Thank God He Judges
It is easy to tell whether or not you have grasped what it means for God to be the Holy One of Israel. When you read his stern words of judgment in Isaiah, instead of feeling offended, you feel like worshipping. To help us process your feelings about his words of judgment so far, Isaiah steps forward at the start of chapter 25 to lead us in worship.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing trite and unthinking about Isaiah’s positive reaction to God’s judgment. He is so horrified that he has already burst into tears twice, in 15:5 and 16:9: “My heart cries out over Moab … I weep, as Jazer weeps … Heshbon and Elealeh, I drench you with tears!” Isaiah does not lead us into worship because he fails to feel proper emotion for those against whom he has prophesied. He leads us into worship because he feels proper emotion towards the Lord. He has not forgotten his glorious vision of the Lord in the Temple courtyard. He has learned to sing the same song as the angels: “Holy, holy, holy.”
In 25:1, Isaiah begins his song of worship: “Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name.” He does not see the last 14 chapters of judgment as a blot on God’s character. He sees them as the natural outworking of it. If the Lord is truly holy then he cannot turn a blind eye to all the sin that is in the world. If he did so he would not be holy at all. Although Isaiah weeps over the human tragedy of God’s judgment, he is delighted that God judges sternly. It means that he truly is the God he says he is.
John Calvin helps us here while commenting on similar words in the Psalms: “The love of godliness does not thrive sufficiently in our hearts unless it generates a hatred of sin such as David speaks of here … For whoever indulges wicked deeds and encourages them through silence is a falsehearted betrayer of God’s cause … Whenever a person offends our own welfare, reputation and comfort, our keen sense of self ensures we never hesitate to oppose them, yet in defending the glory of God we are most timid and cowardly … If the majesty of God is outraged, no one stirs himself. If we have a true zeal for God then it will prove itself by our resolve to declare irreconcilable war on the wicked and on all who hate God, rather than being alienated from God in order to court their favour” (commentary on Psalm 139:21-22).
In 25:1-5, Isaiah therefore celebrates the fact that the Lord’s judgment demonstrates the beauty of his character. We may find it hard to stomach when Isaiah says that “I will exalt you and praise your name, for … you have made the city a heap of rubble,” but let’s hear him out. He points out that God’s judgment achieves at least four things. First, it proves his perfect faithfulness, since it means he wasn’t lying when he warned Adam in Genesis 2:17 that the wages of sin is death. Second, it proves his perfect control of world history, since this is precisely what he said he would do. Third, it proves his perfect love, because judging the wicked is the only way to ensure that their victims are protected in the future. Fourth, it proves his commitment to righteousness, since it acts as a deterrent, ensuring that “strong peoples will honour you; cities of ruthless nations will revere you.” When we object to God’s judgment, it is not a sign of our goodness and mercy. Quite the opposite. It means we are unwilling to pay the price for goodness and mercy to prevail.
In 25:6-9, Isaiah celebrates a further reason why God’s judgment is such good news. His commitment to rooting out every last vestige of sin is necessary for the re-founding of a new and better Mount Zion. This should be obvious to us but often it isn’t. We forget that paradise would not be paradise if it were just like our present world. Imagine waking up in heaven and finding a newspaper on your doormat that describes what is happening throughout God’s celestial city. It reports a rape in one part of heaven, some petty theft elsewhere and a growing problem of road rage on the holy highway. You would be furious. You would feel you had been lied to about paradise. That’s why Isaiah celebrates so loudly in these verses. He is thrilled that God has the resolve to do what it takes to make the New Mount Zion everything he hoped it would be and more. There is no more darkness, no more death, no more sadness and no more disgrace anywhere among God’s people. Isaiah celebrates that God has saved the world as thoroughly as he promised: “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
In 25:10-12, Isaiah therefore rejoices in the violent destruction of the enemies of God. He chooses Moab to represent them – the very nation over which he wept so bitterly in 15:5 and 16:9 – and he praises God for making their fate as repulsive as that of a diver attempting to swim his way through a steaming lake of manure. He wants us to celebrate God’s judgment with him and so does the New Testament. Paul quotes from 25:8 when he encourages us in 1 Corinthians 15:54 to rejoice with him that Jesus has done everything it takes to destroy death once and for all. John quotes twice from 25:8 when he encourages us in Revelation 7:17 and 21:4 to rejoice with him that God has done all it takes to put an end to this world’s suffering, once and for all.
Many of our worship songs today contain the Hebrew phrase Hallelujah, meaning “Praise the Lord.” What most Christians fail to realise is that this phrase is only used four times in the New Testament and that all four of them are in the song which God’s people sing in Revelation 19:1-10 after the sudden destruction of Babylon. The Hallelujah Chorus of the New Testament comes as a direct response to the blood, fire and judgment which goes before. Those verses even point back to Isaiah 25:6, describing this Messianic Banquet as “the wedding supper of the Lamb.”
So don’t be offended by all these chapters about God’s judgment. Don’t even be embarrassed by them in your conversations with unbelievers, squirming when they ask you how a loving God can send people to hell or why the God of the Old Testament appears so nasty and ill-tempered in their eyes, which have never seen him. Instead, be encouraged. Thank the Lord that he is far sterner than you ever thought. Thank God that he judges sin, because it is the only way in which the world can ever truly be saved.
This chapter is taken from Phil Moore’s new book “Straight to the Heart of Isaiah”, which is now in bookstores. To read more chapters, go to www.philmoorebooks.com