God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 3, 2008
t’s a delightful surprise: In the middle of his oracle against Babylon, Isaiah turns back to Israel and proclaims the Lord’s mercy and love:
14 The LORD will have compassion on Jacob;
once again he will choose Israel
and will settle them in their own land.
Aliens will join them
and unite with the house of Jacob.
2 Nations will take them
and bring them to their own place.
And the house of Israel will possess the nations
as menservants and maidservants in the LORD’s land.
They will make captives of their captors
and rule over their oppressors.
I had known Rick Childs and his brother Mitch my whole life. I would never have called them friends—they were just two guys I knew who were a year ahead me in school, and who I knew from basketball and baseball. But in those days, in the late Seventies, it was still pretty common to go through initiation (hazing) in public high schools, and one day it seemed like the entire Sophomore class had me backed into a corner. At least five or six guys wanted to do something fun with me (not the “ha ha” kind of fun but the “hey, kid, hang from this railing while we all step on your fingers” kind). I really didn’t know what to do. It was the only moment in my life when I truly and sincerely wished I were in a dentist’s chair instead of where I was. But out of nowhere, Rick Childs walked through his classmates and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Tim, just walk away from them. Nothing is going to happen. Not today; not tomorrow; not ever. Go home.”
I don’t even remember walking home. One minute I thought I was going to bleed from various extremities and the next minute my mom was asking me to set the table for supper. I don’t know if I ever even thanked Rick. It just happened that way.
That’s a little like what the Lord promised would happen for Israel. They were going to be in a tight spot, infinitely worse than any Freshman Initiation in public high school (I might’ve disagreed twenty-five years ago) but suddenly Israel’s very own Rick Childs—Cyrus the Mede—would just put his hand on their shoulder and say, “You know what? Just go home. Nothing else is going to happen to you. You can go home.” And they did.
3 On the day the LORD gives you relief from suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
How the oppressor has come to an end!
How his fury has ended!
5 The LORD has broken the rod of the wicked,
the scepter of the rulers,
6 which in anger struck down peoples
with unceasing blows,
and in fury subdued nations
with relentless aggression.
7 All the lands are at rest and at peace;
they break into singing.
8 Even the pine trees and the cedars of Lebanon
exult over you and say,
“Now that you have been laid low,
no woodsman comes to cut us down.”
What are the worst things Israel could remember suffering? The “cruel bondage” in verse 3 is the exact expression that occurs in Exodus 1:14 describing life in Egypt before Moses came to lead them away. “Turmoil” is the final word Job used to describe his troubles before his friends began to open their mouths (Job 3:26)—turmoil from which only God could bring an end. “Suffering” is the word God used to describe Eve’s labor pains because of the curse given in the Garden of Eden (“pains,” Genesis 3:16)—suffering which only the forgiveness of sins can end.
The end of Babylon would mean an end to Israel and Canaan’s fear—even the trees wouldn’t be scared anymore. The true peace is the peace that God brings into the world.
9 The grave below is all astir
to meet you at your coming;
it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—
all those who were leaders in the world;
it makes them rise from their thrones—
all those who were kings over the nations.
10 They will all respond,
they will say to you,
“You also have become weak, as we are;
you have become like us.”
11 All your pomp has been brought down to the grave,
along with the noise of your harps;
maggots are spread out beneath you
and worms cover you. (NIV)
It’s as if Isaiah pictures a macabre stage onto which the dead appear. The king of Babylon enters his tomb, and all of the dead are there to greet him. They do not grope for him with skeletal fingers, they do not stare at him out of hollow eyes; they do not advance in tattered remnants of dirty rags. They speak to him; nothing more.
The punishment of hell is not something for the dead to inflict. It is not something for the demons to execute. It’s not even something for the devil to bring about. The devil and his angels will suffer every bit as much—no, far more than—any human being sentenced to eternity there. But the dead greet Babylon’s king with their words of accusation.
Of course, incredibly, it is possible that the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar himself, may have escaped the punishment of hell, because of the grace of God and the ministry of the prophet Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was led to confess about God: “His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:3).
It is only by the grace of God that any one of us is saved. Because of his love and mercy, he brings the gospel into our hearts, and there it does its spectacular miraculous work. Just when we thought we were doomed to suffer for all eternity, Jesus Christ walked up and put his hand on our shoulder and said, “You know what? Just come home. Nothing is going to happen to you, ever. Today I am making you my friend. Come home.”
Thanks, Rick. And thank you, Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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