Today: [Isaiah 59] Why are Prayers Unanswered. In chapter 59 of Isaiah we are confronted with a very pungent explanation of why prayers go without an answer. In unambiguous terms Isaiah declares by the spirit of God that if prayers are unmet that our transgressions stand between us and heaven. This is a very challenging reproof – so much so that most Christians today would reject such a suggestion without another thought. Yet if we are to accept the book of Isaiah as inspired by God that we have to take a good hard look at ourselves in this area and be more willing to question ourselves than we are to question or explain away the simple reproof of the word of God.
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[Isa 59:1-21 KJV] 1 Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid [his] face from you, that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. 4 None calleth for justice, nor [any] pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. 5 They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. 6 Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works [are] works of iniquity, and the act of violence [is] in their hands. 7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts [are] thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction [are] in their paths. 8 The way of peace they know not; and [there is] no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. 9 Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, [but] we walk in darkness. 10 We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if [we had] no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; [we are] in desolate places as dead [men]. 11 We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but [there is] none; for salvation, [but] it is far off from us.
Verse 1 in our chapter today strikes a hopeful tone, stating that the Lord’s hand is not shortened that He cannot save; nor is His ear “heavy” or deaf that He cannot hear. In addressing this common concern of many who have prayed seemingly without answers we know that in this passage we expect to see an answer to a huge question that all of us have asked at one time or the other. Why do we pray at times and do not receive an answer? Is it possible that there is some human need that we could face that God is unable to address? Is there anything too hard for God? Verse 1 assures us that no – there is no situation that we can find ourselves in that God’s grace and power cannot reach us. The other concern Isaiah notes is there perhaps a circumstance by which God does not hear our prayer? Of all the prayers of millions of people going up before Him is it possible that when we cried to Him – He simply overlooked our request? To both of these question Isaiah answers clearly – God is always available and always capable to make a difference in our lives. What then is the problem?
In verse 2 we see a jarring answer Isaiah gives to the people of the southern kingdom as to why their prayers are not answered. He tells them they are separated from God because of sin in their lives. There is a great gulf of iniquity that stands between the people and answer prayer and it originates in their own transgression. If this is true for the people of ancient Jerusalem then we have to be willing, if we have any humility at all to accept the fact that unanswered prayer in our lives could be for the same reason. In fact Isaiah doesn’t offer any alternative. If you ask this question today the most common answer you will receive from a pastor or leader is not questioning whether you are in sin but rather suggesting “perhaps God wants you to learn something and therefore is lovingly allowing you to go through this in order to attain to some deeper understanding of grace that wouldn’t happen if your prayer was answered…” This is a tragic but unfortunately commonly resorted to explanation that arises directly from cowardice on the part of pastors and leaders to go straight to the scriptures and confront themselves and others with these very pungent truths.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions [are] with us; and [as for] our iniquities, we know them; 13 In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. 14 And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. 15 Yea, truth faileth; and he [that] departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw [it], and it displeased him that [there was] no judgment. 16 And he saw that [there was] no man, and wondered that [there was] no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. 17 For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance [for] clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke. 18 According to [their] deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence. 19 So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him. 20 And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD. 21 As for me, this [is] my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that [is] upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and forever.
Verse 12 of our chapter tells us that transgressions that multiply up against us can be a testimony against us causing us to experience consequences that are not God’s choice for us. What is the solution to this egregious problem? Most believers would say the grace of God and the mercy of God covers all. The question to be asked first however is does the grace of God cover unconfessed or unrepented of sin? Much of the grace teaching we hear today suggests that God’s grace acts as a buffer between our imperfections and the judgment seat of Christ. Little emphasis is places upon contrition, penitence or sorrow for sin. Yet even in the New Testament there are strong and numerous calls even for those who belong to Christ and are covered with the blood to walk circumspectly before a holy God:
[2Co 7:9-10 KJV] 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
Even in the New Covenant we are commanded to live a life on ongoing sensitivity and willingness to repent before a holy and righteous God:
[Act 17:30 KJV] 30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
When we read these verses, they can make us uncomfortable. One of the objections we run into is when religious institutions become heavy handed and dictate to us non-scriptural demands that have more to do with modern concepts of Christian culture than biblically grounded mandates for godly living. However just because we have examples of leaders or institutions imposing unscriptural religious requirements does not exempt us or give us permission to set ourselves as our own authority without maintaining a careful standard of accountability to what God’s word would require of us.
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