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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 5:26-30

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, November 19, 2007

Something remarkable is coming in chapter 6. But as Isaiah finishes chapter 5, he has just left God with “his hand upraised” and “his anger not turned away.” Now God whistles for his judgment to come running.

26 He lifts up a banner for the distant nations,
   he whistles for those at the ends of the earth.
   Here they come,
   swiftly and speedily!

Luther thought this passage referred to the Romans, who attacked the Jews so thoroughly that the nation ceased to exist until the Balfour Declaration in 1917. However, it might be wiser to permit God’s message to describe judgment in general, and like so many things in Isaiah, this passage also speaks ahead to the final judgment of the Last Day.

27 Not one of them grows tired or stumbles,
   not one slumbers or sleeps;
   not a belt is loosened at the waist,
   not a sandal thong is broken.

The judgment comes in the form of a menacing army on the march. It is tireless. It is relentless. No part of it will delay (not a sandal thong is broken). Nobody stoops to tie his shoes or halts long enough to loosen its belt. As the prophet Habakkuk observed about the Babylonian crisis: “Wait for it: It will certainly come and not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

28 Their arrows are sharp,
   all their bows are strung;
   their horses’ hoofs seem like flint,
   their chariot wheels like a whirlwind.

The judgment is described now as if the volume is being turned up and the urgency becomes more and more intense. First we note the razor-sharp arrows that can pierce any defense (left to ourselves, we have no defense against God’s judgment). Now we see that the bows are ready to pull the arrows back and let them fly. The thunder of rushing hoofbeats ignites the terror that those flint-hard hooves will soon be beating and stamping over mankind, and the chariots they pull are as destructive as a tornado or a hurricane.

29 Their roar is like that of the lion,
   they roar like young lions;
   they growl as they seize their prey
   and carry it off with no one to rescue.

The volume and urgency and imminence of the advancing judgment grows to a new pitch: the roar of lions is now in our ears, lions bending down on their prey. (The word for “prey,” tereph, indicates a chunk of meat already torn from a carcass as in Psalm 111:5. The “prey” is now simply meat and has no more chance of escape than a drumstick on Thanksgiving Day.) The same picture of lions snarling and roaring at their mealtime is used for God’s judgment in Amos 3:2-8, where the prophet asks seven obvious questions to show that God doesn’t judge unless he has something to judge. In other words, sin has brought down this judgment; unrepentant sin.

30 In that day they will roar over it
   like the roaring of the sea.
   And if one looks at the land,
   he will see darkness and distress;
   even the light will be darkened by the clouds. (NIV)

Do we think that it’s a paradox, that the universe is so willing to carry out God’s wrath, even though we find it so impossible to receive his grace? We shouldn’t. The paradox has nothing to do with the universe (which always obeys God’s will) and everything to do with us. It is we and we alone who refuse him. The stones and the stars and the steers and the stew just exist because God wants them to exist for our benefit. But you and I are different. We’re made of the same material stuff as the stars and the stew, but we have a soul which sets us apart. And unlike the birds and the beasts, we have sin.

It’s our sin that has brought on this wrath of God, but it’s compassion for us that also sent God into motion on our behalf. He didn’t come into the world to rescue Jupiter from the foolishness of man. He didn’t come into the world to save the rainforest from our sinful destruction of his creation. He didn’t come into the world to save the antelope and the elephant and the wombat from our greed. He cares about those things, but he put them under our charge. It is we for whom Jesus died. It is we who have been saved from sin. It is we who have the promise of the resurrection. It is we—you and I—who have the comfort of God’s grace and the certainty of heaven.

The judgment will come. But we put our trust in Jesus and let the universe roll up and disappear around us. Heaven is what lies beyond. But in the meantime, like the Thessalonians, we need to keep from being idle (2 Thessalonians 3:6-7). We have charge of this world God has given us just as a child has charge of a quarter to put in the collection plate on Sunday morning. We have been given this gift to take care of, and we have the gospel to share with the people who live here.

The judgment is coming. The message is eternal life.

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.