A few years ago I joined leaders of LifeWay Christian Resources in a meeting with executives of a Nashville TV station. They were preparing to launch a new program catering to gays and lesbians. We asked them to reconsider.
Among the TV executives was a lesbian. She wanted to know why Christians couldn’t just accept her for who she is. It was the only time I recall speaking up, and I said something like this:
“I accept you for who you are, if you accept me. We are both sinners who struggle with many desires. Some of them are good and some of them are not. The Bible teaches us how to tell the difference. At the end of the day, you and I must decide whether to act on these sinful desires. When we come to the point of losing our shame over sinful behavior – and actually celebrating it – we find ourselves in deep spiritual trouble.”
It wasn’t the answer she expected. It neither confirmed her suspicion of Christian malice nor compromised biblical truth. The meeting ended cordially. A few weeks later the station premiered “Out & About.”
Last month’s terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, brought the Muslim doctrine of “jihad” back into our living rooms as we watched in horror the murderous rage of people acting in the name of Allah.
But what, exactly, is jihad? The Arabic term means to endeavor, strive, struggle, or fight. It is sometimes translated “holy war.”
There are two ways in which Muslims embrace jihad.
This column appeared July 3 in The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Horatio G. Spafford was a prominent attorney in Chicago in the 1800s and a friend of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. While Spafford was both respected and comfortable, he was not free from severe hardship.
First, he lost his four-year-old son to scarlet fever. Then his real estate investments along Lake Michigan literally went up in flames in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Not long after that, his four daughters drowned in a shipwreck, and his wife Anna survived the ordeal only because the ship’s debris buoyed her as she floated, unconscious, in the Atlantic Ocean.
Crossing the sea to join his bereaved wife, Spafford was called to the captain’s deck as the ship sailed past the foamy deep where his daughters were lost. The captain informed him that the waters there were three miles deep. Returning to his cabin, Spafford penned these words to the now-famous hymn:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul
Why did such tragedy befall this godly man? Spafford may have wondered why, but ultimately he rested in the sovereignty of God.
We can better appreciate God’s sovereignty, even in the darkest nights, by observing 10 reasons we suffer, according to scripture.
1. We suffer because we sin. All of us are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). Unbelievers live lifestyles of independence from God, while believers experience moments, or seasons, of independence. Spiritual discipline is designed to target sin in a believer’s life, and that discipline may be severe, including death (1 Cor. 11:29-32).
2. We suffer because others sin. Children suffer at the hands of an abusive parent. Citizens suffer at the hands of corrupt leaders. Rarely does our sin remain confined to us. King David numbered his troops, and 70,000 people suffered the consequences. Jesus suffered through no fault of His own but gave His life for our sins.
3. We suffer because we live in a sinful and fallen world. Accidents happen. Natural disasters take the lives of millions each year. The apostle Paul writes that the whole world is groaning beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22).
4. We suffer because God allows us to make real choices. The sovereignty of God and the ability of people to make meaningful choices are two Biblical truths. We are not robots; we actually can and do make choices for which God holds us accountable.
5. We suffer to make us long for eternity. This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven. The writer of Hebrews records, “These [heroes of the faith] all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed the they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth (11:13).” When we suffer, it helps prevent us from clinging to this world, which is passing away.
6. We suffer to keep us from something worse. A fever sends us to the doctor, where our illness is diagnosed and a remedy prescribed. On a grander scale, suffering tells us there is something wrong with us, and with the world, and often leads us to the all-important search for Christ. Darkness, pain, suffering, loneliness, abandonment — all help us grasp the reality of life, now and eternally, without Christ.
7. We suffer to share in the suffering of Christ, and thus to be more like Him. Christians persecuted for their faith share in what Paul calls “the fellowship of His suffering” (Phil. 3:10). When we suffer, it also enables us to comfort others, who suffer. Paul also writes, “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).
8. We suffer to honor God. Jesus tells us to take heart when we are persecuted for His sake (Matt. 5:10-11). And He warns us the world will hate us because it hated Him first. If Christians had easier lives it would make the gospel more attractive for the wrong reasons; God would become a means to an end rather than the end of all things Himself.
