Hope For The Shipwrecked

by Ray Hawkins

History abounds with stories of shipwrecks. In recent years the fascination with the Titanic tragedy in the Atlantic has once again taken hold, and all round the world are the rotting or submerged hulks of fine ships wrecked by storm or iceberg or bad navigation.

The prophet Isaiah uses the imagery behind the Hebrew words nishbar leb when he speaks of the Messiah coming to bind up the broken-hearted: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted ..." (61:1), in the same sense as of a shipwreck that is being salvaged.

The Nation of Israel seems to be uppermost in the prophet's mind as he looks out across the life and experience of the people, and sees them as being shattered by the visible and invisible 'reefs' of apostasy and immorality. He records these words:

"I have stretched out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts; a people who provoke me to anger continually to my face; who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on altars of brick ... who say, 'Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!' These are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day" (65:2-5).

What a depressing picture for a Nation called to be distinct and faithful in the Name of their Holy God!

In early 1991 a cargo ship was wrecked off the coast -- a totally unexpected and unnecessary disaster, as the charts clearly showed those waters to be unsuitable for ships. The proper channel was unmistakably marked; it was human error and carelessness that sank the ship and polluted the coastline.

That is a valid illustration of the Nation of Israel in the time of Isaiah. Early in their history as a nation God had presented them with a navigational chart for possessing the land promised to them as they enjoyed the favour of their God, who has a special love for this land: "my land."

In the Covenant presented at Mount Sinai and adopted by national consent were marked the reefs that would shipwreck the Nation's moral and spiritual life. Clearly marked were the channels in which safe passage was guaranteed and a prosperous and blessed journey assured.

Trouble arose time after time because the leaders and 'crew' thought they knew better than the Map Maker. They felt restricted. They didn't like being different from others who appeared on the surface to be sailing outside the marked safety zones yet were not apparently being wrecked.

The Nation forgot that they were in a special 'ship' with a special mission, that they were the possessors and protectors of a special 'cargo', God's Word, which gave them a deeper draught and so made them more vulnerable to reefs.

They also ignored the Covenant charts for safe passage in the journey of life and witness for the Eternal God, and they took on board counterfeit charts that promised easy quick and pleasurable sailing – no risks attached.

Unfortunately they ignored the dangers of unbelief and immorality, in their rejecting of God's moral and religious code in order to adopt idolatrous practices. They allowed false teachers to take the helm of their religious life, and twist the Covenant chart to their own purposes. Such false teachers are the curse of all that is Godly and Biblical, and in Scripture they come under the Almighty's greater condemnation.

As Isaiah looked at the wreckage caused by such whirlpools and reefs as depicted by a superstitious, apostate and careless people he must have been despairing. Had the Lord God's plan to send the Messiah through such a Nation as Israel been thwarted?

No, indeed no! It is to the prophet Isaiah that God made known the One whom we see depicted in his prophecy, much as he is depicted throughout the other prophetic writings in greater or lesser detail. Maybe He hasn't a specific name in order that the Nation can call upon Him -- we know Him as the Messiah- but what the prophet does tell us is good news indeed.

"The Redeemer will come to Zion; and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,' says the LORD. 'As for me,' says the LORD, 'this is my covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants' descendants,' says the LORD, 'from this time and for evermore'" (Isaiah 59:20,21).

He declares that the sovereign purposes of God for the Nation and the Messiah cannot be shipwrecked regardless of the Nation's infidelity. What is more: the Messiah will perform a salvage job on the Nation; He will reclaim the wreckage; He will reveal His glory by restoring the 'ship'.

This will be a wonder to behold!

And this will be what the Messiah will do one day to Israel and out of mercy to the Gentiles who have also been wrecked and who call out to Him for mercy. The Messiah will restore the shipwrecked Nation, a great day to come stated over and over again by the prophets.

"For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean ... I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

"I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgements and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Ezekiel 36:24-28).

What can a wrecked nation or a ruined individual offer to the most holy and glorious God? Nothing but their shipwrecked ruined life. That is the beautiful message underlining Psalm 51. The One who will not accept blemished animals in sacrifice as shown in Malachi chapter one will yet accept the broken lives of men and women as we in repentance turn to Him and seek His face.

It is the picture which King David expressed thus: "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise. For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart -- these, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:15-17),

It is then that He through the work of the Messiah as described in Isaiah chapter 53 is able to salvage, raise, restore and re-equip lives to bring Him honour and glory once again. For it is God's great delight to express His grace to His people: "The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit" (Psalm 34:18).