rebellion

Wisdom For When You Need It

10 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.” – Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ESV

The specificity with which God regulated the lives of the Israelites can be astounding and, in some cases, quite confusing and confounding. The degree to which God provided them with detailed rules and regulations governing virtually every area of daily life serves as evidence of His intimate concern for them as His people. God cared about every aspect of their existence, even providing them with guidelines to govern what He considered their more aberrant behavior.

Not everything the Israelites did was approved of by God. They were His chosen people, but they found themselves living in a less-than-ideal environment, surrounded by hostile pagan nations and the constant temptation to assimilate the ways of their enemies. Moral compromise was an ever-present threat to their status as God’s people. And their obligation to keep God’s command to conquer and repopulate the land of Canaan was going to present them with a host of new and potentially dangerous situations that would test their allegiance to God.  

Israel’s efforts to subdue the land of Canaan was going to require many battles and result in the deaths of many enemy soldiers. These men would leave behind countless widows and unmarried daughters who would be hardpressed to find eligible husbands among their own people.  So, God provided a provision by which the Israelites could choose wives from among these women.

Now, it is important to remember that God had previously forbidden the Israelites from taking wives from among the nations of Canaan, and He had been very specific.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

So, it seems unlikely that God was now changing His mind and giving the Israelites permission to take wives from among the Canaanites. The more likely explanation is that God is referring to those non-Canaanite nations that occupied the outer edges of the land of promise. In those cases, God made a concession, allowing the men of Israel to choose a bride from among the widows and unmarried virgins. But God also provided rules for governing such behavior.

One thing to keep in mind is that God always had to consider the natural proclivity of His people to follow their basest instincts. He knew full well that the men of Israel, fueled by the lust of war, could easily find themselves driven by lust and tempted to rape the women of the nations they conquered. This behavior would have been unacceptable and deadly to the nation. So, God made accommodations to protect His people from themselves. An Israelite man could choose a bride from among one of these captured women, but only if he was not already married. And he had to follow God’s prescribed plan for assimilating the woman into his life and the community of Israel. There was to be a period of mourning for the woman, as well as a time of purification. Only then could the man properly and legally marry her.

God even provided rules for annulling one of these marriages. He knew that many of these men would marry for all the wrong reasons. Driven by the lust of the moment, some of the Israelites would soon discover that they had little in common with their new wives and their marriages would end in acrimony and strife. So, God provided rules for the dissolution of these failed marriages. God was not advocating for divorce, but simply preventing the Israelites from bringing shame to His name through the inappropriate treatment of these women. They could not be sold as slaves or treated as property. God required that these women be given their freedom. 

These verses raise all kinds of issues for us. We tend to view them through what we consider to be our more-enlightened mindset and judge them harshly. It appears that God is promulgating behaviors among His people that contradict His previously communicated laws and stand in stark contrast to His revealed character. But God was dealing with an extremely volatile, constantly changing environment involving sin-prone people who were facing real-life scenarios that presented never-before-seen dangers.

This was a nation in flux. Everything was new and evolving. Each sunrise would bring with it another opportunity to see God work or a temptation to cause Israel to fall. The people of God had no idea what was coming, but God did, and He was constantly making provision for the inevitable and unavoidable details of life that would come their way. 

God could have left all these matters unresolved and allowed the Israelites to figure it out as they went along. But that would have produced unacceptable consequences. Left to their own devices, the people of Israel would have listened to their own sin-prone hearts and done what was right in their own eyes. As the prophet, Jeremiah, so aptly put it, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).

Even David, the great king of Israel, would later lament the sorry nature of mankind.

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
not one of them does good!

God looks down from heaven
on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
if anyone seeks God.
3 But no, all have turned away;
all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
not a single one! – Psalm 53:1-3 NLT

God cares enough about His people to protect them from themselves. Equipped with His omniscience, God was able to look ahead and prepare for the inevitable scenarios that were looming on the horizon. While the Israelites were going to find themselves constantly facing the unknown and dealing with the unexpected, nothing was going to take God by surprise. He already had plans in place, rules of engagement prepared, and codes of conduct outlined for each and every scenario His people would face. 

God was leaving nothing to chance. And He was not going to allow the people of Israel to make things up as they went along. He was always one step ahead of them, preparing the path in front of them and providing an acceptable response for them. His goal was always their holiness. And while their circumstances were constantly changing and evolving, their God remained their constant and consistent ally in all the battles they faced. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Siren Call of Apostasy

1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

6 “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. 9 But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. 10 You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.

12 “If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to dwell there, 13 that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. 16 You shall gather all its spoil into the midst of its open square and burn the city and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall be a heap forever. It shall not be built again. 17 None of the devoted things shall stick to your hand, that the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger and show you mercy and have compassion on you and multiply you, as he swore to your fathers, 18 if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 13:1-18 ESV

Chapter 12 ended with the following call from Moses:

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” – Deuteronomy 12:32 ESV

And what follows in chapter 13 was intended to provide the Israelites with concrete, real-life examples of what adding or taking away from the law might look like. Moses wanted them to know that keeping God’s commands was about far more than what they did or did not do. The temptation to play fast and loose with God’s laws was going to be great, and it would come in a variety of forms. So, Moses provided them with three concrete illustrations of just how subtle and subversive the threat to their faithfulness to God could show up.

It is important to note that this is a communal problem, not just an individual one. The call to faithfulness and obedience was national in scope and aimed at the entire Israelite community. No family, tribe, or city was exempt. There were to be no exceptions, and anyone who failed to treat God’s commands with reverence and respect were to be dealt with quickly and harshly.

In each of the three case-studies Moses provides, the common theme and threat is apostasy, a turning away from God to serve a false god. In other words, they each involve idolatry, which is a direct violation of the first of the Ten Commandments. Moses presents the same basic scenario in three different forms but featuring one common element: The call to abandon God.

“Let us go after other gods…” – vs. 2

“Let us go and serve other gods…” – vs. 6

“Let us go and serve other gods…” – vs. 13

One message, but each delivered by three radically different messengers. The first two are individuals, and their inclusion was meant to surprise and shock the Israelites. The first is a prophet, a respected religious leader. The second is a trusted family member. No Israelite in their right mind would have expected a prophet of God or a member of their own family to issue a call to practice idolatry. Such a thing would have been unthinkable.

But the point Moses seems to be making is that call to apostasy can come from the most unexpected places and from the least likely sources. Yet, regardless of the source, the people of Israel were to take it seriously and deal with it immediately.

A prophet was considered a spokesman for God. He was to have been a messenger of God who faithfully proclaimed the word and will of God. A prophet was a truth-teller. Yet, Moses described a scenario in which a prophet issued a call to the people of Israel to abandon God in order to serve gods “which you have not known.”

So, get the picture. Here you have a recognized leader, who by virtue of his role, represents and speaks for God Almighty. But he is encouraging the people to disobey the very first commandment. Because he is a prophet, the people would be prone to take his words as having come from God. But Moses makes it clear that if this man’s message is not in keeping with the commands of God, he is not speaking on behalf of God. He is a liar and he “shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 13:5 ESV).

Notice how Moses describes this seemingly unlikely scenario: “For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The Israelites were going to face constant tests to their faithfulness. And Moses wanted them to know that the call to idolatry could and would come from the most unexpected places, including the lips of men who claimed to be speaking for God. That’s why Moses has put so much stress on hearing and knowing the commands of God. It is why he told the people to make them a permanent part of their lives.

“…commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 11:18-21 NLT

The best way to recognize falsehood is to know the truth. And as long as the people of Israel made the commands of God their highest priority, they would be able to discern a lie, even if it came from a so-called prophet of God.

But the next scenario Moses described brought the danger even closer to home, literally. It involves an intimate friend or family member issuing a secret call to join them in apostasy. Unlike the prophet calling the entire nation to disobey the command of God, this close friend or relative is using their familial relationship to encourage unfaithfulness. And because it involves a close friend or family member, the temptation will be that much greater. But the point Moses seems to be making is that it is the content of the message that matters, not the source. It doesn’t matter whether the call to unfaithfulness comes from a prophet or a parent, the response is to be the same.

“…you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him.” – Deuteronomy 13:8-9 ESV

The lie was the same, regardless of the lips from which it came. And the danger was just as real whether it came from a religious leader or a relative. So, Moses outlines a non-negotiable strategy for eliminating the threat of apostasy.

“You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 13:10 ESV

This kind of language shocks and surprises us. It all sounds so barbaric and inhumane. It rubs against our modern sensibilities and seems to contradict our view of God as loving and kind. But we must remember that God is holy, righteous, and just. He cannot and will not tolerate sin. It is nothing less than open rebellion to His sovereign will. God had great things in store for the people of Israel, but it was going to require that they obey Him by taking His commands seriously. And the greatest affront to God’s holiness is to reject His status as the one and only God. Which is why Moses had repeatedly told the Israelites:

“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-6 NLT

That’s why the call, “let us go after other gods” was to be considered so egregious and dangerous, no matter whose lips it came from. And that brings us to the third and final scenario. This time it entails an entire city. Moses describes a group of “worthless fellows” – literally, “sons of Belial.” These are individuals lacking in morals and scruples who influence and, ultimately, infect an entire town with their apostasy. They issue the very same call, “Let us go and serve other gods” and, in time, the entire city buys into their lie and follows their lead. So, what is the rest of Israel to do? How are they to respond to this isolated case of unfaithfulness in their midst? Moses provides them with the answer.

“…you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.” – Deuteronomy 13:15 ESV

No punches pulled. No excuses accepted. No exceptions made. This was to be treated with a soberness and seriousness that reflected an understanding of the danger involved. Sin, like cancer left untreated, will spread unchecked and result in the spiritual death of the community. And the greatest sin is that of apostasy, rejecting God as the one true God. The constant threat God’s people face is to listen to the siren call to seek and serve other gods. It is subtle and can come from the least-expected places. But regardless of the source, we are to reject the message and do what is right in the sight of our God. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

A Former Kingdom of Priests

 1 “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. 2 And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ 3 So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. 4 And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. 5 Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me.”

6 (The people of Israel journeyed from Beeroth Bene-jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died, and there he was buried. And his son Eleazar ministered as priest in his place. 7 From there they journeyed to Gudgodah, and from Gudgodah to Jotbathah, a land with brooks of water. 8 At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day. 9 Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him.)

10 “I myself stayed on the mountain, as at the first time, forty days and forty nights, and the Lord listened to me that time also. The Lord was unwilling to destroy you. 11 And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go on your journey at the head of the people, so that they may go in and possess the land, which I swore to their fathers to give them.’” – Deuteronomy 10:1-11 ESV

The scene that had taken place at the base of Mount Sinai some 40 years earlier had been a tense and potentially deadly one. God had called Moses up to the top of the mountain and had provided him with the tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments. But even while the mountain displayed the powerful presence of God, in the form of fire, smoke, and ground-shaking tremors, the people had decided to manufacture an idol of gold in the form of a calf. This tangible manifestation of a deity was familiar to them and likely called to mind the false gods they had worshiped during their 400-year stay in Egypt.

But their actions that day had brought down the wrath of God. Without realizing it, they had violated the very first of the ten commandments written on the stone tablets that Moses had carried down the mountain. 

“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

God knew His chosen people well, and it is evidenced by the very fact that this was the first of His prohibitions. But before Moses could even deliver the commandments to the people, they had broken the first and most important one of them. And their violation of that command was worthy of God’s righteous judgment. In fact, even before Moses was aware of what had taken place down at the base of the mountain, God informed him of His intentions to destroy the people of Israel.

“I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.” – Deuteronomy 9:13-14 ESV

But Moses had intervened on behalf of the people.

“Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also.” – Deuteronomy 9:18-19 ESV

God commanded Moses to return to the mountaintop, where he received a second set of the commandments. In a sense, God renewed His covenant with the people of Israel. He provided them with a second chance to prove their allegiance to Him. Their actions had earned them the wrath of God, but God had chosen to postpone His judgment and bless them His unmerited and undeserved favor instead.

But before we jump to the wrong conclusion and assume that Moses talked God out of enacting His just and righteous judgment against a people who were guilty and fully deserving of punishment, we have to look at the same event as described in the book of Exodus. There we find that Moses, upon seeing the sin-fueled spectacle that had been taking place in the valley, called on volunteers to enact God’s judgment upon the guilty.

So Moses stood at the entrance of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” All the Levites gathered around him, and he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Each man fasten his sword on his side, and go back and forth from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and each one kill his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.’”

The Levites did what Moses ordered, and that day about three thousand men of the people died. – Exodus 32:26-28 NLT

According to Hebrews 9:22, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” This is based on the word of God found in Leviticus 17:11:

“I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.”

While the entire camp of Israel had taken part in the orgy-like display that day, only 3,000 individuals lost their lives. All had been guilty and been worthy of death, and yet, most were spared. But God was not done.