9. We suffer to grow spiritually. Jesus, who was perfect in His humanity, nevertheless “learned” obedience through suffering. Paul writes that he has “learned” in whatsoever state he is, to be content (Phil. 4:11). And Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is designed to keep him from boasting (2 Cor. 12).
10. We suffer to better anticipate the glories of heaven and the world to come. In Rev. 21:4 we read, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 66 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.
Isa. 66:14-16 – You will see, you will rejoice, and you will flourish like grass; then the Lord’s power will be revealed to His servants, but He will show His wrath against His enemies. Look, the Lord will come with fire – His chariots are like the whirlwind – to execute His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the Lord will execute judgment on all flesh with His fiery sword, and many will be slain by the Lord.
“[M]en can look forward to the future with fear and with hope. God, the Creator, extends the offer of fellowship to the humble who are responsive to His Word (66:1–6). Zion is told to rejoice, confident that all her troubles are but birth pangs, and soon she will give birth to a glorious future (vv. 7–11). God will bless His land with peace and comfort His children in the day He executes judgment on sin (vv. 12–16). This book of powerful poetry ends in prose. God pledges that all mankind as well as the Jewish people will find Him at history’s end. The new heavens and the new earth He makes will endure. But the bodies of those who rebelled against the Lord will be scattered over old earth’s deadened lands (vv. 17–24)” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 445).
Jesus quotes the concluding verse of Isaiah (66:24) in Mark 9:43-48 to contrast the final state of the redeemed with that of the lost. The prophet ends his book with these words: “As they [worshipers of God in the age to come] leave, they will see the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me; for their maggots will never die, their fire will never go out, and they will be a horror to all mankind.” Seven hundred years later, Jesus quotes this passage to warn His listeners that there are everlasting consequences for rejecting Him. He urges them not to let anything keep them from “life” or “the kingdom of God.” Yet, just as many people reject Isaiah’s call to repentance, many in Jesus’ day – and even today – reject His invitation to life and thus will find themselves in “hell – the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
God’s Throne and Footstool (Isa. 66:1-2)
The Lord is depicted figuratively as sitting on a throne, with the earth as His footstool. Jesus borrows this imagery in the Sermon on the Mount, instructing His disciples to speak truthfully – with a simple yes or no – and resist the contemporary trend to swear by heaven and earth (Matt. 5:33-37). Stephen quotes this passage in Acts 7:49-50 in his defense before the Sanhedrin to remind the Jewish leaders that the magnificent temple in Jerusalem is inferior to the God who is worshipped there – a sovereign Lord who cannot be confined to man-made dwellings. Isaiah’s point is that God, who created all things and is greater than any house of worship, seeks a personal relationship with the one who is “humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My word” (v. 2). For Israel, that word is primarily the Mosaic Covenant. Pointing the people back to the Word of God, Isaiah is telling them they need to obey it if they want to receive the Lord’s blessings.
Divine Payback (Isa. 66:3-6)
The stark contrasts in verse 3 expose the people’s religious practices for what they really are: external rituals void of heartfelt worship. While bringing sacrifices and offerings to the temple, the people are murderers, idolaters and breakers of the dietary laws. They have “chosen their ways and delighted in their abominations.” Therefore, harsh judgment is coming. The people who profess to know the Lord, yet hate His people and discriminate against them, will feel the hand of divine discipline when the temple is destroyed.
Jesus has similar words for the religious leaders in His day. Matthew 23 features a series of woes pronounced on religious hypocrites. Here is a sampling:
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! (vv. 23-24)
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (vv. 27-28)
- Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why I am sending you prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town. So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be charged to you, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. I assure you: All these things will come on this generation! (vv. 33-37)
Just as God tells the people in Isaiah’s day that He will use the Babylonians to judge them, Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that terrible days are coming upon them as well – divine retribution for rejecting God’s Son, the Messiah. This is fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans sack Jerusalem, destroy the temple and scatter the Jews.
