One of the most famous creatures in Greek mythology is the Phoenix. The Phoenix was a bird of fire that supposedly lived for over 500 years. At the end of its life it was believed that it would create a nest of cinnamon sticks and set it aflame so that the bird would then be consumed by its own fire. However, the death was thought to be a regenerating process. The ashes that were left would congeal into a new egg. Thus, the Phoenix would arise again with new life.
From the shadows of death Christ arose with new life. So they sort of adopted the bird as their own in order to help portray the hope we have in Christ.
In a similar way we can apply the symbol of the Phoenix to the kingdom of God and the church. For Isaiah here sees a vision of the future. He relays for us what that vision is. And it is one of resurrection. It is one of revival among God’s people. Isaiah sees the kingdom of Christ rising from her ashes.
For the last several weeks we’ve been looking at chapter 1 of Isaiah, and we’ve seen that it was a pretty dreary picture. Isaiah portrays the kingdom as one in complete ashes. God had swept through and destroyed it. But Isaiah reminds us here that this will not be the end of the story. Out of the rubble, the kingdom will rise again. Under the Messiah’s governance the kingdom of God will be restored.
Really, in his own way, Isaiah tells us what Christ told us in Matthew 16, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Ultimately, Isaiah wishes to renew our hope in God. He wants us to trust Him. That’s why he has the exhortation in verse 5, “Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Just as the ashes of Jerusalem may cause the people of God in the OT to give up hope in God, the dismal state of the church today can get us down. If we gaze too much on the brokenness of the kingdom, we’ll be tempted to say, “All is lost! It is not worth walking in the way of God!” So to boost our spirits and give us the confidence we should have to keep the faith, the Lord wants to view the climactic zenith of the messianic kingdom.
The passage begins, you might say, on a high note. It foretells the primacy or the preeminence of the Messianic kingdom.
I. Its preeminence [2a]
Isaiah speaks of “the mountain of the house of the Lord” (which is mount Zion, which is where the city of Jerusalem was). As the capital city of Judah and the place where the temple resided, this city was representative of the whole kingdom of God. But this mountain bulges and sprouts like a beanstalk so that it eventually comes to tower over all the other mountains of the earth. When the transformation is done, none of the other mountains in Palestine can compare with it. You almost think that the Himalayan mountains or the Alps or the Rocky Mountain range out west look like mole hills.
The meaning of this comes to be realized when you remember that mountains were places where the gods were worshipped in olden days. If you are familiar with the OT, you know that Baal, and the other false gods, were worshipped on the “high places.” If you are familiar with Greek mythology, you might know that Mt. Olympus was where Zeus was supposed to be worshipped.
So here we find that the kingdom God would one day become be the preeminent religion. It would come to tower over all the other religions of the earth. The Lord would be recognized as the only true God, and the false gods would be looked upon as nothing.
And what a wonderful reminder this is for us. We are living in a day where there seems to be a smorgasbord of religions. Everyone says that all religions are basically the same and you can get to heaven by any road you want to take. As a matter of fact, in America, you are even free to make up your own religion and add it to the melting pot. And everyone is supposed to regard it equally.
Yet, the Lord reminds us here that there is only one name under heaven given among men by which you must be saved. There is only one true and living God, and He is the triune God of the Bible. All the other religions are nothing more than the products of men’s imaginations. They are satanic in their origin, and, on the day when Christ comes back, they will be cast down.
I know that the religion of Islam is growing at a rapid pace. They say that the Muslim population will soon be the majority religion in Europe in just a few years. I know that there is a growing interest in the Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.). And you probably are not surprised to hear that the Mormons are rapidly spreading throughout the world. But their growing numbers are not a testimony to their legitimacy. It is simply a testimony of how depraved we are, and how we will embrace any foolish notion that comes our way.
The truth is that there is only one true religion in the world. And it is the religion of Jesus Christ. And there will come a time when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Granted, it might not look that way now. By all outward appearances, it may seem that Christianity is nothing but weakness. The other religions of the world will always seem more appealing and more worth while to follow. Nevertheless, in time the truth will be revealed. Christ will return and his reign will be established. People will look at the gods that they worshipped and see how worthless they really are and how foolish they have been to trust in it.
Our duty now though is to cling solely to Christ. Despite what the media tells us, He is God. He is the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father but by him. As a result, it behooves you, if you have not already, to seek membership in his kingdom.
And if you do, you will find yourself in good company. That’s what the passage goes on to affirm. After stating the preeminence of Christ’s kingdom, it elaborates on its popularity.
II. Its popularity [2b-3]
At the end of verse 2 it says that all the nations shall flow to it. What a beautiful way to talk about how the multitudes are going to be found in God’s kingdom. Isaiah uses the terminology of a mighty river to show how Jerusalem will end up teeming with people. The kingdom of God will one day be flooded with a deluge of Christians who wish to give praise to God.
If you recall 9/11 you may remember seeing the thousands of people crowding the streets, fleeing from the twin towers. The streets were packed with people. Now picture that in reverse and multiplied by the thousands and ten thousands more. Millions upon millions of people pouring towards the temple of the Lord.
Of course, this is a picture of what was begun on the day of Pentecost. It is a picture of the church age and how the gospel is now being proclaimed throughout the world. Like never before the gospel is going out, and it is being embraced by the masses.
I know that I frequently come down hard on the church. Probably not a Sunday goes by when I don’t talk about how the church in America is turning away from the Lord. But I don’t want you to think then that all is lost. Christ continues to claim souls throughout the world. As a matter of fact, Christianity is growing at an incredible rate.
It is like a wildfire in Asia. The church there might be invisible to the eye because it is oppressed by the government, but it is rapidly growing. While it is difficult to give an accurate count because it must operate in secret, some believe that the protestant church could number upwards of 50 million people. It could soon outnumber the 70 million communists in the land.
The church is also exploding in places like Latin America and Africa. For instance, in 1900 there is said to be 19 million Christians in Africa. Today it is believed that there are approximately 400 million people who claim to be Christians. “The statistics from the World Christian Encyclopedia say that in 2025 there will be 633 million Christians in Africa.”
As well, when we think of foreign missions, we typically think of people going to Africa. But most of the evangelistic activity is done by African pastors now, and no longer by foreign missionaries.
These are just a few testimonies to the massive increases in Christ’s kingdom throughout the world. The peoples are already streaming to Christ. And the book of Revelation tells us that when time is finally done, there will be gathered before the Lord a multitude so great that it cannot be counted. Myriads will be found there, all joining together to worship the Lamb who was slain.
I remember back in high school, my basketball coach held a Bible study. And there was one time when we were gathered together and he was talking about the promise keepers event that he had been to not long before. He said it was amazing. He said, “Matt, there is just something amazing being in a stadium chuck full of guys who are all lifting their voices together in praise.” Yet, that will not even begin to compare with what we’ll experience in heaven.
Do you ever think of this? Do you ever try to imagine what it is going to be like when Christ comes again? One of my questions is, how am I going to see him? I’m going to want to cast my crown down too, but I wonder if I’ll even be able to get close enough to throw the thing.
Can you imagine what it will be like when Christ comes again? It says in the book of 1 Thessalonians that all those who have died in the Lord will return with him when he comes back. Can you even begin to fathom it? It is going to be like the millions of Israelites that came flooding out of the bondage of Egypt. That’s not even to mention those Christians who are still living who will be caught up to meet him in the air!
The new world is going to be swarming with people. And it is my hope that you will also be among that sacred number who has walked in the light of the Lord.
Our passage goes on to tell us what it will be like in that day. After acknowledging the preeminence and popularity of Christ’s kingdom, he says something of its peace.
III. Its peace 
Verse 4 says that all the disputes people have will be settled, and the spears will not be needed anymore. They’ll beat them into pruning hooks and plowshares. Nations will no longer go to war or even train for it.
Now, I believe that it is at this point that we should pause and ask, when exactly is this peace going to come? I’ve sort of been implicitly giving you my take on it all through here. But there are other opinions out there, and perhaps it would be good to mention them.
What we’ve been talking about is eschatology. That is, we’ve been looking at the end times. And, those of you who participated in our end times study know that there are different views on the end times. There is what you call the pre-millennial, post-millennial, and the a-millennial positions. All of these have to do with when Christ is going to come back and the 1000 year reign he will have on earth as mentioned in Rev. 20. And as we think about this peace that is talked about in this passage, you might ask, where does it fit in?
The pre-millennial position is that Christ will come back before the millennium. And when he comes back he will establish his kingdom of peace. So you will have 1000 years where Christ reigns on earth. Believers and unbelievers dwell together in perfect peace. After that 1000 years is up, then a rebellion breaks out, the battle of Armageddon occurs and the final judgment then immediately follows.
The post millennial position is that Christ comes back after the 1000 years of peace. So, those who hold this position believe that the gospel is going to go out into all the world so that it eventually pervades every corner. They believe that virtually all the world will be converted. And once this occurs, because unbelief is (for the most part) extinct, there will be such a high morality that there will be this period of 1000 years where there is nothing but unbreakable peace.
Then there is what is called the a-millennial position. And I will be honest with you, this is the position I take and the one that I’ve been assuming all throughout this message. The a-millennial view holds that we are currently in the 1000 year reign of Christ. Obviously the number 1000 would be regarded as a symbolic number as it has already been 2000 years since the time of Christ. But you can understand that Christ is now exalted to the right hand of the Father where he rules in a spiritual way over his church. Though it be a spiritual rule, it is nonetheless a real/legitimate rule. Christ is now protecting his church, guiding her, and subduing all her enemies as any king should do.
Once this period is ended (which no one knows the time or season of) Christ will return. After he returns, then you will have this peace. All those who are God’s enemies will be cast into hell. The church will be purified and free from sin. Being that there is no more sin, there will be no need for war.
That is somewhat of an excurses, but hopefully you find it informative. The point is, there will one day be perfect peace. Christ will indeed come again. All the selfishly inclinations and spirits that are set against the ways of God (which is why peace does not now permeate the world!) will be gone. Peace will then endure.
This is why I give the final exhortation to walk in the light of the Lord. If you put your faith in God and seek to obey him, you will participate in this peace. When Christ comes to establish his kingdom, you will enjoy the everlasting harmony that will be here.
So I encourage you to put away all unbelief. Those of you who have not put your trust in Christ yet, it is time to do so. It is time to number yourself among the throngs who will be going to Zion. Look to Christ and seek his kingdom. And those of you who now profess Christ, your job is to abide in him. Do not let your spirits become discouraged. Do not let your life be guided by what you see around you. Even in the high times of the Spirit, the church will always appear weak. Our job is to live by faith. We must trust that the kingdom will come. We must live in such a way that shows that we believe that this vision will one day become a reality. So come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
In his book, “The Holiness of God” RC Sproul has a chapter entitled, “The Insanity of Luther.” While the whole book is worth the pittance you would pay for it, this chapter in particular is of great intrigue. If he were alive today, Martin Luther would not have been tucked away in a German monastery. He would have been committed to an asylum for the insane. People would have him sedated with all kinds of drugs in order to stabilize an apparent chemical imbalance in his head.
As a young man Luther was a crazed individual. He obsessed over minute details of religion, sometimes spending up to 6 hours in the confessional with his preist. Many would call him demented because of the way he fasted for days on end and physically whipped himself. It is no doubt that he was a troubled individual. But his turmoil was not because of some mental trauma or some psychological Freudian disturbance. It was induced by his knowledge of God.
Luther understood God rightly. This is why he did what he did. This is why he once was reported to have said, “Love God? Sometimes I hate Him.” You may also know of the time when he went to serve his first communion. All night before he spent in great agony. And when the day came, he was ghastly white with terror. Then when he took up the elements to concecrate them, he shook so violently that he actually spilled the contents of the cup—which, to those who believed that the elements actually became the body and blood of Christ, was woeful thing.