When Moses had returned to the mountain, God informed him that there would be more deaths.

“Whoever has sinned against me—that person I will wipe out of my book. So now go, lead the people to the place I have spoken to you about. See, my angel will go before you. But on the day that I punish, I will indeed punish them for their sin.”

And the Lord sent a plague on the people because they had made the calf—the one Aaron made. – Exodus 32:33-35 NLT

With the deaths of the 3,000, the rest of the sinful Israelites must have assumed they had somehow escaped the judgment of God. They had gotten away with their sin. But they were wrong. God continued to pour out His wrath. But He did spare the nation as a whole. He allowed a remnant of these rebellious people to remain alive so that He might fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham.

But some else took place occurred that fateful day that is easily overlooked. When the Levites joined Moses in enacting the judgment of God against the people of Israel, Moses told them, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord” (Exodus 32:29 ESV). They became God’s priests and were given the task of representing the people of Israel before God. But it is essential that we remember what God had said to the people of Israel before He gave them His commandments.

“…if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

With their actions at Mount Sinai, the rest of the tribes had forfeited their right to act as priests of God. Rather than acting as intercessors for the sins of others, they would require intercession. Their rebellion had resulted in their removal as priests of God. 

Moses informed them, “The Lord was unwilling to destroy you” (Deuteronomy 10:10 ESV), but their relationship with God was dramatically altered that day. God would allow them to remain alive and He would continue to guide them to the land of promise, but that generation would continue to display its propensity to reject and rebel against Him. Even Moses called them out for their serial rebellion, flatly stating: “you have been rebelling against the Lord as long as I have known you” (Deuteronomy 9:24 NLT).

And yet, in spite of them, God told Moses, “Get up and resume the journey, and lead the people to the land I swore to give to their ancestors, so they may take possession of it” (Deuteronomy 10:11 NLT).

But notice that subtle, yet significant phrase, “the land I swore to give to their ancestors.” The generation that rebelled against God at Mount Sinai would be the same generation that refused to enter the land of Canaan, and they would all die in the wilderness. Not a single one of them would ever set foot in the land of promise. They would give birth to a new generation of Israelites, whom God would give the privilege of entering and possessing the land He had promised to Abraham. But the original generation of Israelites who “rebelled against the commandment of the Lord…and did not believe him or obey his voice” (Deuteronomy 9:23 ESV), would never have the joy of experiencing God’s ultimate blessing: the land of promise.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

A History of Rebellion, Not Righteousness

 13 “Furthermore, the Lord said to me, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. 14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’ 15 So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing, the calf that you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small, until it was as fine as dust. And I threw the dust of it into the brook that ran down from the mountain.

22 “At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. 23 And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.

25 “So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, 28 lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” 29 For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.’” – Deuteronomy 9:13-29 ESV

If the Israelites still harbored any remaining thoughts that they somehow deserved God’s good favor, Moses was about to deliver the crushing blow. He had made it clear that God was not giving them the land of Canaan because they deserved it, but because He was keeping the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God was going to remove the Canaanites from the land because they were an evil and idolatrous people who desecrated the land with their unbridled immorality. 

But Moses let the Israelites know that they were no better than the Canaanites. It was not as if they were a spiritually superior people who lived morally upright lives and had somehow earned the right to take possession of the land because of their faithfulness to God. No, it was quite the opposite, and Moses had already delivered the painfully truthful news that God’s provision of the land had nothing to do with their worthiness or righteousness.

“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:6 ESV

They were stiff-necked and obstinate, stubbornly refusing to bow the knee to God and live according to His commands. And they had been that way from the beginning. Which is why Moses goes all the way back to Mount Sinai and the occasion when God gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. He remembered that fateful well and looked back on it, not with nostalgia, but with a certain amount of anger and resentment at the way the people had treated God. Their actions that day had placed Moses in a very difficult position. He had found himself in the awkward place of having to mediate between a holy, angry God, and the very people he had helped to deliver from slavery in Egypt.

While Moses had been on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God, his fellow Israelites, with the help of his brother, Aaron, had been busy worshiping a false god they had crafted out of gold. During the 40 days that Moses had been on top of the mountain, they had begun to question everything about their circumstances. And they had somehow forgotten the incredible demonstration of God’s power they had witnessed as His glory had descended upon Mount Sinai.

Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently.  As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:17-19 NLT

There was no doubt that God was there. His presence was unmistakable. His power was on display. And even when Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the fire never died down, and the smoke remained. The mountain never ceased to shake. And yet, the people became unimpressed and unwilling to wait to see what God was going to say to His servant, Moses. Tired of waiting, they took matters into their own hands.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:1 NLT

And it was that fateful decision that Moses recalled.

“So while the mountain was blazing with fire I turned and came down, holding in my hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. There below me I could see that you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had melted gold and made a calf idol for yourselves.” – Deuteronomy 9:15-16 NLT

Notice what Moses says: “So while the mountain was blazing with fire….” The presence of God was still visible. God had not gone anywhere. And Moses was descending the mountain holding the very commandments of God, “inscribed with the terms of the covenant.”

“Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

And the people had eagerly and enthusiastically agreed to the conditions of the covenant, giving their word that they would obey

“We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 19:8 NLT

But that commitment had not lasted long. Before Moses could make it back down the mountain, the people had turned their backs on God. They had come up with the bright idea to make their own gods. And when Moses had seen what had taken place in his absence, he was filled with surprise and anger.

“How quickly you had turned away from the path the Lord had commanded you to follow!” – Deuteronomy 9:16 NLT

They had been in the early days of their journey from Egypt to the promised land and had already chosen to forsake God. And Moses, sensing the anger of God against His people, had chosen to intercede with God on their behalf. He began a 40-day fast, during which time he sought to persuade God to refrain from wiping out the people of Israel for their wickedness.

“I feared that the furious anger of the Lord, which turned him against you, would drive him to destroy you. But again he listened to me.” – Deuteronomy 9:19 NLT

God spared the people and even allowed Aaron to live, in spite of the role he had played in the peoples’ rebellion. God showed mercy. He showered the people with His undeserved favor. And it all goes back to the covenant He had made with Abraham. God had made two promises to Abraham. One was that He would make of Abraham a great nation. The second was that He would bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham. And so, God was going to keep His covenant commitment, not because of the Israelites, but in spite of them.

And Moses reminded the people that Mount Sinai had not been an aberration. It was just one of many occasions in which the people of Israel displayed their stubbornness and rebellion. Moses recalled Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth-hattaavah – three other less-than-flattering moments from Israel’s not-so-distant past that illustrated their propensity to rebel against God. And he brought up that infamous day at Kadesh-barnea, when the first generation of Israelites had refused to enter the promised land, causing God to send them into the wilderness where they would die as punishment for the rebellion.

Moses had pleaded with God to spare them. He had appealed to God’s covenant faithfulness.

“Please overlook the stubbornness and the awful sin of these people, and remember instead your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 9:27 NLT

But notice that Moses did not offer up a single example of Israel’s worthiness or righteousness. What they deserved was God’s wrath. Moses knew that. So he appealed to God’s unwavering faithfulness to keep His commitments. He had promised to make of Abraham a great nation, and He had fulfilled that promise. But God had also promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham. And that promise had not yet been fulfilled. But, in time, it would be. And God would continue to bless the people of Israel, not because they deserved it, but because He was going to use them as the means by which He brought the solution to man’s sin problem into the world. And the apostle Paul wrote of this coming fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham.

God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children,” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to his child”—and that, of course, means Christ. – Galatians 3:16 NLT

God was going to bring to earth the source of true righteousness, and He would do it through a people marked by unrighteousness. God would eventually offer the sole means of salvation through a people who deserved His wrath. He would bring about redemption through a nation that would eventually murder its own redeemer.

The people of Israel had a long history of rebellion, not righteousness; but God would eventually make righteousness available through them in the form of His Son, the sinless Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Unrigteous and Undeserving

1 “Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, 2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ 3 Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.

4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. 7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord. 8 Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you. 9 When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10 And the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the Lord had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 And at the end of forty days and forty nights the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you have brought from Egypt have acted corruptly. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them; they have made themselves a metal image.’” – Deuteronomy 9:1-12 ESV

It’s interesting to consider how the blessings of God can produce one of two reactions in those who experience them. The first and proper response is that of gratitude and humility, fueled by the recognition that His blessings are unmerited and are signs of His love. But, sadly, the more common response is to arrogantly assume that His blessings are somehow deserved – a kind of a reward for our righteousness. In this second scenario, the recipient of God’s blessings is actually taking credit for them. He is making God’s blessings a form of payment for services rendered.

But, Moses is warning the Israelites not to make that dangerous and deadly mistake. Robbing God of glory is not a game they want to play. And he opens this section of his speech to the people of Israel by describing God as a “consuming fire.” Like a superheated flame that quickly devours everything in its path, God will destroy and subdue all the enemies that stand in the way of Israel occupying the land of Canaan. But they must understand that God, the consuming fire, can be indiscriminate when it comes to His righteous indignation.

The consuming nature of God’s wrath, directed against all unrighteousness, was non-discriminatory. He is a holy and righteous God who must punish all sin. And, in the book of Acts, the apostle Peter saw that God was also non-discriminatory when it came to bestowing His grace.

“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” – Acts 10:34-35 NLT

And Paul echoed this very same idea when he wrote to the believers in Rome, accentuating the lack of favoritism and partiality on God’s part.

But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. – Romans 2:10-12 NLT

Moses tried to make two essential points perfectly clear to the Israelites. First of all, God was going to give the Israelites the land of Canaan, but not because they were righteous. Secondly, He was going to destroy all the Canaanites, and it would be due to their wickedness. Nobody in this scenario deserved God’s blessings.  The Israelites had done nothing to merit God’s mercy and grace. As a matter of fact, Moses delivers the less-than-comforting news that God was going to deliver the Israelites in spite of them.

“You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:6 NLT

They were stubborn and rebellious and, therefore, wicked in God’s eyes. They had been given God’s commandments but had failed to keep them. Even when Moses had been on the mountaintop at Sinai, receiving the Ten Commandments, the people had chosen to rebel against God and make an idol to worship in His place. It doesn’t get any more wicked than that. Consider the words God spoke to Moses as He informed him about what was taking place down in the valley.

“Get up! Go down immediately, for the people you brought out of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted gold and made an idol for themselves!” – Deuteronomy 9:12 NLT

Yet, here they were, ready to enter the land of Canaan and take possession of the inheritance promised to Abraham by God. And that seems to be Moses’ point in all of this. God could have destroyed them for their wickedness because He is a consuming fire. He could have done to them exactly what He was going to do to the Canaanites and have been fully justified in doing so. But Moses assured the Israelites that the only reason God was not destroying them was “to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 9:5 NLT).

God was fulfilling the promise He had made to Abraham and had reiterated to Isaac and Jacob. The Israelites did not deserve what God was about to do. They had not earned His favor, and most certainly could not claim to be righteous in His eyes. They were wicked and rebellious. They were stubborn and stiffnecked. And they couldn’t claim ignorance, because God had given them His law. They knew exactly what He expected of them and yet, they had chosen to reject His divine will and live in open rebellion to Him.

And Moses does not let them forget just how angry God had been with them for their unfaithfulness at Mount Sinai.

“Even at Mount Sinai you made the Lord so angry he was ready to destroy you.” – Deuteronomy 9:8 NLT

But God had spared them. Why? Because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He does not lie. He will not go back on His word. He had promised Abraham that his descendants would occupy the land of Canaan. He had made a commitment to give them the land as their inheritance, and He would fulfill that promise.

No man deserves the mercy and grace of God. No one can stand before God and demand that He reward them for their righteousness. As the book of Ecclesiastes states:

Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT

And, quoting from Psalm 14, the apostle Paul sums up the sad state of mankind’s spiritual condition.

No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one. – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

The Israelites stood before God as guilty and condemned, and worthy of experiencing the consuming fire of God’s righteous anger. But He would show them mercy because He had made a promise to Abraham, and that promise included their existence as a nation.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2 NLT

But there was a second aspect to that promise.

“And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:18 NLT

God had plans for Israel. And those plans included the coming of the Messiah. God was going to use this rebellious, sin-prone nation to bring forth the Savior of the world. Jesus would be born a Jew, from the tribe of Judah. He would take on human flesh and become the one and only man who lived in perfect obedience to God’s law. And His sinless existence would make Him qualified to act as the unblemished Lamb to serve as payment for mankind’s sin debt. His death would satisfy the just demands of a holy God and provide atonement for all who would recognize their sin and accept His undeserved, unmerited offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

The Light of the World

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ! – Ephesians 4:17-21 ESV

Why was a second Adam necessary? Why did Jesus, the Son of God, have to humble Himself by becoming a man and subject Himself to all the temptations and trials that come with living as a human in a fallen world?

