A Full End.

20 In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. 23 For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth.

24 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: “O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. 25 For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. 26 And the Lord of hosts will wield against them a whip, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb. And his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. 27 And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken because of the fat.”

28 He has come to Aiath;
he has passed through Migron;
    at Michmash he stores his baggage;
29 they have crossed over the pass;
    at Geba they lodge for the night;
Ramah trembles;
    Gibeah of Saul has fled.
30 Cry aloud, O daughter of Gallim!
    Give attention, O Laishah!
    O poor Anathoth!
31 Madmenah is in flight;
    the inhabitants of Gebim flee for safety.
32 This very day he will halt at Nob;
    he will shake his fist
    at the mount of the daughter of Zion,
    the hill of Jerusalem.

33 Behold, the Lord God of hosts
    will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
the great in height will be hewn down,
    and the lofty will be brought low.
34 He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe,
    and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.Isaiah 10:20-34 ESV

God has made it clear that King Sennacherib and the Assyrians are nothing more than tools in His hands. Like an ax to a woodsman or a saw to a carpenter, the Assyrians would be used by God to accomplish His divine will concerning Israel and Judah. But they could no more than He decreed and allowed. The prideful and arrogant Assyrians would do what they did, not as if they were being forced to or against their own wishes, but according to their desire to “remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures” (Isaiah 10:13 ESV). Like an ax is designed to chop wood, the Assyrians were built for conquest, and their heart’s desire was to rule over all the nations.

And in 701 BC, the Assyrians came against Jerusalem, besieging the city in an attempt to destroy it as they had done the capital of the northern capital of Israel. But God had other plans.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”  – Isaiah 37:33-35 ESV

God’s work for Sennacherib and his forces was complete. They could do no more to harm the people of Judah, because Isaiah tells us that, in the middle of the night, “the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isaiah 37:36 ESV). The next morning, Sennacherib and his army broke their siege, returning to Ninevah, where he was later assassinated by his own sons.

But, beginning in verse 20 of chapter 10, the content of Isaiah’s prophecy shifts from Assyria to Judah. He begins this section, “In the day.” This is a reference to some future time period when God will restore His people. Isaiah describes it as a day when “the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 10:20 ESV). Any time you see a statement like this in Scripture, you must ask yourself whether this has been fulfilled? Has it already taken place? Is there a time in the national history of either Israel or Judah where we see the promise of this prophecy having been fulfilled?

In verses 21 and 22, Isaiah speaks of a remnant returning. We do know that after Judah eventually fell to the Babylonians and ended up in exile for 70 years, God allowed a remnant of the people to return to the land. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, they were able to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem, destroyed by the Babylonians. They restored the demolished walls and gates of the city and, eventually, reconstructed the temple and reinstituted the sacrificial system.

But Isaiah’s prophecy is very specific. He mentions both Israel and Jacob. The northern kingdom of Israel lost their capital of city of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 BC. Three years later, after having failed to pay their annual tribute to the king of Assyria, Samaria was captured, and the people were taken captive and deported to Assyria. And there is no indication that any of the Israelites ever returned to the land. Yet, they are included in Isaiah’s prophecy. So, the day to which Isaiah referred must lie in the future, as yet unfulfilled. And while a remnant of Judah did eventually return to the land, they did not “lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.” Over the subsequent centuries, they would prove unfaithful to Yahweh. And, the apostle John lets us know that, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, they were living in spiritual darkness.

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. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

Isaiah stresses that only a remnant will return to the land. Even though God had kept His word to Abraham, and had made his descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea, their disobedience had brought God’s judgment, overflowing with His righteousness. He had punished them for their rebellion but had spared them from complete destruction, because of His covenant promise to Abraham.

Through His prophet, Isaiah, God comforts the people of Judah, telling them not to fear the Assyrians. He will protect them and prevent their complete destruction. In fact, He promises, “For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction” (Isaiah 10:25 ESV). And as we saw, God fulfilled that promise.

And Isaiah, referring yet again to “that day,” states that “his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken” (Isaiah 10:27 ESV). There was a day coming when God would remove His judgment completely. While the Assyrians would eventually march their way through the land, systematically passing through Aiath, Migron, Michmash, Giba, Ramah, and Anathoth, on their way to Jerusalem, they would fail in their quest to conquer Judah. God would do to them what He had done to the Midianites and Egyptians.

And, as we saw in Isaiah 37, God fulfilled this promise, sending Sennacharib packing with his army having lost 185,000 of its soldiers.

But there is an aspect of this prophecy that remains unfulfilled. The full implications of “that day” have not yet been experienced by Judah or Israel. God is not yet done. His plans for His people have not expired or been exhausted. In his letter to the Romans, Paul stresses that there is a day coming when God will completely fulfill His promise to restore His people.

