Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—"Responding to the Discipline of God"
The last half of Isaiah 9 is in the form of a prophetic poem consisting of four stanzas, each one ending with the sentence: “For all of this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.”
The words are directed to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, not Judah. They had been warned about the coming judgment on their sin numerous times. This prophetic poem speaks of the unrelenting anger of God against the sin of his people. It also speaks of the unrelenting love of God, “for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.”
This is an oxymoron to us: How can God display His grace through His judgement? In Isaiah 9:8 through 11:16 God reveals his gracious intentions toward Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Though His wrath works against them in the Assyrian invasion, God promises to punish Assyria for its arrogance and promises to give his purified people a home in the messianic kingdom.
Each of the four stanzas has a slightly different emphasis.
I. ISRAEL’S PRIDE WAS LEADING TO THEIR FALL (vv. 9:8-12)
- “The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel. All the people will know it— Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria— who say with pride and arrogance of heart, “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.” But the LORD has strengthened Rezin’s foes against them and has spurred their enemies on. Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west have devoured Israel with open mouth. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” (Isaiah 9:8–12, NIV)
- Isaiah begins with the totality of their pride
- he refers to Jacob, Israel, Ephraim, and the inhabitants of Samaria
- Jacob was the patriarch of the ten northern tribes
- Israel was the official name of the nation
- Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern tribes and often used as a euphuism for the entire nation
- Samaria was the capitol city of the ten tribes and was representative of the nation just as we use capitol cities today to represent the nation as a whole
- the Lord has sent a message that is for all the resident of Israel—no one is excluded
- it’s not a message to the nation
- it’s a message against the nation
A. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE NOT SELF-SUFFICIENT
- Israel rejected God’s word in self-sufficient pride
- the people "say in pride and arrogance of heart: The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with hewn stones; The sycamores are cut down, But we will replace them with cedars." (NKJV)
- Israel is about to make two great mistakes
- 1st, they are going to ignore the cause of the calamity about to befall them
- all the people will know implies that they do not now know that the calamity of Assyrian occupation is of the Lord
- Israel’s attitude is, “Hey, nations rise and nations fall, and the inhabitants of Israel assume that warfare, siege, hardship and deportation are merely a fact of life.”
- 2nd, they arrogantly boasted that they would rebuild
- before our city was a city of sun-dried bricks stuccoed over with plaster, but when we rebuild, we’ll do it bigger and better—we will use the best building material available; dressed stone
- before our fields were full of fig trees, but afterwards we will replant cedars!
- ILLUS. The sycamore fig tree is a knotty wood that grows abundantly on the low lands of Judea, and useful for building. They were plentiful and not considered an especially valuable wood. The cedar, on the other hand, was a fragrant wood, free from knots, durable, and precious. The boast is, “We will replace cottages with palaces.”
B. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE ALL TOO FREQUENTLY BLIND TO THE LORD’S DISCIPLINE
- what Israel does not know is that “ ... the LORD has strengthened Rezin's foes against them and has spurred their enemies on. Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west ... “
- they will devour Israel
- God was sending judgment on the Israelite people in order to discipline them
- where there is not reflection on the reason for God's anger there will be no humility and no repentance
- ILLUS. Winston Churchill’s final volume on WWII has as its theme “How the great democracies triumphed and so were able to resume the follies which had so nearly cost them their life.”
- don’t be surprised when God uses national calamity to get your attention
II. ISRAEL’S DENIAL OF GOD WAS LEADING TO INTERNAL CONFUSION (vv. 9:13-17)
- “But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the LORD Almighty. So the LORD will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day; the elders and prominent men are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray. Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men, nor will he pity the fatherless and widows, for everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” (Isaiah 9:13–17, NIV)
- these people have not sought the Lord Almighty
- what will be the results?
- 1st the whole nation, from rich to poor and from old to young, would be cast aside
- the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed
- the elder—the political leaders—are the “head”
- the false prophets are the “tail”
- the palm branch and the reed refers to the lowest to the highest
- 2nd there will be an absence of wise leadership
- those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray
- sadly, there is no repentance so the Lord was undermining the leadership and widespread suffering was the result
- 3rd wickedness will rule the land
- the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men, nor will he pity the fatherless and widows, for everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness
- Orphans and widows are special objects of God’s concern and when God withdraws his compassion from them that nation is clearly rejected
III. ISRAEL’S SELF-SEEKING WAS LEADING TO THEIR SELF-DESTRUCTION (vv. 9:18-21)
- “Surely wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns, it sets the forest thickets ablaze, so that it rolls upward in a column of smoke. By the wrath of the LORD Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire; no one will spare his brother. On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied. Each will feed on the flesh of his own offspring: Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” (Isaiah 9:18–21, NIV)
- Israel has ignored all the warning signs!
- ILLUS. When conditions are ripe for a forest fire, our forestry officials will issue warnings concerning the danger. They will discourage people from burning trash, building camp fires or the like. When people neglect those warnings and build fires they are flirting with danger.
- look at verse 13; "For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, Nor do they seek the Lord of hosts." (NKJV)
- once a nation no longer considers God in it’s decision-making process, all kinds of wickedness abounds
- wickedness takes on a life of its own and burns like a fire Isaiah says
- it is so destructive that even the thorns are consumed implying an extremely hot conflagration
- by the wrath of the LORD Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire; no one will spare his brother
- it is a all-consuming fire: no one will spare his brother. On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied. Each will feed on the flesh of his own offspring: Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah
IV. ISRAEL’S SELFISH USE OF POWER WOULD LEAD TO THE DEPARTURE OF GOD’S PRESENCE (vv. 10:1-4)
- “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” (Isaiah 10:1–4, NIV)
- leadership is again in view here but not in the same way as in the second stanza
- there leadership lacked the wisdom necessary to lead
- they were incompetent
- here the leadership is immoral
- they are using their position to craft legislation for personal gain
- they are willing to use their position, not to protect, but to plunder the most helpless in society – the widow and the orphan
- it is blatant selfishness and greed on display
- judgment lies at the door of these corrupt and immoral leaders
- “What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised."
- these were a God-forsaken people and the consequence are going to be disastrous for them
- Pride always precedes a fall
- ILLUS. Many of you will remember that in 1972, American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven Olympic gold medals in swimming. It was an unheard of feat. What you may not remember is that prior to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Spitz had brashly predicted that he would win five individual gold medals. He won none.
- I wonder sometimes if America has become too proud
- listen to what Abraham Lincoln said of us almost 150 years ago. "We've grown in numbers and wealth and power as no other nation has grown…We've vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our own hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient…, too proud to pray to the God that made us."
- four times we read in this section of Isaiah: “For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.”
- it’s a phrase that
- reveals God’s intense anger
- underscores the certainty of God’s judgment
- displays the hand of mercy