These three chapters give us a glimpse into the troubles of ancient times along with the assurance that God will ultimately be the awesome God of Wrath that those opposed to Him dread. We don’t preach hail and brimstone sermons much these days, but for those who are being oppressed by ruthless warriors, there is great hope in these sermons. Helpless people cannot effect change that is needed to allow for a peaceful life. We are more like them than we like to think. While we sympathize with our ancestors in these chapters, there are contemporary implications as God is regulated out of society. This is not a call to despair; rather, it’s a call to pick up our cross daily and carry it with confidence that God is alive and well, his plan is working. Our choice is to join in the plan or not.
Isaiah 33: Distress and Help
During this time in Isaiah’s life the Assyrians are having their way with the northern kingdom while threatening the southern tribes. The threat is very read, fear is quite evident, but the Lord provides strength to the faithful.
Lord, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.
Hear the call to be consistent, to keep the faith during dark times:
Those who walk righteously
and speak what is right,
who reject gain from extortion
and keep their hands from accepting bribes,
who stop their ears against plots of murder
and shut their eyes against contemplating evil—
they are the ones who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Their bread will be supplied,
and water will not fail them.
Walk in righteousness and speak the truth, reject the temptation to accept bribes, stay far from evil. Your reward will surely come. One day there will be peace and joy like never seen before. This is an assurance of things to come, of that not visible today. Know that this day will come.
Isaiah 34: Judgment Against the Nations
More words of assurance for those who are able to hear, those not swept up in the wave of idolatry so pervasive in that time:
Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!
The Lord is angry with all nations;
his wrath is on all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter.
Example after example, this chapter depicts the Lord’s response to nations that have rejected Him. It’s comforting to know that the Lord will eventually set right all that is wrong, though the present pain is very real. For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause. (Isaiah 34:8)
I can imagine the devout few reading this over and over again to build confidence, to remind themselves that the Lord will one day be their avenger…not like the comics…the mighty and awesome. Isaiah paints a word picture to portray the completeness of God’s wrath against the horrible nations. For those who oppose the Lord, this will be a terrible day. For those who have maintained the faith, this will be a day of great joy!
Isaiah 35: Joy of the Redeemed
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
There are some days when it feels like the whole world is crashing down, though I know it’s nothing compared to the oppression our ancestors must have felt. Isaiah’s words comforted the people of that day and I believe they are meant to help us in this day as well.
Do not fear — God will come!
Such great words of reassurance in a time that is beyond difficult. Perhaps it’s time to book a mission trip to countries where this is very real today, or at least look in India or China where Christ cannot be openly worshiped; or Russia where laws prohibit Christian gatherings outside of licensed and regulated venues. We are so spoiled in our luxury here that it’s hard to appreciate.
Open our eyes, Lord, help us to see how far we are from your presence. Let us be encouraged to know that your are always there and will ultimately be our strength.