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.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.