But why? Why was he so distraught? What would ever leave a man so paralyze with fear? For sure, it was not a traumatic childhood or an abusive father who would haunt his conscience. Neither was it simply some religious fanaticism. It was one thing, and one thing only. It was his knowledge that God was holy.
Luther’s insanity was a direct result of his having fixed his attention on the holiness of God. To be sure, there is a danger in reading the Scriptures. For when you read them, you come to realize that God is not one with whom you may have any old contact. His nature demands respect. And as we have seen in times past, it may even demand death.
Scripture makes it clear that God is holy. And the passage before us this morning is one such example. In this passage, it is as if we entered upon Ground Zero. We’ve been traveling through these first 6 chapters. And as we have done so, we have been approaching the epicenter of all the fallout that we have witnessed so far.
And in this passage we see the brilliance of the atomic reaction that has caused all the preceding carnage. God here is revealed in his state. Though no eye can behold it, we are made to gaze upon the true character of his being. And so we are taught one awesome lesson: God is holy.
And my friends, it is my hope that you will come to understand why Luther’s insanity. It is my hope that by studying this passage, you will come to regard God in a much more solemn and awe-filled way.
I’ve said before, there are some passages that I simply wish I did not want to preach. Not because they are hard, but because I don’t think that I could do them justice. This is one such passage. For I believe that I will only defile that which is well beyond all purity.
But this message must be preached, because the message is of the utmost importance. All must know, even as Isaiah came to know, that God is holy.
In the first three verses we see this awesome confrontation Isaiah has with this thrice holy God.
I. Confronted with it [1-3]
The curtain is pulled back and Isaiah is allowed to see right into the very inner chamber of God’s dwelling place. And what he finds there is so extraordinary that even angels cannot even begin to behold it. They must cover themselves in humility. Perhaps even sheilding themselves from the immensity of his infinite holiness. Even though they are perfect and spiritual creatures, the nature of God is simply too much for even for them to behold. This is why they cry out three times “holy holy holy.”
Remember that the holiness of God is used to denote both God’s absolute moral perfection and his complete transcendence. That is, his separateness from all other creatures. Nothing can even begin to come close to being identified with him, let alone replicate him in any small way.
In theology, we talk about the communicable and the incommunicable attributes of God. The communicable attributes are said to be those attributes that we share with God. For instance, we say that God is merciful. And we know that we as humans can be merciful. However, while we might possess a degree of mercy, God’s mercy infinitely transcends ours. It is like a drop in the sea by comparison because God is holy or distinctly other. And because he is holy he infinitely surpasses any amount of mercy that we might show.
And it is this radical, substantial difference in the nature of God that reminds us that God is not one who should be dealt with lightly.
You should notice that this confrontation with the holiness of God is not placed here in the 6th chapter for no reason. It is here because it helps us to make sense of all that has gone before and all that will come after.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that these opening chapters are simply an extended introduction to the book of Isaiah. These words are the climax of that introduction. They are the theme verses that will continue to resonate throughout the book.
Remember where we left off last time. All through this series we have heard about a God who is angry. We’ve talked about a God who judges. And last week we ended with a horrific scene. Bodies were left strewn throughout the streets of Judea. Corpses were flung here and there without proper burial. To hear how God tore through their midst makes you think that what he did in Egypt on the night of the Passover was child’s play.
And here we find out why God was so incensed. God is Holy! And he cannot tolerate the least ounce of evil. He must lash out against it because conflicts with his superlative nature. And throughout this book, as God contends with his people, you will hear God referred to as “the holy one of Israel.” It is simply a signal that God demands our respect. He deserves all reverence and honor because he is the Holy One.
We all know that CRF will soon come to a close. But if I might summarize what I have sought to do in these 6 years, it would be this: I have sought to put the holiness of God before you every time we have gathered together. It has been my repeated prayer that the moment we descend into worship each week, you would be confronted with the awesome purity and transcendent majesty of our God. In all my prayers and in all my preaching I have attempted to impart something of Isaiah’s vision. I have wanted you to behold his incredible holiness. I’ve wanted you to stand in awe of his glory, I have done my best to help you experience the one you must revere.
You can testify that I have not begged for your money. Neither have I asked for greater contributions to support this ministry. Because I know that such things are meaningless. Even if I cared for your money, I know that you would never part with a dime if you had not a view of God that makes the walls of the temple shudder or the columns of Rome’s palace’s crumble.
And even now, it is my hope that you are coming to grasp—even if it might be, just the coattails of our God’s resplendent greatness. It is my hope that you would be overcome by his spotless purity. At the very least it is my hope that the gravity of his overwhelming nature would begin to permeate your every understanding of his being. For this must be the God that you worship. This must be the God you encounter. Otherwise you worship him in vain. Ultimately, I believe that if this is not the God you encounter here, then you do not worship him at all.
If there is one thing that Isaiah wishes to communicate to us, it is that God must be regarded as holy. As Isaiah confronts him, we see it ever so clearly.
But as Isaiah confronts the holiness of God what happens is that he is convicted by it.
II. Convicted by it [4-8]
In verses 4 and following Isaiah expresses this conviction. He begins by saying that the foundations shake at the sound of his voice. You get the idea that even the earth and inanimate objects fear him. But in verse 5 you see terror of a much more extreme form. Isaiah cries out. And notice what all is said in this one verse.
First, thing he says is “Woe is me.” Now the term woe is one we should be quite familiar with by now. It is a word we’ve looked at quite in depth for the last several weeks. It is the word hoy, the expression of inexpressible agony. Even righteous Isaiah cannot even stand in God’s presence without fear!
But then he goes on to say, “for I am lost.” The word for “lost” could also be translated “undone.” The word has to do with quilting and the seams you would sew. When you make a mistake you have to go back and rip out the threads that made that seam. Isaiah is in complete fear that his life is about to end. The very seams of his body are about to ready to shred. This encounter with a holy God is simply too much for him.
Then he tells us why this is so: he is a man of sin. He is a man of unclean lips and he lives among a people whose lips are unclean. Of course, it is not just his words that he is talking about—though that would certainly be enough to condemn him. He is talking about the cesspool of his heart, the overflow of which his mouth speaks.
Of course this conviction was necessary for what would come next. His being touched with the coal from the alter. This symbolizes his cleansing and justification before God. The alter was the place of atonement. It was where sacrifices were made and where sin was covered before the eyes of God. It represents for us the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Where on the cross our sins our purged and our guilt is taken away.
But this was all instigated by the holiness of God. Before Isaiah could be cleansed, he needed to be convicted. Before he could be justified, he must see that he was guilty. And the only way that could happen is if he encountered the holiness of God.
I submit to you that this is why we don’t have many true conversions today: because people are not encountering the holiness of God. They are not cut to the heart and made to mourn their sin because they do not come face to face with a God who is holy. They do not come to a state of repentance because they do not believe they have anything reason to repent.
But if they heard about the true nature of God, this would not be so. They would recognize that even the smallest offense would inflame this God and evoke his wrath and displeasure.
This is why I admire the work of RC Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Sproul was deeply burdened by the fact that people did not regard God as holy. He understood that if this attribute of God was lost then Christianity would be in great peril. So he began Ligonier for the purpose of promoting the holiness of God.
And any who would wish to be a Christian must come to the point where they recognize the sinfulness of their sin. They must recognize that they are guilty before this holy God. We hear so much today about coming to Jesus and accepting him into your heart. But we very rarely will hear someone say, “I was a sinner and I deserved to die.”
This is the deep seated conviction that you must have though. And of course, you will only get it if you come to recognize God for who he is.
I don’t know if I have ever told you how I first came to Christ. It was by being confronted with the holiness of God.
My parents will tell you that I was never a rebellious kid. I was mama’s boy. All through my younger days I was the teacher’s pet. For the most part, my life was rather moral. At least in comparison to my brother, who, in my eyes, was quite rebellious, I was a saint.
Then I went to a summer festival with my youth group. And it was there that I heard a minister preaching about the need to come to Christ. He first talked about Romans 3 where it says, “There is no one righteous, no not one.” I thought, “That’s absurd. He doesn’t know me. I’m an OK guy.” Then he went on to quote verse 23 where it says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I said to myself, “Ok, I know I’ve done a few things wrong. It’s never been anything all that terrible though.” But then he quoted Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.”
Deep down I knew that I could not escape that one. I knew that I was going to die, just like everyone else. As I sat there I came to understand all my life I had been comparing myself to my brother. But I had never compared myself to God. When I began to consider that, I saw that God was holy. And it did not matter how good I had been. Even if I had just one sin in my life (and I had many), it would be enough to condemn me.
I was convicted, and, for the first time in my life, I sought Christ as my Savior and asked him to forgive me.
The good news of this passage is that this same forgiveness can be yours. If you are convicted of your sin and guilt, you do not have to tremble before the holiness of God. You do not have to fear being condemned by him. He has provided a way for sinners like us to be cleansed of our sin. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the cross the wrath of the holy God is appeased. And when we put our faith in him we receive the cleansing Isaiah received. Our sins are purged from us and put upon Christ so that we can stand before God justified.
Now I believe that the editors of our Bibles have done a great injustice here. If you have a Bible like mine, they put a big break in between verse 7 and verse 8. I wish they had not done that. I believe that verse 7 should flow right into verse 8. For verse 8 shows how Isaiah was conscripted into the service of God through this vision of God’s infinite holiness.
III. Conscripted through it 
In verse 8 the Lord calls out, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” and Isaiah responds by saying, “Here I am! Send me.” It was after having beheld the holiness of God and coming to receive something of that holiness himself that Isaiah was persuaded to respond to the call to be a prophet. You might even say that it coerced him to respond.
It wasn’t as if asked what the payoff would be. He didn’t first inquire if the job came with any benefits, a pension, or if he would have a nice sized congregation. It didn’t matter to him. After having experienced what he experienced he could not choose otherwise. That’s why I say that he was conscripted by the holiness of God. He knew that he would not be able to do anything else. He was compelled to do it because he had witnessed what he witnessed.
It is the holiness of God that makes a minister of Christ and minister of Christ. It is not a seminary degree that makes him qualified to take the pulpit. It is not his eloquence or his people skills either. It is his having met with God and been exposed to his true nature. Only then is he fit to do the work of Christ.
Before every presbytery meeting, when the ministers and elders come together, we have a worship service. And one of the ministers will have a chance to preach in that time of worship. Someday I hope to have that chance to speak to my brethren. And when that time comes, I already know the text that I am going to speak on. It is 2 Corinthians 5:11, which says, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”
Paul makes it clear there that there is only one prerequisite for the ministry. It is the fear of God. In order to persuading men that the only remedy for their lost condition is Christ one must first come to grips with who Christ is himself.
I actually like the old KJV’s rendering of that passage. It says, “Therefore knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” We typically don’t like that language and a lot of newer versions soften it. But that is an accurate way of translating it. We know of course that the fear of God has to do with reverence and awe. But we should not neglect the fact that the fear of God has something to do with a real and true terror of him. The Greek word there in 2 Cor. 5 is phobea, and I probably don’t have to tell you that’s where we get the word phobia, as in claustrophobia (terrified of the dark) or arachnophobia (petrified of spiders).
A right terror of the Lord is good. Isaiah had it. Paul experienced it on the road to Damascus. Moses, at the foot of Mt. Sinai when God came down, is said to have trembled before the Lord. Everyone who was a spokesman of God had first come to grips with God’s radical holiness.
And that should be no different for you too. I often hear churches having classes on evangelism. And that’s a good thing. We need that. But I never have heard of an evangelism class begin where it probably should: with understanding something of God’s essential nature. I’ll tell you this: If you want to become a better evangelist, don’t study different methods of evangelism, study the holiness of God. Begin with a study of the law of God (Westminster Larger Catechism). Once you start in there you will begin to notice that God is different. And as you begin to behold him as such, you will be more incline to speak (and you will have a better understanding of what you should speak!).
