A Lesson Unlearned

18 Hear, you deaf,
    and look, you blind, that you may see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
    or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated one,
    or blind as the servant of the Lord?
20 He sees many things, but does not observe them;
    his ears are open, but he does not hear.
21 The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious.
22 But this is a people plundered and looted;
    they are all of them trapped in holes
    and hidden in prisons;
they have become plunder with none to rescue,
    spoil with none to say, “Restore!”
23 Who among you will give ear to this,
    will attend and listen for the time to come?
24 Who gave up Jacob to the looter,
    and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned,
    in whose ways they would not walk,
    and whose law they would not obey?
25 So he poured on him the heat of his anger
    and the might of battle;
it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand;
    it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart. –
Isaiah 42:18-25 ESV

There are times in life when it might be easy to conclude that God is either blind or oblivious to our condition. In the darkness of our circumstances, it may appear that God is nowhere to be found. It may feel as if He has abandoned us. It is almost natural and normal to struggle with those kinds of feelings when we are going through difficult days. And the people of Judah were no different. But the one thing God will not tolerate is His people placing blame for their condition on God while refusing to take ownership for their own sin.

So, in this closing section of Isaiah 42, God addresses the people of Judah directly and bluntly. And He addresses them as His servant. God opened up this chapter by referring to another servant He would send – the Servant/Savior or Messiah. The day was coming when God would restore the nation of Israel by sending His Son back to earth to redeem of them and to set up His Kingdom on earth.

But here, God stresses the point that Israel should have been His servant on earth. He had chosen them. He had set them apart as His own. He had blessed them and provided them with His law. On top of that, He had given them the sacrificial system, in order that they might remain in a right relationship with Him by having their sins atoned for on a regular basis. Back in chapter 41, God also addressed the people of Israel as His servant.

“But as for you, Israel my servant,
    Jacob my chosen one,
    descended from Abraham my friend,
I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
    saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
    and will not throw you away.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:8-10 NLT

God had promised not to abandon them. He had promised to be with them and to provide them with strength and victory over their enemies. But they had proven to be a lousy servant. They had been rebellious and reluctant to live as He had called them to live. Rather than serve God as a faithful servant, Israel had chosen to live according to its own selfish agenda. Rather than being a light to the nations, a tangible example of what it looks like to live in fellowship with the God of the universe, Israel had profaned the name of God. They had drug his reputation through the mud by living as unfaithful servants. Which is what had led Him to declare through the prophet Ezekiel:

“I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

That is not what God had planned. It had not been His desire for the people of Israel. In fact, all the way back when they were making their way from Egypt to the promised land, Moses had told them:

“Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy. Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:5-8 NLT

But they had failed to obey God’s laws. They had refused to remain faithful to Him alone, choosing instead to worship the false gods of the people of Canaan. And God describes them as blind and deaf. It is not He who is oblivious and out of touch. It’s them.

“You see and recognize what is right
    but refuse to act on it.
You hear with your ears,
    but you don’t really listen.”
– Isaiah 42:20 NLT

And God was not surprised by this. Their reaction is exactly what He had warned Isaiah to expect.

“Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”
– Isaiah 6:9 ESV

One of the greatest sins a child of God can commit is to know His will and then choose to ignore it. God had revealed Himself to the nation of Israel and provided them with insights and instructions into His character and His expectations regarding their behavior. They knew exactly what He expected of them. They had been told. He had made Himself perfectly clear. And they had heard, but had chosen not to heed what He had to say. Now, they could not plead ignorance. They couldn’t say, “We didn’t know!”

God had been gracious enough to give them His law.

The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious. – Isaiah 42:21 ESV

And because they had chosen to disregard and disobey His law, they found themselves “robbed and plundered, enslaved, imprisoned, and trapped” (Isaiah 42:22 NLT). They were “fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them, no one to take them back home” (Isaiah 42:22 NLT). Their sorry state was their own fault. They had chosen to turn a blind eye to the commands of God. They had claimed not to have heard His righteous decrees. But Isaiah will not allow them to portray God as the unfaithful one in this relationship. Yahweh was simply giving them what they deserved.

Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt?
    It was the Lord, against whom we sinned,
for the people would not walk in his path,
    nor would they obey his law.
– Isaiah 42:24 NLT

And their actions were unprecedented. In fact, God claimed that the degree of their unfaithfulness was unmatched by any other nation.

“Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones,
    even though they are not gods at all?
Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God
    for worthless idols!”
– Jeremiah 2:11 NLT

“You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey my decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you.” – Ezekiel 5:7 NLT

With privilege comes responsibility. The people of Judah enjoyed the privileged position of being God’s chosen. They were His prized possession. For generations, they had enjoyed the privilege of His presence and power. He had protected them and provided for them. He had given them a land in which to live. He had provided them with victories over enemies who were more plentiful and powerful. He had shown them how to live in keeping with His commands, and then provided them with a means to be forgiven when they failed to do so. God had been faithful. But they had a track record of unfaithfulness. And, as God warned through the prophet Ezekiel, there is a limit to how long He will allow His people to drag His name through the mud

“As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord God: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 ESV

And the saddest statement in this entire section of Isaiah 42 is found in its final verse.

Therefore, he poured out his fury on them
    and destroyed them in battle.
They were enveloped in flames,
    but they still refused to understand.
They were consumed by fire,
    but they did not learn their lesson.
– Isaiah 42:25 NLT

They didn’t learn their lesson. Time and time again, God had brought His loving discipline upon the people of Israel and Judah. But before He had, He had sent His prophets to warn them and to call them to repentance. Isaiah was such a prophet attempting to convey to convey just such a message. But the people were stubborn and obstinate. They were blind and deaf. And they were quick to blame God for their difficulties, but reticent to take responsibility for their own sin.

But as the chapter opened up, God was still going to remain faithful. He was still going to send His servant. He was still going to redeem a remnant of His people. In the face of their persistent unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful to His covenant promises. He was going bring judgment upon His people, but there is a day was coming when He will bring redemption and restoration, all for the sake of His glorious name.

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 Sacrificer Becomes the Sacrifice.

1 Ah, Ariel, Ariel,
    the city where David encamped!
Add year to year;
    let the feasts run their round.
Yet I will distress Ariel,
    and there shall be moaning and lamentation,
    and she shall be to me like an Ariel.
And I will encamp against you all around,
    and will besiege you with towers
    and I will raise siegeworks against you.
And you will be brought low; from the earth you shall speak,
    and from the dust your speech will be bowed down;
your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost,
    and from the dust your speech shall whisper.

But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like small dust,
    and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff.
And in an instant, suddenly,
    you will be visited by the Lord of hosts
with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
    with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.
And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel,
    all that fight against her and her stronghold and distress her,
    shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.
As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating,
    and awakes with his hunger not satisfied,
or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking,
    and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched,
so shall the multitude of all the nations be
    that fight against Mount Zion. – Isaiah 29:1-8 ESV

In this chapter, Isaiah delivers yet another woe against Jerusalem, addressing the city of David as “Ariel.” There is some debate as to the exact meaning of this word and why it was used as a reference to Jerusalem. There are two possible meanings. The first is from the Hebrew word, ‘ariy’el, which means “lion of God.” The second is very similar in spelling but carries a much different meaning and connotation. It is ‘ari’eyl and it means “altar hearth.” While either meaning would be an appropriate description of the city of Jerusalem, it would seem, based on the context of the surrounding verses, that the second makes the most sense.

Isaiah warns them that their destruction is eminent, but sarcastically tells them, “Keep observing your annual rituals, celebrate your festivals on schedule” (Isaiah 29:1 NLT). In other words, keep doing what you’re doing. Continue to practice your religious feasts and festivals as if nothing is going to happen. In a sense, Isaiah is mocking their stubborn belief that they will be protected by God if they simply continue to go through the motions of keeping all the rites associated with the sacrificial system. In verse 13 of this chapter, Isaiah shares God’s opinion of their efforts:

“…this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 ESV

The New Living Translation puts it in even starker terms:

“These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.

Jerusalem should have been the altar of God, the very place where the people came to worship Him and to seek forgiveness from Him. It is interesting to note that, in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet received a vision from God that revealed a future temple. He was taken to the east gate of the temple compound, where he saw the glory of God enter.

“As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” – Ezekiel 43:4-5 ESV

And the next thing Ezekiel heard was the voice of God speaking to him from inside the Holy of Holies.

“Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place where I will rest my feet. I will live here forever among the people of Israel. They and their kings will not defile my holy name any longer by their adulterous worship of other gods or by honoring the relics of their kings who have died. They put their idol altars right next to mine with only a wall between them and me. They defiled my holy name by such detestable sin, so I consumed them in my anger. Now let them stop worshiping other gods and honoring the relics of their kings, and I will live among them forever.” – Ezekiel 43:7-9 NLT

Jerusalem was to have been the place where God dwelt among His people. And the temple was the house that Solomon had built for God. And yet, God indicted His people for their desecration of His temple and their defilement of His holy name. So, the day was coming when God would provide a new temple to replace the first one that would be destroyed by the Babylonians and the second one destroyed by the Romans. In preparation for this new temple, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to provide the people with a lesson on the exact meaning of each and every part of the temple.

“Son of man, describe to the people of Israel the Temple I have shown you, so they will be ashamed of all their sins. Let them study its plan, and they will be ashamed of what they have done.” – Ezekiel 43:10-11 NLT

Ezekiel-43-Altar-of-SacrificeAnd here is where it gets interesting. In describing the brazen altar, where all the blood sacrifices were made, God uses the word, ‘ari’eyl, when speaking of the very top section of the altar.

“…and the altar hearth, four cubits; and from the altar hearth projecting upward, four horns. The altar hearth shall be square, twelve cubits long by twelve broad.” – Ezekiel 43:15-16 ESV

This is the same word used by Isaiah to refer to Jerusalem. They were to have been the altar hearth, the very pinnacle of the altar of sacrifice. And yet, they had failed to live in covenant faithfulness to God. So, God has Isaiah deliver the stark warning:

“Yet I will bring disaster upon you,
    and there will be much weeping and sorrow.
For Jerusalem will become what her name Ariel means—
    an altar covered with blood.” – Isaiah 29:2 NLT

And God lets them know that, when the Babylonians finally arrive and erect their siege walls around the city, they will be acting on God’s behalf.

“I will be your enemy,
    surrounding Jerusalem and attacking its walls.
I will build siege towers
    and destroy it.” – Isaiah 43:3 NLT

He wanted them to understand that, when the destruction came, it was not just a case of bad luck or fate. It would be the hand of God Almighty giving them exactly what they deserved for the desecration of His temple and their defilement of His holy name. God was letting them know that if they treated the sacrificial system lightly that He had provided for the forgiveness of their sins, they would become the sacrifice themselves. Their blood would be spilled. He would remove the temple and the altar hearth so that no more sacrifices could be offered for the remission of sin. They would be on their own.

God describes their coming destruction as being like a bad dream. It will come suddenly, and the number of their enemies will be too great to count. And the enemy’s appetite for destruction will be insatiable. They will be like a man who dreams he is eating, only to awake and discover he is still hungry. They will lay siege to the city for a long period of time, with each day increasing their desire to breach the walls and destroy everyone and everything inside.

The sacrificers were about to become the sacrifice. Rather than animals on the altar hearth, it would be the people of God. Their sins would be atoned for, but not by substitutes. They would pay with their own lives.

God had provided a way for His people to receive forgiveness for their sins. He had given them an entire system, including the temple itself, by which they could have their sins atoned for and their relationship with God secured. In Ezekiel’s vision, God told to remind the people:

“On the eighth day, and on each day afterward, the priests will sacrifice on the altar the burnt offerings and peace offerings of the people. Then I will accept you. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 43:27 NLT

But the people of Judah had rejected God. Therefore, He was going to reject them. He was going to punish them for their sins and bring on them the curses He had warned them about generations earlier. They had chosen to treat God Almighty with disdain. But their sins still had to be atoned for. The sin debt must be paid, because “under the law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

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

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

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

Drunk on Success.

1 Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
    and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
    like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
    he casts down to the earth with his hand.
The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
    will be trodden underfoot;
and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley,
will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:
    when someone sees it, he swallows it
    as soon as it is in his hand.

In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,
    and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
    and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

These also reel with wine
    and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
    they are swallowed by wine,
    they stagger with strong drink,
they reel in vision,
    they stumble in giving judgment.
For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
    with no space left.

“To whom will he teach knowledge,
    and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
    those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little.”

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
13 And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
    and be broken, and snared, and taken. – Isaiah 28:1-13 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to Ephraim, referring to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph in Egypt. In fact, Ephraim’s mother, Asenath, was an Egyptian. Years later, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, adopted his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, intending to treat them as his own.