The answer to those questions is provided by the apostle Paul.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 ESV

It might be easy to assume that God overreacted to the sin of Adam and Eve. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. When God discovered what His two image bearers had done, He pronounced curses on both of them, and these curses would be long-term and cross-generational. To Adam God said:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

Death entered the equation for the very first time. And this death involved much more than the termination of life. It included physical separation from God. One of the immediate aftereffects of the fall was God’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden.

He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:24 ESV

Rather than enjoying constant fellowship with God in the beauty of the garden, Adam and his wife found themselves set apart from God. They were denied further access to the garden and prevented from having any further contact with God. Not only that, they lost the right to eat of the tree of life, which appears to have been the source of eternal life. This seems clear from God’s reaction after their transgression.

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” – Genesis 3:22 ESV

God did not want Adam and Eve to continue eating of the tree of life in their current fallen state. Eternal life had been intended for the sole purpose of bringing glory to God and enjoying unbroken fellowship with Him. But sin had changed all that. A holy, righteous God cannot tolerate sin in His presence. As the apostle Paul rhetorically asked: “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV).

One of the immediate results of the sin of Adam and Eve was a change in their awareness. They experienced a significant alteration to their consciousness.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. – Genesis 3:7 ESV

Interestingly enough, this was exactly what Satan had said would happen if they disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Their eyes were opened. But they didn’t like what they saw. For the first time, they experienced guilt and shame. They knew they had sinned and were overcome by the condemnation they felt. Their guilty consciences caused them to view themselves differently. They suddenly saw their God-created state in a new and sin-darkened light. The beauty of their bodies became nakedness, and they tried to cover it up. Their eyes were opened, but their vision had become distorted by sin. And this is the very same state into which every man and woman has been born ever since.

As Paul states in the Roman’s passage above, “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Opened eyes do not always see clearly. And humanity would find itself blinded by sin and incapable of seeing the truth regarding God and their own fallen state. They would understand their need for God and would spend their lives searching for a means by which they might be restored to their former state of fellowship with Him. 

But unable to find God, they would seek out false gods, exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV). In his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul describes lost mankind in very unflattering terms.

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them… – Ephesians 4:18 ESV

But he doesn’t stop there. Paul goes on to describe the outcome of their darkened understanding.

They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity… – Ephesians 4:19 ESV

Created to bear God’s image, but damaged by sin, mankind has spent centuries living in open rebellion to God and failing to reflect His glory. Paul says they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” Denied access to the one true God, they sought substitutes. As His image bearers, they were to have been the glory of God. But God’s glory in their lives became veiled by sin.

Think of it like the sun darkened by clouds. The glory of God still shines, but sin prevents it from casting God’s shadow on the earth. Which takes us back to what it meant for man to be created in the image of God. The Hebrew word for image is tselem, and according to the Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, it means “an image, likeness (so called from its shadowing forth).” Man was intended to be the shadow of God on earth, created by the glory of His majesty. Like the shadow of a man, created by the brilliance of the sun, humanity was to have revealed the reality of God by its very existence.

Jesus came into the world as the very light of God. The apostle John describes Him this way: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1:9-10 ESV).

Why was the second Adam necessary? Because sin had darkened the minds of men. They no longer had the capacity to see truth. Their lives no longer shadowed God’s glory. The darkness of sin had veiled the Light. And John goes on to paint a bleak picture of the world when Jesus arrived on the scene as the second Adam.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

Jesus came into the world as the light of God. He shadowed the glory of the light of God perfectly to the world, exposing man’s sin and extending an invitation to step into the light of God’s glory once again. But for man to enjoy fellowship with God again, the guilt and shame of sin must be removed. The darkness veiling the eyes of men must be healed. Blind men can never see the light. Those who have learned to love the darkness of sin will never know what it means to live in the light of God’s glory, without the sin-shattering, darkness illuminating power of the second Adam. It is only through Jesus, the second Adam, that we are able to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). 

Jesus makes it possible for the cloud of sin to be removed so that man can once again reflect the glory of God. Read the following words from the apostle Paul and consider the remarkable gift provided to you by Jesus Christ.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV

But God is greater than Satan.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

God sent the light of His Son into the darkness and made it possible for sinful men to be restored to their original purpose: to reflect the glory of God.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

The light has shown in the darkness. Jesus, the Son of God and the second Adam, has come into the world so that the darkness of sin might be replaced with the light of God’s glory. He has made it possible for man to be restored to his former position as God’s image bearer.

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  – John 8:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Just Judgment of God

4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses,
    and like war horses they run.
5 As with the rumbling of chariots,
    they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire
    devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army
    drawn up for battle.

6 Before them peoples are in anguish;
    all faces grow pale.
7 Like warriors they charge;
    like soldiers they scale the wall.
They march each on his way;
    they do not swerve from their paths.
8 They do not jostle one another;
    each marches in his path;
they burst through the weapons
    and are not halted.
9 They leap upon the city,
    they run upon the walls,
they climb up into the houses,
    they enter through the windows like a thief.

10 The earth quakes before them;
    the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.
11 The Lord utters his voice
    before his army,
for his camp is exceedingly great;
    he who executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
    who can endure it? – Joel 2:4-11 ESV

In these verses, Joel provides additional details concerning the coming day of the Lord. It will feature another invasion of alien forces, but this time it will not be locusts, but a foreign army. Yet, Joel uses imagery to describe this invading force that sounds eerily similar to the locust infestation the people of Judah had just endured. You can almost imagine the locusts “devouring the stubble” (Joel 2:5 ESV). His description of the enemy soldiers climbing “up into the houses” and entering “through the windows like a thief” must have brought back unsettling memories of the millions of disgusting locusts invading their villages and homes.

But this time, the enemy was going to be made up of men armed with swords, marching in endless columns, and riding in chariots of iron. And, like the locusts, they would be driven by a primal urge to devour and destroy everything in their path. And there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. Which is why Joel describes the people as being in a state of anguish with their faces white with fear. The armies of Judah will prove inadequate against this massive enemy onslaught. Any attempt to defend the city of Jerusalem will fail, as “they burst through the weapons and are not halted” (Joel 2:8 ESV). 

Joel is describing a scene that is meant to instill fear in the hearts of the people. And he purposefully uses language that is intended to remind his audience of all that they have just endured. But this judgment will be far greater in intensity, and the damage will far exceed the loss of grain and grapes. When the locusts had finally disappeared, they left behind a land devoid of crops. But when the invading army that shows up on the day of the Lord is finished, the land of Judah will be like a ghost town, free of human life. Those who are not slain by the sword will be taken captive.

And Joel wants his audience to know that this invasion will be God’s doing. The army that shows up will be His army, and they will be accomplishing His divine will.

The Lord is at the head of the column.
    He leads them with a shout.
This is his mighty army,
    and they follow his orders. - Joel 2:11 NLT

God had used similar language when addressing the people of Judah through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah.

“…behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.” – Jeremiah 25:9 ESV

God is sovereign over all. And He is fully capable of using anything He has created to accomplish His will, including pagan armies and foreign dignitaries. In fact, the prophet Isaiah provides another message from God, where He warns Babylon of their coming destruction at the hands of yet another foreign power.

“Raise a signal flag on a bare hilltop.
    Call up an army against Babylon.
Wave your hand to encourage them
    as they march into the palaces of the high and mighty.
I, the Lord, have dedicated these soldiers for this task.
    Yes, I have called mighty warriors to express my anger,
    and they will rejoice when I am exalted.” – Isaiah 13:2-3 NLT

The sovereign God of the universe has the entire world at His disposal. He can accomplish His will by any means He deems necessary. And His use of unrighteous kings and ungodly armies does not make God unholy. His ways are always right, and His judgments are blameless. Even Daniel, one of the Jews who found himself living in exile in Babylon after the fall of the city of Jerusalem, commented on the righteousness of God in light of Judah’s rebellion against Him.

To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. – Daniel 9:7 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah provides further insight into Judah’s treachery and God’s righteous response to it.

For they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies;
    they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
That is why the Lord’s anger burns against his people,
    and why he has raised his fist to crush them.
The mountains tremble,
    and the corpses of his people litter the streets like garbage.
But even then the Lord’s anger is not satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike! – Isaiah 5:24-25 NLT

And Isaiah goes on to describe how the Lord will mete out His anger against His rebellious children.

He will send a signal to distant nations far away
    and whistle to those at the ends of the earth.
    They will come racing toward Jerusalem.
They will not get tired or stumble.
    They will not stop for rest or sleep.
Not a belt will be loose,
    not a sandal strap broken.
Their arrows will be sharp
    and their bows ready for battle.
Sparks will fly from their horses’ hooves,
    and the wheels of their chariots will spin like a whirlwind.
They will roar like lions,
    like the strongest of lions.
Growling, they will pounce on their victims and carry them off,
    and no one will be there to rescue them.
They will roar over their victims on that day of destruction
    like the roaring of the sea.
If someone looks across the land,
    only darkness and distress will be seen;
    even the light will be darkened by clouds. – Isaiah 5:26-30 NLT

Because of their unholy behavior, God will use Judah’s unholy enemies to punish them. Like Adam and Eve banned from the garden due to their rejection of God’s word, the people of Judah would be expelled from the land of promise because they had rejected His law. He had set them apart as His own possession and had called them to live holy lives.

You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own. – Leviticus 20:26 NLT

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

But rather than living in a way that illustrated their status as God’s chosen people, they had chosen to assimilate with and follow the example of the pagan nations around them. They fell in love with the world. And their love affair with the world led them to conduct themselves like an unfaithful wife, giving their affection and attention to false gods.

So, God warns them of coming judgment. And it will come in two phases. There will be a more immediate judgment that shows up in the form of the Babylonian army. But there is another judgment that lies in the distant future and will take place at the end of the age. God knows His people. And as the sovereign God of the universe, He is well aware that they will continue to be unfaithful to Him. Which is why He has a future day of restoration planned for them. 

But in the meantime, He is going to call them to repentance. He is going to offer them a second chance.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
   and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Cast Out of Eden

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
    nor will be again after them
    through the years of all generations.

3 Fire devours before them,
    and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the garden of Eden before them,
    but behind them a desolate wilderness,
    and nothing escapes them.–
Joel 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Judah was still reeling from the devastating impact of a locust plague. Their crops and vineyards had been destroyed, leaving them on the verge of starvation. Even the herds and flocks in the fields had been left wandering in search of food. And the priests found themselves with no grain or wine to use as offerings to God in the temple. As a result, Joel had called the people to assemble for a national day of mourning and fasting, and had warned them, “cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:14-15 ESV).

Joel was demanding that the people repent of their sins and warning them failure to do so would result in further judgment from God. If they thought the locusts were bad, they were in for a very unpleasant surprise. In these verses Joel describes a second of judgment that was headed their way, and he refers to it as “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is found throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament and is typically used to refer to the final phase of God’s redemptive plan for the world. The day of the Lord will entail the final judgments of God against all mankind, but also the fulfillment of His promises to Israel. It will include the period known as the Great Tribulation, when God will pour out a series of devastating judgments on the world and its inhabitants, but also the second coming of Christ, when He will defeat the enemies of God and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has a day of reckoning.
He will punish the proud and mighty
    and bring down everything that is exalted. – Isaiah 2:12 NLT

For see, the day of the Lord is coming—
    the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate,
    and all the sinners destroyed with it. – Isaiah 13:9 NLT

The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15

As was often the case with these proclamations of pending doom, the prophets were communicating a two-phase judgment. The first phase would take place in the not-so-distant future. It would come in the form of the Assyrian or Babylonian armies, and end in the defeat and subjugation of the people of God. But these prophecies had a second and much more distant aspect to their meaning. They were speaking of events that still wait to be fulfilled. And this is true of Joel’s words as well.

Joel warns the people of Judah to sound an alarm. They were to blow the shofar or ram’s horm as a warning signal to the nation, declaring the arrival of an enemy army. Joel wants the people to feel a sense of urgency. This was not to be viewed as a remote possibility, but as a divine reality. He warns them that “the day of the Lord is coming; it is near” (Joel 2:1 ESV). He is trying to convey as sense of imminence and immediacy. They can’t afford to ignore his warning or to assume the sound of the shofar is a false alarm.

Joel breaks the news that “a great and powerful people” were headed their way. And their numbers would be so great that they would shroud the land like a blackness. In fact, he states that “their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations” (Joel 2:2 ESV). This was not a case of prophetic hyperbole. Joel isn’t crying wolf or trying to elicit a response by exaggerating the circumstances. He is a prophet of God proclaiming the word of God. 

What makes the writings of men like Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah so fascinating is that they provide us with proof of God’s Word. He speaks and things happen. He provides His prophets with insights into future events and those things take place, just as He predicted. God never issues idle threats concerning coming judgment. He doesn’t bluff about His hatred for sin and His determination to punish His people for their rebellion. The day of the Lord is coming. God will repay all men for the evil deeds and will fulfill every promise He has made concerning His blessings and curses.

