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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 9:8-21

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, December 7, 2007

The Lord’s Anger Against Israel

A well-known feature of the Old Testament is the Hebrew fondness for parallelism. Although the Greek language is ideal for piercing the very heart of an idea with a single word so that one cannot be misunderstood, Hebrew is a broader, easier language that sometimes requires a writer or speaker to “talk all the way around” an idea to be completely understood. An example occurs already in verse 8 below, in which a message that is sent against Jacob // falls on Israel—both phrases mean the same thing, but they each carry a slightly different color or flavor. We do it, too—that’s why your disc jockey will tell you it’s “5:45 AM” when your alarm goes off and then tells you right away that it’s “a quarter to Six.” It’s so that we don’t miss what’s been said.

Sometimes Isaiah doesn’t just do a thing the way others do it. Isaiah likes to do things REALLY REALLY BIG. He employs a chiasm (an ABC-CBA pattern) that runs all the way from chapter 40 to chapter 66. And he also uses a very large parallel thought here, not just within a verse or two, but for several chapters. The same ideas expressed in Isaiah 7:1 through 9:7 are now visited again in Isaiah 9:8 through 11:16.

In these three passages, 9:8-12, 9:13-17 and 9:18-21, Isaiah shows us God’s building anger at Israel’s sinfulness until God’s wrath over sin explodes and consumes the Northern Kingdom.

8 The Lord has sent a message against Jacob;
it will fall on Israel.
9 All the people will know it—
Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria—
who say with pride
and arrogance of heart,
10 “The bricks have fallen down,
but we will rebuild with dressed stone;
the fig trees have been felled,
but we will replace them with cedars.”
11 But the LORD has strengthened Rezin’s foes against them
and has spurred their enemies on.
12 Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west
have devoured Israel with open mouth.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

Ephraim (verse 9) was not the prominent tribe because of birthright. Genesis 48:5 tells us that Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own and gave them special status by grace; not because they deserved it. And now their tribes, who had known God’s grace all along, were rejecting God’s word and were rewriting God’s word. The prophet Amos had said, “Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up.” (Amos 5:2). But now Israel was saying, “A few bricks are down, but we’ll rebuild. Never mind that God wants us to repent. We’re fine just the way we are….”

So God permitted enemies to enter into Israel to cause the people to turn back to the Lord. Amos 1:6 tells us that the Philistines “took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom.”

But they didn’t turn back to the Lord—and the Lord’s fist was still poised in the air…

13 But the people have not returned to him who struck them,
nor have they sought the LORD Almighty.
14 So the LORD will cut off from Israel both head and tail,
both palm branch and reed in a single day;
15 the elders and prominent men are the head,
the prophets who teach lies are the tail.
16 Those who guide this people mislead them,
and those who are guided are led astray.
17 Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men,
nor will he pity the fatherless and widows,
for everyone is ungodly and wicked,
every mouth speaks vileness.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

Now God’s wrath becomes more intense. Not only do enemies attack, but Israel’s “head and tail” are removed. Isaiah makes sure that everybody knows what he means: “the government is the head, the lying prophets are the tail.” It’s so clear that you don’t even need a cartoon.

The danger is that the people who rejected God were leading the people—and so the people were led astray. It’s something like parents today who declare that they want their children to decide for themselves whether they will join a church or be religious. But like learning grammar or table manners or good exercise habits, the pattern of going regularly to church needs to be fostered in our young people. And like nutritious food, our children need the saving truth of the gospel just as much as they need milk. I see this most vividly in people on their deathbeds, who’s minds and memories are fading fast, but who cling joyfully to songs and Bible passages they learned as children—not as teenagers or college students.

In Israel, “every mouth speaks vileness.” Where do we think the children learned it? And the Lord’s fist was still poised in the air…

18 Surely wickedness burns like a fire;
it consumes briers and thorns,
it sets the forest thickets ablaze,
so that it rolls upward in a column of smoke.
19 By the wrath of the LORD Almighty
the land will be scorched
and the people will be fuel for the fire;
no one will spare his brother.
20 On the right they will devour,
but still be hungry;
on the left they will eat,
but not be satisfied.
Each will feed on the flesh of his own offspring:
21 Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh;
together they will turn against Judah.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised. (NIV)

If the wickedness was burning like a fire, how much hotter would the Lord’s wrath burn? Ephraim and Manasseh had fought one another before (Judges 12:4). But now they were coming to the point of no return. There would be no one left to fight. That’s what sin does—it turns us on each other because we can’t stand to believe that we might just possibly be at fault ourselves. Sin so totally consumes us that we become blind to what it does inside of us.

That’s why the generosity and grace of our Lord overwhelms us so much. We “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2). Our Triune God has lifted us out of the trap of our sins and placed us into his loving lap. That’s why we serve him. That’s why we praise him. That’s why we share his gospel with our children and with the world. That’s what life is all about.


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.