“And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” – Genesis 48:5 ESV

In giving his patriarchal blessing to Jacob’s two sons, he intentionally awarded Ephraim the blessing intended for the firstborn. When Joseph tried to correct what he believed was a mistake, Joseph told him: “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT). The tribe of Ephraim was later awarded land in Canaan, just north of the Dead Sea and would become a leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom after God split the nation in two. The city of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was located within the territory of Ephraim.

Ephraim, representing to ten northern tribes, is called out by God for its pride and arrogance. It was located in a fertile valley at the southern tip of the Jordan River. It benefited from the frequent flooding of the river valley and enjoyed the fruits of its rich and fertile soil. God even refers to them as “the drunkards of Ephraim” – probably a reference to literal drunkenness from the wine they produced and the spiritual drunkenness that resulted from their intoxication with idolatry. The prophet, Amos, had this to say about Ephraim.

You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:6 NLT

In a sense, they were drunk on their own self-importance. Amos warned them, “you who feel secure in Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel, and people go to you for help. But go over to Calneh and see what happened there” (Amos 6:1-2 NLT). Calneh had been overrun by Shalmaneser III of Assyria in 854-846 B.C., and God was letting Israel know that the same thing was going to happen to them.

For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground. – Isaiah 28:2 NLT

The Assyrians were poised to bring the same devastation and destruction to the Northern Kingdom that had happened in Calneh. And God doesn’t sugarcoat the news regarding Israel’s fate.

The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
Whoever sees it will snatch it up,
    as an early fig is quickly picked and eaten. – Isaiah 28:3-4 NLT

But God, always rich in mercy, declares that He will spare a remnant of the Northern Kingdom. Yes, He will bring judgment upon Israel in the form of the Assyrian army, but there will be a handful within rebellious Israel who recognize Him as their true source of hope and help.

He will be the pride and joy
    of the remnant of his people.
He will give a longing for justice
    to their judges.
He will give great courage
    to their warriors who stand at the gates. – Isaiah 28:5-6 NLT

But what about Judah, the Southern Kingdom? They are Isaiah’s primary target audience, and his message is intended for them. So, God reveals that He has issues with them as well. They stand guilty of the same sin of pride. They suffer from the same condition of spiritual intoxication.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions. – Isaiah 28:7 NLT

God’s indictment against the governmental and religious leaders of Israel has less to do with physical inebriation than spiritual apostasy. They are described as staggering drunks, but their real problem was spiritual confusion resulting from their steady consumption of the lies of false gods. They were incapable of making wise decisions. Their words of advice were no better than vomit from the mouth of a drunk. And they despised everything that Isaiah had to say.

“Who does the Lord think we are?” they ask.
    “Why does he speak to us like this?
Are we little children,
    just recently weaned?
He tells us everything over and over—
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there!” – Isaiah 28:9-10 NLT

Isaiah’s words were simple and easy to understand, but the people of Israel rejected them. His incessant call to repentance was despised by them. His repeated warnings of God’s judgment were obnoxious to them. They were tired of Isaiah’s message. So, Isaiah let them know that the next words they would hear would be in a language they couldn’t understand.

So now God will have to speak to his people
    through foreign oppressors who speak a strange language! – Isaiah 28:

Over the centuries, God had constantly reminded His people that the land of Canaan had been intended to be a place of rest. Their relationship with Him as His chosen people was meant to be marked by peace, blessing and the joy of His presence. But their disobedience had marred their relationship with God, resulting in the split of the kingdom, constant civil unrest, rampant idolatry, and anything but peace and rest. And while God had graciously sent His messengers, the prophets, with a call to repent, the people had refused to listen. So, Isaiah lets them know that their stubborn refusal to hear and obey will result in their fall.

So the Lord will spell out his message for them again,
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there,
so that they will stumble and fall.
    They will be injured, trapped, and captured. – Isaiah 28:13 NLT

And all of this was in keeping with God’s warning, delivered centuries earlier by Moses to the people of Israel. He had called them to live in obedience to God’s commands or face the inevitable consequences.

“The Lord will bring a distant nation against you from the end of the earth, and it will swoop down on you like a vulture. It is a nation whose language you do not understand, a fierce and heartless nation that shows no respect for the old and no pity for the young. Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. They will attack your cities until all the fortified walls in your land—the walls you trusted to protect you—are knocked down. They will attack all the towns in the land the Lord your God has given you.” – Deuteronomy 28:49-52 NLT

And the fulfillment of God’s warning had come. The people of Israel and Judah, drunk on their own success and self-significance, were about to experience the hangover of a lifetime as the wrath of God fell. Their intoxication with the things of this world and the false gods of the Canaanites were going to leave them staggering and stumbling under God’s righteous wrath and just judgment.

