The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Isaiah 58-59: Rebellious Jews & Warrior Yahweh

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Ever feel like there is hardly anyone left in your country who really cares about God?  Ever feel like evil is winning the day while God is off in another universe not even noticing how bad things are?  This is how sincere believers in Isaiah’s time felt.  The vast majority of Israelites were entrenched in spiritual rebellion and Israel’s society was a cesspool of immorality.  Crime was out of control.  All of the law enforcers were corrupt.  And while evil doers were partying on, true believers like Isaiah were feeling totally bummed.  Where was Yahweh?

Now you’d expect people who hated God to the degree that the ancient Israelites did to drop any pretense of caring about Him.  And yet this was not the case with Isaiah’s people.  Throughout the Old Testament, we find a theme of rebellious souls putting on dramatic displays of caring about God even though they don’t care at all.  They bring sacrifices to Yahweh’s Temple.  They spin out long, theatrical prayers in public.  They throw dirt on themselves, tear their clothes, and fast, all in an attempt to appear like they are desperate for God to speak to them when in reality they couldn’t care less about what He wants.  What was the point of these theatrics?  Well, why do Christians weep and cry all over Jesus today and pretend to care about Him when they really don’t?  Why do Christians dump a bunch of money into the offering plate and pretend to be eager to build up God’s kingdom when in reality they’re just trying to guilt God into blessing them?

There’s nothing new about humans trying to manipulate God by putting on phony acts of caring about Him.  Yahweh was Israel’s national God, and as such, the Jews want Him to use His God powers to make their nation prosper.  They know that He is quite capable of holding back Israel’s enemies and making her economy thrive, but at the moment He’s refusing to do so.  Like bratty children who shower their father with insincere compliments just to make him purchase them some new expensive toy, these spiritual brats in Isaiah’s day are trying to con Yahweh into making their lives better.  Well, Yahweh doesn’t have turnips for brains.  All of this religious hoopla doesn’t fool Him for one second and in Isaiah 58, He gives his prophet a message to pass on to all of the little twerps who are trying so hard to manipulate Him.

ISAIAH 58: YAHWEH SPEAKS

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast, Isaiah. Shout loudly and don’t be timid! Tell My people Israel of their sins!  They act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about Me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask Me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near Me.

‘We have fasted before You!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t You impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves to show how humble we are and You don’t even notice it!’

And yet the truth is that you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.  What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with Me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please Yahweh?

No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. 

Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of Yahweh will protect you from behind. Then when you call, Yahweh will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ He will quickly reply.

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. Yahweh will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.  Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes. 

Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as Yahweh’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.  Then Yahweh will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, Yahweh, have spoken!” (Isa. 58:1-14)

We’re always telling you to be totally honest with God because He hates hypocrisy.  This is a principle that you’ll find both Yahweh and Jesus emphasizing throughout the Bible, and Isaiah 58 is just one of many great examples.  Our Gods detest it when we put on phony acts of caring about Them while inwardly we don’t care at all.

We’re always telling you that God judges you by your soul attitudes, not your external behaviors.  Here in Isaiah 58, Yahweh describes these people going through a lot of religious rituals which would make them look pretty sincere to other humans.  If you walked in on a scene of these people worshiping Yahweh at His Temple or engaging in some group fast, wouldn’t you think, “Wow, these people must be serious about God”?  Sure, and today you continue to be impressed by Christians who put on similar acts of piety. The fellow who is going to church three times a week looks serious about pleasing God, but is he really?  For all you know, he’s just going to socialize with other humans and enjoy the feeling of being wanted and respected.  The Sunday School teacher who seems to have the entire Bible memorized really impresses you with his ability to quote chapter and verse, but what is this really worth?  Memorizing verses has never made anyone closer to God.  It is our soul choices that determine whether we’re pleasing God or not.  When our soul attitudes are rotten, all of our religious rituals aren’t worth a hill of beans.

