Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Flee Babylon, All Arrogant Kings (Isaiah 13)


This chapter is heavy duty.

Up until now, Isaiah has been writing to Judah, condemning the nation for its corruption, warning of her coming destruction, and comforting her with the promise of a Messiah-Redeemer, who will her scattered remnant home and restore her in justice and righteousness. Isaiah 13-23 is a new portion of the book. The first twelve chapters are likely from Isaiah’s early years. This section of the book is from Isaiah’s middle years. In these chapters, Isaiah turns his attention from Judah and Israel to the nations surrounding her, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and Cush (modern Ethiopia), Tyre and Sidon, and Moab. Isaiah warns these empires that though they see, and some may rejoice in, the fall of Israel and Judah, the same God who judges the nation of God will judge them as well.

Though it may be difficult to read such portions of scripture, a passage like this one can give us great hope. We may be encouraged to remember God's sovereignty over the corruption of the empire of this fallen world. No matter how things appear to be now, justice will be done. The kingdom of God has come. The kingdom is coming. We long to see the growth of the living kingdom and the new earth fully realized.

It is right for us to deeply wish to see justice done, to see the wickedness of this world finally be burned away. In Revelation 18-20, we hear the cry of the righteous as they rejoice in the justice of the Great King, after the final fall of Babylon. The kings of the earth mourn her loss. The citizens of the kingdom praise God for the manifestation of his power and authority in her judgment.

Isaiah 13:9-11 (ESVUK)
Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

Here is the Lord's declaration of judgment on Babylon, the great empire in which God's people will live as exiles. Israel would live in Babylon as exiles and then be brought out by God back into their land. Celestial bodies usually represent the powers and authorities of the present age, and especially so in prophetic books. Isaiah warns of a day when all the great lights of the earth, the kings, governments, authorities, and judges, will turn dark at the blazing brightness of God’s judgment.

Today, to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven is to live in the earth that has not yet fully turned to justice. Like Israel in Babylon, we are also in a sort of exile. In both cases, God calls God’s covenant people to live as a blessing among their neighbours, to manifest the character of God to the world, to invite whoever would to leave the empire and join the forever family of the eternal kingdom.

God is just. Isaiah says God acts with vengeance upon evil.

Hard as this may be to consider, how much better this is than a God who would leave the world as it is. I could not believe in a good God who would leave us as we are, unconditionally loved though we may be.  There are girls born into this world who will live their whole lives as sex slaves and then die young. Everything is not okay. There are things in this world that are worth our fierce anger. A God that does not judge such evil is no God worthy of our worship.

Of course, in the light of such a just God, we ought to tremble. But why would we dare claim to follow a God that does not inspire such awe? We tremble in the presence of a God so just and holy that only God's very presence in human flesh could ever contain God's full wrath. We are free in the presence of God not because of some pass God gives to evildoers in the world. We are free in God's awesome, electric, transcendent presence about and within us precisely because God is sovereign, God is just, and by God's righteous judgment, vengeance has been had, and full redemption of all victims and perpetrators of oppression will be made.

God’s promise to act in vengeance means we don't need to. God’s judgment sets us free from the bondage to bitterness, resentment, and cynicism. We are free to forgive.

God's wrath was satisfied on the cross. Justice has been accomplished. All will be turned to right. We can forgive.

We can also be free to be people who love justice. We serve a God of justice, who loves justice. We can also love justice. God is a fighter. We can be fighters, too.

This freedom, however, is still a costly freedom. In the awe of God’s fierce judgment, we may be free to fight, but only ever as agents justified by God’s righteousness. No one of us is so holy on our own that we may dare to wield the sword of justice against another human being. By the same standard that rulers, kings, and tyrants are judged, so may we be.

We may be tempted to excuse ourselves from the focused judgment described in these chapters because we are not the kings and governments of these corrupt empires. We should not be so quick to justify ourselves. First of all, in a general way we have all been guilty of the same sins upon which these empires were built. We have all sought our own comfort at the expense of others. We have all chosen at some point to build our own kingdom or influence for the sake of our own glory or power or fame, maybe even using manipulation or conspiracy to do so. However, our own shared guilt with Babylon in Isaiah may be even deeper and more specific than this.

This writer and most who read these words are likely citizens of some kind of representative democracy. We have each been given a voice in the direction of our nation's policies and laws. We are privileged. We are all little Caesars, little Pharaohs in our world. Have we used our authority, our privilege, to make a more just world for the vulnerable and marginalized? What have we done to minister greater mercy and compassion in our nations, in our communities, our neighbourhoods? We all live in Babylon. We are all guilty.

Therefore, Isaiah warns, challenges, and invites all arrogant kings and queens of all levels of privilege and power to flee Babylon and enter the rest of the Kingdom. The judgment of God on those who have made gods of themselves is swift and terrible. Those who refuse to lay down their arms before the Almighty are swept away. The fear of The Lord is a sure foundation, not that we remain in God for our fear of God, but that the love of God in which we are made safe is made all the more sweet for the knowledge of the power of God’s terrible wrath. We are motes of dust before the awesome Creator.

We dare not lift our sword or stake our claim upon the earth in which we are but tenants of the only great landowner.

Only when we realize that we have nothing are we made free to, in God, have everything.

Next: Isaiah 14 - God Taunts The Empire
Thursday, July 10, 2014: 1 Peter 3 - I'm Too Sexy (For This Shirt): A Case For Real Biblical Modesty

Click the image for the entire series from Isaiah.

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