It wasn’t long ago that I used this illustration, but I think it is appropriate here again. There is a scene in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that depicts well what goes on here in Isaiah 6. The two girls, Lucy and Susan, are getting ready to meet Aslan the lion (who represents Christ). Two talking animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, are preparing the children for the encounter.
Upon hearing that he is a lion, Susan says, “Ooh, I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie,” said Mrs. Beaver. “And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” Lucy responds by saying, “Then isn’t he safe?” Mr. Beaver broke into hysterics, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. He’s a lion! But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!”
Isaiah wants to remind us that God is not a safe God. He is holy. All the carnage that has gone before this passage leads to this vision. Here we make sense of it all. God is holy.
But we do not look merely to the corpses strewn on the hills of Judea. One corpse is particularly to catch our attention. It is Christ that I am talking about. His death reminds us of God’s holiness. His corpse reminds us that we do not have to say, “woe is me.”
And it is by his encountering the holiness of God that we can enter past the veil that was torn in two. We can enter God’s presence, into the holy of holies itself.
The interesting thing about that scene in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is that Lucy and Susan did not run away. They were drawn ever more towards the unsafe lion. And as they experienced it, they became bolder in their allegiance to him. For those of us who believe, the same is true. The holiness of God, while being something that urges us to caution, also will be something that we find irresistible.
If you have allergies like me, you probably know it is spring. Ironically, my hay fever gave me a great exegetical insight into the Scriptures this week.
Part of my study this week involved a word study on the term “woe.” As this word is used at least 6 times in this chapter, I thought I ought to check my sources to see if there was anything significant about it. So the first thing I did was look at the original language. And the word we have translated “Woe” is the Hebrew word “Hoy.” I can honestly say, that my books didn’t provide a lot of new insight from there out. Basically the word has to do with feelings of extreme distress. Of course, you didn’t need a Bible scholar to tell you that. You could glean that by yourself simply by reading the passage.
But then, as I was about to give up on this in-depth word study, I got hit with a violent sneezing spell. It was one of those where you sneeze a couple of times in a row and you can’t really catch your breath in between sneezes. And you know how much force is involved with a single sneeze. It makes your whole body lurch. I once was reading about sneezing and it said that a sneeze was a “convulsive explosion”! That’s quite an apt description. But when you have a whole bunch of convulsive explosions in a row, it is even more wrenching.
Well, as soon as this fit of convulsive explosions subsided I gasped for air. And because my body had convulsed so much I let out a groan from the physical duress of it all. The sound that was made as I heaved this sigh of agony went like this: “hoy!”
Suddenly I had a deeper understanding of the term’s meaning and origin! It is onomatopoeia. That is, it is a word that sounds like what it is. Kind of like spit. When you spit you make a spppt noise. When you are in extreme pain like when you get hit in the gut you grunt or moan. And as you mutter that noise it comes out as hoi.
And in our passage this morning we recognize that God is saying you are going to get hit, and you will be hit hard. In a real sense he is saying, “I’m going to make you “hoi!” because you will experience the full brunt of my wrath.”
Hopefully that will give you some background into what a woe is. And hopefully it will make you want to avoid experiencing this woe. To that end, let’s examine who experiences this woe.
I. To whom does the woe come? [11-12]
If you look at verses 11-12 you can see that it is applied to those who indulge in various forms of sensuality. Two types of sensuality are mentioned here. Verse 11 mentions those who run after strong drink in order to get drunk. Then verse 12 mentions musical instruments.
Now we know that there is nothing wrong with alcohol as such, so long as it is used in moderation. The same is true for music. There is nothing inherently wrong with a guitar or any particular form of music. These are all part of God’s good creation. What is condemned here is the excessive use of these things. There is no moderation. These people’s lives are lived solely for the pursuit of pleasure.
You might say that these people live by the motto, “Party on, dude.” They live for the feasts where the drinking and music is prolific. They can’t wait for the next party. They can’t wait for work to be over so that they can crank up the stereo and hit the dance floor. Then again, they won’t even wait for work to be over. The passage says in verse 13 that their honored men go hungry and the multitude is parched with thirst. That may indicate that they are neglecting their work for the partying. They are taking an excessive amount of days off so that they can get out there and go carousing. As a result of not working, they are finding themselves short of food.
Of course, we shouldn’t limit the passages’ scope to these two forms of sensuality alone. By implication and extension we can easily expand this notion though to include many other forms of sensuality. For instance, what typically is associated with a drinking party? Usually these things are co-ed, right? We might include here the idea of sexual promiscuity. We could also throw in there the use of vulgar language as that is part and parcel with those whose lives are sensual. The idea is that these people are completely debauched with a fun-loving, pleasure seeking spirit.
Calvin puts it well. He says that Isaiah limits himself to two particular examples because there would be no end to the vices that could be listed in this category of pleasure seeking.
Hopefully you recognize though that this well characterizes the age in which we live. We live in a very sensual time. As a matter of fact, the whole notion of higher education is often thought of in terms of a sensualistic extravaganza. What is said here is descriptive of many college campus. The college years, for many, are known to be the biggest and most expensive party ever.
Why is it that these colleges and universities have this reputation? It is because we live in a time where Christ does not reign supreme. Our culture is debauched and it is only logical that these kids who have no accountability will manifest the strongest symptoms of sensuality.
This is all sort of a side though. What is most important to notice though is that this mindset can (and has) infiltrated the church. You might not be out carousing at the local pub, but your life may be characterized by sensuality. You’ll notice that the end of verse 12 says, “They do not regard the deeds of the Lord or see the work of his hands.”
In other words, they are so caught up in their pleasure seeking that they do not take time to reflect on what God is doing and has done. These people are not going to hear God’s word on the Lord’s Day. They are not taking it up on their own in their homes. There is no room for God in their lives because they are too busy with their pleasures.
Today we might not have the drinking parties. But we do have people who are too busy with their fun to think about the Lord. They are out there hitting the malls, surfing the net, or indulging in whatever else may please their carnal passions.
So, for all practical purposes, many people who claim to be Christians are nothing more than atheists at heart. They are living for the moment. They are tending to every fleshly notion. Sure there are the extreme ones who will justify their lewdness. But there are many others who are involved in subtler forms of pleasure. But those are just as deadly. For their physical yearnings not only take precedence over the things of the Lord, but they completely negate them.
And these are the people who need to wake up. Because these are the people to whom the woe comes. But what is the woe that they experience?
II. What is the woe that they experience? [13-15]
The woe that comes upon them is threefold. And we have already mentioned one of them. It is that of deprivation. The passage says in verse 13 that the people are hungry and thirsty. To put it another way, they are being deprived of some of the most basic provisions.
When you indulge your appetites, you will find that your appetites will eventually get the best of you. That is to say, the party spirit (or the sensual spirit) cannot be sustained. It ends up coming back on you. And again, like we saw last week, your carnal desires will end up becoming your own little hell as they are not satisfied.
But not only do you have deprivation, you also have degradation. Verse 15 says that they will be “brought low.” That is to say they will be publicly humiliated or degraded. Part and parcel with a party, free living spirit is the idea of pomp and pageantry. You know, you have all the fancy clothes that you put on so that you can parade around. There is the splendor of the gala or the fanfare associated with the party. Well, all that is taken away. Instead of flying high on life, they are abased.
John Gill says that the Scribes and the Pharisees are a good example of this. They enjoyed the high society life. They liked to boast and the applause of men. But eventually, they were brought low. Christ stripped them of their conceit, and eventually they were degraded completely by the Romans army that crushed them in 70 AD.
What a good example of how sensual people are humiliated.
Then, on top of the deprivation and degradation, there is damnation. Look at verse 14. It is so descriptive. It says, “Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure.” And then it says that the people go down into this seemingly bottomless pit.
Sheol is the Hebrew way of talking about the grave. It represents the realm of the dead. And this verse is saying that everyone who practices this kind of sensual lifestyle will find themselves losing their lives. The only thing they have to look forward to is death.
I hope that you see the play on words here. It is quite good. Their mouths were opened wide to drink. Their appetites that were left unchecked grew and grew. But now the grave opens wide its mouth. Its appetite cannot be quenched. It only devours more and more souls with an insatiable hunger.
The point is that those who were sensual, and cared only for their bodies’ desires, will find that their bodies will be deprived of everything that makes for physical pleasure.
This of course is pointing to the greatest physical pleasure that one can ever experience: the resurrection. Sure, they will be resurrected on the day that Christ comes. But it will be a resurrection to judgment and condemnation. They will not experience the renewal of their flesh. Nor will they be permitted the opportunity to enjoy all the delights that are stored up for the righteous in heaven.
Admittedly, the Bible doesn’t tell us much about the resurrection of the wicked. The Scriptures are eerily silent on the matter. But one thing we do know: These people will not be renewed and purged of these sensual desires. Only the redeemed will because of the renewal that comes through glorification. As a result, the yearnings and desires that the wicked had during this life will remain. Perhaps they will even be inflamed all the more. And so, for their eternal torment, they will be eaten by their own sensual appetites.
Those are the consequences of sensuality though. If you follow the desires of the flesh and seek not God, then you will be deprived, degraded and damned.
Now, I want you to pay particular attention to verses 16-17. That’s because these verses tell us why this woe comes upon them.
III. Why does this woe come upon them? [16-17]
If you look at verses 16-17 it makes it clear that this woe is for the glory of God. It says, “The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.”
We’ve talked about this before, but since it is so prevalent in our day, we should talk about it again. We live in an age where people cannot stand the idea of judgment. God is a God of love, they say. So how can he subject people to eternal ruin? But this verse reminds us that God loves his own honor and glory first and foremost. And we should never compromise this doctrine of the future judgment because the judgment of sinners will be for his eternal praise.
Again, a lot of people have a real problem with this. But it is common to any human court. When a judge delivers a sentence upon a flagrant criminal, no one in their right mind looks upon him with disgust. Of course not. Everyone holds him in high esteem. He did what was right. He did what was best for their welfare. He is praised because his decision was in accord with justice.
In Romans 9 the Apostle Paul deals with this subject, and he says basically the same thing. He points us back to Pharaoh and says that Pharaoh was raised up for this very purpose. All the woe came upon Pharaoh and his land was to the praise and glory of God. The Israelites were made to rejoice in God because of it. If you don’t believe me, then just think about what happened after the Red Sea collapsed on the Egyptian army after the Israelites had gone through. What did Israel do? They began to worship God. They sang songs and danced. “The horse and rider were thrown into the sea.” God was praised because in his judgment of the ungodly.
The bottom line is that in judgment God displays his holiness and righteousness in a fuller and more public way. And in putting these attributes on display he gives his people all the more cause for exaltation.
I might add that this is what makes the cross of Jesus Christ so great. For it is there that the woe is meted out for those of us who believe. We know that Christ went to the cross to die for our sins. However, that was the secondary purpose. Christ went to the cross primarily for the glory of God. It was so that God might be glorified in judgment. And the wounds that Christ continues to bear in his flesh are indications that we have reason for praise. For all eternity they will be reminders that God never once compromised his holiness and justice. He glorified himself by exacting the punishment that was due to us for sin.
Yes, that is where this passage comes to its ultimate fulfillment. It ought to drive us to Christ. For it is in him that we are able to have all the sensual pleasures that are associated with the resurrection to life. Christ went to the cross. And there He experienced the “hoy” on behalf of sinners like us. He was deprived, degraded, and damned. And it is through faith in him that we may be set free from the woe.
Moreover, through him we can be released from the sensuality that enslaves us. Paul urges us to “put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” That is to say, the way you get rid of sensuality is by putting your faith in him and allowing him to take over in your life.