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

All Things New.

1 Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate,
    and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
    as with the slave, so with his master;
    as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
    as with the lender, so with the borrower;
    as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered;
    for the Lord has spoken this word.

The earth mourns and withers;
    the world languishes and withers;
    the highest people of the earth languish.
The earth lies defiled
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
    and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched,
    and few men are left.
The wine mourns,
    the vine languishes,
    all the merry-hearted sigh.
The mirth of the tambourines is stilled,
    the noise of the jubilant has ceased,
    the mirth of the lyre is stilled.
No more do they drink wine with singing;
    strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
10 The wasted city is broken down;
    every house is shut up so that none can enter.
11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
    all joy has grown dark;
    the gladness of the earth is banished.
12 Desolation is left in the city;
    the gates are battered into ruins.
13 For thus it shall be in the midst of the earth
    among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
    as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is done. – Isaiah 24:1-13 ESV

There are those who read a passage like Isaiah 24 and refuse to take its content literally. Its clear predictions of a day of coming destruction upon the entire earth are too difficult to accept so, they end up spiritualizing the message. Rather than taking the passage literally, they prefer to see it figuratively and interpret its message to be that of a time of spiritual decline on the earth. But in doing so, they rob the passage of its intended meaning and fail to recognize the extent of God’s anger against sin and the devastating influence it has had on His creation.

God has delivered a series of oracles against the nations. Now, He turns His attention to the earth itself. It too has become corrupted because of the fall. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, telling them that God’s creation was longing for the day when it will be renewed and set free from the death and decay that mars it.

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

The earth has been corrupted by man’s sin. The entire universe created by God was impacted by man’s choice to rebel against the Creator’s commands. Adam and Eve listened to the lies of Satan and chose to disobey the will of God. And their decision had long-lasting implications.

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
    though you will eat of its grains.
By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:17-19 NLT

From that day, the earth and its inhabitants would experience the consequences of Adam and Eve’s decision to disobey God. Their sin, like a disease, spread to their descendants. It infected the future generations. And, rather than enjoying unbroken fellowship with God in the pristine atmosphere of the Garden, man was cast out of God’s presence, and doomed to live in a world that would no longer willingly submit to man’s dominion.

Before Adam and Eve decided to disobey God, they were given a clear mandate from God.

“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened. – Genesis 1:28-30 NLT

But, because of sin, things changed – dramatically. Death entered the scene. Chaos replaced the peace of the Garden. The creatures of the earth developed an innate fear of man and an animosity toward one another. Rather than enjoying the peaceful existence the marked the Garden, animals began to devour one another. No longer satisfied with vegetation as its food source, the animal kingdom developed a taste for blood.

The signs of sin’s impact on the world are clear: Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, famines, fires, droughts, tornados, and hurricanes. These are the groanings mentioned by Paul in his letter to the believers in Rome. The world in damaged. It is not as God originally created it. In Genesis 1, after God had finished His work of creating the world, we read:

God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31 ESV

But that is no longer the case. It is not good. It is flawed and marred because of the presence of sin. But the Isaiah passage clearly states that the day is coming when God will rectify the problem. But to do so, He will have to destroy what has been damaged. He will not simply put a bandaid on it. God will not renovate His broken world, He will recreate it. And the book of Isaiah warns of a day when God will destroy all that has been damaged by sin.

Look! The Lord is about to destroy the earth
    and make it a vast wasteland. – Isaiah 24:1 NLT

The earth will be completely emptied and looted.
    The Lord has spoken! – Isaiah 24:3 NLT

And Isaiah makes it clear why this will happen.

The earth suffers for the sins of its people,
    for they have twisted God’s instructions,
violated his laws,
    and broken his everlasting covenant. – Isaiah 24:5 NLT

We are responsible. Only man was created in God’s image, and our unique status as stewards of His creation makes us responsible for the sorry state of the world. And Isaiah pulls no punches when he reveals that, because our disobedience, “a curse consumes the earth” (Isaiah 24:6 NLT).

But long before God destroys the earth to recreate it, He will bring judgment upon the world. And He will use the earth to enact His judgment upon sinful mankind.

