I’m currently reading in the book of Isaiah, about 20 chapters in, to the part where God pronounces judgment on different nations. To be honest, it’s not a section I look forward to or revel in. In the past I probably would have summarized the chapters as:
Chapter 16: God judges Moab
Chapter 17: God judges Damascus
Chapter 18: God judges Ethiopia
And so on…
But this time, either because God is opening my understanding (something I have been praying for Him to do), or because I got a new ESV study Bible, or, more likely, those two factors are working together, I am seeing some things I never saw before.
It started with the footnote on chapter 18:4-6:
Working as silently as heat or dew, God frustrates human attempts at securing the world without him. He watches until the moment is right, and then acts. This is the truth underlying the appearance of human might in history. (ESV Study Bible, p. 1272).
Then I noticed a lot of things in chapter 19, focusing on Egypt.
In verses 1-4, the “idols tremble at his presence” and there is social unrest.
In verses 5-10, the Nile is dried up, affecting their economy and daily lives.
In verses 11-15, the wisdom of Egypt (which the ESV footnote says they were famous for) fails and “the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel.”
But this is not just dishing out judgment. It’s showing the futility of everything they trusted in, much like the plagues that occurred before the exodus of Israel from Egypt were not just random events but a triumph of God’s power over that of supposed deities. And why do that? Because that’s the only way they’d turn to Him, the one true God, the only One who could help them.
19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
All of the terrible things in the first part of the chapter were not just a matter of judgment, but they were an evidence of mercy, to open their eyes and bring them to Himself.
And someday, Egypt, once an enemy and an oppressor of God’s people, will take its place with Israel as a blessing:
24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”
A few take-aways I’ve gleaned from this section so far:
- God is not only behind history, always observing and evaluating what’s going on, but often orchestrating it.
- His purposes are mercy and redemption unless that mercy is spurned, and then there is nothing left but judgment. But God is patient and longsuffering, giving nations and individuals as much of a chance to repent as possible.
- Sometimes awful things that happen are not just a matter of His judgment, but of His opening eyes to false hopes and saviors to the only true one.
What does this mean for us in our day?
If these things are true in Isaiah’s day, they’re still true now. I see a lot of people, especially young adults, despairing over the state of the world. Sometimes it seems like God is not at work. But He is. He’s doing things we can’t see with larger purposes and on a grander scale than we can take in. Some day wrongs will be made right. We can trust Him for that and for every day until then. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray, speak out, or act – God often uses those efforts. But our dependence is on Him.
Also, there are times when everything we look to or rely on is taken away or fails us. That’s an opportunity to look to Him. That was my situation when I was saved: my family was falling apart, my parents were divorcing, we moved from everything familiar to a large metropolis, I had no contact with friends for a while. I felt like the rug had been completely pulled out from under me. I’d had encounters with the gospel and believed to an extent, but at this time everything crystallized for me. I became aware of deep spiritual need and cast myself on God in a way I hadn’t before. It’s not that God orchestrates problems in our lives to create a need for Him: rather, He strips everything away to reveal a need that was already there that we couldn’t see or hadn’t paid attention to. Sometimes He has to show us that nothing else is sufficient to meet that need before we’ll turn to Him. It may seem terrible and confusing and unsettling, it may seem like God is absent or doesn’t care. But He’s very much there, He does care, and He is acting in wisdom and mercy. He’s more than sufficient to meet any need we have.