The Book of Isaiah is among the most beloved writings of the Old Testament. There is great hope in the sixty-six chapters that cover a long period of the history of God’s people. Like all biblical books, we pick and choose our favorite parts – the ones that inspire, give hope, and make us feel beloved of God.
Isaiah is not always an uplifting book. There are plenty of words of judgment upon the people. A great deal of divine anger is expressed through the prophet’s songs and poetry. The bottom line is that Judah is going to be destroyed and the prophet declares it is God’s doing. They have been unfaithful, and God is going to act.
I do not believe this is the declaration of God giving the people a whuppin’. Instead, this is the honest divine truth, spoken with tears, that the evil done by the people will have consequences. Ignoring the ways of God sows the seeds of suffering. Chasing after a life that is counter to God’s reign of justice, peace, grace, and love is to run into the arms of destruction.
God pleads with the people who have offered empty praise and worthless sacrifice while at the same time, they oppress the poor and needy:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove your evil deeds
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil;
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:16-17)
The threat of judgment is that God’s ear will turn from hearing us anymore. Ezekiel declares:
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)
The State of Iowa had a nearly $2 billion surplus last year. The last several years have seen millions more dollars collected than spent. Even so, we cut assistance to the hungry. Just today, we have set another “high” in the number of people served in our Food Pantry. The hungry are here. We get fat. The poor suffer. God has never condoned such behavior.
Woe to those who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
to make widows their spoil
and to plunder orphans!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
and where will you leave your wealth,
so as not to crouch among the prisoners
or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
his hand is stretched out still. (Isaiah 10:1-4)
You see, the poor and oppressed will not be so forever. They will rise up. God will raise them up, just as the Israelites were delivered from slavery and Jesus from the grave.
Someone recently told me that the right to have a gun is a God-given right. Nonsense. God does not grant rights to anyone. God doesn’t need to because God is wholly righteous. “Rights” are human constructs that try to keep our sin and evil at bay. When our rights lead to violence, God has something to say.
And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. (Genesis 6:11-13)
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his cherished garden;
he expected justice
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry! (Isaiah 5:1-7)
There are many things that will not exist in the reign of God. Two are important here. There are no hungry people and there are no weapons. Since we profess faith in the reign of God, we are called to make that happen as much as possible right now. So, we feed the hungry and we end violence. God calls us to feed the hungry, help the poor, welcome the resident alien in our midst. God calls us to destroy the weapons of war and bloodshed:
He shall judge between the nations
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:1-4)
You see, the reign of God is coming, and God’s vision is not an option. It is the coming reality. To stand in opposition to this reign will bring judgment. I weep over these decrees and declarations because they lead us away from God, they delude us into thinking we are righteous instead of evil, and they reject the reign of God Christ revealed in the cross and resurrection. Have mercy on us, Lord.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor