This entry provides context for Sunday’s sermon on Isaiah 10:20-21.
Read and pray carefully through Isaiah 9:8 – 10:34. We generally struggle with passages of judgment like this one. In vivid ways we often don’t encounter in casual readings of Scripture, we read here of God’s anger towards sin – and toward those who relish in their sin without turning to Him. In these verses, God directs his anger against two peoples: unrepentant Israel and Assyria. Though they sin in different ways, they both run from God in pride and run over others with oppression.
Against unrepentant Israel: We see God with an “upraised hand” (9:12, 17, 21, and 10:4), a LORD who spurs on their enemies (9:11), who cuts off their leaders (9:14), who takes no pleasure in their young men or pity on their orphans (9:17). Why? “For everyone is ungodly and wicked” (9:17), and the people have gone the way of their leaders, with no love toward one another, only injustice.
Against proud Assyria: We see God judge them for their proud nation-gobbling, even though He used them in the midst of it to punish Israel (10:6, 10:12). Talk about a tension between sovereign choice and free will! The Light of Israel becomes a burning fire (10:17), similar to 8:14-15, where God is a rock of refuge OR a stumbling stone, depending on how folks respond.
Here’s an underlying truth: They both needed, simply, to turn and seek God (9:13, 55:6-7) and they would receive His mercy. Yet this act of faith is largely absent throughout these chapters, with 10:20-21 as the notable exception. They don’t turn to God; instead, they receive God’s judgment for their sin in this world and in the next.
What do we learn? There is a time for all of us when God pours out punishment upon sin. Love does not mean God overlooks willful rebellion and self-worship. But where will that punishment land? We need the New Testament’s light here. If I willfully turn from God, and there is no cross to receive my penalty, then I suffer for no redemptive purpose in this broken world, but only due to my sin and the sin of others. If I never receive Christ, then my suffering has been a foretaste of eternal wrath, not a signpost to Jesus, not a grace to mature. This is chilling and hopeless.
But there’s another way. For those who turn to God, whom God has chosen, His love works right alongside His justice in perfect Holiness, condemning sin on the cross (Romans 3!). Jesus’ death receives punishment for all our sin. We see God’s wrath in the New Testament (see Romans 1:18-31 or 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10), but not toward those who believe. For disciples, Christ is our rescuer from sin’s punishment. In Christ, God’s “upraised hand” of anger toward my sin is taken away.
There is more to see and savor here, but for now perhaps this is enough: When we bypass the wrath of God in our thinking, we end up missing the depths of our own sin and the richness of God’s grace in Christ. Dwelling here makes the good news of the cross even sweeter to the taste on a personal level. And on a broader level, we learn how to yearn for Jesus’ return when only love and justice will flow, to God’s glory.
May we, with humble gratitude, give praise to God for this unsearchable grace, and encourage others to do the same.