Step 1 – Spiritual Refuge
Church has become a dangerous place. The stories are pretty extensive: first for leaders because they have been drowned by false expectations created by warped “church growth” strategies. The disappearance of the “middle class” has driven leaders out of the ministry: leaders are leaving ministry at a 1,800-per-month clip for various reasons. Chad Hall says, “Perhaps more significant than the rise in the extremes is the decline of the middle: consider the disappearance of the middle-class, the demise of mid-sized companies, the loss of status for anything considered average and the polarization of politics in America. Our tastes and choices are shifting away from the middle and toward the extremes.”
The “middle class churches” are disappearing rapidly as those with the expectation that church and Disneyworld should merge so their children and youth will “want to go to church” shop churches in the city to find the mega-flavor they enjoy most. The “show” must be entertaining. The leaders must look like someone who could win “Dancing with the Apostles,” and the worship band should sound like something downloadable from “Iplod.” God forbid the leaders aren’t sculpted and beautiful! This level of Leviathan pride is simply stated as: “I deserve the highest level of professionalism, excellence, and identity cause I’m so unbelievably hip myself!”
The middle class is also disappearing as another large demographic disappears into smaller expressions of church-anity, often something that is not and cannot function as an Ecclesia at all that allows people to avoid accountability and nearly any form of leadership. This false refuge is another form of escapism that has fragmented the functional Ecclesia as millions of believers redefine “church” to fit their fears, rejections, and need for everything in their lives to be “tailor-fitted.”
We do not have refuge in these dysfunctional versions of church-anity in this season of confrontation with Leviathan; these dysfunctional forms manifest an invasion of Leviathan into the cultural mountain labeled “church.”
Isaiah records God’s promise of refuge in a season when He intends to deal with the dysfunctional substitutes to His expectations for Israel. “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon You, because he commits himself to You.” After making several specific observations about getting into this place of refuge, Isaiah says, “Because God is sure to come from His place to visit the people on earth [for an accounting of His expectations].” We need not fear the season of visitation! We have a refuge!
He will “visit” the people and the Leviathan. Some translations say, “Punish.” However, the sense of the Hebrew word, paqad, is basically “number.” When applied to specific situations, it is used to speak of “accounting for expectations.” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, “the basic meaning is to exercise oversight over a subordinate, either in the form of inspection or of taking action to cause a considerable change in the conditions of the subordinate, either for the better or for the worse.” From this root, Hebrew language also says “visitation, overseer, officer.” Also, words for “allocation, appointment.” This is the root of the word for “precepts, statutes, commandments.”
The simple point made here is that God’s expectations and assignments have been made, and God is arriving for a visit to account whether His expectations are being met. God plants a vineyard expecting grapes, an apple tree expecting apples, a nation expecting that nation to fulfill His expectations in their specific assignments, purpose, culture, and mission. God shares His expectations, and visits for an accounting to see if His expectations are being met; He shows up to bring people, places, and generations to account for what He expected of them.
Jesus made the same reference to His own season of ministry: “One stone will not be left upon another because you failed to recognize the time of your visitation.” [Luke 19:44] The Greek word for “visitation” [episcope], means “investigation, inspection, oversight, officer, elder,” the word from which we get “bishop.” In other words, this verse speaks the Greek word that answers directly to the Hebrew word, paqad, here in Isaiah. Jesus also mentions that God has sent prophets and leaders previously to bring His people to account only to have them persecuted and murdered. Jesus makes it clear that God has now sent His Son to bring them to account: they murdered Him as well!
This is the sense in which I use the word, “assignments.” God has expectations for people, places, and generations, and He will periodically “visit” them to measure how well they are in assignment, alignment and agreement, to meet His expectations. He will deal strongly with people, places, and generations who have wandered off task, perverted His expectations by substituting their own, and He will deal strongly with His enemies who have perverted His expectations for people, places, and generations.
In the times of visitation, God’s righteous remnant can stand in refuge while a great cacophony of distress noises around them because they are being positioned to reset the expectations of God after the time of accounting. Our refuge is in our agreement with God’s assignments and our alignment with God’s authority.
So, we put Isaiah 27:1 with 26:21 in order to get the full scope of what Isaiah says about Leviathan. This enemy has come out of the sea and involved himself in God’s expectations for His people, place, and generation. In this picture we understand that a time of visitation means “open season for Leviathan hunting.”