2/25/2016

God, Not the World, is the One to Fear (Isaiah 34)


Titles for Isaiah 34: Judgment -- Listen, Look into the Scroll. When You Don't Trust God. Judgment, an Unpalatable Topic: Painful passages about divine wrath and judgment, such as Isaiah 34, are hard to read and take in, but Isaiah does not spare our feelings.

Listen, Pay Attention, Hear, Look, Read and Learn that (34:1, 16):
  1. God will Judge the World (1-15).
  2. God's Plan will Happen (16-17).
According to Isaiah 34, God-neglect will turn us into an eternally barren desert. But if we trust God, our desert will be transformed into a garden. That is what the grace of God can do (Isaiah 35). Each of us is moving in one of these two directions, either into judgment or into salvation. What God wants is to save you.

Hell or Heaven. Isaiah 34 shows us what will become of anyone who buys into this world, and Isaiah 35 shows us what will become of one who banks everything on the promised salvation of God. In these two chapters Isaiah shows us the seamless connection between what we embrace now and what we will have in the future. His point is that the salvation you prefer now, whether earthly or heavenly, is shaping who you are and which direction you will go forever (Rev 22:11). So in a sense, Hell or Heaven will be the eternal extension of the deepest, truest you that you become in this life. So the most important question of our existence is: What are you becoming? Whatever you are becoming reveals where you are going. C.S. Lewis says that hell is when you become the photographic negative of what you were meant to be when God made you. If you savor by faith a salvation and fullness from God, you're already on your way to Zion in Isaiah 35. But if you choose to live by faith in this world, Isaiah 34 is showing you your future.

Salvation by God must go through Edom. Though Isaiah mentions the whole world (Isa 34:1), the one nation he mentions is Edom (Isa 34:5, 6, 9). Why? It is because Edom typifies the whole world. The forefathers of Israel and Edom were the brothers Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:21-26). But Esau held a grudge against Jacob (Genesis 27). When the infant nation Israel was journeying toward the Promised Land, they requested passage through Edom (Num 20:14-21) but they refused. Edom tried to block the salvation that God was bringing into the world. Edom, then, is the antithesis to God's pilgrim people. The ethos of the Edomite culture is the spirit of the worle world, a spirit that finds its salvation in the resources of this temporal, physical order. We have to get past Edom to be saved by God.

How do we relate to such a savage text?

In Isaiah's day, blood and gore were a part of everyday life
. Today most of us are far removed from the world of bloodshed. At most we see or hear about it from a distance. We are appalled just to hear about ISIS beheadings. We eat meat, but we never give a thought to the butchering process. The last horrifying slaughter that Americans experienced was during the Civil War. But for Isaiah's hearers, it was part of daily life. They knew firsthand the realities of brutal warfare where whole families were butchered.

The strange hope and comfort of the slaughterers getting "a taste of their own medicine." The language of Isaiah 34 is horrifying and offensive to our ears (Isa 34:2-3). But it was probably actually comforting to many of Isaiah's hearers. There is going to be justice in the world after all. The terrible words of judgment against Judah's enemies was a promise that God would balance the scales of justice, and that the Edoms of the world would pay for what they had done.

Why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. Almost certainly Jonah wanted the Assyrians to suffer for all the suffering they had brought to Israel. But he knew how compassionate God really is (Jon 4:2). He knew that if even an Assyrian would repent, God would not impose judgment on them. Jonah wanted the Assyrians to pay for what they did.

The bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was interesting to hear persons who lost family members in the bombing speak of the impending execution of the convicted bomber. There was a sense that they could not feel "closure" in their own experience until the one who made the bomb had paid the full price for his crime. They wanted the scales of justice balanced. And if we will not let God place his Son in the balance for us, then justice says that we ourselves must take that place and go to destruction with Edom.

Is my ultimate trust in creatures (Edom) or the Creator? If so, I am headed into the desert with those Edoms. To put my ultimate trust in creatures instead of the Creator is truly stupid. It is to ultimately crash into that reality with devastating effect.

How do I know if I'm trusting the creature or not? It is too easy to trust the creature. It's too easy for me to trust my youth (which incidentally is evaporating away rapidly!) and my health (which is also gradually ebbing away, beginning with my knees). It's too easy for me to trust my own experience, intuition, perceptiveness, assessment and plan my own course of action with the church, with people, with my medical practice, etc. After doing all that I can, do I truly trust God, or am I still trusting my own efforts? Do I truly pray and surrender the outcome to God, or am I still trying to manipulate the situation to fit my own preference and liking?

What does it mean to trust God radically? Sometimes it means deliberately not doing what I could for myself and letting God do it instead. Sometimes it is to take a radical step of faith without the absolute assurance that the ground is there to step on. When Harrison Ford faced a chasm he cannot cross in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he remembered words he had been told previously. Then he steps off into the chasm, and suddenly a walkway appears under his feet. Did I somewhat do this when I attempted to start WL church in 2008 despite the disapproval of many older leaders who interpreted my attempts as being insubordinate and disrespectful?

Do Jesus' words about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies radically contradict these words of Isaiah? Does the NT message of forgiveness contradict the OT message of vengeance? They key response is that of Paul: "Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, 'I will take revenge; I will pay them back,' says the Lord" (Rom 12:19, NLT; Dt 32:35). How can we find the grace to not seek and take revenge? It is precisely in the knowledge that there is a just Judge of all the universe who will see that justice is done in the end. We do not need to destroy the Edom that may have crushed us because we can trust God to do the right thing in the end, both for Edom and us.

How freeing and liberating this is. It takes the justice of the world off our shoulders and frees us from carrying around a heavy load of anger and resentment. One of the things that brought down President Nixon was his "list of enemies." If he was not concerned about his enemies and more concerned to do what is right in the confidence that God would redress the balances, the Watergate scandal might never have happened.