Devastation & Restoration audio (3MB)
The great temptation for Christians as well as for the Jews is the temptation to take God’s grace for granted; even worse, to feel a sense of superiority, of smugness, because we’re part of God’s chosen people. The way to overcome that temptation is to remember that with the privilege of being God’s people comes the responsibility to remain faithful; to allow God to be God in every part of our lives.
That was the thing that the people of Judah had forgotten. As we’ll see in a moment they’d ignored God’s laws and God was about to punish them by removing his protection from them.
As we come to ch 24-27 we find a global vision on a massive scale. It’s as though the camera pans out from Jerusalem to the whole earth. As we look on we see God’s judgment engulfing the earth.
You may have noticed that there are great similarities between Isaiah and the book of Revelation and here’s another. Here we find a tale of two cities similar to the message of Revelation. God is about to judge all those who rebel against him yet at the same time a remnant of the Lord’s people will be saved from destruction and brought to security in a future Zion, the city of God. But first let’s look at the beginning of Ch 24.
A. The preservation of the Lord’s people in the midst of devastation. 24:1-20
The first thing we find is the natural order of the world being turned upside down. No longer are the rich and privileged immune from suffering. “As with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; etc.”
The old world order is being turned upside down. And the forms of devastation are comprehensive. First military conquest, vs1-3, then environmental devastation, vs4-6. And why is this about to happen? Because they’ve transgressed laws, i.e. they’ve simply disobeyed God’s word; they’ve violated the statutes, that is they’ve altered God’s law, introduced their own variety of morality. We saw this in ch5: “Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is 5:20) We see it in our own day, don’t we, where people derive their morality from opinion polls rather than from God’s word. And thirdly they’ve broken the everlasting covenant, - they’ve stepped out of the covenant relationship with God. And the result? Well it’s the same as the result of the fall isn’t it? “Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt.”
In the life of the people it’s like the song of the world is being stilled (7-12). Their song of confidence and contentedness in their rebellion will cease as they finally realise their true condition.
It’s a chilling image isn’t it? As though the music box has finally wound down and we’re left with nothing but the silence before the storm.
But then in the distance we hear the song of the remnant rising in praise of the Lord. “14They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; they shout from the west over the majesty of the LORD.” There are still those who long for the Lord to reign, who remain faithful even as the rest of the people’s rebellion plays itself out.
And notice that the singing comes from the west and from the east. This isn’t just a remnant of Israel there are others who rejoice in God’s justice. And so we come to the climax of these chapters. Here we see
B. The inclusion of all people into God’s new creation and the blessings of Mt Zion - 25:1-12
Here we see the aftermath of God’s judgement. The cities are destroyed, the palaces of evil are no more, ruthless nations have been overthrown.
Yet on God’s mountain there’s peace and prosperity. There “the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” It makes your mouth water doesn’t it? What a celebration! How amazing that the whole earth is destroyed, yet on God’s holy mountain people enjoy the bounty of God’s blessing.
And it isn’t just that they’ll receive God’s blessing. He says “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” (Isa 25:7-8) Sounds like Rev 20 doesn’t it?
And the faithful will say: “9Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
C The security of God’s people surrounded by opposing forces 26:1-20
But then Isaiah’s prophecy shifts back to the people of Judah again, to a time that will be, when God’s people will rest secure within the walls of God’s city once more. He tells them to trust in the Lord, who’s an everlasting rock - a sure foundation and protection. Trust in the Lord who will smooth your paths and make your ways level.
There’s an unspoken contrast here to the thinking of the political leaders of the nation. They think their security lies in making the right political alliances. (Nothing’s changed has it?) Yet that strategy has failed miserably. No the only true security lies in being part of God’s new city.
Finally we come back to devastation, to.
D The Final culmination of God’s judgment on all evil. 27:1-13
“On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.”
The picture is of God destroying all the forces of evil that infest every part of the world with his fierce, great and st Save rong sword. You sort of feel sorry for the serpents don’t you? How could anyone stand in the face of God’s anger at evil in the world.
But then we hear a sudden contrast in mood. The song of the vineyard that ended so sadly in ch5 is sung again.
“2On that day: A pleasant vineyard, sing about it!” (Is 27:1-2) God is still caring for his vineyard. He sings of a time when Israel will return and take root in the vineyard once more (27:6). He speaks of a time when the sins of Israel will be wiped away, when all the altars will be broken down. (27:9) There’s a double meaning here. The altars are the altars to Baal that the people of God will destroy when they return to faithful obedience to God. But there’s also the future fulfillment of this prophecy when God removes their sin (and ours) permanently, and the sacrifice on the altar is no longer necessary.
That’s where we are isn’t it? We’ve seen how God has taken away our sin, made the sacrifice on the altar redundant. Jesus has done it, hasn’t he? He says: “this will be the full fruit of the removal of [Israel’s] sin.” There’s a sense of completion here, isn’t there? The New Testament phrase is “once and for all”.
And finally we see God’s victory complete, his reign spreading from the Euphrates to the Nile (i.e. the whole world) and people coming from the ends of the earth to worship God on his Holy Mountain.
It’s interesting that this prophecy pops up in the middle of the book, in amongst all the warnings of judgement and disaster. As I said when I began this series, all the way through we find God’s judgment side by side with the promise of his grace. He greater the degree of judgment described, the greater is the promise of God’s blessing. But can you see the response that God’s looking for? The problem the people of Israel have is that they’ve taken God’s grace for granted. They’ve presumed on God’s goodness. But they’ve forgotten that his covenant with them requires them to remain faithful. He will fulfill his promise to protect his people but only those people who remain faithful. Look back at 26:2-4: “Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. 3Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace-- in peace because they trust in you.” Do you see that? It’s only those who remain faithful; who are of steadfast mind; who trust in God, who will be kept safe, who’ll be welcomed in to God’s new city.
We find the same idea in the New Testament. We’re told over and over again that we must persevere, stand firm, remain faithful to the God who called us. This isn’t to earn our salvation, any more than it was for the Jews. Jesus has done that for us. But it is so we’ll receive the crown of glory at the end.
The lesson of these chapters of Isaiah is this: Don’t be smug, don’t presume on God’s goodness. Rather be careful to remain faithful to the God who has called you and saved you.