Its people must pay the price for their sin.
They are destroyed by fire,
    and only a few are left alive.
The grapevines waste away,
    and there is no new wine.
    All the merrymakers sigh and mourn. – Isaiah 24:6-7 NLT

The grapevines will dry up and no longer yield their fruit. And this single act of God’s judgment will have devastating implications.

Gone are the joys of wine and song;
    alcoholic drink turns bitter in the mouth. – Isaiah 24:9 NLT

There will be no wine for use in celebrations. And the lack of wine will result in people hoarding it in their homes, causing others to break in and steal it. Wine, once associated with joy and gladness, will become hard to come by and, its unavailability will cast a dark cloud over the earth.

Joy has turned to gloom.
    Gladness has been banished from the land. – Isaiah 24:11 NLT

At this very moment in time, things are not as they should be. The creative order is marred by sin. We live in a world dominated by chaos and confusion. But Isaiah warns that it is going to get worse, not better. While the people of Judah were hoping for better days, the prophet was letting them know that, apart from repentance on their part, nothing was going to improve the fallen condition of the world.

This passage lets us know that sin is far worse than most of us want to admit. Its impact is devastating, and God’s hatred of it is strong. A little less sin is not the solution God is looking for. Slightly improved behavior on the part of mankind is not going to fix the problem. Just as sinful man must be regenerated and renewed by God, so must the world be, and it will be.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. – 2 Peter 3:9-13 ESV

And in the final book of the Bible, the apostle John shares the vision he received that reveals the final consummation of all things.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:1-5 ESV

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

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

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

Seek God Now, Not Later.

An oracle concerning Damascus.

Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city
    and will become a heap of ruins.
The cities of Aroer are deserted;
    they will be for flocks,
    which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.
The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
    and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
    like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the Lord of hosts.

And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
    and the fat of his flesh will grow lean.
And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain
    and his arm harvests the ears,
and as when one gleans the ears of grain
    in the Valley of Rephaim.
Gleanings will be left in it,
    as when an olive tree is beaten—
two or three berries
    in the top of the highest bough,
four or five
    on the branches of a fruit tree,
declares the Lord God of Israel.

In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense. – Isaiah 17:1-8 ESV

DamascusWith the opening of chapter 17, Isaiah delivers God’s oracle against Damascus, the capital city of Syria. As verse three reveals, Israel is included in this oracle, referred to by the name of Ephraim, the largest of the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom. Israel had formed an alliance with Syria in order to attack the southern kingdom of Judah (see chapter seven).

As has been the case with each of the other oracles, God is speaking a word of warning aimed directly at His own people, the divided nations of Israel and Judah. Their repeated attempts to seek help from foreign nations rather than trust in Him were going to bring His judgment. He has already told what will happen to Babylon, Philistia, Moab and Assyria. Now, He turns His attention to Syria, located to the northeast of Israel. And He cuts to the chase, describing the Syrian capital as “a heap of ruins.” He predicts the utter devastation of the fortified cities of Syria and Ephraim, which would include the Israelite capital of Samaria.

The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
    and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
    like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the Lord of hosts. – Isaiah 17:3 ESV

Syria would share Israel’s fate. Both nations, because of their arrogance, would suffer greatly under the hand of God Almighty. But God’s primary judgment seems to be directed at the children of Israel. He states that their former glory will be greatly diminished, and He describes it is stark terms:

…in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
    and the fat of his flesh will grow lean. – Isaiah 17:4 ESV

Once again, we see God promising to humble the proud and destroy bring low the self-sufficient. Israel had reached the point in their downward spiritual spiral where they no longer believed they needed God. Under the leadership of their king, Jeroboam, they had long ago created their own gods and set up their own places of worship.

Jeroboam then built up the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he went and built up the town of Peniel.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:25-30 NLT

And a long line of kings who succeeded Jeroboam continued the idolatrous trend, leading the people of Israel further and further away from God. But God does not leave sin unpunished. He cannot and will not overlook the rebellion of His people. So in 732 BC, the Assyrians fulfilled God’s word by destroying Damascus. And then years later, they would destroy Samaria, the capital city of Israel.

