For the Love of God, Volume 2/June 1
From Gospel Translations
Deuteronomy 5; Psalm 88; Isaiah 33; Revelation 3
IF THE LORD RULES, ONE OF THE things he does is destroy the enemies of his people. In Isaiah 33, the opening “Woe” is now pronounced, not against the erring people of God (as in 28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1), but against the “destroyer,” the Assyrian horde. They are the “traitor” (33:1), doubtless because they accepted the extortionate tribute (see yesterday’s meditation) and then attacked anyway. But the betrayer will be betrayed (33:1); probably this refers to the fact that Sennacherib, after returning home, was assassinated by his own sons (37:38).
At this juncture the people of God cry out for his help: “O LORD, be gracious to us; we long for you” (33:2)—an overdue reversal of the callousness they displayed in chapters 29—30. After the extraordinary death of almost two hundred thousand Assyrian troops in 701 B.C., the citizens of Jerusalem were able to leave the city and strip the slain army of vast quantities of plunder (33:4; 37:36).
Once again, the historical picture is cast in terms that anticipate the final judgment of the “nations” (33:4—plural!) and the ultimate blessedness of Zion (33:5- 6; cf. 33:17-24). What will prevail is “justice and righteousness” (33:5). God himself “will be the sure foundation” for such times, “a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure” (33:6)— showing how the prophetic literature of the Old Testament overlaps with the Wisdom Literature (cf. Prov. 1:7).
The rest of Isaiah 33 expands on these themes. The lament of 33:7-9 demonstrates that the strategies of the rulers and diplomats had to fail before the authorities turned to the Lord in desperation. But that is when God arises (33:10). God himself is able to consume the chaff. Even the enemies “who are far away” (33:13) hear what God has done. But if God is the sort of God who destroys sinners, will not the sinners in Zion likewise be consumed (33:14)? “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” (33:14). That is why the promise of the Lord’s deliverance is always simultaneously a massive call to repentance (33:15-16).
The closing verses (33:17-24) offer a retrospective, a time to reflect on the destruction of all who cherish evil. Such judgment generates a time of peace and stability (33:20). But above all, it is a time of sheer God-centeredness. “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty” (33:17); “the LORD will be our Mighty One” (33:21); for “the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us” (33:22).