Birth of a Nation (Isa. 66:7-21)
Israel’s return to the land after the Babylonian exile will be so swift that it is likened to a woman giving birth as soon as she experiences her first labor pains. The Lord will finish what He started, resulting in great joy for His people. They will exult in a rebuilt Jerusalem just as an infant delights in her mother’s breast. Peace will come to Jerusalem and the nations’ wealth will flow to her. Just as Jerusalem is compared to a mother in verses 11-12, the Lord is compared to a mother who comforts her children in verse 13: “As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you, and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.” While these promises offer great hope to the Israelites facing Babylonian captivity, they look ever further into the future to that glorious time when Christ will sit on the throne of David. This should be a message of comfort to Jews today, and to all Christians who look forward to Christ’s glorious return.
While millennial blessings will flow abundantly in Israel, the Lord promises retribution against those who oppose Him and His people. Verses 15-16 are graphic depictions of God’s wrath: “Look, the Lord will come with fire – His chariots are like the whirlwind – to execute His anger and fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the Lord will execute judgment on all flesh with His fiery sword, and many will be slain by the Lord.” D.A. Carson comments: “The fire and sword are the harsh aspect of every divine intervention (cf. Mt. 10:34), but this is the final one (cf. v 24; 2 Thes. 1:7–10). While it has reference to all men, the special objects of wrath are the apostates of v 17 (cf. 65:3–7; Lv. 11:7, 29), who have known the light and despised it” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 66:6).
When Christ returns, He will judge all nations (Zech. 14:3; Rev. 19:17-18) and because of that the world will see His glory. People from around the globe will turn to the Lord and worship Him. Believing Israelites will travel to distant lands to testify of God’s magnificent glory and grace. Those hearing the message represent the distant outposts of Israel’s world: Tarshish (probably southwestern Spain), Put (northern Africa), Lud (western Asia Minor), Tubal (northeastern Asia Minor), Javan (Greece), and other distant lands. They will be won to the Lord and will travel to Jerusalem to worship. Some will even be selected priests and Levites, positions historically reserved for Jews alone.
New Heavens and Earth (Isa. 66:22-24)
The closing verses of this breathtaking book contrast the joy of the redeemed and the fate of the damned, magnifying God’s grace and justice. As the Gentiles once descended on Israel in search of plunder, they will in the age to come travel expectantly to worship the Lord. As they depart Jerusalem, they will see the bloated corpses of those who have rebelled against their King. Just outside the city lies the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna in Greek), a place where children once were sacrificed to pagan gods and, in Jesus’ day, a trash dump where fires burned continuously. The valley is a picture of judgment (Isa. 30:33). Jesus used it to illustrate the horrors of hell (Mark 9:43-48). According to Derek Kidner, in the synagogue verse 23 is read again after verse 24 to soften the ending of the prophecy, but the reality of hell is a true ending for unbelievers (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 66:18).
For believers, however, the new heavens and earth are purged of sin and its consequences. While the terrible fate of those who reject Christ may remain with the saints as a reminder of God’s mercy toward them, the pristine beauty of God’s restored creation overshadows the putrid scenes of Gehenna. There is no doubt that God will shake the earth to its very foundation in the days to come, judging all people and removing the curse of sin. Note how the writer of Hebrews looks to this day: “[B]ut now He has promised, Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also heaven. Now this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what is not shaken might remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:26-29).
The apostle Peter also gives us a foretaste of what is to come, and how we should live in the light of God’s future earthly renovation: “But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that [day] the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, [it is clear] what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be on fire and be dissolved, and the elements will melt with the heat. But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Warren Wiersbe summarizes: “Throughout his book, Isaiah has presented us with alternatives: Trust the Lord and live, or rebel against the Lord and die. He has explained the grace and mercy of God and offered His forgiveness. He has also explained the holiness and wrath of God and warned of His judgment. He has promised glory for those who will believe and judgment for those who scoff. He has explained the foolishness of trusting man’s wisdom and the world’s resources. The prophet calls the professing people of God back to spiritual reality. He warns against hypocrisy and empty worship. He pleads for faith, obedience, a heart that delights in God, and a life that glorifies God” (Be Comforted, S. Is 66:1).
