In many ways our generation has completely lost sight of the wrath of God. We live in a time where it is popular to suggest and teach that God will not judge people. God is love and not full of wrath is the popular way of thinking. But grace and salvation do not make sense without wrath. What are we be saved from if there is no wrath? How can there be grace when God does not have wrath against sin? This kind of thinking about God is not new. It existed in the days of Isaiah when the people did not expect that God was going to execute judgment against them. In this section of Isaiah, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, we are going to notice that Isaiah four times declares that the anger of God has not turned away and his hand is still stretched out.
God’s Word Falls (9:8-12)
The picture that Isaiah declares is God’s word being sent against Judah (Jacob) and falling like a hammer or stone against Israel. Judgment on both the northern nation of Israel and the southern nation of Judah is coming. What is the problem? The people are speaking in their pride and arrogance. They think so highly of themselves that these decrees of judgment do not phase them, cause fear, nor bring about repentance. Listen to what they are thinking in their arrogant hearts. “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones.” Not only are they seeing themselves as so powerful that they can rebuild whatever has been destroyed, but they will rebuild so that it is better than ever. They express such great self-confidence. But this is the very problem. God does not want us to have our confidence in ourselves. God wants us to have confidence in him. Why should there be confidence in ourselves? This is the problem of self-reliance: we think we do not need God. God is doing something against the people and the people think they are strong and will endure. They are failing to rely on their God. Perhaps we need to hear again the words of Paul that our salvation is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). We do not do this ourselves. We cannot complete this ourselves. We need God. We are not supposed to try to do it ourselves. We are supposed to rely on God for everything in our lives. We are not to have self-confidence. We are to have the confidence that God supplies because we are relying upon his power and his working.
Therefore, even in all of this judgment God is not done. His anger has not turned away. His hands is stretched out still. The hand of the Lord to still be stretched out pictures God’s power and strength standing against a person or group of people (cf. Exodus 15:12; Deuteronomy 4:34; 5:15; 7:19). God’s hand is still moving. He has not rested from judgment against them.
Did Not Turn To God (9:13-17)
Because of their self-confidence and arrogance, the people did not turn to God. God has struck the people in judgment, but this judgment has not provoked the people to turn to the Lord. They are not inquiring of the Lord for direction or for obedience. They are not looking to God in their lives. Therefore God will bring even more judgment against them. God is going to cut off those who are leading the people astray, the elders and the prophets. They are leading the people astray in their teachings. The people are being swallowed up by listening to their teachings. This is why textual preaching and teaching is so important. If teachings are not built directly from the scriptures, then you are not learning the word of the Lord but the word of a human. Teaching must be rooted directly in God’s word or it has the power to lead people astray.
Seeking God is to purposefully look for assistance from the Almighty. Turning to God requires people to admit they need help and causes them to rely on someone stronger than themselves. A heart’s desire for God means a willingness to ask God for guidance, make a commitment to turn toward that direction, and follow God’s answer and will. Prayer is the means of our inquiry of the Lord. Reading God’s word is another means of inquiring of the Lord. However, God will not show compassion because everyone is godless and an evildoer. Every mouth speaks folly and disgraceful things. But in all this, God is still not done. His anger has not turned away and his hand is still stretched out.
The Spreading Flame of Sin (9:18-21)
Isaiah describes what is happening because the people are self-confident and do not turn and inquire of the Lord. “Wickedness burns like a fire.” Isaiah describes the destructive power of sin. Burning is an accurate description for the destructive power of sin. Sin wrecks lives and causes pain. People are destroying each other, rather than pursuing good for others. Society turns into a place where it is “every man for himself.” But the spreading flame of sin is followed by the fire of God’s judgment. Wickedness spreads like fire but the ultimate destructive power is the wrath of God. The punishment of God will fit the crime of humanity. If we light up the world with wickedness, then God will light us up in judgment.
Verses 20-21 show that as wickedness spreads the internal disintegration of society accelerates. They begin to destroy each other. Remember that these are supposed to be the holy people of God. Yet they are acting just like the world because they are not relying and depending on the Lord. In the same way, the apostle Paul warned against Christians biting and devouring one another (cf. Galatians 5:15). You have probably seen this happen in churches where Christians are fighting with other Christians. This can only happen because our focus is not on God but on ourselves. Wickedness does not contain itself to our hearts. It spreads. It leaks out. It attacks. It hurts family. It attacks friends. It devours other Christians. James wrote that this was the very problem: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1 ESV). The spread of wickedness is what causes our fighting. We will turn on each other when we are not keeping our hearts and eyes turned toward God. Even in all of this, God’s judgment is not complete against the people.
Social Injustice (10:1-4)
Isaiah continues to describe God’s judgment. Notice that God exercises his wrath against social injustice. Justice is a very important thing to God. The scriptures teach us that the purpose of the government is to justice on those who practice evil (cf. Romans 13:1-5). Notice the list of the condemnations in verses 1-2 of Isaiah 10. They pass immoral laws and pass decrees that press for more oppression of the people. The needy who need justice are turned aside. The people are robbed of their rights because they are poor. Widows and orphans are taken advantage of. We cannot look at our government as it passes immoral laws, laws that violate God’s law, and think that God does not care. God is angry when nations pass immoral laws. God demands justice and righteousness out of his creation and out of the governments. God institutes all governments and causes governments to rise up and fall. Isaiah decrees a woe to the nation that passes immoral laws for God will bring his punishment.
Verses 3-4 picture God’s coming wrath. Where will you run when God’s judgment falls? God will bring his judgment for social injustices that occur within a nation. And yet, his anger has not turned away and his hand is still stretched out.
Your Pride Is Your Downfall (10:5-19)
Isaiah now reveals that Assyria is being used by God as an instrument of judgment on Israel and Judah. Assyria’s actions are God’s fury and judgment. God sent Assyria to take the spoil and tread the nations down. But there is a problem. The king of Assyria wants to go beyond what God has decreed for judgment. His heart says that he can destroy all the nations. He wants to utterly desolate them, never to rise again. In particular, the king of Assyria thinks in his heart that his gods are greater and his power is greater that he can conquer Jerusalem like the other cities he has conquered. Notice verse 11 that the king of Assyria decides he will wipe out Jerusalem like he wiped out Samaria, the capital of the northern nation, Israel. So when God allows this judgment to sweep the through the land up the neck of Jerusalem, God is going to punish the arrogant heart of the Assyrian king. Listen to his arrogance.
“By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones” (10:13). The king thinks that this is all by his own power and not by the power and purpose of God. Therefore, God asks an important question: “Shall the axe boast over him who chops with it?” (10:15). Further, can “the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?” They are simply the axe. But they think that they are conquering by their own might. They think all that they are doing is by their own power. How can the axe glorify itself? The glory goes to the one who swings the axe. No one looks at the chopped tree and says that you have an awesome axe! When you go to the state fair and see the handiwork that is crafted with wood, no one says that the chainsaw or the chisel is phenomenal! It is the person who used the tool, not the tool, that receives the glory. Pride causes us to forget that we are simply instruments in the hand of the Lord. Judgment comes on those who forget that they are simply tools in God’s hands.
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13 ESV)
We are to present our bodies as instruments in the hands of God to work in this world. Yet we glorify ourselves. We look at our own works and think we are great, rely upon ourselves, and place our confidence in ourselves. Our pride blocks our recognition of what God is doing in our lives. We attribute these things to ourselves rather than seeing God’s hand moving in our lives. So judgment must all on those who take glory to themselves. We need to see ourselves as glory thieves. We are stealing the glory that God should rightly receive, and we take that glory on ourselves, acting like we are important instruments. We are simply axes and saws in the hands of our great God.
So God says that though the king of Assyria thinks he will conquer Jerusalem, he will fail. The light of Israel will become a fire for he will save Jerusalem because of his own graciousness. God will save, not because the people are worthy of saving. They are worthy of judgment. But God’s graciousness is so amazing that even in our wickedness and pride, God will act to save so that he will be glorified throughout the world. Let us put aside our pride and wicked ways. Let us develop God-confidence and extinguish self-confidence. Let us present our bodies as instruments of righteousness in the hands of the Lord.