And the aftermath of the Assyrian conquest will leave the land looking “like a grainfield after the harvesters have gathered the grain. It will be desolate, like the fields in the valley of Rephaim after the harvest” (Isaiah 17:5 NLT). It is a picture of desolation and devastation. All the glory is gone. Everything the people had placed their hope in and based their pride upon would be gone. Only a remnant of the people of Israel would remain in the land.

“Only a few of its people will be left,
    like stray olives left on a tree after the harvest.
Only two or three remain in the highest branches,
    four or five scattered here and there on the limbs,”
    declares the Lord, the God of Israel. – Isaiah 17:6 NLT

This image stands in stark contrast to the promise God had made to Abraham.

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham and had made of him a great nation. While the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 400 years, their numbers had grown to such a degree that the Pharaoh had become fearful of their presence in the land. So he began to treat them as slaves, keeping them under intense subjection so that they might not rise up against the Egyptians. But God had delivered them from their slavery and had brought them to the land of Canaan, where He had given them victory over their enemies and provided them with land, villages and houses in which to live.

But the people of Israel had proved unfaithful to God. Over the centuries, they had repeatedly disobeyed God by worshiping the false gods of the Canaanites. They had intermarried with the nations, failing to maintain their ethnic purity but, more importantly, their spiritual identity as the chosen people of God. They had been set apart by God and commanded to live according to His laws. They were to be a living example of how sinful man can live in covenant community with a holy God. But they had failed.

And the core issue here is not the litany of sins the people of Israel committed, but their lack of belief in God. The goal of Satan is not so much to get mankind to commit sins as it is to get them to doubt God. That’s the tactic he took in the garden with Adam and Eve. He came to the woman in the guise of a beautiful serpent and said, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1 NLT). Notice that he raised doubts about God’s command. And Eve correctly responded, “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die’” (Genesis 3:3 NLT). Then Satan did what he always does, he contradicted the very word of God. “You won’t die!” (Genesis 3:4 NLT). And he followed that up with a compelling lie: “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT).

Eve and her husband listened to the lies of the enemy. But it was not the eating of the fruit that was the cause of their fall. It was their rejection of the word of God. They failed to believe what God had said. The enemy replaced the truth of God with a lie, and they accepted it. They took the bait. Satan’s promise sounded more plausible and appealing than God’s offer of life in the garden with Him. And mankind has been taking the bait of Satan ever since.

The fellowship with God that Adam and Eve had once enjoyed came to an abrupt end. Sin broke the bond. It severed the relationship they had enjoyed. They were cast out of the garden and away from the presence of God. And, as time passed, they and their descendants would find themselves moving further and further away from God – physically, as they journeyed away from the garden, and spiritually, as they allowed sin to separate them from Him.

But God describes a day when the fall of Israel would leave His people calling out to Him once again. In their devastated and demoralized state, they would find themselves without hope and devoid of any other source of help.

Then at last the people will look to their Creator
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
They will no longer look to their idols for help
    or worship what their own hands have made.
They will never again bow down to their Asherah poles
    or worship at the pagan shrines they have built. – Isaiah 17:7-8 NLT

It is amazing how easy it is for the people of God to turn their backs on Him until they find themselves in a state of hopelessness and helplessness. In those moments of trial and trouble, when they no longer have any other options or tricks up their sleeves, they tend to turn back to God for help. When their man-made gods no longer come through for them, they decide to give God one more try.

And the same is true of us as God’s people. While our false gods to be more sophisticated, they are still man-made and poor substitutes for the one true God. Yet, we find it so easy to place our trust in anything and everything but God, until those things fail to come through for us. When all the money in the world can’t heal us from cancer, we turn to God. When our intelligence proves insufficient for the crisis we face, we turn to God. When all our possessions fail to bring us the happiness they promised to deliver, we turn to God. And while it is true that “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NLT), He longs for us to seek Him at all times. He desires that we make Him our first and only option. Which is why Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 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

The One True God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I Am. Send Me!

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”– Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV

This chapter seems a bit out of place. It provides details concerning Isaiah’s divine call, but appears after the first five chapters, which contain a summary of Judah’s sin and God’s coming judgment. It would appear that Isaiah wanted to begin his book with a clear description of the state of affairs in Judah so that the people would understand the nature of his message to them. Now, in chapter six, he reveals that he is a messenger sent from God. He has received a commission from Yahweh Himself, and has been tasked with the responsibility to warn the people of Judah of what God has ordained, unless they repent and return to Him.

