It is the lonely office of every anointed-by-God’s-Holy-Spirit prophet to speak the words God has given that prophet to say. As so often happened in the scriptures, the message from God’s lips was usually not received with much joy or enthusiasm by the ears of God’s people.

Such was the case for Isaiah.


God’s Call to Repentance Rejected

The people did not turn to him who struck them
    or seek the Lord of hosts.

Isaiah 9:13 (NRSV)
The prophet delivering unwelcome words to the king | Jean-Honoré Fragonard – Own work, Jirayr 92

It is God’s way to let you and I go ahead with what we want—and therefore will—to do. (For the seat of the will is not in the mind, as so many erroneously suppose it to be. The seat of the will sits squarely in the heart.)

God lets you and me choose the wrong!

One of the grim facts of life is that the more you and I choose wrong and do wrong, the easier it becomes to continue choosing and doing wrong. You and I become calloused to the horror of parting ways with God’s word and way. We get used to it. It comes to seem normal.

And so often, “punishment” is not something God thinks up to do to the wrongdoer. You and I, the wrongdoers, end up bringing our own “punishment” on ourselves, thinking we are choosing our own course, doing what we want to do, when all the time we are steadily enslaving ourselves to the wrong thing we at first believed we were freely choosing.

What answer can we give to people who ask why God does not stop wickedness—people from doing evil? 

If God is so good and loving, then how can God stand by while terrible people do terrible things? 

When we hear such a question, we can ask back: If God is going to stop evil, then where is the line? 

Why did God not stop you or me yesterday when that lie got told, or some trash was tossed out the window, or someone got cut off, or cut short, or cut down?

Because God is patient, kind, and long-suffering.

God’s Intervention

Not every calamity is God’s wakeup call. But some calamities are, and that is when you and I cannot afford to turn our eyes away from the truth.

The extent of our own wrongdoing in a situation might be quite small. But sometimes you and I really are the guilty party. Then we cannot afford to shy away from the extent of our own misdeeds.

Some may mistake God’s long-suffering as God’s approval, or that God is not concerned about their offense. But you and I are actually very fortunate God did not put a stop to us all with our first breach (none of us would make it to adulthood).

Often, God is protecting us from the consequences that could roll down from our choices and actions. But God also reserves the authority and prerogative to intervene, even if that simply means allowing us to experience at least some of the natural progression of cause and effect.

So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail,
    palm branch and reed in one day—
elders and dignitaries are the head,
    and prophets who teach lies are the tail,
for those who led this people led them astray,
    and those who were led by them were left in confusion.

Isaiah 9:14-16 (NRSV)

God would continue as political and religious leaders were judged for their unrepentance, and for their leading the rest of the country into unrepentance.

But even regular folks would be held accountable.

That is why the Lord did not have pity on their young people
    or compassion on their orphans and widows,
for everyone was godless and an evildoer,
    and every mouth spoke folly.
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 9:17 (NRSV)

Nobody was truly innocent then, and nobody is truly innocent today, either. Everyone, whether by nature or by nurture, ends up under the ban of God’s Wrath.

The Ban

Jesus would later explain,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.

“Those who believe in him are not condemned,

but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” 

Jesus, John 3:16-18 (NRSV)

Maybe some will be held accountable to a greater responsibility, such as the leaders who mislead, and the prophets who teach lies. Still, as in Isaiah’s day, so today, everyone is already held accountable to their own lives, their own awareness of God, of God’s truth and holiness, and of their own response to God.

The Furnace of God’s Wrath

Isaiah’s refrain in this chapter reminded his audience that God’s anger, at each juncture, was not turned away.

For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21, 10:4 (NRSV)

God’s cleansing wrath would spread throughout Israel.

For wickedness burned like a fire,
    consuming briers and thorns;
it kindled the thickets of the forest,
    and they swirled upward in a column of smoke.
Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    the land was burned,

and the people became like fuel for the fire;
    no one spared another.

Isaiah 9:18-20 (NRSV)

By verses 20-21, as disaster followed disaster in God’s judgement, internal strife would increase so that even provinces usually known for their closeness, like the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim descended from the two sons of Joseph, would go after each other in civil war.

Yet even at this lowest point, people would still refuse to turn back to God.

David RobertsPublic Domain

Woe To Those …

Finally, God judged the ruling class for having a devised a legal system where they got rich from the oppression of those who had few rights.

Woe to those who

  • make iniquitous decrees.
  • who write oppressive statutes
  • to turn aside the needy from justice
  • and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
  • to make widows their spoil
  • and to plunder orphans!

What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth,
so as not to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 10:1-4 (NRSV)

Isaiah described a desperate scene where the ruling class would try to hide from God by cringing with the captives or lying among the dead.

The prophet’s oracle left no room for doubt, or excuse, or rationalization. God’s people had lost all rights and all claims on God’s mercy. Their only hope for salvation came from God’s love for them, God’s long-suffering kindness, and God’s commitment to them.

So it is today, for people are still people, the world over. We have the same proclivities, we are also prone to wander from the God Who loves us.

Sin’s darkness deserves God’s wrath but God’s grace gives light and joy to the repentant

Everyone, the whole world, is under the ban. But God wants to show mercy, that’s what God is all about. The coming of the Wonderful Counselor was simply God’s choice to show mercy. All you and I do is come to the Lord in faith.

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