Would things never change?
Across time, the two men spoke the same words of bewilderment.
“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?”
The river flowed, and the wind blew. In time, the Breath of God found a prophet named Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch:
Baruch paused, recognizing that Jeremiah was receiving a vision. They were recording a word that Jeremiah had spoken many years ago, so Baruch wondered what kind of vision this might be. Jeremiah’s life had changed the moment that he stood at the gates of the temple and declared God’s message to the people. Baruch’s life changed many years later when Jeremiah called him to serve as his scribe and spokesman. Together, they recorded all of the words the Lord had spoken to Jeremiah and delivered them to the Jehoiakim, King of Judah. They were now repeating the process because, in a brazen show of contempt, Jehoiakim burned the scroll.
Recounting all that he had heard and experienced was still an emotional experience for Jeremiah. While he wept sometimes prostrate on the floor, his scribe calmly wrote every word spoken. As Baruch quietly waited for his friend to resume speaking, he reviewed the passage that seemed to have inspired the vision. It was Jeremiah’s temple speech.
Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
Baruch shook his head. God’s people should not need to be told such things. Threats of punishment should not be necessary to bring an end to the gross injustice that was commonplace in Jerusalem, neither now, nor at the time this word was first spoken. It was no secret that the worst offenders could still be found conspiring together in the temple. The lords and masters of Judah continued to grow rich at the expense of the poor and powerless.
By the time Jeremiah delivered this first part of the message that day, men were already moving to silence him. But he was not finished.
Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?
Baruch knew the words with which Jeremiah concluded his fiery speech at the temple gate, but he would wait until Jeremiah recovered enough to dictate them himself. He was the bearer of the message, and Baruch was only his scribe. Yet, both were now fugitives from the king. His thoughts turned to the great prophet Isaiah, rumored to have been brutally killed by King Josiah’s grandfather Manasseh. Why was Isaiah not protected like Moses, Elijah, or David? Was Isaiah’s fate an indicator of the one that awaited Jeremiah, or even himself?” His fearful thoughts were interrupted by a strangely subdued Jeremiah.
“I have seen the Lord, Baruch,” Jeremiah uttered words that even Baruch had a difficult time believing. No one saw the Lord and lived to speak of it.
“He has spoken to you again?” Baruch asked.
“No, Baruch. I SAW him. Not as I expected him to appear, for he had the appearance of a mere man. I recognized him by his voice. It is the voice that speaks to me.”
Jeremiah’s voice quivered as he struggled to find words to express his vision, and Baruch wondered if he would once again collapse in despair. Instead, he motioned to the pen that lay in his hand.
“Finish, Baruch,” he ordered. “You know the words… nevertheless, I speak them now with greater awe than I have delivered any words before….”
“Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.”
Baruch finished writing and waited for Jeremiah to explain.
“It was only a glimpse, but I have no doubt it was Jerusalem. He passed through the gate and into the temple. Everything was different, yet everything was the same. I could feel his grief and anger. I think all of his emotions washed over me. Nothing changes – the disregard for the God of Israel, the injustice, the arrogance, the sin… He began turning over the tables in the temple, and all the treasures of man spilled out on the temple floor. I was reminded of the words he spoke to me not long ago:
“Their houses will be turned over to others,
together with their fields and their wives,
when I stretch out my hand
against those who live in the land,”
declares the Lord.
“From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.”
“But it was the words he spoke in this vision that were my undoing, Baruch.” Jeremiah continued. “He stopped and stared into faces full of fury and indignation, much like those who faced me at the temple gate so many years ago. And then he spoke,
“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer for all people; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
“The very same words he placed in my mouth! I don’t understand it, Baruch, but I think it is why the words he gives burn inside of me until I obey his directives. If ever I doubted the source of my message, I do so no longer. I speak for him!”
The sound of the rushing waters was heard by the apostle, John, in exile on the island of Patmos. He felt the breath of God and heard his voice call to him. His eyes were opened, and he saw many great and terrifying things. He and his scribe had nearly completed recording the vision:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
The breath picked up the sacred words and carried them to worthy ears.
From his confinement inside of a hollow log, Isaiah heard them as his executioners readied their saws.
From amid the ruins of Jerusalem, Jeremiah heard them above the sorrow and laments of the people.
Stretched out on a Roman cross, Jesus heard them above the sound of metal spikes being driven through his hands and feet.
From outside the city of Jerusalem, a man named Stephen heard them as the first of many stones struck his flesh.
The promise was heard in lion’s dens, and prisons, in raging fires and in slave mines.
And wherever the river flows,
the wind is there,
above the torrent,
carrying the promise!
the river will run dry,
but the Word of the Lord abides forever.
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
Scriptural Inspiration: Luke 19:45-46
Other scripture references: Genesis 4:8-10; Habakkuk 1:2-3; Isaiah 56:1-2, 1:17, 1:12-13, 40:8; Mark 11:17; Jeremiah 36:1-32, 7:2-11, 6:12-13; Revelation 1:9-11, 21:1-7 (NIV translation)