As Isaiah watched God’s devastating judgment, he saw that a remnant would be spared because they would put their faith in God.
For thus it shall be on the earthIsaiah 24:13 (NRSV)
and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended.
Not all the grapes, not all the olives, have gone through the press of God’s wrath.
If we read Isaiah’s prophecy as still future to us, as a Day of Reckoning yet to come, then consider what these people will have been going through. Just as you and I today experience the pain and consequences of someone else’s sin in our lives, so these future people who are left will experience all the pain and suffering that will come with God’s judgment of the world.
- Every person will have lost people they love deeply.
- Their possessions, homes, and jobs, their children and grandchildren will all be affected by the devastation.
- The world around them will be the eerie dystopia that had until this day been the stuff of dark fantasy and science fiction novels.
What will be their response?
Glory and Majesty
They lift up their voices; they sing for joy;Isaiah 24:14-16 (NRSV)
they shout from the west over the majesty of the Lord.
Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; in the coastlands of the sea glorify the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.
From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
of glory to the Righteous One.
What a contrast to Isaiah’s dirge just a few verses previously in this same oracle, where “the mirth of the timbrels is stilled,” “the noise of the jubilant has ceased,” “the mirth of the lyre is stilled,” no more singing, all joy grown dark, the partying and revelry gone deathly silent.
Imagine first the soundless anguish, oppressive heartache turned to numb, mute pain. After a while, as Isaiah keened in the darkness of his vision, he could hear a faint sound growing louder.
It was the song of the redeemed, singing praise to God.
But how can God’s people sing praises to the Lord in the midst of all that horror and sorrow?
How can we look around us—how will those future believers be able to look around them—and take in all the wreckage and desolation around us without simply grieving, as those earlier in Isaiah’s oracle did? How can anything else be a right response?
All of us have stared calamity in the face.
It might be a calamity you or I brought on ourselves through poor choices, risky lifestyle, unwise decisions, or maybe simply honestly ignorant decisions. Maybe we were impulsive, or maybe we just wanted what we wanted. Whatever it was, we are now in a tragedy, or a dilemma of our own making.
Sometimes you and I get swept up into someone else’s story, their wrong choices, bad decisions, risks taken that went bad. Their predicament becomes ours when our lives are linked with theirs.
Natural disasters—what insurance companies still call “Acts of God”—political upheaval, war, random trouble big and small, sickness, impoverishment, or internally loss of self, shredded heart, mental breakdown, emotional crushing. What is left to praise God for?
What is left to praise God with?
Often, God is the One we are seeking to avoid—either because we are blaming God for the situation, or we are angry God has not at least intervened, let alone rescued and restored.
But that is, ironically, the key.
The Character and Universality of Sin
I remember the first time I was sitting in a Bible class and wrote down those words. I felt uncomfortable. Not everyone agrees on what sin means, or who has sin, or where it comes from (if it is what it is). Some are certain we are born sinful, that sin is like a birth defect, or perhaps a congenital disease. No one and no thing escapes this hereditary and ultimately fatal flaw, a fact proven by the one hundred percent death rate of all that lives.
Others are certain none of us are born sinful, but that all eventually become infected, or corrupted. There is no help for it, as it is the spiritual air we breath on earth.
Either way, the only antidote is the breath of the Spirit infused into our beings through faith in Christ. Even then, the Spirit’s work of restoration takes all our lives, and we must still pass through the portal of physical death to enter into life eternal in a fully restored state.
If we accept, by virtue of death’s reality, that sin has pervaded all that lives, then we are also able to embrace the absolute necessity for God’s grace in order to live.
That is how you and I can rejoice even when we see the effects of sin all around us, and see ahead that it may get even worse. The Lord reveals God’s grace in very difficult situations if you and I have the eyes to see it.
The Glory to Come
The Lord God will restore the earth after this future devastation revealed in Isaiah’s vision.
But until then believers along with everyone else will suffer and experience betrayal. We are all in this together. Isaiah continued his thought after describing the praises of the redeemed, writing,
Isaiah 24:16 (NRSV)
But[And] I say, “I pine away;
I pine away. Woe is me!
For the treacherous deal treacherously;
the treacherous deal very treacherously.”
וָ | vav
The word translated “but” is וָ | vav in Hebrew, which ordinarily acts as the connector “and” and otherwise acts as a reverser of a verb, changing imperfect to perfect, or perfect to imperfect. Because most translations render וָ | vav as “but,” there seems to be consensus. Nevertheless what Isaiah was conveying comes together beautifully with the classically correct rendering of “and.”
For the spiritually sensitive and emotionally astute, there will be praises and also grief.
There is much to rejoice in God.
There is nothing to rejoice in concerning sin.
Sin is the opposite of all that is holy and good, all that is healthful and gracious. Sin spreads misery and ruin. Sin is full of lies, violence, and deceit. Sin is the source of untold harm both to ourselves and to others, it is all that is wrong in our world.
While there is yet any sin left in the world, there will be treachery and betrayal. All you and I have, all anyone has, is our imperfection, however mature we may be becoming. It is inevitable that we will have mixed motives, we will do wrong even when we are doing right, we will betray and be betrayed.
Those of us who refuse to accept this are in even deeper trouble. Good news is no news if we do not think it pertains to us. Why would I need a cure if I have no ill? Why would I need restoration if I am convinced I am perfect just the way I am? It is dire indeed to be too blunted or to be too fragile to accept the truth about ourselves.
When we can accept the truth of sin, we immediately find ourselves on the road to restoration.
Even as those still future to us will both rejoice and weep on the Day of the Lord, you and I find ourselves in something of the same state.
We mourn over sin, and we rejoice over forgiveness and cleansing.
We sorrow over our condition of sin, rendering us undeserving of mercy, and deserving of judgment and justice.
We rejoice with loud thanksgiving that we are nonetheless worthy because of God’s love settled upon us.
We experience pain and grief when we hurt others or they hurt us.
And we rejoice when, by the wonderworking power of God’s love and grace, ruptures are repaired, and relationships restored.