Commenting on Isaiah’s closing verse – a graphic vision of the saved observing the damned – Matthew Henry writes: “Those that worship God shall go forth and look upon them, to affect their own hearts with the love of their Redeemer, when they see what misery they are redeemed from. As it will aggravate the miseries of the damned to see others in the kingdom of heaven and themselves thrust out (Lu. 13:28), so it will illustrate the joys and glories of the blessed to see what becomes of those that died in their transgression, and it will elevate their praises to think that they were themselves as brands plucked out of that burning. To the honour of that free grace which thus distinguished them let the redeemed of the Lord with all humility, and not without a holy trembling, sing their triumphant songs” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 66:15).
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Most of chapters 2-12 likely was written during the reign of King Uzziah.
Isa. 5:5: Now I will tell you what I am about to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge, and it will be consumed; I will tear down its wall, and it will be trampled.
Isaiah uses a parable to foretell judgment on Judah, and then pronounces six woes on the people as he catalogues their sins.
The parable of the vineyard in verses 1-7 is similar to the parable of the vineyard owner Jesus tells in Matt. 21:33-44. At the same time, the woes pronounced on the wicked in verses 8-30 have a familiar ring. Jesus’ woes on the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 23 are aimed at their arrogance, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. There appears to be a good reason Jesus quotes Isaiah so often: Just as the prophet foretells pending judgment on Judah for its sins, the Messiah foretells judgment on Israel for its vapid spiritual life.
Parable of the vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7)
This parable foretelling judgment on Judah is eerily similar to the parable of the vineyard owner Jesus tells in Matt. 21:33-44, predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel that occurs in 70 A.D. with the most notable consequence being the temporary setting aside of God’s spiritual blessings on Israel in favor of the church. In Isaiah, the pending judgment is national and focused mainly on the leaders’ social injustice. In Matthew, the pending judgment also is national but centers on the leaders’ spiritual coldness – particularly their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.
D.A. Carson summarizes the parable in Isaiah 5: “The parable brings home, as nothing else could, the sheer unreason and indefensibility of sin – we find ourselves searching for some cause of the vine’s failure and there is none. Only humans could be as capricious as that” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Section Isaiah 5:1).
There is no mistaking the meaning of this parable. The vineyard is “the house of Israel” and the fruitless vine “the men of Judah” (v. 7). Like a wise, experienced, and caring husbandman, God has done everything necessary to make Judah a shining testimony of His greatness. He plans the vineyard, setting it on “a very fertile hill” (v. 1); prepares the soil, breaking it up and clearing it of stones (v. 2); plants it “with the finest vines” (v. 2); operates and watches over it, building a tower in the middle of the vineyard (v. 2); anticipates its fruitfulness, hewing out a winepress (v. 2); and expects it to “yield good grapes” (v. 2). So when the vineyard “yielded worthless grapes” (v. 2), God could legitimately ask, “What more could I have done for My vineyard than I did?” (v. 4).
God has blessed Israel and given her advantages no other nation on earth has ever experienced. Centuries later, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and before God revisits judgment on Israel through the destruction of the Temple and the Diaspora, the apostle Paul reminds his Jewish readers of their special place in God’s heart (Rom. 9:4-5). Nevertheless, Isaiah warns his fellow countrymen what God is about to do. He will remove His hedge of protection so it will be consumed (v. 5); tear down its wall so wild beasts and human plunderers will trample it (v. 5); abandon its care so that “thorns and briers will grow up” (v. 6); and even withhold rain so that it becomes a “wasteland” (v. 6). In practical terms, God is going to give up his special care of Israel so invaders will destroy it. He will even withhold the “rain,” likely a reference to the heaven-sent teachings of the prophets.