Here in Isaiah 58, Yahweh calls these rebels out on their hypocrisy.  He says that their acts aren’t working on Him because He can see into their souls and He knows that they don’t really care about Him.  Then He lists off a bunch of other behaviors these people are engaging in which He says prove how rebellious they are.

Now here’s a critical point you need to grasp: Yahweh is not telling these people that the only way to please Him is to be behaviorally perfect.  This is often how Christians interpret these kinds of passages, yet this is the wrong interpretation.  Yahweh is talking about soul attitudes here.  To really grasp this point, let’s take a moment to break down what He’s saying.

In Isaiah 58, Yahweh describes a people who are doing good and bad works.  On the one hand, they are going through a bunch of religious rituals that make them appear to really care about pleasing God.  They are saying with their lips that they want to know God and honor Him.  But on the other hand, they’re being cruel to each other and doing all kinds of things that they know are wrong.  Well, there is no such thing as a human who doesn’t sin.  We all perform a mix of good and bad behaviors.  So how does God respond to our mixed situation?

If Yahweh only judged people by their external behaviors, then He would say to these Israelites, “You’re doing good with your religious rituals, but you’re not doing good enough because you’re still sinning.  So you need to increase your number of good works by cutting back on the bad things you’re doing.”

If Yahweh only cared about works, then He would be pleased by the good works these people are doing.  But Yahweh does not judge us by our external works. Instead, He judges us only by our soul’s response to Him, and this is why we find Him rejecting the good works these people are doing.  Yahweh is responding to soul attitudes here in Isaiah 58.  He’s saying, “When I look into your souls, I see that you all despise Me, therefore I am angry with you.”  Yahweh then points out all of the bad works these people are doing and He says, “It is these bad works of yours that more accurately reflect the way your souls really feel about Me.  Your good works are a sham because they make you look like you care about Me when you really don’t.  But when you wallow in sin, you look like you don’t care about Me at all, and because I can see into your soul, I know that your love of sinning is just an expression of your inward hatred of Me.”

It’s important to realize that the reason Yahweh is so angry about the bad things these people are doing is because He sees that those things are motivated by bad soul attitudes.  Every human sins.  Today, souls who dearly love God are doing bad things.  And yet when God sees that we really care about pleasing Him, He doesn’t harp on every little thing we do wrong.  He doesn’t point to our sins and say, “Those rotten actions prove that you don’t really care about Me.”  He doesn’t say this because He knows that our bad actions are not accurately reflecting our soul attitudes towards Him.  When we sin, we are hating it.  We’re wishing we could be perfect all the time, but it’s just not in us.  Because our soul attitudes are correct, God does not harp on our sins.  Instead, He points to our good behaviors and says, “It is those things, not your bad behaviors, which reflect what’s really going on in your soul.”

Every human is a mixed bag, but God is always responding to our soul attitudes.  So when you find Him harping on people’s sins in the Bible and saying that those sins demonstrate how little they care about God, realize that He’s really responding to soul attitudes.

Here’s another way to look at it.  Marsha looks into a box and sees a red ball.  You haven’t looked into the box, but you’re holding a red and a blue ball in your hands.  You ask Marsha, “Which of these two balls matches the color of the ball in the box?”  Marsha points to the red one and says, “That one does.”  This is what you’ll find Yahweh doing all the time in the Old Testament prophetic books.  He describes people who are doing really good and really bad behaviors.  Then He points to their bad behaviors and says, “It is those behaviors which accurately reflect how your souls really feel about Me.”  Only God can make this kind of assessment because He’s the only One who can see into our souls.  Other humans can’t.  So when other humans hear that Jack is a porn addict, they say, “Jack’s bad behaviors prove that he isn’t serious about God.”  When people talk like this, they are claiming to be able to accurately assess someone’s soul attitude merely by examining their behavior.  But no, we really can’t.  In real life, we are constantly misjudging each other because we can’t see into each other’s souls.  While we say that Jack can’t be serious about pleasing God because he looks at porn, we say that Mike is obviously spiritually mature because he calls himself a pastor. But when God looks at Jack and Mike, He doesn’t look at their behaviors.  He looks at their souls.  When He does, He might see that Jack is the one who really cares about God while Mike doesn’t care at all.  In such a case, Yahweh might say, “If I were to choose an action of Jack’s that demonstrates his actual feelings about Me, I’d say that it’s the way he worships Me in church on Sunday mornings, not his porn addiction.   And if I were to pick a behavior that reflects Mike’s true feelings about Me, I’d say it’s the way he gossips about his parishioners, not the fact that he preaches sermons.”  See how it works?  You have to be able to see into someone’s soul before you can say which of their behaviors best reflects their commitment to God.

If the Israelites in Isaiah 58 really cared about Yahweh, then He wouldn’t be yelling at them.  Instead, He’d be saying, “I’m pleased with how devoted you guys are.  I like how you come to the Temple and worship Me.”  By themselves, these actions are worthless to God.  It is only when they are being paired with right soul attitudes that they become positive things.

Now since the Israelites in Isaiah 58 don’t care about Yahweh, Yahweh says that all of their good deeds are nothing more than phony acts.  He says, “It’s not your good actions that match your soul attitudes, it’s your nasty sins.  The way you wallow in evil really depicts the way that you inwardly hate Me.”  When He then tells these people to stop sinning, what He means is for them to change their soul attitudes.  He says, “You’re sinning is motivated by your hatred of Me.  So repent and submit to My Authority.  When you do, you’ll stop taking such delight in doing evil.”

Even though God is talking about actions in this passage, the actions are just symbols of underlying soul attitudes.  If we were standing in Israel, we wouldn’t know how to interpret the fact that these people sometimes do really good things, and other times do really bad things.  Only God can accurately assess what’s going on because He sees the soul attitudes.

When Yahweh lists off a bunch of commands for the kinds of good behaviors He wants these people to start doing, He’s really demanding submission.  These people are wallowing in evil and enjoy abusing each other.  So why would they suddenly want to start acting nice?  They don’t, and Yahweh knows it.  So when He orders them to start respecting the Sabbath day as a day for honoring Him, He is telling them to do something that He knows they don’t want to do.  In other words, He’s demanding that these people practice the soul attitude of submission.  Submission is about doing what you don’t want to do out of respect for God’s Authority.  These Jews don’t want to play nice or be kind or really respect God.  Yet Yahweh is commanding them to.  The only way they can satisfy His command is by repenting.  Repentance is when we change our soul attitude from rebellion to submission.  So even though Yahweh is talking in terms of behaviors, He is really talking about soul attitudes.

Think of it like this: you have a new boss who really annoys you.  Because you don’t like your new boss, you have been intentionally disobeying her.  You’ve been blowing off her instructions and doing things you know she doesn’t like just to spite her.  Well, one day your boss calls you out on your rotten attitude.  She says, “You have no respect for my authority and that’s why you’re refusing to obey my instructions.”  Being the rebel that you are, you say, “That’s not true. I have plenty of respect for your authority.”  “Alright, then prove it,” your boss says.  “Tap your pen on your desk ten times in a row right now.”  Does your boss really care about you doing this particular behavior?  No, she wants you to change your attitude towards her and start submitting to her authority.  So she just made up some random command in order to challenge you to publicly demonstrate respect for her authority.

In Isaiah 58, Yahweh peppers rebellious Jews with a bunch of commands.  Because He knows that they don’t want to do any of the things He’s telling them to do, what He’s really challenging them to do is submit to Him.  He really doesn’t care about them not working on Sabbath days.  What He cares about is the soul attitude of submission.  Not working on Sabbath days gives the Jews an opportunity to practice submission to God, and it’s the soul attitude that He cares about.  Are they going to be perfect at it?  No, and Yahweh won’t care how much they mess up as long as He sees that they really care about submitting to Him.  But when He sees that they inwardly hate Him, then He’s going to come down hard on them for every little thing.  It’s like your new boss making a big deal out of the fact that you won’t obey her stupid order to tap your pen.  She doesn’t need you to do that—the behavior itself serves no practical purpose.  But you and she both know that the only reason you’re refusing to tap your pen is that you’re refusing to publicly submit to her authority.  Even though you’re arguing about a pen, what the two of you are really fighting about is the issue of submission.

In Isaiah 58, Yahweh tells rebellious souls that if they repent out of their defiance and resubmit to His Authority, He will bless their earthly circumstances in many ways.  This was a common promise under the Old Covenant: Yahweh promised an easy life on earth to the nation of Israel if the whole nation honored Him.  He didn’t make this promise to individuals, and He no longer makes this promise to anyone under the New Covenant.  But in the Old Testament, you’ll find Him frequently reminding Israel that if she will stop rebelling against Him, her life will be a whole lot nicer.  Does she listen?  Of course not.

Now in Isaiah 58, Isaiah was passing on a direct message from Yahweh.  In the next chapter, Isaiah responds to Yahweh’s message by giving his own personal view of the situation in Israel.  This sudden change in speaker happens often in the prophetic books of the Bible, so don’t just assume that God is always the One doing the talking.  There’s a big difference between a human prophet directly quoting God and that same prophet passing on his own thoughts.  Naturally many of the prophets who are pontificating in the Church today want you to assume that everything they say is falling from the very lips of God.  Here’s a discernment tip: the harder a prophet is working to convince you that he or she is actually speaking for God, the more likely it is that nothing they’re saying is coming from God.  Why?  Well, real prophets know that God is a powerful and effective Speaker who doesn’t need any help from dots like us to make an impact.  So when a real prophet knows that he or she is passing on the very words of God, they don’t need to say “Hey, everyone, I’m speaking for God over here!”  When God speaks, it’s obvious to the souls He is speaking to, regardless of whose mouth He’s using.  You just don’t need to market God.  He’s awesome enough all on His own.

ISAIAH 59: ISAIAH SPEAKS TO REBELLIOUS ISRAELITES

Surely the arm of Yahweh is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. (Isa. 59:1-2)

Every culture uses metaphorical language.  Every culture decides to make a big deal out of certain parts of the human anatomy.  In ancient Jewish culture, arms were symbols of power and this is why you’ll find Yahweh reaching out His arm a lot in the Old Testament.  It’s always His right arm, never His left, because the right side was viewed as supreme in ancient cultures.  This was probably due to the fact that most people are right handed, thus losing the right hand would feel like a greater loss than losing the left for most people.  To be invited to sit on the right side of the king was a greater privilege than sitting on his left side, which is why you won’t find any references in the New Testament to Christ sitting down on the left hand of Yahweh in Heaven.  When you want to talk about power, honor, and other good things, it’s all about the right.  When you want to talk about God acting in powerful ways, you talk about Him reaching out His arm.

Running with this rather amusing metaphor, if we picture Yahweh having some short, stubby little arm, then that would indicate He is very limited in power.  Here in Chapter 59, Isaiah says that Yahweh’s arm has plenty of reach, which is his way of emphasizing that Yahweh has plenty of power.  Yahweh’s arm isn’t “too short to save” the people of Israel.  His ear isn’t “too dull to hear.”  No, Yahweh can reach whatever He wants to reach and He hears everything.  So the fact that He’s withholding blessings from Israel has nothing to do with Him being a limited God.  Instead, Isaiah blames the people.  He says that their rotten soul attitudes have separated them from Yahweh and caused Him to hide His face and not listen to them.

So is Isaiah correct about the way Yahweh is responding to these Jews?  No, he’s not, and it’s very important to realize how far off his descriptions are.  Today scores of repentant souls take this imagery of God hiding His face quite literally, and as a result they think that God has cut them off when He really hasn’t.

While Isaiah is correct in suggesting that Yahweh is angry with these rebellious souls, he is wrong to describe Yahweh as literally cutting ties with these people.  Yahweh’s intimate involvement in our lives does not stop just because we have a bad attitude.  Because Christians don’t want to face God’s involvement in evil, they pretend that He distances Himself from sin and they talk as if what makes Hell so hellish is being cut off from the Presence of God.  Well, no, this is all backwards.  It is in the book of Isaiah that Yahweh emphasizes how absolute His control is over both good and evil.  Yahweh isn’t backing away from these rebellious Jews—instead, He’s the One causing all of their troubles.  These souls are being disciplined as a means of motivating them to repent.  Yahweh is intimately involved in human affairs at all times.  The fact that He just got done delivering a long speech to these folks in Chapter 58 demonstrates that He is keeping the lines of communication wide open.

“No” is just as much of an answer as “yes,” so the fact that God isn’t doing what we want is hardly an indication that He is ignoring us.  The images that Isaiah is using here should only be taken as metaphorical pictures of Yahweh’s disapproval with the soul attitudes of these rebels.  In real life, God never really turns a deaf ear towards us, nor does He ever stop involving Himself in our affairs.  The accurate view of Hell is one in which our Gods are actively torturing the souls They have placed there, for Hell is Their creation and a domain that They control.   Viewing ourselves as being literally separated from our Creators at any time is only going to lead us into all sorts of delusions while we downplay our total dependency on Them.

In Chapter 58, Yahweh gave His description of all of the shady shenanigans these rebels are up to.  Now Isaiah is going to give his own assessment of the situation, and he agrees with Yahweh that these rebels are intentionally reveling in wickedness.

For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things.  No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.  They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, a viper is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands.  Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace. (Isa. 59:3-8)

This is certainly a grim picture.  By likening his evil countrymen to folks who hatch vipers and spin spider’s webs, Isaiah is trying to emphasize how intentional these people are being in their wickedness.  You don’t just spin a web without effort.  You don’t successfully hatch baby vipers without putting a lot time and energy into the project.

The important point for you to grasp in all of this is that God doesn’t get as mad as He is in Isaiah 58 over people doing accidental sins.  These folks know better.  They are not only informed about what God wants, they also have the resources to obey Him.  Yahweh is an extremely patient and gracious Judge who enjoys being merciful. He’s not just standing over us with a big stick waiting to hammer us the minute we make one wrong move.  To learn the right lessons from the prophetic books, you have to go into them realizing what a kind and gracious Guy Yahweh is.  Once you’re viewing Him correctly, then it will be very obvious to you that someone is being very, very naughty if a God as patient as Yahweh is making threats.

So now let’s continue on with Isaiah.  Isaiah is not as patient as God, nor can he see the big picture.  Isaiah is just a human and right now he’s feeling very frustrated about the spiritual darkness in Israel.  He feels like the bad guys are ruining life for everyone else—and this is an easy mindset to sink into when you take your eyes off of your own walk with God.

So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away. (Isa. 59:9-11)

Isaiah’s getting too carried away with his doom and gloom metaphors here.  Yahweh has not abandoned anyone, and while He’s spanking the rebels, He’s also guiding the obedient.  So, no, Isaiah really hasn’t been left to grope along the wall like a blind man.  He shouldn’t be viewing himself like some feeble corpse.  Yes, he’s stuck living among people who hate God.  But that doesn’t mean that he has to personally accept some despairing view of life.

A correct understanding of God’s sovereignty is critical to you keeping a grip on hope in tough times.  God’s control over this world is absolute, not partial, and He isn’t just lumping you in with everyone else.  God responds to you as an individual, and that means if everyone else in the whole world is despising Him but you’re not, you and God will have a good thing going on.  When other people are making decisions which seem to be causing you grief, knowing that God is in control will help you realize that God is really the One bringing those trials into your life for good reasons.  God never just tosses you into the hands of cruel people and leaves you to fend for yourself.  Certainly there are times when we feel like this is what He’s doing, but the reality is that He is controlling every detail of our experience.  We are never alone.  We are never abandoned by the Ones who created us.  These facts remain true regardless of whether we can emotionally connect with them or not.  Here in Isaiah 59, our frustrated prophet’s very grim view of his situation is certainly understandable, but Isaiah is also discounting some critical truths, and that’s something we need to not just fluff off as irrelevant or we’ll end up sinking into his same kind of despair when our own lives are becoming difficult.

You can’t anchor your hope in other people or in the spiritual condition of your nation.  You’ll find the ancient Jews doing this a lot because they were a very group-oriented culture.  But while the group perspective certainly has value, it can be quickly overdone in spiritual matters because God deals with us as individuals. It is an epic waste of time for you to get all bummed out in your personal relationship with God just because some other human is choosing to embrace rebellion.  That’s like you saying to your spouse, “I know you love me, but I can’t accept your love or get any joy out of our marriage until the neighbors across the street stop fighting with each other.”  Why should you let other people control your own relationship with God?

For our offenses are many in Your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against Yahweh, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. (Isa. 59:12-13)

It’s very common for prophets to talk as if everyone is repenting when really no one is.  Here Isaiah is speaking for his countrymen when he says “we acknowledge our iniquities.”  No, this is an absurd claim.  The bulk of these people are totally unrepentant at this time, and that’s critical to bear in mind.  God doesn’t remain furious with people who have repented, so you need to be on the lookout for guys like Jeremiah and Isaiah deluding themselves about the repentant attitude of their countrymen.  You’ll find them saying things like “Oh, Yahweh, we’re all so sorry, so please have mercy.”  But Yahweh won’t have mercy, and the reason is that the prophet is falsely representing the soul attitudes of his fellow Jews.  Yahweh doesn’t just fluff off spiritual rebellion, and He doesn’t allow you to do some other soul’s repenting for him. This is why praying for other people is such a waste of time.  God doesn’t invite you to butt into His relationship with other people, and you trying to tell Him that Bob is sorry for his sins when Bob really isn’t sorry at all is just you insulting God’s intelligence.  You should only be talking to God about your own soul attitudes, because those are the only ones you know about.

So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. (Isa. 59:14-15)

Here again, Isaiah is overdoing it.  He’s discounting Yahweh’s control over this situation and talking as if everything has totally run amuck.  “Whoever shuns evil becomes a prey,” is his way of saying that the good people are getting trampled on by the bad guys.  Well, no, the good are getting trampled only when Yahweh wants them to be.  Evil never triumphs over God because God is the origin of evil.  Isaiah would do well to remember what Yahweh said to him in Chapter 45:

“The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating evil: I am Yahweh who does all these.” (Isa. 45:7)

WARRIOR YAHWEH: ISAIAH’S METAPHOR

So first Isaiah described Yahweh as being distant from these people.  Then he described evil people as ruling the land.  Now he’s going to launch into a metaphorical description of Yahweh finally responding to this situation.  See if you can pick up what is wrong with the way Isaiah is describing Yahweh.

Yahweh looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm achieved salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him. He put on righteousness as His breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak. According to what they have done, so will He repay wrath to His enemies and retribution to His foes; He will repay the islands their due. (Isa. 59:15-18)

Yahweh says He is an all-powerful God who knows the end from the beginning.  Is that who Isaiah is describing here?  Not hardly.  Notice how he describes Yahweh as being “appalled” that there was no one to intervene and put Israel’s evil in check.  Say what?  Since when does God need help from dots like us to accomplish His own will in this world that He reigns over?  He doesn’t, of course, but our raging human egos just can’t stand the idea of God not depending on us in some way so we’re always trying to portray Him as relying on our help to get things done.  In this passage, Isaiah is making Yahweh out to be far more limited than He actually is.  An almighty God like Yahweh doesn’t need anything to “sustain Him”—not even His own righteousness.  And this business about Yahweh suiting up in armor before taking on a bunch of impotent specks is utterly ridiculous.  What are we going to do, bruise Him with rocks?  Shoot fiery arrows at Him?

In Ephesians 6, Paul is going to rip off Isaiah’s helmet of salvation and breastplate of righteousness when he’s putting together his famous “armor of God.”  Of course Paul is leading us astray by encouraging us to think that we can just take on the forces of evil like buff warriors.  The only correct battle stance for a Christian to take in the midst of demonic attack is to hide behind God’s back.  But of course a guy as pompous as Paul isn’t going to teach us correct dependency on God, and Isaiah is really falling apart here in Chapter 59 as he makes Yahweh out to be the sort of God who actually feels armor is needed when He’s heading out to deal with His own creations.  This metaphor reveals a serious lack of confidence in God’s abilities and a denial of His total sovereignty, but hey, Isaiah was just a human and humans aren’t perfect.

So now that armor-clad Yahweh has stormed onto the scene and realized that He can’t count on any humans to back Him up, He’s showing just how buff He is by trampling His enemies all by Himself.  What’s the result?  A change in soul attitudes.  Isaiah now imagines the whole world getting a reboot of reverence once Warrior Yahweh beats enough heads.

From the west, people will fear the Name of Yahweh, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere His glory. For He will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of Yahweh drives along.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares Yahweh. “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says Yahweh. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and My words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says Yahweh.  (Isa. 59:19-21)

As tempting as it is to pretend that this is a reference to Christ, it’s really not.  Yahweh is referring to Himself when He talks about a Redeemer coming to Zion.  Zion was the name of the mountain on which Yahweh’s Temple stood.  Remember that Jews like Isaiah are feeling like Yahweh has abandoned them. Rather than correct this misconception, Yahweh says that He will return to His Temple in Zion. Then He says that He has a covenant or agreement to stay faithful to certain people who His Spirit is on.  Who are those people?  Only those who repent of their sins.  You see, Yahweh is not promising to bless the Jews just for being Jews.  He always responds to soul attitude.  He says that those in Israel (aka Jacob) who repent of their sins will be blessed by Him.  Spiritual rebels are the only ones who need to repent, so what’s really cool about this statement Yahweh makes is that He’s telling this group of snarky rebels that it isn’t too late for them to turn back and get into a good place with Him.  These snake hatchers and web spinners can still end up benefiting from God’s gracious faithfulness.  He is still willing to receive back these evil doers, despite all of the effort they’re putting into hating Him.  But if these people don’t repent, then they will end up eternally damned, for it is only submissive souls who Yahweh promises to be faithful to.  God’s promises always have conditions, and those conditions usually come down to a matter of soul attitudes.

CONCLUSION

The prophetic books are rich with useful insights about our Gods and how They relate to us. In Isaiah 58, we learned about how Yahweh talks about actions as a way of addressing underlying soul attitudes.  In Isaiah 59, we practiced discernment by thinking critically about Isaiah’s descriptions of Yahweh and Israel.  We identified ways that Isaiah wasn’t embracing important truths about Yahweh’s sovereignty and abilities.  Then when Yahweh spoke again at the end of Chapter 59, we saw Him demonstrate His amazing grace by promising to remain close to souls who were willing to repent out of their rebellion and re-submit to His Authority.  Yahweh is very easy to succeed with, He is slow to anger, and quick to forgive—these are just some of the fabulous insights we glean from studying the Old Testament prophetic books.

FURTHER READING:
Understanding Yahweh’s Wrath: Judah’s Alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-17)
Understanding God’s Promises: Yahweh Promises to Bless Israel (Isaiah 30:18-33)
Isaiah 26:3 In Context: Does God really give us perfect peace?
Understanding Moses: Identifying Soul Attitudes in Deuteronomy 8
Understanding Yahweh: “Child Sacrifice Never Entered My Mind” (Jeremiah 7)
Distinguishing Between the Real End Times & the Day of Yahweh

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