When your life is wrapped up in drug abuse, immorality, or any other form of sensuality, you know you can’t get free from it on your own. Just something as small as cleaning up your language is seemingly impossible. Sensuality is enslaving. But Christ overcame the flesh. He was not led by a sensual life. And so he is able to free those who are enslaved to it.
In the 18th century, Archibald Boyle was the leading member of an association of wild and wicked men known as “The Hell Club” in Glasgow, Scotland. After one night of carousing at the Club’s notorious annual meeting, Boyle dreamed he was riding home on his black horse. In the darkness, someone seized the reins, shouting, “You must go with me!” As Boyle desperately tried to force the reins from the hands of the unknown guide, the horse reared. Boyle fell down, down, down with increasing speed. “Where are you taking me?” The cold voice replied, “To hell!” The echoes of the groans and yells of frantic revelry assaulted their ears.
At the entrance to hell, Boyle saw the inmates chasing the same pleasures they had pursued in life. There was a lady he’d known playing her favorite vulgar game. Boyle relaxed, thinking hell must be a pleasurable place after all. When he asked her to rest a moment and show him through the pleasures of hell, she shrieked. “There is no rest in hell!” She unclasped the vest of her robe and displayed a coil of living snakes writhing about her midsection. Others revealed different forms of pain in their hearts.
“Take me from this place!” Boyle demanded. “By the living God whose name I have so often outraged, I beg you, let me go!” His guide replied, “Go then—but in a year and a day we meet to part no more.” At this, Boyle awoke, feeling that these last words were as letters of fire burned into his heart. Despite a resolution never to attend the Hell Club again, he soon was drawn back. He found no comfort there. He grew haggard and gray under the weight of his conscience and fear of the future. He dreaded attending the Club’s annual meeting, but his companions forced him to attend. Every nerve of his body writhed in agony at the first sentence of the president’s opening address: “Gentlemen, this is leap year; therefore it is a year and a day since our last annual meeting.”
After the meeting, he mounted his house to ride home. Next morning, his horse was found grazing quietly by the roadside. A few yards away lay the corpse of Archibald Boyle. The strange guide had claimed him at the appointed time.
Unfortunately for Boyle, he did not respond appropriately to the dreadful scene that he did witness in his dreams. It was obvious that the Lord was trying to get his attention. The Lord was seeking to sound an alarm and call him to reform. But while his conscience was deeply affected, he chose not to seek the Lord.
What we find in that illustration is something of what we see in the passage that is before us this morning. In this section of Scripture God is sounding an alarm for sinners who have become thoroughly ensconced in their wickedness. With these “Pronouncements of Woe” Christ paints for us a dreadful picture of a hellish end.
Yet while these pronouncements of woe are supposed to be chilling to us, they should be a comfort to us. For these are words of warning, indicating that there is a chance to escape. This is why Charles Spurgeon once said, “God’s woes are better than the devil’s welcomes.” The words before us are here to urge us to go to Christ and make amends with him so that no harm may befall us on the day he has appointed.
So that we do not experience the same fatal havoc that Archibald Boyle experienced, it behooves us then, to take note of what is said in each of these woes. We are going to begin by examining the first of these woes today. And that is found in verses 8-10. And it is important that we start by identifying who is being addressed in this woe.
I. To whom does the woe come?
Verse 8 makes it clear that the woe comes to those who are greedy. It says, “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.”
What is happening here is that people are buying up all the land they can. They are accumulating for themselves an exorbitant amount of property, and they are turning their houses into mansions because they are not satisfied with the midsized house that they have.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing your neighbor’s property or putting an addition on your house if you have a productive use for it. For instance, if you have a large family, then you are going to need the extra space.
That is not what is going on there though. Isaiah here condemns the covetous spirit that had come to consume the people of his day. These people were not adding fields and houses because their families were growing. (The passage makes it clear that they dwelt alone in the midst of the land.) These people were simply feeding their materialistic spirits. They were seeking to acquire large amounts of land so that they could have sprawling estates and luxurious homes. In the process what most likely was happening is that they were forcing poorer, weaker people off their land by dubious methods.
I think that Calvin sums up well what is under scrutiny here. He says, “He now reproves their insatiable avarice and covetousness, from which the acts of cheating, injustice, and violence are [prone] to arise.”
Let me give you a modern example of what most likely was happening. My father-in-law recently wrote an article that has been published entitled, “Bulldozed in New London: The latest in Kelo and Eminent Domain.” The article recounts how the major drug company Pfizer went about building a rather large research complex in the city of New London, CT. In order to build this plant they had to acquire many homes that would then be razed to make way for the construction site. With the aid of the city’s officials, who were salivating at the prospects of increased tax revenue, Pfizer sought to obtain the land by the process known as “eminent domain.” (Eminent domain is the inherent power of the state to seize a citizen's private property with due monetary compensation, but without the owner's consent.)
The people who lived in the community objected to this land grab though. One of the citizens, whose name was Kelo, sought to protect her home through litigation. Her case ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately for her, the Court voted in favor of the City and Pfizer.
Outrage quickly spread across the country. And, as a result of this appalling injustice, many states tightened up their eminent domain regulations so that the same would not happen in their area.
But that is the essence of what you find in this passage. Those who are in positions of power roll over any who get in their way in order to satisfy their incurable thirst for more space, more luxury, more money, and more power.
This is the nature of a covetous spirit though. No amount of wealth will satisfy the greedy person. No matter how much you have, the desire is like a fire that just thirsts after more and more to consume.
The other day a friend of mine was asking a bunch of us for a good definition of wealth. I wanted to say, “Just a little more.” While that might not fit in Webster’s dictionary, that is the intent of many people’s hearts. “If I could only get a little more.”
And we see this sumptuous spirit all over the place today. As a matter of fact, we have whole shows dedicated to it! When we look at the some of the most popular shows on TV today, we see things like Extreme Make-over and House Hunters. I think it goes without saying that these shows are not built on the premise of contentment. They are designed around the whole notion of bigger is better, and they feed on your base yearnings for opulence. I might even suggest that their purpose is to rouse those covetous hungers within you. They don’t want you to be satisfied with the quaint little space that you have. Ultimately they want you to get out there shop at their sponsors.
What is important is that we be on guard against having this kind of gluttonous, materialistic spirit. We are just as susceptible to fall into this sin because our hearts have the same, insatiable appetites. Because of our sinful nature, we have the same propensity to lust after the bigger and better when there is absolutely no reason to do so.
So when we go to purchase a new car, we need to think about what is proper for our needs. Purchasing an SUV might not be what is most glorifying to God. If you don’t have kids to tote around or you are not going to be hauling anything, then an SUV might not be what God wants you to have. If you are buying an SUV simply because it feeds your craving for the bigger and more luxurious, or if you are buying it because it you think it will increase your prestige, then your most likely buying a car that will not please the Lord.
I know that this might not sit well with many in our day. I can just hear people making an outcry, “How can you tell people what kind of car to buy? You are an overzealous (uptight!?) preacher! Nobody is being hurt with an SUV. You make it sound like someone who drives and SUV is involved with extortion!”
But think about it. It may be that God wants you to downsize a bit so you are not dumping a ton of money into your gas tank. With the money you save with a mid-size care, think of all the money you would have left over. Instead of spending it all on yourself, you have the opportunity to save up an inheritance for your children or help people who may be in need.
That is the real issue at hand in this denunciation. Isaiah was against people who were running amuck with their selfish inclination. And someone purchasing a bigger car or a bigger house or a bigger and better TV when they don’t need it may be fraught with the exact same disease.
And if you are in such a position where your heart is plagued with covetousness, then you are a person who whom this expression of woe comes. Those who need to fear this woe are those who are overly infatuated with their own personal gain.
But what exactly do they need to fear? What is the woe that this kind of person will experience?
II. What is the woe that they experience?
This passage goes on to tell us that such a person will experience a shortfall in his/her life. Interesting isn’t it? The people who made it their highest intention to get are people who will be left wanting. But if you look at what is said here you’ll notice that the shortfall isn’t in just one area of their lives. Their losses will be across the board, touching every part of their lives.
You can start in verse 9. It says, “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.” What happened here? The housing market crashed in on them, didn’t it? How contemporary is that?
Someone was telling me a while ago that they were in Florida and it was rather eerie in some places because there were so many houses for sale. All these luxurious housing developments went up overnight as people sought to fulfill their infatuation with dry wall. The Lord then came alone and evicted them. Now you have what seem like ghost towns because so many houses have been left desolate. What is happening is that people are experiencing the woe that God speaks of here in verse 9.
The shortage that befalls them can also be seen in verse 10. Here you see that they experience scarcity in their crops. It says, “For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”
You don’t have to be an expert in Hebrew measurements to know that the harvest was not all that plentiful. Yet this is such an apt judgment. They accumulated all this land, but it ends up infertile, spoiling their lustful cravings.
I mentioned a few minutes ago the article that my father in law wrote about the misuse of the eminent domain regulation by the city of New London and Pfizer. I didn’t tell you all about the article though. My father-in-law wrote it because there had been a development in the story in recent months. After Pfizer had built their research facility and had enjoyed 10 years of tax abatement, the company decided to pack up and leave. They ended up consolidating and relocating to another town not too far away. As a result, all the tax revenue the city thought they were going to pull in is gone. What’s more is that the whole neighborhood that used to be called home by many people is gone. The only thing they are left with is a huge empty building and a soiled name.
This is a beautiful illustration of the kind of famine that God can cause. Anybody who is obsessed with economic extravagance and hordes all kinds of stuff in their greed, will find that their financial dreams will be cut short.
Perhaps the worst shortage that such a person will experience though, is found in the last part of verse 8. It says that they are “made to dwell alone.”
They say it is lonely at the top. You work all your life to get success. You spend yourself silly trying to achieve all that you ever wanted. But then, once you get there, you look around and you wonder, “Where is everybody?” You are all by yourself.
What a punishment this is! In Romans 1 it says that God punishes people by giving them over to their own desires. This is exactly what you see here. The greedy person pushed everyone out of his way. He stepped on everyone and anything to get to the place where he was, then after he got there nobody else was around to witness it. His whole life he said, “Me, me, me, mine, mine, mine.” Then he looked around and it was only “me.”
Ultimately though, these pains that they experience are pointing to a greater reality—an eternal reality. It is what Jesus meant when he told the parable about the man who built bigger barns for all his goods so that he could live a life of ease. God came to him in the night and said, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you!”
The ultimate woe is that you go to hell. That’s the greatest shortfall of all because you miss out on the excellencies of heaven. But that is the lot of the person who prizes the creation over the Creator. Sure, all that has just been said may be avoided. There is a chance that you may never have lost your mansion or investment revenue. But, as the saying goes, he who dies with the most toys, still dies.
This is why I entitled this message “Take That.” The person to whom woe comes is a person who’s life is been dedicated to taking. They want this and they want that. Their lusts burn and blaze as they acquire more and more. His life has been dedicated to taking, taking, taking.
But in the end, God says, “Take that.” He comes and strips them of all they ever had and leaves them barren. Then, for the rest of eternity, he is left to be be eaten by their own ravenousness desires.
So may this be a lesson to you. May we be sure to focus our attention on a more prudent spirit. Never should our focus be on simply acquiring more for more’s sake. While there may be nothing wrong with an upgrade, we need to be sure that our acquisition of it is honorable.
The Bible makes it clear that our chief concern is to be our Lord, and not our land. It is not the pursuit of our own grandness that we are to be endeavoring after. It is the pursuit of the granger of God that is supposed to be our main concern.
This passage is most applicable to us because we live in an age where you are measured by what you have. But we must remember that there is only one thing that needs to be acquired. And that is Jesus. He is the pearl of great price. He is the most valuable possession that anyone can have. And everyone who is willing to sell all to have him will not have to fear this pronouncement of woe.
You might be sitting here today thinking, “I have a lot of stuff I don’t really need. My garage or my attic is stuffed full of evidence of my greed.” And you might be thinking, “Woe is me!” But whoever posses Jesus, possesses the remedy. Jesus came to earth for this very reason. He was stripped of everything on your behalf. There at the cross he lost his clothes, his dignity, and his friends. Everything was taken away from him. And it was taken from him so that you might be invested with the abundant riches of heaven.
And whoever is willing to cling to him above all earthly treasure, will inherit all the riches that are stored away there.
One of the forms of entertainment that became quite fashionable in the 18th century was the music hall. This period was marked by a proliferation of classical music, and people who could afford it would go out for a night on the town. After a good meal the people would sit and listen to an opera or some other classical piece. It was these events that caused Franz Joseph Hayden to write his famous piece which has come to be called “The Surprise.”
Hayden was known to be a little playful with his music. Most of his works are characterized by a happy sort of tune. This work in particular was jovial, but in a prank sort of way. The score starts out with a soft light melody. The symphony’s gentle tones were intended to lull the audience who would already be a little sleepy after having finished a big meal. Just as the audience began to nod off, Hayden’s orchestra would strike a sudden fortissimo burst to jar the audience from their sleep. After the jolt of the one cord the music returned to its original quiet theme as if nothing had happened. Thus the symphony was termed, “The Surprise.”
I believe that our passage for this morning somewhat mimics Hayden’s 94th Symphony. This morning’s passage, like Hayden’s piece, is a beautiful work of music. It is a song, and it is one that is perhaps unparalleled by any other ancient work. It stands in a category of its own, literarily.
Some commentators even believe that Isaiah might have even sung this song in the context of a formal gathering—much like Hayden might have played for the nobility of his day. These scholars surmise that it may even have been performed within the royal court itself. We don’t know that for sure, but it would heighten the surprise factor of the song.
Unfortunately though, it is not as jovial as Hayden’s piece.
It is commonly called the song of the vineyard. Isaiah presents an allegory which compares the Jews to a beautiful vineyard. The surprise of this piece is the same in that it jolts an unsuspecting audience. It starts out as a melodic love song. Listeners would have been drawn in by the initial romantic tenor. However, the audience is then jolted as the tone crescendos into a divine denunciation.
Even today many people are surprised by this song. It is interesting how many commentators characterize this song as a love song. To be sure, it does start out in that way. At the outset, it presents itself as a song of great love and labor.
I. It is a song of great love and labor
The first two lines of the chapter highlight God’s abundant love and how he fawned over Israel. These two verses show that God made every provision for them, and went to great lengths to care for his people. The imagery of how extensive the labor was is not spared in the slightest.
Verse two starts off with quite a remarkable statement. It says he dug it and cleared it of stones. That would have been no small task. If you know anything about Palestine you know that stones are everywhere. Farmers in Ohio would have had a lot of rocks to pluck out when they were first preparing their fields, but Palestine would have surpassed it. The process of digging out the stones would have required extensive time and energy.
There is a Jewish lore that when God created the world an angel was flying with two bags of rocks in his hands to bring to God. When it came over Palestine one of the bags broke. It was a way of saying that it seemed like half of the world’s rocks lay in that little region.
That story may be a fable, but it helps you understand the imagery that God uses to communicate how exhaustive his nurture of Israel was.
Then the care God takes is highlighted by the fact that he didn’t just throw any old vine in there. He chose the choice vines. In other words, he didn’t spare any expense. Then he built a tower and a wine vat. All that is to emphasize the fact that He took every precaution to beautify and nurture his garden. He labored intensely, and we can see that it was a labor of love. This wasn’t just the work of his hands. It was the work of his heart.
Now in listening to what is said here we should remember that this is how God has treated us. As the new covenant people, God has made and is making every provision for us. He treats us with the same love and care.
This passage is here to make us recall “how numerous and diversified were the blessings which God has conferred on us.” (Calvin) Do you know all that God has done for us? Have you thought about his incessant care and watchfulness?
Consider for a moment the events that had to transpire for us to be here today. Our forefathers in the faith at the time of the Reformation lost a lot of blood as they stood steadfastly for our faith. Then they put themselves at risk by taking to the waters and coming to America. The ocean voyage would have been rough enough. But that was the least of their troubles! When they got here, they had nothing. All their labors though secured our faith and our freedom to worship God according to our consciences.
Besides the blessing of our history, we have the blessings of the covenant. Each of us is a part of the church. We’ve been given the oracles of God. We have received the sacraments. Young people, you’ve been blessed with having been born into a Christian home.
That is such a wonderful thing. We hear all the time about these great conversions. There is the fellow who was drugged out and living the life of the gangster. He then bottomed out, was close to death, and miraculously came to Christ. From that point on it has been a testimony to grace in his life. That’s a great thing, don’t get me wrong. But I’m sad that that is always gets the press. Everyone will tell you that having been born into a godly home is one of the greatest blessings you could ever have. You are spared so many things that other people are not. You have the opportunity to get to know Jesus from a very young age. This is a huge blessing.
All of us should be able to testify to the love and care that God has demonstrated towards us. We should be warmed by the mere thought of God’s watchfulness and his most gracious providence.
I don’t want you ever to forget the goodness of God—the goodness that is expressed particularly toward you. This passage is here to remind us that God looks upon us in a way that is different from all the other people of the earth. He does things for us that he does not do for other people. As his elect people, he shows a particular interest in us. He indulges us with his love, and all his labors are for building us up.
But as the song continues on the surprise strikes. What began as a song of love and labor turns to a song of sadness and disappointment.
II. It is a song of great sadness and disappointment
At the end of verse two this song descends into a minor key. After all the happy cords that were struck which highlight God’s love and labor it says, “but it yielded wild grapes.” Then verses 3-4 give expression to the disappointment. He says, “You tell me: What more could I do for my vineyard?”
You all know how frustrating it is to pour yourself into something, only to have nothing come from it. A parent may have poured himself/herself into a child, only to have him or her take the wrong track in life. You come to the point where you say, “What else could I have done for him?” It is irritating beyond all comprehension to have that happen.
All this is to remind us that God expects something out of us. Our lives are to be bearing fruit. Our election, and the favors we receive as a result of our election, are intended to produce righteousness. And if we are not showing love and becoming more and more holy with the passing of time, then God is greatly disappointed with us. That irks God to no end.
The sadness that God experiences may be understood more when you understand the last phrase of verse two. The word wild (from wild grapes) comes from a word that means “to stink.” These were not just wild grapes, they were grapes were putrid. They wreaked to high heaven.
The word can be found in the story of the plagues in Egypt. The very first plague was when Moses struck the Nile and it turned into blood. It says that the fish all died which caused the river to stink.
Then there is the instance when the Israelites were given manna in the desert. The Lord commanded them not to leave any of it until the morning. But some people kept it. And the passage says that it bred worms and emitted a raunchy stench.
That’s the essence of God’s disappointment. That is the extent of the grief that God bears over those who do not produce fruit. God finds their lives so repulsive that they nauseate him.
In the year 1878 an Italian botanist discovered a new species of flower on the island of Sumatra. It happened to be the largest flower in the world. The bloom itself grows to be 10 feet tall and three feet wide. The entire plant can grow up to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Because it is so titanic in size, it has been named the Titan Aurum. The plant rarely blooms in cultivation. It typically only grows in the wild. So when it does bloom it is a really big deal. And people go to see it.
It has a nickname. It has been dubbed the Corpse Flower. It is called that because when it does bloom, it emits an extremely foul odor. It is so foul that you have to hold your nose, lest you get sick to your stomach. Some have said that the aroma that wafts from the plant resembles rotting human flesh. Thus the name the Corpse Flower.
It is an ironic twist of nature, isn’t it? It is so beautiful, yet it drives away anyone who would come to admire it. Yet that is exactly the way Israel was (and the church can be!). God has made every attempt to make you beautiful. He has cultivated you and nurtured you so that you are a gorgeous vineyard. Yet when the church is filled with wickedness God cannot stand her. If your life is filled with sin, you become absolutely revolting to Him.
All of this reminds us (or at least should remind us) of our lost condition. It reminds us that we are sinners, and we have no power of our own to do anything that pleases God. If it is up to us, then God most certainly will be disappointed with us. We are not any different from the Jews of Isaiah’s time. We are just as defunct spiritually as they are. We are bereft of any ability of our own to please God and do what is right.
One thing that this passage should do is leave us longing for the power that will enable us to produce righteousness that God calls for here. And thank God we have it in Christ. As a matter of fact, if you go to John 15 you see a great link to this passage in Isaiah. In John 15 Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
This passage is here ultimately to point us to Christ. It is here to remind us that Christ is our remedy. He is the one provided for us so that we might bear fruit. And what we must do is abide in Him. That is to say, we must put our faith in him and allow him to work in us. For it is his enablement that is the only way we will ever be able to bear fruit. It is only by His omnipotent hand that the song he sings about us will keep from becoming a song of disappointment and sadness.
Israel was not abiding in Christ. They were refusing their God. They wanted to live their own way. Though they were the blessed of God, they were not producing fruit in keeping with their blessing. That’s why God was disappointed. And that’s why the last stanza of this song crescendos into a song of great anger and wrath.
III. It is a song of great anger and wrath
In verses 5-6 you see God’s disappointment turn into rage. In these two verses God outlines exactly what he is going to do to Israel. He says he is going to tear his vineyard apart. He is going to remove the hedge and break down the wall. He is going to trample it and make it a waste. You can just imagine someone in a fit of rage busting up everything, kicking things over and hacking at the vines.
I think that one commentator put it well when he said that the love song turns into a song of denunciation at this point. It is a denunciation. God here promises that their sins will be repaid.
The heat of this passage reminds us of how incensed God becomes when his people do not produce fruit that is in keeping with his grace. When we spurn our special position, or when we fail to respond appropriately to the special graces afforded to us by God, we infuriate God. Yes, God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Yes, he is patient and not easily provoked. But we should also recognize that those who apostatize will find that they will be sorely treated by God.
The principle is that of “to whom much is given, much is demanded.” In the New Testament Jesus talks about this. In Luke 12 Jesus talks about his return. In that passage he says, “Blessed is the servant who is found doing his Master’s will when the Master returns.” Then he goes on to talk about a servant who blows his master off. Then he gives an example of a wayward servant. The servant thinks to himself, “My master is delayed in coming.” So he begins to mistreat the other servants and get drunk and indulge in revelry. Jesus says that when the Master returns, he will cut him to pieces and put him with the unfaithful.
If that was not bad enough, Jesus then goes on to say that the servant who knew his master's will but did not do it, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.”
Of course, who are the ones who know the Master’s will? That’s us! Those who have never had contact with God’s covenant—those who have never received these special favors from God, will not be treated as severely in hell as those who have. There are differing degrees of punishment. And those who receive the worst punishments are those who God showed the most favor towards.
A while ago I took some time to read Dante’s Inferno. It is a fictitious account of the different levels of hell. What is interesting about that book is that Dante represents this to some degree. The very first ring of hell in his depiction was the realm of what are called the virtuous pagans. Basically it was just a dark forest. No real torments, just dark and quiet. Then further down in the lower levels of hell you found various popes and priests who had apostatized. At one point they were pictured as being immersed upside down into fiery waters, then hot burning coals put on their feet. It was Dante’s way of showing the evil of their apostasy. (It is a vivid one too: having disavowed their baptism, they are immersed in a baptism of fire and brimstone!)
Of course, Dante’s work does not give an accurate picture of what hell is like. It is much worse than anything that Dante could dream up! But he does illustrate well principle this principle: to whom much is given, much is demanded.
This should then be a warning to us. We need to recognize how important it is to heed the word of God. If I could put it in the words of John the Baptist, if we are not producing fruit in keeping with repentance, then the ax will be laid at the root of the tree.
You young people especially must take note of this. I know I have said this before, but it deserves to be repeated from time to time. You are in a special relationship with God. Because you are in a covenant relationship with God treats you in a different way than he treats other people. I want you to understand that you respond appropriately to his grace. If you are not responding with thanksgiving and love, it is like playing with matches in a dry forest. Once a spark catches, it will consume everything.
Again, we can go to John 15. Jesus says there that he is the vine and his Father is the vinedresser. Every branch that does not bear fruit, he takes away. Then he goes on to remind us that a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine.
Because the branches that do not bear fruit will be thrown away, we must seek to bear fruit. And we can only do that if we are abiding in Christ. That’s exactly what we must do. That’s what God calls us to do in this passage. We must abide in Christ. We must trust in him and seek to develop a personal relationship with him. We must pray to him, and be obedient to his word.
If you are not doing those things, you must go to him and confess that. If there is not a harvest to be gained for Christ in your life, it is time to take heed to your ways. You must amend your ways by going to Christ in repentance and begin to abide in him.
The song that he sings does not have to end with such dissonant tones. Its final stanza can become one of grace and forgiveness if you look to him in faith.
Ronald Bryer was there when the bomb was dropped. He was a prisoner of war and was being held at Nagasaki when the United States dropped the Atomic warhead which would end up bringing World War II to a close. By the amazing providence of God Bryer survived the explosion because he was pressed into working in an air raid.
Of course, this was an amazing thing. The city of Nagasaki had been reduced to a pile of rubble by the explosion. Yet Bryer lived to tell about it. For 34 years Bryer carried the memory of the absolute carnage that was left.
But in 1979 Bryer was asked by the mayor of Nagasaki to return and see what had become of the devastation. Bryer accepted the invitation and took the trip. Upon arriving, Bryer was amazed to see that the city which once lay in complete ruins had now become a bustling city with highrise buildings and major commercial companies, such as Mitsubishi and Mazda.
Bryer said that the thing that amazed him the most was the children. He couldn’t believe that they were out in the streets laughing and playing with all their childlike curiosity. He said it didn’t used to be like that.
To Bryer, it was a completely new world. It was a transformation that seemed utterly impossible.
The experience this former prisoner of war had is somewhat of the same experience that we find in our passage today. The people of God in Isaiah’s time were living in a land which had been devastated. It was not due to an Atomic explosion though. It was due to something far more devastating. Sin had left the people stripped bare. The land had been reduced to a pile of rubble by the Almighty strength of God.
But in our passage this morning, we see that a whole new world arises out of the ashes. God, by his grace, constructs a new city—a new nation, where righteousness dwells.
This passage is a reminder to us that God does not disavow his people entirely. He shows that his love for his people will never run dry and he will never give up on his promise to establish them in his kingdom. And in this passage we see that God does establish his kingdom. And in reading this passage we see that it is a new world order. Out of the rubble of failed human works, God brings to fruition his long promised Kingdom of glory.
That is something of the irony of this passage. It is a new world order that we see here. However, it is not altogether new. It is an old world order in that this was what God had intended from the beginning. The promises given to Abraham was that he would make of him a mighty nation.
But here we look to see the ripening of the fruit. We see what that God perfects what Israel could not attain on their own.
What does God want us to learn about this new world order though? I think we should begin by noting that this new world order has a messianic flavor.
I. Its Messianic flavor 
In verse 2 it says, “In that day the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious.”
Now, this is not the easiest passage in the world to understand. If you don’t quite understand it, don’t worry. You are not alone. I wrestled with it all week long. And in looking at the commentators through the week, it was evident that they were not altogether clear on what it meant.
But the Jews viewed this passage as a messianic passage. And you may too, especially when you compare it with other passages of Scripture. For instance, in Jer. 25:5 it talks about this branch and it says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
You could also look at Zech. 6:12 we read, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.”
We could look at other passages as well that develop this idea of the branch. All of those passages are elaborating further upon what is said here. And all of them indicate that was going to be a man who would be raised up by God to do marvelous feats of righteousness.
And so we find that this new world order would be spearheaded by and established through the work of that Messiah.
You know, we often say that you just can’t find good help now-a-days. And isn’t that true? When we need something done, we know that if we want it done right we better do it ourselves.
I was talking with a fellow just this week. He said that when he was out on a job, he would sometimes have to have other people handle certain tasks. So he would say, “Hey, can you get this over to so & so?” But rarely did it ever get done, or if it did get done, it was not done right or right away. This would always frustrate him to no end.
Well, when it comes to God’s kingdom, it is much the same way. God is here saying, my kingdom is going to be established. No one is going to be able to stop it. But if it is to be, it is up to me.
We’ve seen what happens when it is up to us, haven’t we? All of what we have studied so far and all of what is recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles are a testimony to what we can do to establish God’s kingdom. The whole point of the books of Kings and Chronicles is that we only we are a bunch of failures. When it is in our hands, things go south and it typically falls apart.
So if it is to be, it is up to God. God himself has to bring it to pass. That’s why we see Christ being born in a manger. That’s why we see him leaving his Father’s side and stepping out of heaven. Because it was up to him. When Christ came to earth, he came to be the messiah who would spearhead this new world order. That’s why he said, “The kingdom is at hand.” He was saying that he had come to establish this new world order wherein righteousness would rule.
And that kingdom is still being established through the ministry of the Word and Spirit. In the book of Acts we read how the church begins to spread out. In essence, it records for us the triumphant march of Christ across the globe. You might say that the gospels tell us how Christ began to establish his kingdom, and the book of Acts tells us how He continues to establish it.
You might say, “Well, he is still using man to do it, isn’t he?” Yes, he is. His people and his ministers are doing the work. But what do we find happening at the beginning of the book of Acts? There is the empowerment of the Spirit as it is poured out from heaven. Christ comes to dwell in each of us so that we can carry forth the work of the Messiah.
So don’t think for a moment that it is up to us. We would be fools to do so. Kingdom work is the work of the King. While he might be pleased to work through us, we must not forget that it is he who works the work. The New world Order, from beginning to end, has a messianic flavor.
But as you look at this passage you will also see that it has a redemptive quality about it.
II. Its redemptive quality [3-4]
Verses 3-4 make it clear that this new world order would be made up of a people who are completely transformed. The passage makes it clear that redemption comes to this people. It says that the people who take part in this new world order are going to be called holy.
But the question arises, “How do these people get to be holy?” This is radically different from what we’ve been looking at so far in the book of Isaiah. What we’ve seen is that the people are anything but holy. They are depraved. How do they get to become holy?
The passage talks about this redemption in two ways. First, we have to see that this has something to do with the gracious election of God.
Verse 3 reminds us that there are people who are left in Zion and remain in Jerusalem. In other words, after God came through to clean up the mess, he chose to leave a few behind. Now, it wasn’t because he forgot them or just overlooked them. You know when you are cleaning the table after dinner you might do that. There can be some scrapes that you missed when you wiped up the table.
God didn’t do that though. He doesn’t fudge things like that. People were left behind because he had chosen to leave them there. It was part of his plan to save some, and he knew exactly who he wished to save.
As a matter of fact the passage says that everyone who was left was a person who had had their names recorded in a book. It is saying that long before the Lord came and visited the people of Jerusalem, God had specified who would receive his gracious salvation.
So those who participate in this new world order are there because of God long before had determined who would be there. They were predestined according to His sovereign grace in election.
A friend of mine was once talking with a co-worker of his about spiritual things. His co-worker found out that he was a Calvinist and he would sometimes chide him about it. But one day they were talking about heaven and he asked my friend, “What will you say when you get there?” And my friend said, “Why me?” In other words, “Why am I here? I am nothing but a wretched sinner? Why did you choose me?”
That’s the beauty of grace. It leaves you questioning God, “Why me?” You don’t deserve it. But God gave it to you anyway, solely because he wanted to.
But we still have the problem of the unrighteousness. That God elects us by his sovereign grace shows us that we get to be redeemed, but it does not show us how we come to be redeemed. We still are yet to figure out how do these people come to be denominated as holy? The answer to that is found in verse 4, and how it directs us to the vicarious sacrifice of Christ
In verse 4 it says that all the evil ones are like filth and bloodstains that are purged. They are just wiped out in one purging sweep. As God’s judgment comes upon them the place is swept clean. Then at the end of verse for it says that there is also this cleansing by a spirit of burning (or it could be translated purging).
What we see are that the sins of the people are burnt up. It is a refining process where their sins are purged from them like alloys are purged from gold.
This is exactly what happens on the cross when Christ was sacrificed as the Lamb of God. On the cross, Christ stood in the place of his people. He took upon himself the sins of his people. Then, as the wrath of God came upon him, the sins of the people were purged in a fiery heat.
This is what allows the people to be called holy. It is not because they were able to clean themselves up. It was because of what Christ did for them when he gave up his life. It was because through Christ their sins are purged.
Now this new world order has a messianic focus and a redemptive quality. But let’s not forget that it has a personal application too.
III. Its personal application [5-6]
Verses 5-6 put forth a beautiful picture of how God touches each and every one of us in this new world order. It says that the Lord creates over the whole site of Mount Zion and over all his people canopy of sorts. Above Zion there is a cloud by day and fire by night.
Those of you who are familiar with the Bible know that in the Old Testament the people were lead through the wilderness by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was a constant reminder that God was their guide through the wilderness. He was always there through the hardships of that adverse territory.
But even though God was obviously there, he was still distant. You couldn’t approach the cloud. It was always over there out of your reach. You didn’t dare go near it for fear of being consumed.
Here in Isaiah 4 though, you have a different portrayal of that cloud. It isn’t off in the distance. It is right over you. It is ever present with you. It is a message that God would constantly be with his people in this new world order. His presence would be personal.
I believe that this is God’s way of depicting the way the Holy Spirit dwells in and with his church today. His presence abides with each and every one of us each day and each moment.
This is the essence of what Christ communicated about the Holy Spirit in John 16. Jesus said that he was going away, but the disciples were not to fret because he would send them the Holy Spirit. And the word he used there was the word parakletos, which means Comforter of Helper. The Spirit would be the one who helps and comforts us in life’s troubles. He is our shade by day and the shelter from the storms of persecution and affliction.
And isn’t this what we see at Pentecost. The church becomes indwelt in a new and powerful way. God sent forth his comforter/his helper, so that we might have the personal presence of Christ no matter where we go. And by that Spirit we are ever reminded that we are a part of God’s eternal Kingdom. We are in the New World Order that God is establishing.
To be sure, this new world order has not come to its completion. But it is being established in our midst. And we have the great joy of participating in it through our Messianic King.
The overall topic is certainly easy to determine. It has to do with leadership. Isaiah is giving us a commentary of sorts on the state of affairs in Judah. In our own land we typically have a state of the union address. This might correspond to something like that. The difference being that a prophet, rather than the political leader, is speaking. We might also say that it is more of a “state of dysfunction” or “disunion” address rather than a state of the union. Isaiah’s words, yet again, give a rather dismal picture of things in Israel.
This is why I’m not too upset that my outline and presentation are not going to be altogether tidy. I think that it will reflect something of the chaotic state of things in this passage. It represents any realm for that matter that is characterized by faithlessness and moral decadence.
So, despite this message being less than organized (to say the least), I want us to concentrate on what God says here about leaders and leadership. The first lesson we learn from this passage is that a moral and religious decline creates a deficit of good leaders.
I. A moral & religious deficit creates a deficit of good leaders
In verses 1-3 God says, “I am going to remove support and supply. I am going to remove the mighty man, the judge, the elders, the captains of fifty, etc.” Isaiah is saying that all those who are in places of authority and prominence are going to be removed. And this is going to be done by God’s hand.
Of course, we all know the purpose of a prophet. They are called to preaching against the sins of society. They exist because morality doesn’t. Isaiah is no different. He lived in a day of apostasy and moral degeneration.
Yet this text makes it clear that because of this spiritual deficit in Israel there is going to be a parallel depreciation of leaders.
Then in verses 6 and 7 you have a scene of complete desperation. The people of Israel are so desperate that they will try and grab anyone who may even resemble qualified for leadership and try to place him in office—Hey, you have a coat. You obviously are qualified for the position!
That reminds me of many churches today. There is such ignorance of the Scriptures in these churches—most don’t have a clue what it means to follow Christ—so they say, “Well, here you have a businessman. He wears a suit every day. He obviously must know something of how a church can be run.” When it comes to real, Biblical qualifications for the office, no one gives a whoot. Even if they did, they would not be able to find anyone who met those qualifications.
You might notice though, that the passage does tell us that there are some who ascend to these positions of power. In verse 4 it says that the vacuum that was created by a loss of qualified leaders is filled with children. That could mean people who are simply inexperienced or physically immature. We know that there were times in Israel’s history where kids as young as 6-8 years old were the leaders.
The point is that the pool of good leaders has dried up. And, of course, that is going to happen where ever you have a group or society that does not fear God and keep his commandments. This is why we see people like Daniel and Joseph rise like shooting stars in those narratives. Certainly, it has to do with the blessing of God. But if we speak from a human perspective, these men rise to power because they feared God. They were men of wisdom and integrity. They stuck out head and shoulders above the rest of the fools because they feared God. So it is no wonder that they were chosen to hold those high offices.
The one trait that is (or at least should be) foremost in a leader is wisdom. And you all know where the beginning of wisdom is found: it is in the fear of God. But when a body doesn’t fear God, wisdom will be lacking. And as a result, there will be a shortage of Daniel’s and Joseph’s. Good leaders are going to evaporate because there isn’t that pool of godliness from which to draw.
A society—be it a family, church, or nation—is only as good as its leaders. And when the leadership breaks down, so does the institution that of that leadership. So, to keep it in tact or to rebuild what is broken down, what is needed is not just another leadership conference. There needs to be a time of repentance and turning to God. That is the only thing that can bring restoration to a land and its leaders.
Now, this next point may get me in trouble. To say that it is taboo in our day would be to put it mildly. But we need to say something about verse 12 and what it means that “women rule over them.”
II. Women rule over them.
Verse 12 corresponds to verse 4. The only difference is that verse 12 mentions the fact that women are rulers too. A lot of people say that women here is symbolic. So it is like saying, “The leaders have become a bunch of girly men.”
That may be true to some degree. There is no doubt that men are only men when they fear God and keep his commandments. When they don’t, they lose something of their masculinity and the concept of honor. When I led the men’s group at the Care Center, I emphasized the fact that being a man means more than having the physical makeup of “maleness.” It has to do with duty and honor.
However, we shouldn’t jump too quickly to the metaphor of “girly men.” I believe that we are to take this literally when it speaks of women holding places of authority. It is a sign of God’s curse when women rise to positions of power and headship.
The Bible makes it clear that the men were created to be the leaders of society. All you have to do is look at Genesis 2. It makes clear that the man was the foundation of society. Then the woman was created to be the man’s helper. So in the home, the man is to be the head of the household. He is to be the one who is responsible for all that goes on there. His wife is supposed to be the one who assists him and helps the house to run.
We could also look at 1 Cor. 11 and see that God makes this quite clear. It says, “The head of every woman is man. And the head of man is Christ.” God is making it quite clear that there is an order (or hierarchy) that is embedded in the family.
That principle is then to be carried over into the other spheres of life too. If man is the head of the home—the most fundamental building block of society, it is the logical next step that those other areas which are built on families (churches and nations) are to be led by men too. Paul certainly backs this up in 2 Timothy 2, when he limits the offices of the church to men.
You will remember too that part of the curse was that Eve would have this desire to usurp authority. That fits in with what we have here. When there is a deficit of credible leaders, it provides the perfect time for women to step up into those positions.
Now, a lot of people will object to this, I know. One of the things they will point to is Deborah. They will say that Deborah was raised up by God to do great things for Israel. But that’s just the point. The passage there in the book of Judges isn’t there to show how great Deborah is! It is to point out how wicked Israel had become. This was the time when everyone was “doing what was right in his own eyes.” And Barak is the prime example of the kind of leader such a culture produces. He wasn’t willing to lead Israel or step up to do the work that God had called him to do. So God raises up Deborah as a shame to him and the rest of the nation. While Deborah is a blessing of sorts (to relieve the Israelites’ oppression), she is also a curse. She is a signal that the Israelites are a bunch of apostates and God is highly displeased with them.
I know that this is enough to get me stoned in a Feminized society like ours. Everywhere you look today we have women in places of governance. If you look through the phonebook, you’ll see that numerous churches have women clergy. You all know how women populate the civil magistrate and how close we are to having a woman at the highest office of our land.
All this has come about because we have forsaken scripture and embraced thinking a human way of thinking. But this is the truth of Scripture: Scripture says that God has set a social structure and included in that social structure a different role for men and women. And when women come to power it is a signal that the whole structure of society has radically been turned on its head. Whether it be the church, family or civil magistrate, when women occupy the role of headship, you it is a sign that things are in decline and that God is much displeased with us.
The next thing that I want to emphasize in this text is something that we mentioned last week. And it follows logically on what we have just said up to this too. Last week I quoted Benjamin Franklin when he said, “If you will not be governed by God, by God, you will be governed!
III. If you are governed by God, by God, you will be governed
If you don’t have good leaders, you won’t have good government will you? Of course not! If you do not fear God and will not submit to his government, you shouldn’t be surprised to find yoruself being cruelly treated by some despotic dictator. Or, in such a situation, you shouldn’t be surprised that there is going to be such anarchy that your life is going to be miserable.
And that is exactly what we find in this passage. This passage presents us with a pendulum shift from complete anarchy to absolute tyranny. In verse 5 it talks about the anarchy. The masses of people go around oppressing one another. Youths will even be so bold as to despise and be insolent towards their own elders.
Some of you might remember the events the riots that occurred out in Los Angeles, California a number of years ago. It was complete anarchy. Mobs flooded the streets, looted stores, toppled cars, started fires. The civil government was virtually useless as the people took to the streets. That anarchy is what you might imagine here. And that is the kind of chaos that exists in godless societies. People are nothing more than a law to themselves.
Then in verses 13-15 you see the complete opposite. In these verses you have God condemning the leaders (the elders and princes) because of their tyranny. These leaders have oppressed the poor and outright crushed the people.
I’ve started to be involved in the Tea Party book study. I wanted to get out and expand my sphere of normal contacts. But the book we are studying says that tyranny and anarchy are always two opposite extremes. There is some truth to that. But on the other hand, they go hand in hand too. When you have tyranny, you will have anarchy too (and vice versa). They are symptoms of a godless culture.
The point of this passage though is the anarchy and the tyranny show us that there’s no way except God’s way. As Franklin said, Either be governed by god, or by God, you will be governed!
My wife and I started watching a historical fiction series on John Adams, the great patriarch of our nation. One of the things that we saw in the opening showing were some of the flags that were raised during that time when King George was dictating his oppression of the colonists. One of those banners had a olive branch on it and was surrounded by the words, “Appeal to Heaven!”
Those people recognized the truth of Scripture. It is only when we appeal to heaven (i.e. look to Christ and heed his heaven inspired word) that we will find true freedom. Christ said, If you hold to the truth, the truth will set you free. He was beckoning us to appeal to heaven so that we could find true liberty. Be governed by God, or by God, you will be governed.
Now, this next point is something that we’ve spoken about before, perhaps many times. And it gets at why all this happens. Why is it that we come to have a deficit of leaders? Why is it that oppression comes to dominate a land or group. The answer is, because we want it. We have opened the doors for it. That is exactly what it says in verse 9.
IV. We brought it on ourselves!
If you look at the last sentence in verse 9 you see that it says that very thing. It says all this misery that the Israelites were experiencing was brought on by their own doing. They brought it on themselves!
In this passage it is interesting to see the balance of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In verses 1-3 we noted that it was God who was removing the leaders. But here we see that the leaders were removed by their own doing.
One of the puritans once said that sin is its own executioner. That is exactly right. Sometimes God’s judgment is not so much his bringing down fire from heaven as it is his letting us walk through the door we have opened.
I’ve always found the story of King Saul quite interesting. The people of Israel were not satisfied with the judges of Israel. They wanted a king like the other nations. They wanted some strong central power that would rule them like the other nations. The one who was raised up was Saul. Interestingly, the name Saul means “demanded” or “asked.” In other words, they got what they asked for! What kind of leader was Saul? He ended up being a leader just like the nations! He was a raving tyrant!
We can bring this into modern day society quite easily. We complain about our elected officials (ecclesiastical or political) and all the misery that they cause. But let’s not forget, they are elected officials! We were the ones that chose to put them there. And the way we have shaped the culture has given them the mindset that they have. They wouldn’t be like they are without our having shaped them! God is only giving us what we voted for.
We have the saying, “You made your bed. Now you have to sleep in it.” Well, that saying might not be found in the book of Proverbs, but it is certainly a biblical truism. God’s word is here to guide us. God promises that if we obey him, it will be well with us. But if we choose a different way of making our bed, we’ll find that we’ll have to sleep in it.
So far, I’ve been painting a pretty bad picture of things. I’ve been sort of implicitly suggesting that there is going to be a collapse just like Judah experienced. And if that hasn’t become clear to you, let’s make sure that you hear it now. I’ve sometimes said that I have two jobs as a pastor: to get people ready to die and to get people ready for the collapse of America. But is there any hope in all this message? Or is it all doom and gloom. Well, there is one comfort in the midst of all this. And we would be remiss if we didn’t take note of it.
V. Comfort for the righteous
In verse 10 God comforts the righteous by saying that “it shall be well with them, for they will eat the fruit of their deeds.”
Now this doesn’t mean that righteous people will not suffer or die during this time of oppression and despotism. Don’t think that. This is not a health and wealth gospel. The idea here is that God will be with you during these times. He will care for you during these times. Ultimately, the sufferings that you will experience will be for your good. Unlike the wicked, you will not experience the wrath of God. Though others face it and taste their condemnation, you will not.
Most importantly, the suffering will only be for a short time. It will be temporary because it will be limited to this life. Eventually it will come to be overshadowed by the sweetness of our new life in glory.
In Psalm 23 we read, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no ill. Goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.” These are the words of comfort that Isaiah gives us. Though all the world be collapsing around us, we do not need to fear. It shall be well with us.
Those who trust in Christ and give heed to his word need not fear in that day. His arms will continue to enshroud us to keep us through it all. Even then he will be our God who gently leads us beside still waters.
Far from giving us reason to give in and give up, this passage gives us every reason to persevere in faith. Despite the state of society and its impending doom, our God still reigns. Princes may come and princes may go. But the government of God will not pass away. And while the leadership of men may shrivel up and fade away, we can trust that the good government of our God will never fail or falter.
It has been said that you cannot scare someone into heaven. People have said this because there have been people throughout time who have preached hell fire and brimstone sermons. They say that these preachers have only one motive: that is simply to spook their listeners and, after terrifying them, get them to come to Christ.
I would like you to think about that statement for a moment though: You cannot scare someone into heaven. I want you to ask yourself whether or not that is true. Can you scare someone into a state of salvation?
I have to admit, if that were a question I had to answer on a test or a presbytery exam, I think that I might struggle to answer it.
On the one hand, I think that there is a lot of truth to the statement. If you are going to go to heaven, you need to come on the right terms. You can’t simply say, “Hell sounds like a bad place. I don’t think I want to go there. I rather go to heaven.” Obviously, you can’t do that. There has to be a sincere love for God and a genuine appreciation for the saving work of Christ. Moreover, to get to heaven you need to be drawn by God’s grace. There has to be an apprehension the mercy the Lord affords through Christ and his sacrifice.
However, to say that you cannot scare someone into heaven is not altogether true. There may be some truth to it, but it isn’t all true. If you are going to go to heaven, you have to give due consideration to the alternative. Coming to a state of salvation means knowing something of what you’ve been saved from. That means you need at least some recognition of the horrors of hell. You have to recognize to some degree the danger you are in if you continue in a state of unrepentance.
So I would submit to you that yes, you can indeed be scared into heaven. I may even go so far as to say that everyone who is in heaven (or is going to heaven) has been scared into it. That’s the very essence of fleeing to Christ. Fleeing to Christ means fleeing from the wrath and curse of God. The only way you can turn to Christ and find him as your eternal refuge is by knowing that only he can appease that which is due to you for sin.
Think about it this way: no one uses the fire escape when they are not cognizant of any imminent danger. Only when you sense that your life is at risk do you fly to that means of escape.
I mention this because I believe today’s passage is designed to do that very thing. Its purpose is to agitate you. It should be somewhat alarming to you, if you are not in Christ. For the passage before us paints a frightful picture of God. I would go so far as to say that it is a nightmarish depiction of what God does (and will do) to the unbelieving.
Certainly this passage does not embellish in any way or use ornate terminology. Yet the message that it communicates is quite clear: The Lord terrorizes those who do not fear him.
Now, having said that, I know that some people are going to object. To even begin to paint the Lord in such a lurid way will offend some people. They would say that it is absurd to think that God would terrorize someone. But when you look at this passage, you can’t help but recognize the truth of that. The Lord is the one who terrorizes.
As a matter of fact, three times it is stressed that God is the origin of terror.
I. The origin of terror
Look at verses 10, 19, 21. All three verses it says that the people are running “from before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty.” The idea is that the majesty and the splendor of God is what is terrifying to them. God is too much for them. His presence is what causes these people to experience untold grief.
Think for a moment about this. I want you to understand that their terror is derived from the majestic presence of God, his glorious splendor. Because a lot of people can’t even fathom such a notion.
So that you understand this better, I want you to imagine a mischievous little child. One day this little scoundrel pulls a lot of pranks. Among those he offends is his mother. With the pain of being hurt herself, not to mention having to bear the pain of the others who have been wronged by her child, she sends the boy to his room. As she does so she says, “You just wait until your father gets home!”
Now some of you might have been in that position before. Do you remember what it was like? Did your mind just run rampant thinking about what daddy was going to do to you? Though you knew the time would come when he would get home from work, you wished it wouldn’t come. And when did come home, do you remember how your stomach tightened? It felt like it was in knots. Then, when you saw the door open and he walked into your room, there was a sense of terror wasn’t there. It was as if the judge and executioner himself was walking into your room.
Now that was just the presence of your father—someone who, more than likely, loved you because you were his child. But if that is the way it is with our own relatives, what will it be like on the day when Christ comes again? His majesty far exceeds that of our fathers. And He is going to be doing this, not to his children, but to his enemies.
I think this is part of the reason why CS Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia books, depicted Christ as Aslan the Lion. A lion has a certain splendor and majesty about it, doesn’t it? It is a stately looking beast. But yet, it is a ferocious beast too. You would shiver to be in the presence of a lion.
As a matter of fact, there is a scene in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that depicts this well. CS Lewis shows how the presence of the lion (i.e. the presence of Christ) can be terrifying. The two girls, Lucy and Susan, are getting ready to meet Aslan. Two talking animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, are preparing the children for the encounter.
Upon hearing that he is a lion, Susan says, “Ooh, I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie,” said Mrs. Beaver. “And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” Lucy responds by saying, “Then isn’t he safe?” Mr. Beaver broke into hysterics, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. He’s a lion! But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!”
So many today think that Christ is safe. So they don’t really give much thought about it. I don’t blame them really. Who could? I mean, we have so many portrayals of Christ floating around. When you see these depictions of Christ, what do they tell you? He’s quite a mild mannered guy. He doesn’t look like he could hurt a flee.
If you were to go back in history, it would be a different story. In the early church they depicted Christ as the Pantocrator. Pantocrator is the Greek word for Almighty, and the artists would frequently portray Christ as the Almighty judge who crushes Satan and condemns the wicked. So frequently in old Byzantine churches you can see a depiction of Christ with legions fleeing his presence. They are terrified of him and they can’t get away from him fast enough.
That is a good commentary on what this passage tells us about Christ. And it is a good illustration of what the return of Christ will be like. When his majesty is revealed, he will not be a meek and mild mannered man. He will come on the clouds, full of the wrath and fury of God. The majestic Judge will be revealed. Just the sight of his splendor and majesty will be enough to horrify the ungodly.
To be sure: It will be the Lord who will terrorize. And those who do not fear God, will end up having something to fear.
Now, perhaps we should pause here. In mentioning this, you may note something of the irony of this terror.
II. The irony of the terror
Those who do not fear God, will end up fearing God—they are going to have something to be afraid of. This passage is interesting because it has a little twist to it—a little play on what it means to fear God.
You see, when we talk about the fear of God, we talk about two different kinds. There is what we call a servile fear of God and a reverential fear of God. A servile fear of God is the negative kind. It is the fear of terror or dread. It is being so scared of God that you are overcome by the feeling of horror. And that is the kind of fear that is predominant in this passage.
But there is another kind of fear that the Bible talks about. It is healthy fear of God. It is a deep awe and reverence for God that manifests itself in humble obedience to his commands. That’s the good kind of fear. That’s the kind of fear God wants you to have.
But that is exactly what these people were missing. In verses 6-8 Isaiah mentions several of the vices that existed among the people of his day. It says that they were seeking fortune tellers, they made idols, they made financial gain one of their chief goals, they multiplied horses and chariots (which is to say that they were trusting in their own military might rather than in the power and protection of God). All these things showed that they did not fear God in the good sense of the term.
And that is why the Lord was terrorizing them. That’s why were experiencing the dread that they were!
It is kind of like what Benjamin Franklin once said. He once said, in talking about politics, “Either you will be governed by God, well, by God, you’ll be governed!” In other words, if you don’t take God’s word and let it shape the way you shape your government, then you are going to be tyrannized. If you don’t let God be your ultimate governor, then you are going to have a man do it. You will end up suffering incredible misery at the hands of some crazed dictator.
This passage says something of the same thing. It says, “If you don’t live in the fear of God, you will end up fearing God!” That is to say, “If you do not fear God in the good sense of the word (of that love and reverence for Him), then you are going to have something to be afraid of.” God is going to become a terror to you. He is going to be your judge and executioner rather than your friend and your benefactor.
Now, let’s bring that over to us. What are we to learn from this? We should learn how important it is for us to fear God (in the good sense of the term). And if we have this reverential fear, we won’t have to worry about the servile fear. When you fear God rightly, you won’t have any fears of him!
On the other hand, if you do not fear God, then you have something to fear!
I want you to understand this too. It is very important. God wants you to realize that it is not him that is the cause of this terror. It is a godless life that is the problem. Failing to fear him is what sets Him off.
In reading this passage and listening to what I’ve said so far today, you might think that God some sort of fiendish monster who delights in terrorizing people. But that’s not the case at all. He is a merciful God. He delights to show mercy. That this passage is even here is an example of his mercy. That God caused it to be written implies that he is a merciful God.
Ask yourself, “Why is it that this passage is even here?” Why does God even mention these things? It is so that we will come to him in repentance and obtain mercy. God is showing you the consequences of not fearing him so that you will begin to fear him as you ought.
There is nothing God wants more than for sinners to quit their godless ways and begin to live in the light of his love. God does not want to become a terror to you. He rather bless you and give you every reason to be at ease. But if you will not obey him—if you will not give your life over to his service—then he has to execute his justice. He has to come upon you and afflict you.
Yet the wonderful thing about God is that he is the God of second chances. If you have been effected by what you’ve heard today, you can turn to God and find favor with him. You do not have to go through this. You have nothing to fear (in the bad sense of the term).
But if you don’t, then you have everything to fear. The Lord will become a terror to you. And O what terror there will be! Let’s not try to fool ourselves. This isn’t a little spook. It is fright that expresses itself in fanatical panic.
Our passage recounts for us something of the terror the unbelieving will experience. In verses 19 and 21, we see how the people manifest their horror.
III. The manifestation of terror
Both verses say that these people are so terrified that they run to the hills. They attempt to find any rock to hide behind or any crevice into which they can so that they will not be found.
You get the feeling that they are acting like cockroaches scattering after the light has been turned on in the kitchen. Their seeking out some sort of refuge (any sort of refuge!) so that they will not have to face Christ.
Now this kind of fright is not only what these people in Jerusalem manifested when the Lord came against them. It is exactly what every unbeliever will manifest on the day when Christ returns. Christ uses much of the same terminology in Luke 23:30 and Revelation 6 as he speaks of his return. You might even say that he uses a bit more intense imagery there. For he says that the unbelieving in that day will long for the earth to swallow them up. They will long for the caves to crush them and the rocks to dash them to pieces. They will seek death in order to get away from Christ.
Those who are Christ’s enemies will find themselves quaking in their boots, and longing for something-anything- that will hide them from his face.
In our evening study we have been studying John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. At one point Christian, the main character is introduced to a man who had a dream of the Judgment Day, but was not ready for it. Upon meeting the man, Bunyan said that as he rose from his bed he shook and trembled. You could tell that something more than just a cold draught was making him shiver.
He then explained his dream. He said that he dreamed that the heavens grew exceedingly black; also it thundered and lightened in a most fearful way—such that it put him in mental agony. After a sounding of trumpets, he heard a voice call for the dead to rise and come to judgment. Other terrors agitated him, such as how the angels went to gather the tares and toss them into the burning lake. He saw the earth open. In it were smoke and fire and out of it came hideous noises. If this were not enough, all the man’s sins came to his mind and his conscience did accuse him on every side.
Christian asked him what made him so afraid? The man replied, “I thought the day of judgment was come and I was not ready for it.” Moreover, what he said made him most afraid was that the Judge had always his eye upon him, showing indignation in his countenance.
In that scene, Bunyan recounts well the events of the last day. But he also pictures well how the thought of that day should agitate now. If you do not fear him, what is said in this passage should make you feel uncomfortable.
It is my hope, that if you do not know Christ right now, that you—like that man who had that dream—rise from this place with some of the symptoms of that fear right now. If you have not given your life to Christ, I hope that these words are somewhat chilling to your soul at this very moment. Because, if you do not turn to Christ, this will be your experience. When Christ comes again you are going to have to face the Judge whose eye is filled with igdignation. You will have to face up to the life that you have lived.
As soon as the clouds are rolled back and the Mighty King begins his descent, you are going to find that your conscience is going to be stricken. You will heave and wail because you are guilty of offending the Most High God. And you are going to know that He has come to pass sentence on you.
Yes, if you are taking this seriously, you should feel quite uncomfortable now. These words should make you restless. After this message it should feel like you have just awoken from a bad dream.
The only comfort you should have is that there is mercy in Christ. And that is why we end where we began. At the beginning of this message I said that the only reason God scares is so that you might wake and rise to action. If you are sobered by this message, you must know that there is a way to find peace with the Lord. It is by coming to Christ. The Lord doesn’t want you to go through this. He wants you to fly to the only means of escape. He has pulled the alarm so that in hearing of the danger you might get your life right with him.
And that is the wonderful thing. Christ is just as zealous in his love and forgiveness as he is in his severity and justice. Were you to this day to say, “I’m convinced. I need to fear God. I need to follow his word.” And you go to him and pledge to live a new life in Christ, then you can rest assured that Christ will not be a terror to you. He will comfort you with his love and rejoice over you with singing. If you come to fear him with a godly fear, you will not have to fear any sort of condemnation. He will save and he will give to you everlasting life.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.