There is an interesting play on words in verse 7. Good looks for “justice” (mishpat) but finds “oppression / injustice” (mispach); He looks for “righteousness” (tzedakah) but hears “cries” (tzedkah) of wretchedness (The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge).
Woes for the wicked (Isa. 5:8-30)
Isaiah notes six distinct types of sin resulting in woes from the Lord. As D.A. Carson summarizes in the New Bible Commentary, “The attack has all the bite of personal portraiture. Here are the great, for all to see; they emerge as extortioners (8-10), playboys (11-12; cf. 22-23) and scoffers, whose only predictable values are cash ones (18-23)” (Section Isaiah 5:1). Specifically, the sins are:
- Disregarding Jubilee. “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, Until there is no more room, So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!” (v. 8). The jubilee restoration of land every 50 years is designed to protect against greed, but the inhabitants of Judah are selfishly hoarding property (see Lev. 25:13; Micah 2:2). As a result, God will cause many houses to become desolate and the land to yield its fruit grudgingly (vv. 9-10).
- Drunkenness. “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink …” (vv. 11-12). God’s people are indulging in strong drink and revelry without regard for the Creator and Provider of their food and drink. Their parties begin early, when it is especially shameful to drink (see Acts 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:7) and continue into the night. In verse 12, Isaiah refers to the tambourine among other musical instruments that are part of the reveling. The Hebrew word is tophet, and the tambourine are used to drown out the cries of children sacrificed to Moloch. Therefore, God will punish His people for their reckless living by sending them into exile, where they will suffer hunger and thirst – a stark contrast to the gluttonous food and drink found at their banquet tables (v. 13). Sheol, the abode of the dead, has “enlarged its throat” to accommodate the number of Jews who will die in exile (v. 14). In addition, the splendor of Jerusalem will be taken away, the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased (v. 15). But “the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment” (v. 16).
- Obstinate perseverance in sin. “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes” (v. 18). The rabbis used to say, “An evil inclination is at first like a fine hair-string, but the finishing like a cart-rope.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment, “The antithesis is between the slender cords of sophistry, like the spider’s web (Is 59:5; Job 8:14), with which one sin draws on another, until they at last bind themselves with great guilt as with a cart-rope. They strain every nerve in sin” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Isa. 5:18). While buried up to their necks in sin, the Jewish people seem to be questioning whether God is really in control of the nation, and they challenge them to show Himself by delivering them despite their obstinacy (v. 19).
- Perverted values. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness …” (v. 20). Matthew Henry writes that such people “not only live in the omission of that which is good, but condemn it, argue against it, and, because they will not practise it themselves, run it down in others, and fasten invidious epithets upon it-not only do that which is evil, but justify it, and applaud it, and recommend it to others as safe and good” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 5:18).
- Arrogance. “Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight” (v. 21). Many in Judah think they know better than the prophet and therefore disregard the Word of God through Isaiah. The New Bible Commentary calls them “calmly omniscient.”
- Alcoholic excess and perversion of justice. “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine … who deprive the innocent of justice” (vv. 22-23). They know the value of money, but little more. The judges in particular bankroll their self-indulgence with bribes that favor the rich and deny justice to the innocent. They mix their drinks, not with water, but with spices for intoxication (Prov. 9:2, 5; Song of Sol. 8:2).
As a result of these sins, the people of Judah would be burned like dry grass, and their beauty vanquished like a flower turned to dust. When God’s judgment comes, He will use Egypt and Assyria, and later Babylon, as His rod of punishment. These ferocious powers descend on Judah as if God has raised a banner and called people from “the ends of the earth” to war (v. 26). While these violent conquerors are to be feared like a growling lioness or the roaring sea, they are under the sovereign hand of God and do as He pleases. This chapter ends darkly, with nothing but pending judgment, like storm clouds gathering on the horizon.
Gary V. Smith comments: “These woes assure the reader that God will judge sin severely. The lament conveys the truth that God is terribly saddened when his people reject him or his revealed instructions. Nevertheless, in the end he will hold all people accountable for their actions, especially his own privileged people” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 182).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips