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.