Isaiah prefaces this chapter by providing the date of his calling. It was in the year King Uzziah died. That would have been around 740 B.C. It’s interesting to note that King Uzziah was one of the few godly kings to reign in Judah since the split of the kingdom after Solomon’s reign. He reigned over Judah for 52 years, but like so many of the other kings of Judah, Uzziah failed to remain faithful to God. He enjoyed the blessings of God, but allowed them to go to his head.

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” 2 Chronicles 26:16-18 NLT

Don’t miss the details concerning Uzziah’s sin. He had entered the sanctuary of the temple and burned incense on the altar of incense. In other words, he had taken on the role of the priest and, in doing so, had violated the law of God. He had committed the very same crime that had resulted in King Saul’s removal and replacement by David (1 Samuel 13:9).

When confronted by the high priest, Uzziah had reacted with rage, screaming at Azariah and the other priests. As a result of his actions, God struck him with leprosy. And the text tells us that he remained a leper until his death.

So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:21 NLT

His God-ordained disease banned left him unclean and banned from ever entering the temple again. He spent the remaining years of his life in quarantine, secluded in a separate house and unable to govern the people of God.

And in the year of his death, Isaiah was given a vision by God. It is not coincidence that Isaiah saw God in His holy temple, the actual temple in heaven. He was given a glimpse into the actual Holy of Holies where God sits on the mercy seat. The author of Hebrews wrote of the existence of the true temple in heaven where God dwells.

That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.

For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. – Hebrews 9:23-24 NLT

The earthly temple was modeled after the heavenly one. And while Uzziah, in his pride, had entered into the earthly temple and offered unlawful sacrifices to God, Isaiah was allowed to see into the heavenly temple where God’s presence dwells. And he describes it in great detail.

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. – Isaiah 6:1 ESV

Isaiah, like John in the book of Revelation, was given the privilege of seeing God Almighty in all His glory. And Isaiah describes God as sitting on his throne, the mercy seat located in the Holy of Holies. We know this is the location of God’s throne because of Isaiah’s description of his immediate surroundings.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. – Isaiah 6:2 ESV

Over in the book of 1 Kings, we have a very similar description of the Holy of Holies in the temple Solomon constructed.

He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold. – 1 Kings 6:23-28 NLT

These two cherubim are not to be confused with the two that were located on the top of the ark of the covenant. Notice their size. They were 15-feet tall and on permanent display in the Holy of Holies. It was inbetween these two massive statues that the ark of the covenant was to be placed.

Then the priests carried the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple–the Most Holy Place–and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim. – 1 Kings 8:6 NLT

But, while the cherubim in Solomon’s temple were lifeless statues, the two that Isaiah saw standing above the throne of God in heaven were living creatures. And they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3 ESV). This is very similar to the scene John saw in his vision of the heavenly throne room.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV

In both visions, the emphasis is on the holiness of God. The whole earth is full of His glory. He is all-pervasive. Yes, He sits on His throne in the Holy of Holies, but He is not restricted in any way. God’s glory fills the entirety of His creation. And it is that fact that makes the sins of Judah so much more egregious. The reaction of Isaiah reveals that he fully understood the dramatic contrast between the holiness of his God and the sinfulness of his own people.

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  – Isaiah 6:5 ESV

He even saw himself as unworthy to stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God. Even his lips were contaminated by his sinfulness, making him unworthy to sing the praises of his God. And he was not alone. The entire population of Judah was marred by sin. Like Uzziah, who found himself covered with leprosy and banished from the temple, the people of Judah were covered by the guilt of sin and unwelcome in God’s presence. It was their sin that separated them from God. Their unrighteousness kept them from approaching the righteous King, the Lord of hosts.

But with Isaiah’s confession of guilt came cleansing and forgiveness. One of the cherubim touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of incense and pronounced:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:7 ESV

The apostle John reminds us that this incredible opportunity is available to any and all who will simply confess their sins to God.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. – 1 John 1:9 NLT

Isaiah required cleansing before he could act as God’s spokesperson. He needed to have his own sins forgiven before he could deliver God’s message to the people of Judah. We see this lived out in the life of Aaron, the original high priest, who, each year on the day of atonement had to offer sacrifices on his own behalf before he could intercede for the people of God.

Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. – Leviticus 16:11-13 ESV

Once cleansed from his own sins, Aaron could then offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. And, after having received cleansing for his sins, Isaiah was ready to serve as God’s messenger to His people.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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