In the following verses, Joel will describe the arrival of a mighty army, using words and phrases meant to remind the people of Judah of the most recent insect invasion they had experienced. But this time, it would be armies made up of men, not arthropods. Rather than facing crop-consuming locusts, the people of Judah would become the victims of human enemies who destroy all who stand in their way. Where the insect hordes had devastated the land of God, the human army will destroy the people of God.

It is interesting to note that Joel describes the land as being like the garden of Eden prior to the coming judgment. But when it is all over, the land will be a desolate wilderness. This description is intended to reflect a spiritual reality, not a physical one. The garden of Eden was a beautiful, God-created place of perfect peace, where Adam and Eve enjoy unbroken fellowship with their Maker. But when sin entered into the scene, the guilty pair were cast out of the garden and denied access to God’s presence. They lost their right to enjoy God’s provision and presence. And instead of being blessed by God, they found themselves under His curse.

That is point Joel seems to be making. The land had already been devastated by the locusts. The fields were empty of produce and the trees and vines had been stripped bare of fruit. But it was still Edenic, because God was there. They still enjoyed the presence of God. Yet, Joel warns, the day was coming when the garden-like nature of Judah would be turned into a wilderness, devoid of the fruit of God’s power and presence. God would even resort to their removal from His land of promise, sending them into captivity in Babylon.

God is serious about sin, and He holds His people responsible for their actions. Adam and Eve had known the rules, but they had chosen to disobey them. And they suffered the consequences. The people of Judah knew what God expected of them, but they had chosen to reject His will for their own. And now, they too would suffer the consequences. The day of the Lord was coming. Judgment was inevitable and inescapable. But as we will see, God’s warning of pending judgment is always accompanied by a call to repentance.  He longs to see His people turn away from their sin and rebellion and return to Him in humility and contrition. 

All the way back at the dedication of the temple constructed by Solomon, God had promised the people of Israel:

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

That is always the heart of God. He longs to hear from His people and it is His heart’s desire to provide healing for them. But the peace of Eden will not abide the presence of sin. God requires holiness from His creation. And yet, He is going to offer the people of Judah an opportunity to return to Him in humble contrition, acknowledging their sin and their need for forgiveness and restoration.

“…return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.” – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

A Thirst For God

13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
    wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
    O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
    are withheld from the house of your God.

14 Consecrate a fast;
    call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
    and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord.

15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
    and as destruction from the Almighty[c] it comes.
16 Is not the food cut off
    before our eyes,
joy and gladness
    from the house of our God?

The seed shrivels under the clods;
    the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are torn down
    because the grain has dried up.
18 How the beasts groan!
    The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
    even the flocks of sheep suffer.

19 To you, O Lord, I call.
For fire has devoured
    the pastures of the wilderness,
and flame has burned
    all the trees of the field.
20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you
    because the water brooks are dried up,
and fire has devoured
    the pastures of the wilderness. – Joel 1:13-20 ESV

The consequences of sin are not always self-evident. They don’t always show up at the point the sin is being committed. But in due time, the sinner always reaps what he sows. We can attempt to hide our sin or act like it never happened, but it will eventually get exposed. As God warned the tribes of Reuben and Gad, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23 ESV).

And the people of Judah were experiencing the painful consequences of their sin against God, in the form of the devastating aftermath of the locust infestation that had left their land devoid of fruit and grain. For generations, they had thought they had gotten away with their repeated rebellion against God, but their sin had found them out. He had been watching and waiting. Now, judgment had come and they had no grain to make bread and no grapes with which to produce wine. And, on top of that, they had no way of offering the grain and drink offerings required as part of the sacrificial system established by Yahweh.

So, Joel calls on the priests of God to put on sackcloth, lament, and wail. Rather than wearing their priestly robes and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, they were to spend their nights in sorrow, “Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1:13 ESV). Joel addresses them as “ministers of the altar” and “ministers of my God,” clearly pointing out how they had abdicated their responsibility as the spiritual leaders of Judah. They were to have led the nation in the worship of God, bringing the sins of the people before the altar and helping to restore them to a right relationship with God.

When God had set apart the tribe of Levi to assist Aaron with the duties associated with the tabernacle, He had told them, “They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:8 ESV). The priests in Joel’s day had failed to keep guard over the people. They had stood back and watched as the people disobeyed and dishonored God by their sinful behavior. Yes, they continued to offer their grain and drink offerings. They kept bringing their sacrifices and fulfilling all the feast days and festivals. But their hearts were not in it. God’s feelings regarding the outward obedience of His people were made quite clear in His words recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”says the LORD.

“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the bloodof bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony. Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.” – Isaiah 1:11-13 NLT

God was fed up. He had had enough. So, He demands that the priests assemble all the people at the temple and declare a nationwide fast and period of mourning.

Announce a time of fasting;
    call the people together for a solemn meeting.
Bring the leaders
    and all the people of the land
into the Temple of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to him there. – Joel 1:14 NLT

The Hebrew word used for this kind of gathering is `atsarah, and it was typically used to refer to an assembly of the people for the keeping of a feast or festival. But there would be no feasting at this assembly. It was a fast, a willing abstaining from food on order to focus all their attention on God. And they were already experiencing a forced fast because there was no bread to eat or wine to drink. As is self-evident, this was not going to be a joyous occasion. They were expected to cry out to God in confession and repentance, placing themselves at His mercy and hoping that He will show them grace.

And Joel doesn’t want them to miss the seriousness of this occasion. He describes the time in which they live as “the day of the Lord.” And he points out that “Our food disappears before our very eyes. No joyful celebrations are held in the house of our God” (Joel 1:16 ESV). They are under divine judgment and its effects are all around them.

The seeds die in the parched ground,
    and the grain crops fail.
The barns stand empty,
    and granaries are abandoned. – Joel 1:17 NLT

Even the animals in the fields are experiencing the consequences of Judah’s sin and God’s judgment. The pastures are barren and the flocks are starving. In all of this, Joel seems to be pointing out how Judah’s sin was impacting not only the economy, but the sacrificial system. Not only was there no grain or wine for use in the offerings, the herds and flocks that would have been the source of sacrifices were suffering from starvation. The entire sacrificial system, designed to provide forgiveness from sin and a restored relationship with God, was struggling for its existence. Joel describes the flock of sheep as suffering, but the Hebrew word he uses is 'asham, which means “to suffer punishment due to guilt.” Even the sheep, which were the primary means of substititionary atonement for the sins of the people, were suffering as if guilty. Their lack of adequate food had made them unfit for sacrifice.

These were dark days. And it wasn’t because of the locusts. It was because of sin. And the judgment against Judah’s sin had not stopped with the devouring by the locusts. Joel describes fire as having scorched the fields, leaving any remnant of grain completely wiped out. And, on top of that, the brooks had dried up, leaving the animals in the fields searching for anything to slack their thirst.

The imagery of animals desperately seeking for something to slack their thirst is meant to picture the spiritual state of the people of Judah. They are dying spiritually, and in need of someone to quench their unbearable thirst for satisfaction. And, through the prophet Isaiah, God offers them an invitation.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.” – Isaiah 55:1-12 ESV

The situation is desperate, but are the people of Judah? Are they ready to give up their wicked ways and turn to God? Has the devastation of the locusts left them ready to seek God and serve Him faithfully? Time will tell. But Joel warns them that things are going to get worse before they get better. If they don’t repent, the day of the Lord will come. He is offering to quench their spiritual thirst and alleviate their suffering, but they must confess their sin and return to Him in humility and contrition.

Again, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, reminding the people of Judah what it was He wanted from them. And His words reveal the choice that the people of Judah had to make.

“But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man;
    he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck;
he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig's blood;
    he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
    and their soul delights in their abominations.” – Isaiah 66:2-3 ESV

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Cut Off and Dried Up

5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep,
    and wail, all you drinkers of wine,
because of the sweet wine,
    for it is cut off from your mouth.
6 For a nation has come up against my land,
    powerful and beyond number;
its teeth are lions’ teeth,
    and it has the fangs of a lioness.
7 It has laid waste my vine
    and splintered my fig tree;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
    their branches are made white.

8 Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth
    for the bridegroom of her youth.
9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
    from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn,
    the ministers of the Lord.
10 The fields are destroyed,
    the ground mourns,
because the grain is destroyed,
    the wine dries up,
    the oil languishes.

11 Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil;
    wail, O vinedressers,
for the wheat and the barley,
    because the harvest of the field has perished.
12 The vine dries up;
    the fig tree languishes.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple,
    all the trees of the field are dried up,
and gladness dries up
    from the children of man. – Joel 1:5-12 ESV

The relentless waves of locusts have come and gone, leaving a lunar-like landscape in their wake. The land of Judah has been stripped bare of all vegetation as these voracious insects devoured every plant in their path.  Joel paints a grim picture of the aftermath of their devastating destruction, describing the grape vines as being “laid waste,” the fig trees as “splintered,” the fields as “destroyed,” and the trees of the field as “dried up.” And he calls on the people of Judah to mourn their loss. In fact, he addresses several distinctly different groups of individuals, in an obvious effort to show the non-discriminatory nature of the locust judgment.

First, he speaks to the drunkards (Hebrew: shikkowr), those who spend their days intoxicated by the fruit of the vine. These individuals were going to find the days ahead especially difficult to endure. While they would survive in the short-term, living off the surplus of wine from the last harvest, the day would come when the shelves at the local convenience store would be bare, and the storage vats would be dry. Suddenly, the drunks would find themselves with nothing to drink, and no way to satisfy their insatiable desire for wine-fueled escape. It will be a rude and unpleasant wake-up call, like an alcoholic having to go cold-turkey.

Joel compares the overwhelming numbers of the locusts to that of a vast human army “powerful and beyond number.” But he describes their capacity to devour and destroy as being like the teeth and fangs of a lion.  Then, Joel provides a graphic description of the devastating consequences of this vast army’s destructive power.  And he uses the voice of God to portray the scene.

It has destroyed my grapevines
    and ruined my fig trees,
stripping their bark and destroying it,
    leaving the branches white and bare. – Joel 1:7 NLT

This judgment from God has impacted the land of God. The land of promise, provided by God to the people of Judah, has had to suffer because of their sin. It was His grapevines that had been stripped bare, and the fig trees that were stripped of their bark and left with fruitless branches had been His property. The sins of mankind always impact the creation of God. Even the original fall left the created order under a curse. The apostle Paul describes creation as groaning under that curse, awaiting its re-creation at the return of Christ.

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-22 NLT

Next, Joel turns his attention to the priests. The loss caused by the locust infestation was going to make a very different impact on their lives. Joel describes the “grain offering and the drink offering” as being “cut off from the house of the Lord” (Joel 1:9 ESV). With the fields left stripped bare and the vines devoid of fruit, there would be no grain or wine to use in the sacrificial system. Like a gasoline-powered engine with no fuel to fill its tank, the temple rituals would grind to a halt, leaving the priests with nothing to do, but mourn.

The fields are ruined,
    the land is stripped bare.
The grain is destroyed,
    the grapes have shriveled,
    and the olive oil is gone. – Joel 1:10 NLT

No grain for the grain offering. No wine for the drink offering. No olive oil for the lamps. All the way back during the days of the exodus from Egypt, God had provided the people of Israel with instructions regarding the importance of grain, wine, and oil in the sacrificial system He had instituted.

“These are the sacrifices you are to offer regularly on the altar. Each day, offer two lambs that are a year old, one in the morning and the other in the evening. With one of them, offer two quarts of choice flour mixed with one quart of pure oil of pressed olives; also, offer one quart of wine as a liquid offering. Offer the other lamb in the evening, along with the same offerings of flour and wine as in the morning. It will be a pleasing aroma, a special gift presented to the Lord.” – Exodus 29:38-41 NLT

And notice what Moses says. These offerings of wine, oil, and grain were “a special gift presented to the Lord.” The Jews were to present these offerings to the Lord, in obedience to His commands, but also in appreciation for His goodness and grace. The apostle Paul used the drink offering as a way to describe his commitment to live his life in obedience to the cause of Christ.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. – Philippians 2:17 ESV

Because of their sins, the people of Judah had brought the judgment of God on themselves. But their disobedience wasn’t going to impact them alone. It would rob God of the glory and honor He deserved.

Finally, Joel addresses the farmers and the vine-growers. With no grain or grapes to harvest, they would have plenty of time to weep and mourn. Joel uses the Hebrew word, yabesh, and it is translated as “ashamed.” But it can mean “to dry up” or “to wither away.” Joel seems to be saying that the barren fields and fruitless vines would act as a visual representation of the spiritual condition of God’s people. They were dried up and withered. They were spiritually fruitless and non-productive.

Don’t miss the picture Joel is painting. The farmers have no grain to harvest. The vine-growers have not grapes with which to produce wine. As a result, the drunks have no wine with which to get drunk. But the people have no wine or grain to offer up to God. Not only can the drunks not sin, but the people can’t effectively find forgiveness for their sins. And the priests, whose primary job was to act as “the ministers of the Lord,” would find themselves with no role to play. Rather than wearing robes of righteousness and presenting offerings of thankfulness to God, they would be wearing the sackcloth associated with mourning and weeping tears of sorrow and regret.

And Joel summarizes the situation, revealing that the destruction of the locusts had been all-encompassing in its scope.

The grapevines have dried up,
    and the fig trees have withered.
The pomegranate trees, palm trees, and apple trees—
    all the fruit trees—have dried up.
    And the people’s joy has dried up with them. – Joel 1:12 NLT

Virtually every living thing had been impacted by the judgment of God as manifested in the locust plague.  Grapes, figs, pomegranates, palms, apples, and all other fruit trees were destroyed. But, more significantly, so was the joy of the people. As the crops had withered, so had the joy of the people. The Hebrew word for “joy” that Joel used is sasown, and it could be used to speak of gladness, rejoicing, or “the oil of gladness“ that was used in times of celebration. The people of Judah had no reason to rejoice or celebrate. Their sins had brought the judgment of God. And while the primary target of God’s judgment had nature itself, the people would feel the consequences.  And in the book of isaiah, the prophet speaks of “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:2), describing a future day when God will restore joy and gladness to His rebellious people. 

…to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. – Isaiah 61:3 ESV

Sin always brings death and destruction. It always results in sorrow. Ultimately, it prevents mankind from giving God the glory and honor He deserves. And, as this passage so powerfully illustrates, it leaves the people of God spiritually barren and fruitless, dried up and devoid of joy. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

They Shall Declare My Glory

15 “For behold, the Lord will come in fire,
    and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
    and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,
    and by his sword, with all flesh;
    and those slain by the Lord shall be many.

17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord.

18 “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.

22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth
    that I make
shall remain before me, says the Lord,
    so shall your offspring and your name remain.
23 From new moon to new moon,
    and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord.

24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Isaiah 66:15-24 ESV

After 66 chapters, it would be easy to assume that the entire book of Isaiah is all about the nation of Judah. And while they are one of the main topics of the book and the key recipient of it the messages contained in it, they are not its primary focus. God is.

All throughout the book, Isaiah has communicated the glory and greatness of God. What set the people of Judah apart was their God. He was the reason they were a nation in the first place. He had called Abraham out of Ur and made from him a great nation consisting of descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. The whole purpose behind Isaiah writing the book that bears his name was to express God’s glory and expose the guilt of the people of Judah for refusing to reflect that glory to the nations. They were to have been a living, breathing witness to the rest of the world of what it looks like to live in unbroken fellowship with God Almighty. But they had failed. Instead of bringing glory to the name of God through submission to His will and obedience to His commands, they had displayed an open disregard for His holiness and greatness by pursuing false gods. They had profaned the name of God by their actions and, while God was obligated to punish them, He was still determined to protect the integrity of His reputation by remaining committed to the covenant He had made with them.

Throughout this book, the glory of God is juxtaposed to the sinfulness of humanity. And the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel are highlighted as glaring examples of mankind’s stubborn rejection of God’s revealed glory. He had chosen, rescued, led, protected, and provided for them. He had given them His law as a guideline for living in relationship with Him and one another. He had provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness for the times they inevitably failed to live up to His law. And each time God displayed His power among them, showered His grace and unmerited favor on them, and maintained His covenant commitment to them, He was revealing His glory. But rather than responding in gratitude and with a renewed determination to remain faithful to Him, the peoples of Judah and Israel had continued to treat God’s glory with disdain and indifference.

So, the book of Isaiah tells us what God intends to do. It reveals His plans regarding His disobedient children and the rest of mankind who live in open rebellion to Him. While the punishment of Judah is a major theme of the book, the future restoration of Judah and Israel is given far more significance. And the primary point behind their restoration will be the glory of God. Isaiah has already told us what will happen in that day.

And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:4-6 ESV

Notice that God is the main focus of these verses. He will receive thanks. It is His deeds that will be made known. His name will be exalted. Praises will be sung to Him and about Him. Because He alone is great. God’s restoration of His people will not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. They will recognize His glory and greatness as He displays His covenant faithfulness. But they will also see and experience His glory in the form of His judgment. As Isaiah has made clear, the day is coming when God will reveal His glory as He metes out justice to the nations.

“My mercy and justice are coming soon.
    My salvation is on the way.
    My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my powerful arm.
Look up to the skies above,
    and gaze down on the earth below.
For the skies will disappear like smoke,
    and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing.
The people of the earth will die like flies,
    but my salvation lasts forever.
    My righteous rule will never end!” – Isaiah 51:5-6 NLT

Again, don’t miss the emphasis of these verses: My mercy and justice. My salvation. My strong arm. My righteous rule. It will all be about God and His glory. In fact, verse 18 of this chapter clearly states that the focus of all that happens in the end times will be the glory of God.

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory…”

The Hebrew word translated “glory” is kabowd and it literally means “heaviness.” But it is primarily used to refer to weight or significance of something or someone. Used of God, it is an expression of His greatness, magnificence, and majesty. God’s glory is what sets Him apart as the one true God. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we were made for God’s glory. In other words, our very existence points back to His majesty as the Creator-God. The psalmist tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 ESV). The apostle Paul reminds us that, as believers, we are vessels of clay in which the very glory of God is contained (2 Corinthians 4:7).

God is all about His glory, and He can reveal His glory in a variety of ways. In fact, all that He does reveals His glory. When He saves, He received glory. When He judges, He is glorified. When He displays His righteous indignation against sinful mankind, the glory of His character is revealed. God’s merciful and gracious gift of His Son as payment for the sins of man is a manifestation of His glory. And Jesus told His followers that, when they bear fruit, “This brings great glory to my Father” (John 15:8 NLT).

So, back to the closing verses of Isaiah 66. What does any of this have to do with God’s glory? God talks about coming in fire and rendering His anger in fury. He describes His judgment as resulting in the deaths of many. In fact, the very last verse in the entire book states:

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” – Isaiah 66:24 ESV

And while that description may leave us feeling a bit discomfited, we must not overlook the reality that it too reveals the glory of God. He is going to deal with rebellious mankind once and for all. And less we think that God is being a bit too harsh, we have to remember that He has been extending grace and mercy to the nations for centuries. He has been showing great patience for generations. But the day is coming when His patience will run out and His righteous judgment will be poured out. And, as the book of Revelation reveals, when the period of the Tribulation comes and God begins to His final judgments upon humanity, the vast majority of them will refuse to repent.

Everyone was burned by this blast of heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over all these plagues. They did not repent of their sins and turn to God and give him glory. – Revelation 16:9 NLT

…and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. – Revelation 16:11 NLT

And yet, notice what God is going to do. Isaiah reveals that there is a day coming when God will display His glory in yet another way. He will send messengers to all those whom He spares from judgment, giving them a second and final chance to see and experience His glory in the form of salvation.

“I will perform a sign among them. And I will send those who survive to be messengers to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (who are famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to all the lands beyond the sea that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. There they will declare my glory to the nations. – Isaiah 66:19 NLT

God will be glorified as He redeems and restores a remnant of His rebellious people, Israel. But He will also be glorified when He spares and saves a portion of sinful mankind. And the outcome of all God’s activities in those days will be the worship of Him.

“All humanity will come to worship me
    from week to week
    and from month to month.” – Isaiah 66:23 NLT

And the apostle John provides us with a marvelous description of that day, when God and His Son will rule over all the earth and their glory will fill the earth.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:3-5 NLT

We shall declare His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Then They Remembered…

7 I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
8 For he said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will not deal falsely.”
    And he became their Savior.
9 In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10 But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.
11 Then he remembered the days of old,
    of Moses and his people.
Where is he who brought them up out of the sea
    with the shepherds of his flock?
Where is he who put in the midst of them
    his Holy Spirit,
12 who caused his glorious arm
    to go at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
    to make for himself an everlasting name,
13     who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
    they did not stumble.
14 Like livestock that go down into the valley,
    the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So you led your people,
    to make for yourself a glorious name.

15 Look down from heaven and see,
    from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
    The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
    are held back from me.
16 For you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us,
    and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.
17 O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
    and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
    the tribes of your heritage.
18 Your holy people held possession for a little while;
    our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary.
19 We have become like those over whom you have never ruled,
    like those who are not called by your name. – Isaiah 63:7-19 ESV

After hearing God’s grand plan for the future redemption of His people, Isaiah responds with a somewhat nostalgic recollection of all of God’s great and gracious redemptive activities on behalf of the people of Israel. And he does so in the form of a prayer.

He starts by recalling the myriad examples of God’s merciful kindness or favor. Throughout this prayer, Isaiah will focus on the undeserved nature of God’s love for the people of Israel. They have been the undeserving recipients of God’s unmerited favor. Every single incident involving God’s love toward Israel “he has granted according to his mercy and love” (Isaiah 63:7 NLT). The Hebrew word for mercy is racham, and it can be used to refer to a mother’s womb. From Isaiah’s perspective, the children of Israel have been cared for and protected by God like a baby in its mother’s womb. An unborn baby does nothing to earn its place of safety and security, but enjoys nourishment and protection because of the gracious actions of its mother. And Isaiah did not come up with this comparison on his own. He had heard it from the lips of God Himself.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb (racham).” – Isaiah 46:3 ESV

Of His own accord, God had made the people of Israel His children and He had every right to expect them to live up to their position as His sons and daughters. God had agreed to be their Savior, providing them with protection and rescue when necessary. In return, He asked that they not deal falsely with Him. He expected them to remain faithful to Him.

Isaiah recounts the history of his people, recalling the many times in which God stepped into their circumstances and rescued them. He describes God as suffering along with them. When the found themselves experiencing difficulty, God was empathetic, but also immediate in His response.

…he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
    He lifted them up and carried them
    through all the years. – Isaiah 63:9 NLT

But how had they responded to God’s gracious acts of redemption? By rebeling against Him and, by doing so, grieving His Holy Spirit. As a result, they would find their relationship to Him becoming antagonistic rather than affectionate. From their vantage point, God would appear more like their enemy than their gracious, loving Father. But God was not the one who had reneged on the relationship. The fault was all theirs.

Their unfaithfulness to God would result in His loving discipline of them. They would discover the painful consequences of their willful decision to violate their covenant with God. Their failure to remain faithful to Him would cost them. Their choice to worship false gods would cause them great pain and suffering. And Isaiah recounts the many times the people of God had called out to the very one they had abandoned, in the hopes that He would rescue them yet again.

“Then they remembered…” (Isaiah 63:11 NLT). It took the very real presence of trials to get them to recall the true identity of their Savior. It had been God who had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt. It had been God who had brought the plagues upon the people of Egypt. And it had been God who had provided them with a path across the Red Sea, allowing them to escape the armies of Egypt. They remembered and they cried out.

Now, Isaiah cries out. He turns His recollections of God’s past mercies into a call for His immediate intervention into their current state of affairs.

Lord, look down from heaven;
    look from your holy, glorious home, and see us.
Where is the passion and the might
    you used to show on our behalf?
    Where are your mercy and compassion now? – Isaiah 63:15 NLT

Isaiah begs God to do as He has done so many times before. He knows that they don’t deserve God’s favor, but he pleads with Him to extend His mercy and compassion yet again. Like Moses and the Israelites standing on the shore of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them, the people of Judah found themselves in a similar situation. They were in trouble. The enemy was bearing down on them and they had no way of escape. The only hope they had was God.

And Isaiah addresses God as their loving Father, appealing to His sense of responsibility for His children.

Surely you are still our Father!
    Even if Abraham and Jacob would disown us,
Lord, you would still be our Father.
    You are our Redeemer from ages past. – Isaiah 63:16 NLT

Isaiah knows that God is faithful. He is not questioning God’s commitment to His covenant promises or raising doubts about God’s everlasting love. He is simply appealing to God’s unchanging nature. He is the very same God who has rescued the people of Israel time and time again, in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him. So, Isaiah is simply asking God to respond to their current situation with the same sense of mercy and grace.

Isaiah had a healthy understanding of the sovereign will of God. He knew that nothing happens in this life apart from the will of God, including the rebellion of the people of God. When Isaiah asks the question, “why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?,” he is not blaming God for the sins of the people of Judah. He is simply acknowledging that God could have prevented their unfaithfulness, but chose not to. To put it another way, God gave them free rein to practice free will. He allowed them to live according to the desires of their hearts. The apostle Paul provides us with a powerful reminder of what it looks like when God “abandons” men and women to live according to their own desires, and it is not a pretty picture.

…instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. – Romans 1:23-24 NLT

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. – Romans 1:28 NLT

God does not cause us to sin. James makes that point perfectly clear.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

God was not responsible for the sins of the people of Judah. But Isaiah knew that the only way they could have remained faithful would have been through the intervention of God. And the only way they were going to return to God was if He acted on their behalf. They didn’t have it in them to do so on their own accord. Which is what led Isaiah to plead: “Return and help us, for we are your servants, the tribes that are your special possession” (Isaiah 63:17 NLT).

Isaiah knew their only hope of salvation was God. They had no other options. If He did not intervene on their behalf, they were doomed. Isaiah knew the his own people well and realized that if repentance, as evidenced by changed hearts, was the only way God would rescue them, it would never happen. They were far too stubborn for that to happen. And Isaiah includes a sad expression of his outlook on their current state of affairs.

Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you,
    as though we had never been known as your people. – Isaiah 63:17 NLT

This was his honest opinion. As he looked at the circumstances surrounding the people of Judah, it was as if they had never been chosen by God. Things had deteriorated so badly, that they were unrecognizable as God’s chosen people. They looked no different than any other nation on the planet. Their distinctiveness had long ago dissapated. Rather than living as set apart by God, it appeared as if they had been set aside. But Isaiah was not willing to give up, as the rest of his prayer will reveal.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Peace

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear.
3 For your hands are defiled with blood
    and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
    your tongue mutters wickedness.
4 No one enters suit justly;
    no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
    they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
5 They hatch adders’ eggs;
    they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
    and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.
6 Their webs will not serve as clothing;
    men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
7 Their feet run to evil,
    and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
8 The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
    no one who treads on them knows peace. –
Isaiah 59:1-8 ESV

Judah’s sorry state of affairs was not an indictment against God’s power to save. He was fully capable of bringing them relief. After all, He was the very source of their current condition. It was God who had chosen to use the Assyrians as His instruments of judgment against His rebellious people. And He was the one who had warned that future judgment would come in the form of the Babylonians. The circumstances in which the people of Judah found themselves were, in a sense, self-inflicted. They had brought it on themselves because they had refused to listen to God’s calls to acknowledge their sin and return to Him. They had repeatedly stiff-armed God’s prophets, including Isaiah, rejecting their messages and stubbornly maintaining their love affair with false gods.

So, in this chapter, we see Isaiah delivering a message to his fellow Judahites that leaves them without excuse. He will not allow them to blame God. He refuses to let them cast God as the villain and themselves as the innocent victims. This was not a case of divine parental abuse or abandonment. They were the cause of their own pain and suffering. And Isaiah conveys that message in starks terms.

It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.
    Because of your sins, he has turned away
    and will not listen anymore. – Isaiah 59:2 NLT

They had abandoned God. Not the other way around. In fact, God had patiently and persistently called on them to repent. He had rescued them time and time again from the consequences of their own sinfulness. He had lovingly disciplined them for their unfaithfulness, welcoming them back with open arms. But they had responded to His grace with ingratitude and continued infidelity. And the prophet Jeremiah describes their stubborn refusal to repent with a sense of shock and surprise.

O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
    but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
    but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
    they have refused to repent. – Jeremiah 5:3 ESV

That the people of Judah were guilty was beyond debate, and Isaiah reveals why. He provides a list of evidence that is both lengthy and appalling. It includes murder, depravity, lying, injustice, perjury, dishonesty, and violence. And these manifestations of their own wickedness were showing up in every area of their lives – from their homes to their courts of law. Iniquity was ubiquituous. And while not every member of their society was equally complicit, they all stood equally condemned. There was a corporate culpability shared by all, from the youngest to the oldest and the richest to the poorest. At some level, every single individual in their community stood before God as guilty, having committed their own fair share of sins against Him.

The list Isaiah shares is similar to one that the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Colossae. He reminded them that, even as Christians,  they needed to continue to purge their lives of those sins which mark the lives of each and every human being who walks this planet.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. – Colossians 3:5-6 ESV

Mankind, apart from help from God, is hopelessly addicted and attracted to the very things that bring the wrath of God. We can’t help it. And Paul warned the believers in Rome how a holy God must deal with those who continue to live lives of unholiness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 ESV

But not only does a life of ungodliness and unrighteousness bring the judgment of God, it breeds destruction. Isaiah describes the people of Judah as hatching adders’ eggs. Their evil actions were going to produce some seriously negative consequences. And it doesn’t take a herpatologist to understand that hatching the eggs of a poisonous snake brings more of the same.

And Isaiah compares their sinful actions with the weaving of spider webs.  You can’t expect to produce clothes with that which is ephemeral and fragile. The life of ungodliness can produce nothing of lasting value. It may appear attractive but, in the end, it leaves you with nothing tangible or beneficial from all your effort.

Just how bad was it in Judah? Isaiah is unsparing in his assessment.

All their activity is filled with sin… – Isaiah 59:6 NLT

Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder… – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

They think only about sinning… – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

Not exactly a flattering picture. Their lives were inundated by sin and rebellion. It permeated their community. It influenced every facet of their corporate experience, from the halls of the king’s palace to the lowliest peasant’s hut. And, as a result, they were all experiencing the consequences that come from living in open rebellion against God and pursuing a way of life that is in direct violation to His call to holiness.

They don’t know where to find peace
    or what it means to be just and good.
They have mapped out crooked roads,
    and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. – Isaiah 59:8 NLT

No peace. No joy. No justice. No righteousness. Without God, none of these things are achievable. You can’t walk away from Him and expect to find what only He can deliver. A life of sin is a dead end. It offers hope, fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace. But it can’t deliver on its promise. Pursuing the false gods of this world may appear attractive, but they will never produce a single promise they offer. God was offering His people peace. They could be restored to a right relationship with Him and enjoy peace with the One who had made them. They could enjoy peace in their community as they allowed God to guide their actions and change their attitudes. But as long as they continued to refuse Him and choose their own paths, they would find themselves living in turmoil and in constant pursuit of the one thing for which all men long: Peace.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Have I No Power to Deliver?

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce,
    with which I sent her away?
Or which of my creditors is it
    to whom I have sold you?
Behold, for your iniquities you were sold,
    and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
2 Why, when I came, was there no man;
    why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
    Or have I no power to deliver?
Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea,
    I make the rivers a desert;
their fish stink for lack of water
    and die of thirst.
3 I clothe the heavens with blackness
    and make sackcloth their covering.” –
Isaiah 50:1-3 ESV

The first three verses of chapter 50 continue the theme established in the preceding chapter. God knows that when the people of Judah find themselves in captivity in Babylon, they will accuse Him of abandonment. He addresses His children, the people of Judah, as if they are already in exile, and He defends Himself against their charges of forsaking their mother, Israel. He had not divorced her and sent her away – even though He had every right to do so. She had been unfaithful to Him. She had committed spiritual adultery against Him, not once, but repeatedly. And He had not sold her into slavery in order to pay a debt. God owes no man anything. He is obligated to no one.

This was not a case of God having grown discontent with His wife, Israel, and jettisoning her for a younger, more loving spouse. He makes it very clear to His children that their captivity was their own fault. It was their sins that had caused God to do what He had done.

“No, you were sold because of your sins.
    And your mother, too, was taken because of your sins.” – Isaiah 50:1 NLT

When the inevitable consequences of their repeated sins against God finally came to fruition, the people of Judah would be quick to blame God. They would see themselves as the innocent victims, having been abandoned by their heavenly Father. But God would have none of it. He would not allow them to deny their own guilt and cast dispersions on His character and integrity.

And what makes Judah’s sin so egregious is that they had been warned by God, repeatedly. He had sent His prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah to call them to repentance. And they had the northern kingdom of Israel as living proof of what happens when God’s people remain stubbornly unwilling to heed His warnings and return to Him. The northern tribes of Israel had rejected God’s calls to repent and had suffered the consequences.

When Josiah was king of Judah, the Lord said to me, “Jeremiah, you have no doubt seen what wayward Israel has done. You have seen how she went up to every high hill and under every green tree to give herself like a prostitute to other gods. Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not. Her sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods. Because she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone. In spite of all this, Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:8-10 NLT

Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians, had its capital city of Samaria plundered, and its people taken as captives to Nineveh. And the people of Judah had watched all this happen, but had remained unmoved and unimpressed by God’s judgment against their brothers and sisters. They continued to forsake God and pursue false gods. And al the while, they attempted to fool God into believing that they remained faithful by going through the motions of religious ritual and outward law keeping. But it was all a facade, intended to deceive God into believing that they remained devoted and sincere.

And God accuses them of ignoring His many calls to repent.

“Why was no one there when I came?
    Why didn’t anyone answer when I called?” – Isaiah 50:2 NLT

Isn’t it interesting how, when we find ourselves in trouble, we immediately call out to God for rescue. Yet, when we are living in sin and enjoying the temporal pleasures that sin offers, He calls out to us, and we ignore Him. He pleads with us to repent and return to Him, but we are too enamored with the false sense of joy and contentment that a lifestyle of sin provides.

That God did not prevent the fall of Judah had nothing to do with a lack of power on His part. He could have, but He chose not to. And He reminds them that His power is unlimited.

“For I can speak to the sea and make it dry up!
    I can turn rivers into deserts covered with dying fish.
I dress the skies in darkness,
    covering them with clothes of mourning.” – Isaiah 50:3 NLT

All of this is reminiscent of the story of Job, the man of God who found himself having lost everything – his children, his health and all his wealth. He was under intense emotional, physical and spiritual attack, wrestling with trying to understand the why behind his condition. And he stated:

“If only I knew where to find God,
    I would go to his court.
I would lay out my case
    and present my arguments.” – Job 23:3-4 NLT

Job was anxious for an opportunity to plead his case before God. All his friends had accused him of being a sinner suffering the obvious consequences of God’s anger. But Job had pleaded innocence, persistently claiming that he done nothing deserving of his fate. And he was convinced that, if he could just have a hearing before God, he would receive a fair trial and a just decision.

“Then I would listen to his reply
    and understand what he says to me.
Would he use his great power to argue with me?
    No, he would give me a fair hearing.
Honest people can reason with him,
    so I would be forever acquitted by my judge.” – Job 23:5-7 NLT

But Job felt like God was nowhere to be found. He claimed, “I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him” (Job 23:8 NLT). God seemed hidden and concealed and yet, Job was able to say:

“But he knows where I am going.
    And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
For I have stayed on God’s paths;
    I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
I have not departed from his commands,
    but have treasured his words more than daily food.” – Job 23:10-12 NLT

The people of Judah could make no such claim. They were guilty as charged and fully deserved the punishment they had received. Job had suffered greatly, but had done nothing to deserve it. And yet, despite his innocence, he knew that casting blame on God was not the answer. In fact, he wrote, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 NLT).

Had the people of Judah only understood the reality of that thought. But they had no fear of God. In spite of what had happened to Israel, they continued to emulate the sins of Israel, forsaking God for lifeless idols made by human hands. They practiced deceit and lived a lie. They ignored God’s laws and violated His calls for justice and righteousness. They turned their backs on the very one who had the power to deliver them. And they would suffer the consequences for their sins.

But what about innocent Job? He had done nothing to deserve his sorrowful circumstances. What did God do for Him?

…the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. – Job 42:10-12 NLT

God blessed and restored him. And, amazingly, that was exactly what God planned to do for the rebellious nation of Judah. He would bless and restore them. Yes, they would suffer for their sins. They would pay the price for their disobedience. But God, the faithful, covenant-keeping God, would redeem them from their captivity and restore them to the land of promise. Despite the gravity of their circumstances, His hand was not shortened, and His power to redeem was not diminished in any way. And the day will  come when the people of Judah and Israel will acknowledge God just as Job did.

“I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jacob’s Redeemer

1 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
    Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus says the Lord who made you,
    who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
4 They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.
5 This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
    another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
    and name himself by the name of Israel.”

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.[
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
8 Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any
.” Isaiah 44:1-8 ESV

Just as He had at the beginning of chapter 43, here God addresses His people by the two names of the son of Isaac: Jacob and Israel. Jacob had been his original name, given to him at birth, and it meant, “holder of the heel, supplanter, or layer of snares.” This name had to do with the circumstances surrounding the births of he and his brother.

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:24-26 NLT

That was how Jacob came by his somewhat strange, but highly descriptive name. And this rather bizarre birth narrative reflects a message that God had given to Rebekah even before the boys were born. She had been barren and unable to give Isaac any children, so he had “pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife” (Genesis 25:21 NLT). And God heard his prayer and enabled Rebekah to become pregnant with twins.

But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:22-23 NLT

Jacob, though technically not the first-born, was going to end up having dominion over his brother. And later on in the story, Esau. in an act of impulsiveness, driven by physical desires, would trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. And not long after that, when their father, Isaac, was on his deathbed, Jacob and his mother would trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Jacob was a deceiver. And his actions brought the wrath of his brother down him, forcing him to run for his life and live in exile in Paddan-aram. But God eventually arranged for Jacob’s return, and that event was accompanied by a God-ordained name change

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel. – Genesis 35:10 NLT

So, why is any of this important? Because God opens this passage by using both names of this man as a designation for the people of God. The first name, Jacob, is an apt description of the people of God. They were deceivers and supplanters, having replaced the one-true God with false gods. But the name Israel means “God prevails.” It describes the undeniable reality that God was going to use the people of Israel, in spite of the people of Israel.

His will for them would prevail, not because of them, but because He was a faithful God. All throughout his life, Jacob had tried to fulfill the will of God by using trickery, deceit, and his own human efforts. God had already told Rebekah that the older son would serve the younger, but she and Jacob were both guilty of trying to accomplish God’s will through human means. But in Isaiah 44, God seems to be reminding the people of Judah that it is He who will bring about their preferred destiny. He is the one who had made and chosen them. They had nothing to do with it.

And almost as if He is addressing Jacob himself, God assures him, “Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen!” (Isaiah 44:2 NLT). God was going to do all that He had promised to do.

When Jacob had been forced to flee the land of Canaan in order to escape the vindictive wrath of his brother, God had visited him in a dream and made a covenant promise to him.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

And here is Isaiah 44, God is reaffirming that promise to the people of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. He uses another name by which to refer to them: Jeshurun. It means “upright one” and seems to be used to describe the ideal character God expected of His chosen people. And this is not the first time God used this particular name for Israel.

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
– Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

They had abandoned God, the one who gave the birth. They had gotten fat and happy, content with their lifestyle, and turned their backs on the one who had made them what they were.

And yet, here is God promising to bless them.

“For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.”
– Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God describes a future day when His people will once again take pride in being His children. Rather than boasting in their false gods, or taking pride in their wealth and material possessions, they will declare their job at being God’s chosen possession.

“One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”
– Isaiah 44:5 NLT

And just to ensure that the people of Judah understand just who it is that is going to bless them, God refers to Himself as “the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 44:6 NLT). He is the Lord, Jehovah, “the existing one.” He is their King and sovereign. He is their Redeemer, actually their ga'al or kinsman-redeemer, who will ransom them out of slavery to sin. And He is the Lord of hosts, the commanders of the armies of heaven. With these four designations, God sets Himself apart from all other gods.

“I am the first and I am the last,
there is no God but me.
Who is like me? Let him make his claim!”
– Isaiah 44:6-7 NLT

It's a rhetorical question that requires only one answer: No one. But just to make sure they understand the answer, God expands on it.

“Don’t panic! Don’t be afraid!
Did I not tell you beforehand and decree it?
You are my witnesses! Is there any God but me?
There is no other sheltering rock; I know of none.”
– Isaiah 44:8 NLT

They have nothing to fear because they are the people of God. Their future is in His hands and not tied to their own ability to live up to His exacting standards. They had already proven their incapacity to remain faithful. They had repeatedly shown their propensity to rebel against Him. They were deceivers and tricksters, always ready, willing and able to supplant the one true God with a wide array of false gods. But God assures them that He remains Jacob’s Redeemer. Just as He restored Jacob from exile, He will restore the people of Judah from exile. And He has even greater plans in store for them when His Son returns again.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Potter and the Clay.

9 Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual.” – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? –
Isaiah 29:16 NLT

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

To the Ends of the Earth.

b)1 Ah, land of whirring wings
    that is beyond the rivers of Cush,
2 which sends ambassadors by the sea,
    in vessels of papyrus on the waters!
Go, you swift messengers,
    to a nation tall and smooth,
to a people feared near and far,
    a nation mighty and conquering,
    whose land the rivers divide.

3 All you inhabitants of the world,
    you who dwell on the earth,
when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
    When a trumpet is blown, hear!
4 For thus the Lord said to me:
“I will quietly look from my dwelling
    like clear heat in sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
5 For before the harvest, when the blossom is over,
    and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he cuts off the shoots with pruning hooks,
    and the spreading branches he lops off and clears away.
6 They shall all of them be left
    to the birds of prey of the mountains
    and to the beasts of the earth.
And the birds of prey will summer on them,
    and all the beasts of the earth will winter on them.

7 At that time tribute will be brought to the Lord of hosts

from a people tall and smooth,
    from a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
    whose land the rivers divide,

to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the Lord of hosts. – Isaiah 18:1-7 ESV

Cush isn’t exactly a household name for most of us. If asked to locate it on a world map, we might not know what region of the globe to begin our search. But because this next oracle is directed at the land of Cush and all of the preceding oracles have had connections with nations who had direct ties to the people of Judah, we can assume Cush was in close proximity to the promised land.

In the book of Genesis, we have the record of God’s destruction of the world through a global flood. Noah and his family, including his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, were the only ones to survive God’s judgment on the world. According to Genesis 10:6, Ham became the father of Cush. One of the sons born to Cush was a man named Nimrod. Interestingly, the Genesis account only provides a history of this one son of Cush.

Cush was the father of Nimrod; he began to be a valiant warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. (That is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.”) The primary regions of his kingdom were Babel, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen, which is between Nineveh and the great city Calah. – Genesis 10:8-12 NLT

There are some names that should jump out at us in this passage: Babel, Shinar, Assyria, and Nineveh. Of course, Babel is where mankind attempted to disobey God’s command to spread across the earth and populate it. Instead, they decided to erect a tower that would reach to the heavens. In reality, they wanted to build their own reputation as a great and mighty people. But God confused their languages and they dispersed. But Babel would later become the region known as Babylon.

Many scholars believe Shinar to be a reference to the land of Sumer, where the Sumerians lived. This region was located in southern Mesopotamia, in what is now southern Iraq. The Sumerians eventually built the city of Ur, which was the hometown of Abraham. Of course, Assyria is more familiar to most of us. It was a great nation that occupied an area that included what is now Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Their capital city was Ninevah. 

So, we can see that the descendants of Cush has a long and less-than-friendly history with the people of God. But in Isaiah’s day, the Cushites resided in the area south of Egypt. Some believe that they were actually Ethiopians. Isaiah describes them as “a nation tall and smooth…a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide… (Isaiah 18:2 ESV). The 1st-Century Jewish historian, Josephus, records, “For of the four sons of Ham, time has not at all hurt the name of Cush; for the Ethiopians, over whom he reigned, are even at this day, both by themselves and by all men in Asia, called Cushites” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews).

In Isaiah’s day, the land of Cush would have been the end of the world. It was about as far from the land of Judah as one could imagine. And yet, God directs Isaiah to deliver an oracle against this distant nation. Why? Because Judah, facing the prospect of an attack by a combined force made up of Syrians and Israelites, was considering forming their own alliances. In other words, they were looking for aid in their moment of desperation. And the Cushites, along with the Egyptians, would have been logical options for the people of Judah to consider.

But God has a warning for the people of Cush. In fact, His oracle includes all the nations of the earth.

All you inhabitants of the world,
    you who dwell on the earth… – Isaiah 18:3 ESV

Rather than using the Cushites to save the people of Judah, God commissions them to take a message to the nations of the earth. He wants them to warn these nations that judgment is coming.

…when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
    When a trumpet is blown, hear! – Isaiah 18:3 ESV

There will be signal for battle and no one will miss it. When that day comes, the nations are to take notice and prepare for the worst. And God warns:

“I will quietly look from my dwelling
    like clear heat in sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” – Isaiah 18:4 ESV

There will be no panic on God’s part. There is almost a feeling of nonchalance in this statement, as if God simply looks down and knows it is time to act. And the next verse describes the actions of a farmer pruning His crops.

For before the harvest, when the blossom is over,
    and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he cuts off the shoots with pruning hooks,
    and the spreading branches he lops off and clears away. – Isaiah 18:5 ESV

But God’s pruning of the nations would appear premature, before they had time to fully produce fruit. In a sense, He would nip in the bud their plans for world domination. He would prune the fruit of their conquests and desires for global subjugation.

And the results of God’s judgment will be devastating.

They will all be left for the birds of the hills
and the wild animals;
the birds will eat them during the summer,
and all the wild animals will eat them during the winter. – Isaiah 18:6 NLT

The book of Revelation speaks of a coming day of judgment that is eerily similar in tone.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” – Revelation 19:17-18 ESV

There is a coming day of judgment for all mankind. God will deal righteously and justly with the rebellious nations once and for all time. He will bring an end to sin. He will destroy the pride and arrogance of man, revealing Himself as the one and only God of the universe. And, later on in this book, Isaiah reveals something else that God will do in that day. It will be an act of mercy and grace. It will be a sign of God’s love and His desire to redeem a remnant from throughout the nations.

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations.” – Isaiah 66:18-19 ESV

They shall declare my glory among the nations. God will send His people to the far ends of the earth, even beyond the borders of Cush, in order that all people mighty hear of His glory, goodness and grace.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The One True God.

10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people more rare than fine gold,
    and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger.
14 And like a hunted gazelle,
    or like sheep with none to gather them,
each will turn to his own people,
    and each will flee to his own land.
15 Whoever is found will be thrust through,
    and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed in pieces
    before their eyes;
their houses will be plundered
    and their wives ravished.” – Isaiah 13:10-16 ESV

In this, the first of ten oracles Isaiah received from God, detailed and devastating descriptions are given regarding a day of coming judgment. Babylon, the veritable poster boy of pride and arrogance, is used by God as a symbol for the pagan nations of the earth, who reject Him and persecute His people, Israel.

But the judgments described in these verses are universal in nature and global in scope. They are not merely God’s plans for the destruction of Babylon. They encompass the entire world and all those who are living on it at the time the judgments fall. And verse nine makes that point white clear.

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it. – Isaiah 13:9 ESV

And verse 11 elaborates on God’s future plans for pouring out His righteous wrath on sinful mankind.

I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. – Isaiah 13:11 ESV

In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul clarifies the basis for God’s coming day of judgment on the nations"

…he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:8 NLT

They are self-absorbed and self-reliant. They are stubbornly disobedient to the truth of God. And the result is that they live lives of wickedness, violating the expressed will of God. According to Paul, their actions and attitudes are a willful snub against God, who has made Himself known to them through His creation.

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 1:18-20 NLT

Mankind’s rejection of God has been an ongoing affair, since the day Adam and Eve disregarded His command and decided to satisfy their own desires apart from and outside of His will. And that is what the world has been doing ever since.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

Rather than worship the Creator-God, they worshiped the creation itself. They fabricated their own gods – lifeless, powerless stand-ins for the one true God – a product of their own imaginations and their own hands. And Paul says that God gave mankind over to follow their own self-absorbed standard of living.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 1:24-25 NLT

And mankind’s rejection of God has continued for generations. And over that time, we have seen the human capacity for sin increase exponentially – to the point where sin is not longer viewed as sin. Right is wrong and wrong is right. What God condemns, man now glorifies. What He denies and deems off-limits, we defend and demand as our right. And Paul painted a prophetic picture of the day and age in which we live.

That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. – Romans 1:26-27 NLT

But the sinful act is not the issue here. It is the rebellious hearts that ultimately lead to the shameful desires and the sinful actions. The rejection of God always result in rebellion against the will of God. And Paul provides a graphic description of what this way of life, lived without God, looks like. 

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:29-32 NLT

But Isaiah reminds us that God will not put up with mankind’s rebellion against Him forever. There is a day coming – that day – when He will judge sinful mankind, not for the individual sins they have committed, but for their refusal to accept Him as God. Their sinful behavior is nothing more than a byproduct and evidence of their lack of a relationship with God. The Scriptures make it clear that ALL humanity has sinned against God. They all stand as guilty before Him. But those who have placed their faith in the offer of salvation made possible through His Son, have received forgiveness for their sins. They have been made right with God. And, as Paul puts it, they live free from the threat of future condemnation.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2 NLT

But for all those who refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith in His Son, condemnation and judgment remain inevitable and unavoidable. Which is exactly what Isaiah is warning. He speaks of God’s wrath and fierce anger. He describes that day as one that will feature cosmic disturbances in the sky and incredible violence on the earth. And he is not the only prophet who wrote in starkly graphic terms concerning this coming day.

I will veil the heavens and darken the stars.
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
    and the moon will not give you its light. – Ezekiel 32:7 NLT

The Lord is at the head of the column.
    He leads them with a shout.
This is his mighty army,
    and they follow his orders.
The day of the Lord is an awesome, terrible thing.
    Who can possibly survive? – Joel 2:11 NLT

And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. – Daniel 12:1 NLT

The world has experienced its fair share of dark days. There have been countless wars and periods of civil unrest. We have invented new and ever-more-deadly means of wreaking havoc on one another. Our capacity and propensity for sin has increased, not decreased. And yet, God is not blind. He is oblivious to what is happening on the life-sustaining planet He created. He is well aware of the sorry state of things on earth, and one day He is going to deal with it. All that Isaiah predicts in these verses will take place. And the book of Revelation reveals the details concerning the coming day of God’s judgment on sinful mankind.

In his vision, given to Him by God, John sees a time when God’s wrath will take the form of famine, widespread disease, civil unrest, earthquakes, and bizarre cosmic disturbances. Ane while we may see signs of those things already happening, their quantity and intensity will be like nothing we have ever experienced before. Not only that, there will be strange, inexplicable phenomena taking place that will clearly reveal that God is the cause behind all that is happening. The seas will be turned to blood. The drinking water will become bitter and poisonous. The primary crops for making bread will be destroyed. Starvation will be widespread. Civil unrest will be worldwide, not localized.

And as if all that is not enough, God will unleash demonic activity on the earth like nothing anyone has ever seen or experienced before. People will suffer and die at the hands of demons. But before we express sorrow and regret over this sad state of affairs, look at what John records.

But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.  – Revelation 9:20-21 NLT 

No repentance. No remorse. In spite of all that God brings upon them in terms of His divine judgment, they remain stubbornly unrepentant. They will cling to their false gods and continue to snub their noses at the one true God.

And the bleak picture that Isaiah paints is a prophetic glimpse into this future time of God’s judgment. It has not yet arrived, but it will. And while the vivid descriptions of its outcome may leave us confused and confounded, the psalmist would have us rejoice. Because God’s coming judgment is a sign of His sovereignty over the earth. He will one day make all things right. He will restore His creation to its former glory. He will rid the world of sin once and for all.

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
    Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
    Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he is coming!
    He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
    and the nations with his truth. – Psalm 96:11-13 NLT

Justice will prevail, because God is a just and holy God. He will step into His creation and reclaim His rightful place as God. And all the world will one day acknowledge Him for who He is: The one true God.

Let all the world look to me for salvation!
    For I am God; there is no other.
I have sworn by my own name;
    I have spoken the truth,
    and I will never go back on my word:
Every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to me. – Isaiah 45:22-23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Everyone is Godless.

8 The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,
    and it will fall on Israel;
9 and all the people will know,
    Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
    who say in pride and in arrogance of heart:
10 “The bricks have fallen,
    but we will build with dressed stones;
the sycamores have been cut down,
    but we will put cedars in their place.”
11 But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him,
    and stirs up his enemies.
12 The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west
    devour Israel with open mouth.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

13 The people did not turn to him who struck them,
    nor inquire of the Lord of hosts.
14 So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail,
    palm branch and reed in one day—
15 the elder and honored man is the head,
    and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail;
16 for those who guide this people have been leading them astray,
    and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.
17 Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men,
    and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows;
for everyone is godless and an evildoer,
    and every mouth speaks folly.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.– Isaiah 9:8-17 ESV

Isaiah has just prophesied about the light that would dawn, illuminating the lands of Naphtali and Zebulun in the northern region of Galilee, and eliminating the spiritual darkness in which they would exist. But that great day was in the far-distant future. In the meantime, the darkness would continue to increase because the people of God were refusing to honor Him. It was going to get far worse before it got better.

Isaiah makes it clear that God’s anger is against all the tribes by referring to them as Jacob, the man who 12 sons comprised the 12 tribes of Israel. But this particular warning was going to be against the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel. It is important to remember that the nation of Israel had been split in two by God after the reign of Solomon. His unfaithfulness to God, exhibited in his erection of idols to false gods, had led God to divide his kingdom in half. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin comprised the southern kingdom of Judah, and the remaining tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel. And not long after the split, Jeroboam, the king of Israel had chosen to make his own false gods in the form of golden calves and erect them in the cities of Dan and Bethel. 

Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. – 1 Kings 12:30 ESV 

The apostasy of Israel increased over time, and led to God’s eventual determination to punish them. And Isaiah warns them that they must repent or face the wrath of God.

But their greatest problem was their pride and arrogance, which had led them to create their own gods. They didn’t need Yahweh. Instead of relying on Him for help, they had made alliances with pagan nations like Syria. They were operating in their own power and according to their own wisdom. And they displayed an over-confidence in their ability to survive even the judgment of God.

“We will replace the broken bricks of our ruins with finished stone,
    and replant the felled sycamore-fig trees with cedars.”
 – Isaiah 9:10 NLT

Their prideful confidence in their own abilities would bring ever-increasing judgment from God. They would find themselves surrounded by enemies, sent by God, to punish them for their rejection of Him as their God.

The Syrians from the east and the Philistines from the west
    will bare their fangs and devour Israel.
But even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 9:12 NLT

And here is the saddest part of the story. In spite of God’s fully justified punishment of them, they will refuse to repent. They will stubbornly stick to their rebellious ways, continuing to reject God, the very one who had called them and formed them into a nation to begin with.

For after all this punishment, the people will still not repent.
    They will not seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 9:13 NLT

This incredible display of stubborn obstinance should not surprise us. It is displayed throughout the Scriptures, as mankind continually bows its back and digs its feet in the ground, arrogantly stiff-arming any offer from God of a relationship with Him. What makes this case so remarkable is that it involves the people of God, the descendants of Abraham – the very ones God had promised to bless if they would only remain faithful to Him.

But they had refused and, as a result, God was going to take His judgment to a whole new level, removing those in whom they relied for leadership. 

Therefore, in a single day the Lord will destroy both the head and the tail,
    the noble palm branch and the lowly reed.
The leaders of Israel are the head,
    and the lying prophets are the tail. – Isaiah 9:14-15 NLT

Isaiah points out two distinct groups: The leaders of Israel and the prophets of Israel. The political leaders were misguiding the people by encouraging an attitude of self-reliance. Rather than calling the people to turn to God, they were modeling a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mindset that was based on a false sense of self-confidence.

And the prophets of Israel, rather than speaking the truth of God, were telling the people what they wanted to hear. Unlike Isaiah, who was willing to deliver tough news, these men were contradicting the warnings of God, telling the people that all was well and everything would turn out okay. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of the rise of this very kind of mindset in their own day.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

Trusting in man rather than God is always a dangerous game to play and the Scriptures make that point very clear.

Don't put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. – Psalm 146:3 NLT

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. – Psalm 118:8-9 NLT

And the leaders of Israel were going to be hold accountable by God for their actions.

For the leaders of the people have misled them.
    They have led them down the path of destruction.
– Isaiah 9:16 NLT

The problem with lousy leadership is that it negatively impacts the lives of all those under its care. The misguided leader ends up dragging the innocent and the defenseless down the perilous path he has chosen to walk. The misguided leaders of Israel had actually led the people under their care to sin against God. To the point to where Isaiah was able to say: “For they are all wicked hypocrites, and they all speak foolishness” (Isaiah 9:17 NLT). Like a single cancer cell, one godless leader can infect the people of God, spreading the devastating disease of rebellion through the whole body and bringing the judgment of God to bear. And like a physician facing an aggressive form of cancer in a patient, God will do whatever He has to do to eradicate the disease from among His people.

…even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 9:17 NLT

This image of an angry, wrathful God is uncomfortable to most of us. It seems to contradict our understanding of His ever-present, irrepressible love. But the reality is that God’s wrath is an expression of His love. He cannot and will not allow the deadly disease of rebellion to exist in His people. He will talk the scalpel of His divine wrath, motivated by His love, and do radical and invasive surgery to remove it.

For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverb 3:12 NLT

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

I know, O LORD, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it.
 – Psalm 119:75 NLT

Though he slay me, I will hope in him… – Job 13:15 ESV

Remember what Isaiah said just prior to this statement regarding God’s coming judgment. A light was going to shine in the darkness. A day was coming when God would illuminate the people of Israel again and eliminate the darkness in which they lived. They had chosen to live in the dark. They had rejected the love of God. And while He would be forced to judge them for their rebellion, He would one day bring to them the light of the world in the form of His Son.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Free To Sin.

9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
    without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
    and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
    and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
    it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
    whose stump remains
    when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump. – Isaiah 6:9-13 ESV

When God had asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?,” Isaiah had quickly responded, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV). And now, Isaiah receives his marching orders from God. His task would not prove easy, because his audience would not prove receptive to the message God had given him. He would challenge them to listen carefully and look closely, but it would be to no avail, for they would fail to understand what he had to say or learn anything from the things they saw. 

In other words, they would continue on in their stubbornness. And that trait would last for generations, all the way into the first century A.D., when Jesus attempted to persuade the Jewish people that He was their long-awaited Messiah. But John records that the people of Jesus’ day also proved to be stubbornly resistant to the call to repent, even quoting Isaiah in his indictment of the people:

But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

“Lord, who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

“The Lord has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts—
so that their eyes cannot see,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and have me heal them.” – John 12:37-40 NLT

The idea of God blinding the eyes and hardening the hearts of His people so that they will not respond to Isaiah’s message sounds unfair to many of us. It sounds as if God is forcing them to reject His call to repentant and leaving them no chance of restoration. This passage raises the uncomfortable and controversial debate over the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. As human beings, we take our free will quite seriously. We demand the right to do what we want to do, without any outer control or unwanted manipulation. But from a theological perspective, there really is no such thing as “free” will.

The apostle Paul reminds all believers of their pre-salvation condition:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. – Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT

Then, in his letter to the Colossians, he adds:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. – Colossians 2:13 NLT

Notice what Paul says. Satan is at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. He controls their thoughts and actions. He influences their decision-making and manipulates every aspect of their lives. That does not mean that all that they do is evil all the time, but it does mean that nothing they do is considered righteous in the eyes of God. Isaiah will put it this way:

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

And Paul will expand on that thought:

No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one. – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

And Paul was simply quoting the great king, David, the man after God’s own heart.

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

God looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 53:1-3 NLT

Man is not free to do whatever he wants to do. He is controlled by his own sin nature and heavily influenced by Satan, the “father of lies.” Jesus made this point perfectly and painfully clear when speaking to a crowd of His fellows Jews:

For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! – John 8:44-45 NLT

And Paul adds that Satan plays a vital role in man’s stubborn refusal to hear the gracious message of God to repent.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don't understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

So, this idea of free will is really a misconception. Between man’s inherent sin nature and Satan’s control, no one is truly free to do what he or she wants to do. Apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ, all men are slaves to sin. They are not free to do as they wish. Yes, they make decisions every day and appear to be making choices that are the direct result of their own will, but they are NOT free to do righteousness – at least a righteousness that meets God’s exacting standard. Their best choices made on their best day are still viewed as filthy rags by a holy God.

So, God tells Isaiah:

“Harden the hearts of these people.
    Plug their ears and shut their eyes.
That way, they will not see with their eyes,
    nor hear with their ears,
nor understand with their hearts
    and turn to me for healing.”
– Isaiah 6:10 NLT

He will tell them the truth, but they will refuse to hear of accept it. The very act of delivering the message of God will result in their rejection of God. And they will be doing what they want to do. It will be their choice. But they will not be able to hear, believe and repent. That is a work of God. The prophet, Isaiah, records what is necessary for sinful man to respond to the gracious message offered by God. It requires the divine assistance of God.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26 NLT

And God goes on to let them know that this is not something they deserve or have earned.

“But remember, says the Sovereign Lord, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT

The people of Judah had a long track record of disobeying God. This was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. He had exhibited extreme patience for many generations. But the the had come for their sins to be punished. He could not and would not overlook their rebellion against Him.

But Isaiah asks God how long the people will display their stubborn resistance to his message. And God tells him.

“Until their towns are empty,
    their houses are deserted,
    and the whole country is a wasteland;
until the Lord has sent everyone away,
    and the entire land of Israel lies deserted.
If even a tenth—a remnant—survive,
    it will be invaded again and burned.
But as a terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down.” – Isaiah 6:11-13 NLT

Judgment was coming. Destruction was going to take place. Their cities would be destroyed and their people taken captive. But, there some good news amidst all the doom and gloom. God will spare a remnant – a tenth – who will survive. After all the destruction and devastation, a stump will remain. And God reveals that “Israel’s stump will be a holy seed” (Isaiah 6:13 NLT).

Even after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem, and the deportation of the people to Babylon, a remnant would be allowed to return 70 years later. They would rebuild the city and the temple. The people would once again occupy the land given to them by God. And generations later, in the land of Judah, a baby boy would be born. He would be that holy seed. And Isaiah describes him just a few chapters later.

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
    yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. – Isaiah 11:1-2 NLT

God had plans for His people. Yes, He was going to judge them, but the day is coming when He will restore them. From them would come the “holy seed” – the descendant of David, who would offer His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind. And the day is coming when He will restore the fortunes of the people of Israel, once and for all. Jesus Himself lets us know what He has planned.

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.…I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.…Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:12-13, 16, 20 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson