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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 24:4-13

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 15, 2008

Job and his friends sat facing one another. The three men who had known Job and called him friend for so long were at a loss. All of their wisdom, all of their reason had been thrown up against the wall of Job’s integrity and been thrown back at them. Job’s last word to them was an oath in which he recalled the very curse God laid onto Adam and his descendants in Genesis 3:18: “thorns and thistles for you.” Job did not claim to be sinless, but to the accusations of his friends, he maintained that he was without guilt, or else: “let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:40).

The withering of the land was another way of looking at death and the destruction of the world. When the crops would not grow, the people had to pull up their stakes and journey to where they could find food, sometimes in Egypt (Genesis 12:10, 42:5, 43:1; Psalm 105:16), or in Moab (Ruth 1:1-2), or even in Philistia (Genesis 26:1). But what about on the Last Day, when there will be nowhere to run to?

4 The earth dries up and withers,
     the world languishes and withers,
     the exalted of the earth languish.
5 The earth is defiled by its people
     they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
     and broken the everlasting covenant.
6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
     its people must bear their guilt.
Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up,
     and very few are left.

The curse was given as a warning many times. The curse for rejecting the covenant was destruction (Leviticus 26:25-45; Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Deuteronomy 28:15). But the curse in this case was the destruction of the whole world. So who was the “very few…left” to be? There is nothing for us to do but keep reading. But what will be the answer?

7 The new wine dries up and the vine withers;
     all the merrymakers groan.
8 The gaiety of the tambourines is stilled,
     the noise of the revelers has stopped,
     the joyful harp is silent.
9 No longer do they drink wine with a song;
     the beer is bitter to its drinkers.
10 The ruined city lies desolate;
     the entrance to every house is barred.
11 In the streets they cry out for wine;
     all joy turns to gloom,
     all gaiety is banished from the earth.
12 The city is left in ruins,
     its gate is battered to pieces.
13 So will it be on the earth
     and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
     or as when gleanings are left after the grape harvest. (NIV)

As we read these difficult verses, we notice that they are not spoken against any one nation, but against all nations on earth. Some of these things had happened before and would happen again: the withered vine (Joel 1:12), the desolate city (Lamentations 5:18; Joel 2:13; Zephaniah 2:13), the barred entrance (Lamentations 3:9), the “gloom” which is really a desert wasteland (Job 24:5, 39:6), the battered gate (Nehemiah 2:13). Now all of these happen to everyone. There is no other way to take this passage except as a prophecy and a warning of the coming Last Day. James used words like these when he urged us to repent: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:9-10).

It is the promise of “the very few” that gives us hope. God spares some because of his grace, even though we all deserve his wrath. We repent because we are terrified of God’s judgment, like Haman quaking in his boots (Esther 7:6). But we also repent because of grief, because we know the Lord we have sinned against, like Ezra (Ezra 9:6) and like Peter (Matthew 26:75). But God is forgiving, and God is merciful. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

Our hope is in the Lord, who has forgiven our sins, and whose love lasts forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.