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 NLT

And the prophet, Ezekiel, prophesied about this very same day.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 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.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 NLT

Isaiah had said, “Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness.” God would bring judgment against His people, but He would also shower them with His righteousness, doing for them what they could not do for themselves. The day is coming when God will restore His people. He will return them to the land. But, more importantly, He will restore their hearts to Him.

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 Destruction of the Destroyer.

Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger;
    the staff in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few;
for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
Is not Calno like Carchemish?
    Is not Hamath like Arpad?
    Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
    whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
    as I have done to Samaria and her images?” 

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
    and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
    and plunder their treasures;
    like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14 My hand has found like a nest
    the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
    so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
    or opened the mouth or chirped.”

15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
    or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
    or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
16 Therefore the Lord God of hosts
    will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,
and under his glory a burning will be kindled,
    like the burning of fire.
17 The light of Israel will become a fire,
    and his Holy One a flame,
and it will burn and devour
    his thorns and briers in one day.
18 The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land
    the Lord will destroy, both soul and body,
    and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
19 The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few
    that a child can write them down. Isaiah 10:5-19 ESV

God’s ways are not our ways. His actions are not always understandable by us. In fact, there are times when, from our vantage point, the ways of God appear unjust or unfair. We can read many of the accounts recorded in Scripture and wonder how a loving God can act so harshly, even to His own people. When confronted with stories like the flood that wiped out an entire generation of people, we can end up questioning His goodness. And, of course, His command to the people of Israel to eliminate all the nations occupying the land of Canaan is particularly difficult for us to reconcile with our belief in an all-loving and merciful God.

And, as today’s passage so clearly portrays, there were times when God used the pagan nations to punish His chosen people, then turned around and punished the very ones He used for their actions. It sounds so capricious and temperamental. God comes across more as a tyrant than a loving and gracious sovereign. But our perspective is limited by our vantage point. We see things only from our earth-bound and man-focused point of view. So, we must be careful in judging God or indicting Him based on a limited understanding of His will or His ways. As Moses so eloquently and accurately stated:

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

In today’s passage, we find God describing the nation of Assyria as “the rod of my anger” and “a club to express my anger” (Isaiah 10:5 NLT). He will use them to punish Judah, His own chosen people, whom He describes as “a godless nation.” God will utilize Assyria like a workman uses a tool to accomplish a task. He will go on to compare Assyria to an ax or a saw, a rod or a wooden cane. These instruments are lifeless and incapable of accomplishing anything of significance apart from the one who picks them up and puts them to work according to his will.

But God makes it clear that the king of Assyria “will not understand that he is my tool; his mind does not work that way” (Isaiah 10:7 NLT). His own pride and arrogance will not allow him to see himself as an unwilling instrument in the hands of a sovereign God. From his perspective, his actions will be according to his own will. He will attack Judah because he wants to, not because God has sovereignly ordained it.

His plan is simply to destroy,
    to cut down nation after nation. – Isaiah 10:7 NLT

He will be doing what he wants to do, unaware that his actions are part of the sovereign will of God. In attacking Judah and Jerusalem, he will be doing what he has always done. He will be following a well-established strategy that had resulted in the defeats of other nations. He will not recognize the hand of God in this victory any more than he had in all the others. In fact, he arrogantly boasts:

So we will defeat Jerusalem and her gods,
    just as we destroyed Samaria with hers. – Isaiah 10:11 NLT

Little did the king of Assyria know or understand that his coming victory over Judah would be God’s doing and not his own. His success would be God-ordained, not the result of his own strategic thinking or military might. But that will not be how he sees it.

“By my own powerful arm I have done this.
    With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.
I have broken down the defenses of nations
    and carried off their treasures.
    I have knocked down their kings like a bull.
I have robbed their nests of riches
    and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs.
No one can even flap a wing against me
    or utter a peep of protest.” – Isaiah 10:13-14 NLT

And yet, God makes it perfectly clear that, when the Assyrians have completed the task He has set out for them, He will turn His judgment against them. He will punish them for their role in the destruction of His people – even though He is the one who ordained it.

After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. – Isaiah 10:12 NLT

Yes, God would use Assyria to punish godless Judah, but their actions would not be against their will. The king of Assyria, like the people over whom he ruled, would be acting in keeping with his nature. He was proud and arrogant. He was power hungry and convinced of his own invincibility. And God would use the king of Assyria’s pride-filled ambition like a workman wielding a sharpened ax. But unlike a lifeless, inanimate ax, the king of Assyria would boast in his accomplishments, taking full credit for the destruction of Jerusalem. But God points out the absurdity of this kind of arrogance in the face of His sovereign will.

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it?
    Is the saw greater than the person who saws?
Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it?
    Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:15 NLT

And God goes on to describe the ramifications for Assyria’s part in the fall of Judah. God would punish them, not because they did exactly what He ordained them to do, but because they did it joyfully and with no recognition of His hand in it. They acted arrogantly and willingly in all that they did. So, He warns them that their punishment would be severe. He threatens them with a plague among their all-powerful troops. He predicts the destruction of their once-glorious army. As the Holy One and the Light of Israel, He would consume them as easily as fire destroys thorns and briers. The once great nation of Assyria would be destroyed in a single night.

The Lord will consume Assyria’s glory
    like a fire consumes a forest in a fruitful land;
    it will waste away like sick people in a plague.
Of all that glorious forest, only a few trees will survive—
    so few that a child could count them! – Isaiah 10:18-19 NLT

This pattern is repeated all throughout the Scriptures – all the way to the book of Revelation. God will use the Antichrist to bring judgment on the world, then cast him into hell for his efforts. In the end, God will unleash demonic hordes on humanity to torment and kill them. But, after their work is done, God will cast them and Satan into hell for all eternity.

We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even like the ways of God. But as God will point out much later on in the book of Isaiah:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

His ways are always right and just. His divine will is always perfect and His actions are never in error or motivated by injustice or unrighteousness. That may be difficult for us to comprehend, but our inability to understand God’s ways does not diminish God’s character. Our limited perspective may not allow us to fully grasp the ways of our unlimited, all-powerful God, but rather than question His goodness, we should find comfort in the fact that He is in complete control of any and all things.

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 Wildfire of Wickedness.

18 For wickedness burns like a fire;
    it consumes briers and thorns;
it kindles the thickets of the forest,
    and they roll upward in a column of smoke.
19 Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    the land is scorched,
and the people are like fuel for the fire;
    no one spares another.
20 They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry,
    and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied;
each devours the flesh of his own arm,
21 Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh;
    together they are against Judah.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

1 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
    and the writers who keep writing oppression,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be their spoil,
    and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the ruin that will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth?
Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still. Isaiah 9:18-10:4 ESV

Mankind has a natural proclivity to rationalize the presence of sin. We either deny it exists or downplay its impact. And in doing so, we ignore the inherent danger of its existence. Sin is nothing short of rebellion against God’s will concerning man’s relationship with Him, but also with one another. When God gave His commandments, they had a vertical and horizontal aspect to them. They were intended to regulate man’s relationship with God, but also with the rest of creation, especially other men who had been made in God’s image.

God was not just interested in men showing Him honor and extending to Him the glory He deserved. He wanted them to treat one another with justice. And He wanted us to keep all His commandments, not just those that covered our relationship with Him.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. – 1 John 2:3-4 ESV

And John went on to clarify that keeping the commandments of God included all those commands that had to do with our relationships with our fellow men.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:9-11 ESV

And Isaiah warned the people of Judah and Israel that their failure to keep the commands of God were going to bring the judgment of God. Their refusal to treat God as holy and to treat their brothers and sisters with dignity, was going to result in devastation.

The land will be blackened
    by the fury of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
The people will be fuel for the fire,
    and no one will spare even his own brother. – Isaiah 9:19 NLT

The people were going to find themselves turning on one another in a vain attempt to survive the judgment God would unleash on them. But this would simply be a more intense manifestation of their normal treatment of one another. Because of their disregard for God and their disrespect for one another, God would allow them to literally devour one another.

They will attack their neighbor on the right
    but will still be hungry.
They will devour their neighbor on the left
    but will not be satisfied.
In the end they will even eat their own children. – Isaiah 9:20 NLT

When the Assyrians attacked, it would become every man for himself.

Manasseh will feed on Ephraim,
    Ephraim will feed on Manasseh,
    and both will devour Judah. – Isaiah 9:21 NLT

Tribes would turn against their fellow tribes. Brothers would abuse brothers. All because they had failed to love God and love one another. The people of Judah and Israel had a track record of abuse, and Isaiah leveled some stinging indictments against them:

What sorrow awaits the unjust judges
    and those who issue unfair laws.
They deprive the poor of justice
    and deny the rights of the needy among my people.
They prey on widows
    and take advantage of orphans. – Isaiah 10:1-2 NLT

From the top-down, they were all guilty of practicing injustices of all kinds. They took advantage of the weak and defenseless. They failed to care for the helpless and hopeless. And in doing so, they were violating the expressed will of God.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. – Proverbs 21:3 ESV

Righteousness, justice, kindness, mercy. These things were missing among the people of God. Because they had forsaken God, they no longer had a heart for God and their own hearts failed to reflect the character of God. They had turned way from Him and were now turning on one another. And their unjust and unrighteous behavior was going to bring down on them God’s righteous wrath in the form of the Assyrian army.

What will you do when I punish you,
    when I send disaster upon you from a distant land?
To whom will you turn for help?
    Where will your treasures be safe? – Isaiah 10:3 NLT

Israel had determined to put all their hope in their alliance with the Syrians. But they would prove to be no help when the Assyrians showed up. The nation of Judah had placed their faith in their alliance with the Assyrians. But they would soon discover that the fall of their northern neighbor at the hands of their ally would be far from good news. They would also suffer because of their failure to trust God. They too would endure the judgment of God because of their refusal to live in obedience to God.

But as bad as it would get, the end of God’s righteous wrath would not yet be exhausted.

You will stumble along as prisoners
    or lie among the dead.
But even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 10:4 NLT

This should give us some idea of just how much God hates sin. He doesn’t overlook it or excuse it. He doesn’t make light of it. In fact, Isaiah describes the devastating nature of sin in very stark terms.

This wickedness is like a brushfire.
    It burns not only briers and thorns
but also sets the forests ablaze.
    Its burning sends up clouds of smoke. – Isaiah 9:18 NLT

Sin is deadly. It may start small, but it spreads quickly and leaves a path of devastation in its wake. Like an out-of-control wildfire, it destroys everyone and everything in its path. Which is why God is obligated to deal with it in such a powerful manner. We may excuse it, rationalize it, minimize or deny it, but God cannot and will not.

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.

The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,
    and it will fall on Israel;
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

No More Gloom.

1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV

The last chapter ended on a rather somber note.

And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. – Isaiah 8:22 ESV

The people of Judah would find themselves living in darkness, having rejected the word of God. Rather than seek Him, they would turn to mediums and the necromancers, in a vain attempt to gain insight into the dire circumstances surrounding them. But they will be left in the dark, mentally and spiritually. Isaiah even describes them as having no dawn – no hope for the future. Then God provides the good news. And He delivers it in the past tense, as if it has already taken place.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV

The apostle John gives us further clarification about this light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

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. – John 3:19 ESV

Jesus, born to Mary, was the Son of God and the light of the world. In His incarnation, His entrance into our world in human form, Jesus became a light shining in the spiritual darkness that had pervaded the land of Israel for more than four centuries. During that 400-year period of time, God had been silent. The prophets had stopped writing and speaking. There was a spiritual void in the land. And the spiritual darkness was palpable. Then the dawn came. The Light broke through the darkness.

And Matthew, quoting from this very passage, wrote of Jesus beginning His ministry in the region of Galilee.

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:12-16 ESV

Once humiliated under the judgment of God, this region would be blessed with the presence of the Son of God. Naphtali and Zebulun were located in the north around the Sea of Galilee. These would have been the first regions within the northern kingdom of Israel to fall to the Assyrians. And yet, God was promising that this region would be one of the first places in which His Son would minister.

But it’s important that we notice the aspects of this prophecy that appear as yet unfulfilled. Jesus did come. And He began His ministry within the regions of Naphtali and Zebulun. And He delivered a very specific message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

But John makes it clear that His message was heard, but unheeded.

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. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

The Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah. His own rejected Him. And yet, God seems to promise tremendous blessings to the people of Israel as a result of this light.

You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
    and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest
    and like warriors dividing the plunder.
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
    and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
    just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
The boots of the warrior
    and the uniforms bloodstained by war
will all be burned.
    They will be fuel for the fire. – Isaiah 9:3-5 NLT

None of these things happened. Jesus didn’t break their yoke of slavery to Rome. He didn’t remove the oppressor’s rod. The nation of Israel was not enlarged. Because Jesus came to offer spiritual emancipation – a release from their slavery to sin. He came to deliver them from the oppression of spiritual death or eternal separation from God.

The arrival of Jesus on this planet, in the physical form of a man, was intended to provide atonement for the sins of manknd, and to make their right standing before God a reality. He did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or to establish Himself as the King of Israel. At least, not yet. And what the Jews viewed as His failure to come as their conquering king and deliverer from Roman oppression, was what caused them to reject Him as their Messiah.

And yet, God seemed to promise a coming king.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

The prophecy speaks of His government, His rule, His throne and His mighty army. And that aspect of the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. The apostle John, through the vision given to Him by God, describes a future day in which Jesus will reign on this earth from the throne of His ancestor David.

Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

And, as the angel revealed to Mary regarding the birth of her son:

“…behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:20-33 ESV

God’s promiise, made to the people of Judah through the lips of Isaiah, would one day come true. He did break through the darkness. But the people loved the darkness more than they loved the light. So, God took the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. But the day is coming when God will fulfill His promise to the people of Judah.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 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

Fear God, Not Man.

11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. – Isaiah 8:11-22 ESV

Like any prophet of God, the greatest danger Isaiah faced was compromise. He had been commissioned by God to speak truth and deliver what would be a very unpopular message to a very stubborn people. They were not going to accept what he had to say and he would find himself facing intense opposition. Isaiah would soon discover that he was a lone voice, crying in the spiritual wilderness of the city of Jerusalem. So, God warns him “not to walk in the way of this people” (Isaiah 8:11 ESV). He had been called to walk a different path. But he would face the constant temptation to soften the message given to him by God in order to find acceptance among the people. If he was not careful, he would end up telling them what they wanted to hear, rather than what God had told him to say. And God was very specific in His warning to Isaiah.

“Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do,
    and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.” – Isaiah 8:12 NLT

The Hebrew word translated as “conspiracy” is qesher and can also refer to “an alliance.” But it refers particularly to an unlawful alliance. If you recall, there had been an alliance made between the northern kingdom of Israel and the Syrians. These two nations had joined forces with the intention of conquering Judah. In their fear, the people of Judah, under the leadership of Ahaz, had made their own alliance with the Assyrians. Rather than trust God, they had chosen to put their hopes in a pagan nation. And God has already warned Ahaz that his unlawful alliance would prove to be disastrous.

Now God is warning Isaiah not to allow fear to cloud his thinking. He is not to see things the way the people do. Their fear of Israel and Syria was driving their behavior and influencing their decision making. And they had determined that the only solution to their problem was an unlawful alliance with Assyria. If Isaiah was not careful, he could easily find himself swayed by the fears of the people and placing his hope in something or someone other than God. But God strongly warns Isaiah not to let this happen.

“Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.
    He is the one you should fear.
He is the one who should make you tremble.
    He will keep you safe.” – Isaiah 18:13-14 NLT

Isaiah was to fear God, not man. He was to put his hope and trust in God Almighty, not an unlawful alliance with a pagan nation that would prove to be no match for the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And, as far as Israel and Judah were concerned, God had their fate already planned out.

“But to Israel and Judah
    he will be a stone that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem
    he will be a trap and a snare.
Many will stumble and fall,
    never to rise again.
    They will be snared and captured.” – Isaiah 8:14-15 NLT

Ahaz and the people of Judah feared the Israelites and the Syrians more than they feared God. And in doing so, they had failed to regard God as holy. They had refused to believe that He alone could keep them safe. As a result, they had allowed their fear of man to trump their fear of God. Now, the God who could have saved them, would be the God would cause them to fall. Because they had refused to see God as their sole source of safety and refuge, He would become a trap and a snare to them.

But Isaiah was to maintain his trust in God, no matter what happened. And when he discovered that the leadership and the people of the nation had rejected his message, Isaiah determined to take it to as many faithful followers of Yahweh as he could find. And Isaiah, having heard the warning from God, boldly claims his intention to remain faithful.

“I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” – Isaiah 8:17 ESV

Yet God knew that Isaiah’s commitment to remain faithful to Him was going to be constantly challenged. The people around him, even his own disciples, would eventually tempt him to turn to something other than God in order to gain insight and help.

“Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” – Isaiah 8:19 NLT

In their desperation, people will seek guidance from the dead, rather than turn to God. They will resort to witchcraft and sorcery. In a sense, they will make another unlawful alliance with the occult. Yet Isaiah is encouraged to “Look to God’s instructions and teachings,” because all those who “who contradict his word are completely in the dark” (Isaiah 8:20 NLT). And, not surprisingly, when the people fail to get the answers they are seeking from the unlawful alliances they have made, they will curse God. When they find themselves weary and hungry, they will blame their king and their God. Rather than take personal responsibility for their circumstance, they will find a convenient scapegoat. But everywhere they look, they will see “trouble and anguish and dark despair” (Isaiah 8:22 NLT).

Failure to fear God is costly. It has severe ramifications. Their future circumstances were directly tied to their refusal to place their hope and trust in God. Their decision to make unlawful alliances with the ungodly and unrighteous was going to result in undesirable consequences. But, through it all, Isaiah was to remain faithfully fearful of God. He was to keep on trusting even when everyone around him was abandoning ship. They would find themselves in a state of spiritual darkness. But there is good news and it comes in the very next chapter. In spite of Judah’s rebellion against Him, they would experience His grace and mercy. He would one day penetrate the darkness of their lives with “a great light” (Isaiah 9:2 ESV). But more on that tomorrow.  

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

God With Us.

1 Then the Lord said to me, “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’ And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.”

And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

The Lord spoke to me again: “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
10 Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:1-10 ESV

If you recall, in the previous chapter, Isaiah told King Ahaz that God was going to give him a sign.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

Now, as we open chapter 10, God gives Isaiah a rather bizarre set of instructions. He was to inscribe on a clay table the name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which roughly translates, “speeding to the plunder, hurrying to the spoil.” The act of inscribing this name on the tablet was intended serve as a prophetic pronouncement of what was to take place. And God had Isaiah seek two men to attest to the validity of the document’s content and date. Then we’re told that Isaiah had sexual relations with “the prophetess.” We are not told who this woman was, but the phrase, “I went to…” conveys the idea of drawing near to someone or somthing. In this case, Isaiah drew near for the purpose of sexual relations. And it appears as a euphemism several other places in Scripture for the first sexual encounter between a husband and his new wife. So, it would appear that Isaiah married this unnamed prophetess and she became pregnant with a child.

And God commanded Isaiah to name his new son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. But it appears that, upon the birth of their son, Isaiah’s wife had named the boy, Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” But God had clearly told Isaiah to use the rather strange name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. It is interesting to note the difference in meaning between these two names. One communicates a promise of God’s intimate and pervasive presence and protection. The other describes powerlessness at the hands of an enemy and the resulting state of being plundered. In a way, the people of Judah had the mistaken notion that, because they were the chosen people of God, He would be with them and protect them. But they had forsaken Him. And faced with the threat of the military alliance between Israel and Syria, they had chosen to put their trust in Assyria, not God.

But God warns that, before Maher-shalal-hash-baz was old enought to speak his first words, Syria and Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians. And the book of 2 Kings records for us exactly what happened.

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-bethmaacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria. – 2 Kings15:27-29 ESV

God was going to punish the nation of Israel. But the people of Judah would not escape the judgment of God. Because of his alliance with Assyria, Ahaz saw the fall of Israel as a good thing. It seemed to justify his decision to make the alliance in the first place. His plan had worked to perfection. But this alliance would prove to be ill-fated.

And God makes it clear that the entire nation of Judah was guilty. From Ahaz on down, the people of Judah were guilty of unfaithfulness. They were worshiping false gods and placing their hope and trust in the strength of the Assyrian army. So, God accuses them of rejecting “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (Isaiah 8:5 ESV). The Shiloah was a gently flowing stream that carried fresh water from the spring of Gihon into the walls of Jerusalem. It was unimpressive in its size, but faithful in its provision of clean, drinkable water. It had always been there for them.

Yet, when the Syrians and Israelites had fallen before Assyria, the people of Judah had rejoiced. They were glad. Their allies had saved the day and destroyed the threat that had been looming over the heads of the people of Judah. But God had bad news. In place of His gently flowing stream, they would experience the devastating impact of the fast-moving waters of the Euphrates River, a symbol for the Assyrians. The very “river” in which they had placed their trust would overflow its banks and inundate their land.

“And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” – Isaiah 8:7-8 ESV

And notice the use of the name, “Immanuel.” In spite of the dire predictions found in these verses, God informs His people that He will be with them. So, the name given to the baby by his mother was correct. But so was the name given by Isaiah. There would be plundering and devastation, but also the consistent and persistent presence of God.

The prophecy takes a dramatic turn, with God speaking a word of warning against the nations. He turns His attention from Judah to the pagan nations who surround them, including the Assyrians.

“You will be broken, O nations;
you will be shattered!
Pay attention, all you distant lands of the earth!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted!
Issue your orders, but they will not be executed!
For God is with us!” – Isaiah 8:9-10 NLT

God was going to use the Assyrians to punish His people. In His holiness and righteousness, He could not simply overlook their unfaithfulness. Their sin deserved judgment. But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, God disciplines those whom He loves.

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

The psalmist echoes that sentiment.

I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. – Psalm 119:75 ESV

God was going to punish Judah, but He would also deal with those nations which played a role in their punishment. He would avenge His people. He would wage war against the nations who, like Assyria, brought destruction and devastation to the people of God.

And God makes it perfectly clear that, in spite of all that would happen, He would be with the people of Judah. “God is with us.” They would one day recognize His all-powerful hand and all-pervasive presence. For the time being, it was going to be difficult. Their sins were going to bring His judgment. But His love and mercy would show up at just the right time. He would eventually avenge them and restore them. Because He is always Immanuel, God with us.

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

In That Day…

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”

18 In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. 19 And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures.

20 In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also.

21 In that day a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, 22 and because of the abundance of milk that they give, he will eat curds, for everyone who is left in the land will eat curds and honey.

23 In that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. 24 With bow and arrows a man will come there, for all the land will be briers and thorns. 25 And as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not come there for fear of briers and thorns, but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread.  – Isaiah 7:10-25 ESV

King Ahaz of Judah had a decision to make. Would he allow his fear of the alliance between Israel and Syria to get the best of him? Would the foreboding circumstances he faced force him to take matters into his own hands? Or would he trust the word of God?

God had already assured Ahaz, “This invasion will never happen; it will never take place” (Isaiah 7:7 NLT). But God also knew that Ahaz was not buying it, so He offered to provide Ahaz with a sign as proof.

“Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” – Isaiah 7:11 ESV

God challenged Ahaz to make his request as difficult as he possibly could, using the depth of Sheol and the height of heaven as the two extremes. And yet, surprisingly, Ahaz refused to take God up on his offer. He rather piously states, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test” (Isaiah 7:12 ESV). At first glance, Ahaz’ statement appears to portray him as a God-honoring Jew who was expressing his confident faith in Yahweh. But the truth is, Ahaz had already made plans to form an alliance with Assyria. He had come up with his own solution to the problem of the alliance between Israel and Syria. And his pious-sounding refusal to put God to the test fooled no one, including Isaiah.

“Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.” – Isaiah 7:13-14 ESV

Ahaz was testing the patience of God. This most-recent display of faithlessness and his ongoing lifestyle of unrighteousness demanded a response from God. But Isaiah makes it clear that the poor leadership of Ahaz was going to bring judgment against the “house of David.” In other words, Ahaz’s godless actions would have dire ramifications on the entire Davidic dynasty.

And yet, right in the middle of Isaiah’s indictment of Ahaz and the house of David, he expresses a line that has become very familiar to us.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

This very same statement was quoted by the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:20-23 ESV

Notice that the angel referred to Joseph as a son of David. He was born into the line of David, as the opening verses of Matthew 1 make clear. And even though Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he would become his adoptive father, making Jesus his legal heir and also a legal descendant of David. But the gospel of Luke traces the lineage of Jesus through Mary, making Him a descendant of David by blood.

So, in the middle of this confrontation with King Ahaz, Isaiah makes a prophetic pronouncement about the coming Messiah, who would be a descendant of King David. And while Ahaz was doubting the very presence and power of God, the future Messiah would be represent the very presence of God, thus His name: “God with us.”

But while this prophecy would have an obvious future fulfillment in the birth of Jesus, it must have had a more contemporary manifestation. Isaiah describes the meager diet of the child. By the time he is old enough to know right from wrong, he will be eating curds and honey, the diet of the poor and destitute. And will be the result of some catastrophic event.

…before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted… – Isaiah 7:16 ESV

Isaiah predicts a time when Syria and Israel will no longer be a threat. Their lands will be desserted. And this will be a result of the Assyrian’s conquest of the land. But this will leave the land of Judah struggling with food shortages as well. In 733-32 B.C., just a year or two after this prophecy was made, the Assyrians would invade Syria and Israel. The very nation with whom Ahaz had determined to make an alliance, would be used by God to bring judgment against Israel and Judah. Ahaz and his people would also feel the brunt of Assyria’s military might. This supposed ally, in whom Ahaz had placed his trust, would prove to be anything but trustworthy.

Isaiah warns Ahaz that the future judgment of God was going to be worse than what He had done when He split the kingdom in two after Solomon’s failure to remain faithful. And it would come in the form of the king of Assyria, the very one Ahaz had chosen to trust instead of God.

The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria! – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

The following verses record Isaiah’s description of the coming judgment. He repeatedly uses the phrase, “in that day.” This is a clear warning that there was a time ordained by God when He would call forth judgment on Judah. Isaiah uses the metaphor of bees and flies, one representing Assyria and the other, Egypt. Judah would find itself infested by troops coming from the north and the south. They would invade the land in great numbers.

Isaiah portrays the king of Assyria as a barber who will shave all the hair from the bodies of the people of Judah. This portrays the coming humiliation of Judah at the hands of the Assyrians. For a Jew to have his head shaved would be a horrifying and humiliating experience. It was a sign of subjugation and slavery.

Things would become so bad that, rather than huge herds of sheep and cattle, the average Jew would be happy to have a young cow and a couple of sheep. And he will have to content himself with eating curdled milk and honey in order to survive. It will be a time marked by great need and a sparsity of food.

And rather than vineyards filled with abundant grapes, their fields will be filled with briers and thorns. Rather than hoeing and planting, men will be relegated to hunting for wild life. The once fruitful land will become desolate and the domain of grazing livestock.

The words of Isaiah carry a bleak message. But nestled in the midst of all the doom and gloom is God’s promise of Immanuel. The judgment of God is always accompanied by the grace and mercy of God. He would bring judgment against Judah, but there was a day coming when He would send His Son to be the Messiah and Savior. Ahaz had proven to be unfaithful, but God would keep His covenant promises.

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.

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

Rejected and Despised.

18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
    who draw sin as with cart ropes,
19 who say: “Let him be quick,
    let him speed his work
    that we may see it;
let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near,
    and let it come, that we may know it!”
20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight!
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
    and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
    and deprive the innocent of his right!

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
    and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will be as rottenness,
    and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
    and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
    and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them,
    and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse
    in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

26 He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come!
27 None is weary, none stumbles,
    none slumbers or sleeps,
not a waistband is loose,
    not a sandal strap broken;
28 their arrows are sharp,
    all their bows bent,
their horses’ hoofs seem like flint,
    and their wheels like the whirlwind.
29 Their roaring is like a lion,
    like young lions they roar;
they growl and seize their prey;
    They carry it off, and none can rescue.
30 They will growl over it on that day,
    like the growling of the sea.
And if one looks to the land,
    behold, darkness and distress;
and the light is darkened by its clouds.  – Isaiah 5:18-30 ESV

Isaiah has an additional four “woes” to pronounce against the people of Judah. Not only are they guilty of greed and debauchery, they seem to enjoy it. Isaiah describes them as leading their sins behind them like a favorite pet. He says that they “draw iniquity with cords of falsehood.” The Hebrew that is translated as “falsehood” is shav’ and it can mean “emptiness, vanity or worthlessness.” The New Living Translation reads, “who pull evil along using cords of emptiness.” There is an emptiness or meaninglessness to their efforts. Nothing good will come of it. And it’s as if they]re the weight of their sin is so great, that they are forced to use a heavy rope, like one designed for hauling a cart. 

And all the while they sinned, they goaded God, almost daring Him to act.

They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.” – Isaiah 5:19 NLT

No shame. No remorse. No fear of God. In fact, they were openly rebellious and blatantly disrespectful to God. Their sins weren’t accidental, but willful. It was as if they pulled them along behind them in broad daylight, virtually challenging God to do anything about it.

And they displayed no sense of right or wrong. Isaiah accuses them of confusing the two. They were guilty of saying “that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). They were living morally subjective lives that contradicted the expressed command of God. He is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong. It is not something that He leaves up to mankind. We don’t get a vote. And with God, there are no grey areas in which we get the opportunity to apply our own personal opinions or outlooks. “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). And yet, the people of Judah were saying just the opposite, promoting darkness as the norm and light as something to be avoided at all costs. The apostle John put it this way:

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Sinful man loves to justify and rationalize his sin. He goes out of his way to paint his actions as acceptable and thoroughly normal. But in doing so, he contradicts the truth of God.

If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

The next two woes have to do with pride and injustice. So, not only are the people of Judah greedy, hedonistic, rebellious and morally subjective, they’re arrogant and unjust. Isaiah describes them as being “wise in their own eyes” (Isaiah 5:21 NLT) and proud of their own inherent cleverness. But the apostle Paul would have told them, “If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). Human wisdom is insufficient and a lousy source discerning the will of God. Once again, Paul would remind them, “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). No one ever came to know God based on their own intellect or reasoning powers.

God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT

A man who boasts in his own wisdom is no better off than a drunk who brags about how much liquor he can hold. There is no redeeming value in either boast.

And because they rely upon own their own faulty and misguided wisdom, marred by moral subjectivity, they end up committing acts of injustice. They see nothing wrong in taking a bribe that lines their own pockets while allowing the guilty to go unpunished. In a world ruled by their brand of wisdom, they guilty prosper, and the innocent suffer. It is a topsy-turvy, upside down world that is nothing like what God intended.

Therefore…

That word marks the transition point in this passage. As a result of all that Isaiah has just described, God is going to act. He will no longer overlook their blatant disregard for His will and arrogant rejection of His ways. Isaiah compares God’s judgment to a fire that burns up everything in its path. Why? Because “they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies; they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24 NLT). Isaiah leaves no doubt as to the reason for God’s coming judgment. They had rejected and despised. Those two words carry significant weight and meaning. In Hebrew, the word translated as “rejected” is ma’ac. It carries the idea of disdain or rejection based on contempt. They had rejected God’s law because they had no respect for it. And the second word, “despised,” is the Hebrew word, na’ats, and conveys the thought of rejecting God’s Word because it brings admonition and feelings of guilt.

The law of God was intended to bring conviction on the people of God, exposing their sins and calling them to repentance. Conviction should lead to confession. But the people of Judah rejected and despised God’s methodology, preferring to justify their own sins and turning a blind eye to God’s point of view.

And this was not the first time. God had punished the people of Judah before. He had been forced to judge them for their sins on numerous occasions over the years. And Isaiah warned his audience that God was not done yet.

For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still. – Isaiah 5:25 ESV

Past discipline would not cover their present state of sin. Their lack of repentance was going to require God to judge His people yet again. And Isaiah gave them a less-than-pleasant description of what was to come.

He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come! – Isaiah 5:26 ESV

Just as He had done in punishing the northern tribes of Israel, God was going to use a foreign power to bring His judgment upon Judah. Israel had fallen to the Assyrians hundreds of years earlier. Now it was Judah’s turn. And, in their case, it would be the Babylonians who would show up on their doorstep. In verses 27-30, Isaiah provides his audience with a graphic description of what they have to look forward to, and it is not a pretty picture. It all ends in darkness and distress.

Rather than the light of God, they would experience the darkness of defeat. Instead of enjoying the blessings of God, they would undergo unbearable distress. They had allowed their own greed, love of pleasure, rebellious tendencies, moral subjectivity, pride and injustice lead them down the path of destruction. And Isaiah makes it painfully clear that “no one will be there to rescue them” (Isaiah 5:29 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