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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 34:1-4

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 14, 2008

Judgment Against the Nations

34 Come near, you nations, and listen;
     pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
     the world, and all that comes out of it!
2 The LORD is angry with all nations;
     his wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
     he will give them over to slaughter.
3 Their slain will be thrown out,
     their dead bodies will send up a stench;
     the mountains will be soaked with their blood.
4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved
     and the sky rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
     like withered leaves from the vine,
     like shriveled figs from the fig tree. (NIV)

Some people find prophecies like this one hard to read and hard to hear. It’s not the sort of thing we would normally expect to hear from our pulpits. But here it is, a part of God’s holy word.

The prophecy about the sky rolling up like a scroll is a reminder that at the end of the world, all things will come to an end, and there will be nothing to distract us in our relationship with God as we stand in the judgment. Solomon used this kind of language about growing old, but it’s a reminder of the Last Day, too: “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain” (Ecclesiastes 12:2). Believer and unbeliever alike will be judged (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

After a person reads through the Bible a time or two, you get to become familiar with these prophecies of judgment and condemnation. And hopefully—perhaps today’s passage will help—you will begin to get a new perspective on these paragraphs of God’s word. These warnings from the Lord are the kind of thing that children love to hear on the playground. Picture the scene: Depressed and frightened children (who don’t even fully realize that they are depressed and frightened) are truly being terrorized by a bully. They have come to accept this as normal, because, being children, they don’t know what life would be like without a bully on the playground or in the hallways.

Then, as if out of a dream, the teacher catches the bully in the act, and verbally lays into that bully. She puts him in his place. She rants and raves at him, threatening detention, expulsion, and all sorts of consequences. Then she marches him off to the principal’s office and the other children all cheer.

That is the scene before us. God is calling out unbelievers and laying into them, and he is letting his shouts and threats fall on our ears, too, so that we will not forget that he is in control. He is the one they must fear, and out of love for us, he lets us hear him, too.

The believer can read passages like this one and be motivated to do one of several things. We can, of course, praise God for his control over the universe (“the Lord surrounds his people, now and forevermore,” Psalm 125:2). That’s always appropriate. We can also be reminded to repent of our own sins, and urge our loved ones to do the same (“this is a stiff-necked people; forgive our wickedness and our sin,” Exodus 34:9). God’s law always drives us to repent. But we can also be motivated to reach out to those God has spoken out against, and share the gospel with them. While they still have breath, we can share the word of God with them: “Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath,” 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

We are always able to proclaim our loving God to ears that need to hear about him.

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.