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.
By the wrath of the Lord Almighty
the land will be scorched
and the people will be fuel for the fire;
they will not spare one another.
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 their own offspring:
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.
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised. (New International Version)
There are times when God has some very hard things to say.
The Lord does get angry. And that’s a good thing.
The Love/Anger Reality of God
God’s anger and wrath are a form of God’s love. A heartless unloving god is fickle and unconcerned for much of the evil which happens in the world. Conversely, a loving God is not okay with wicked persons having their way. A loving God’s anger is kindled against injustice. A loving God doesn’t long put up with people oppressing other people, and taking advantage of them.
So, this is what the Old Testament prophets are all about – communicating and calling people to change their ways because they are harming others. And when the harming and the hurting is done purposefully and callously, then the ire of a holy God is raised. The Lord will not contend with this sort of attitude and action.
The language of judgment, in today’s Old Testament prophetic lesson, is an invitation for us to take a very hard look at the reality which was responsible for such an angry response from God.
The Social/Economic Reality of Both the Prophet’s World and Today’s World
God expects justice, to have people helping one another thrive and flourish in this life, to be concerned for the common good of all persons, not just some. In Isaiah’s day, all that God saw was greed and selfishness, injustice and corruption. And God was not okay with it. The unjust systems and practices were a failure of the people to live up to the Lord’s expectations for righteous living.
Sadly, issues of justice and righteousness are still relevant in our world today. Throughout the earth, this very day, the powerless are being exploited; the rich get wealthier at the cost of the poor; greed, corruption, outsourcing, and unjust legal systems are the norm and not the exception.
Much of the world gloomily faces racism, poverty, gender injustice, violence, famine, health disparities and inequities. And so called “religious” folk are at the forefront of ensuring that these evils continue to persist. So, why would not a holy God become infuriated at such a situation!?
The Religious Reality of Isaiah’s Day and Our Day
The religious reality of Isaiah’s day is not so far off from our own today. People were, and are, engaging in forms of spiritual and/or religious activity while being completely devoid of justice. Folks attend religious gatherings and believe in God – and treat others unjustly. They talk of faith in the Lord, while trusting in wealth and assets.
It was, and is, a world where people bow before their own works and ingenuity, focusing their attention on money and power. It’s a world with no room for the God of the Bible and true divine justice.
Far too many “believers” espouse unethical leaders and turn a blind eye to morally bankrupt leadership. Far too many religious folk want what they want, with no regard for the needs of others.
The Divine Reality of God’s Pathos
We as people need to contend with a God who is a profoundly emotional Being.
God is moved and affected by what happens in the world. The Lord’s anger and judgment is aroused because of God’s love and compassion.
God both binds up the injuries of people, as well as inflicts wounds. This ought not be surprising. After all, we readily understand, through our extensive healthcare systems, that medical interventions and surgeries are needed, and that they hurt.
A God of justice is, of course, angered by ethical violations. The Lord is rightly upset that the world often falls so woefully short of instituting a just social, economic, and political order for all citizens to enjoy.
Everyone must deal with the God who is not a brain-on-a-stick but has a deep heart for people everywhere to experience truth, justice, righteousness, salvation, and love.
Yes, there is a coming reality in which a new world will emerge. For the Christian, this occurs when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Complete deliverance from sin, death, and hell shall be realized.
But we aren’t there yet. We still need to cope with the world as it is today, and deal with it’s failures, shortcomings, and sins.
There is currently a massive need to be attentive to the needy, to proclaim the gospel to all nations, and to be involved in reforming unjust systems in our cities, communities, and countries. Salvation is meant for the whole person, not just the spiritual part.
Therefore, we have a choice as to how we will approach the world.
Will we withdraw from it? Will we engage it, only to take advantage of others within it? Or will we participate with God in transforming it?
- Will we hear the cries of the oppressed?
- Will we live out God’s commitment to the poor, the weak, and the sick?
- Will we work for economic and social equity?
- Will we break the bonds of injustice?
- Will we help people to reach their full potential?
- Will we preach good news?
- Will we suffer with those who suffer and show solidarity with the weak?
- Will we be truly spiritual folk who invest in the concerns of humanity?
- Will we take up our cross and follow the Lord in being suffering servants for a lost world in need of God and God’s justice?
The reality in front of us is one which demands confrontation, participation, and reformation. Will you do it?
Blessed and holy God and Father of all, it is your will that all people be gathered together as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of humanity with the fire of your love and with the desire to ensure justice for all. By sharing the good gifts that you give us, may we secure an equality for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May there be an end to division, strife and war. May there be a dawning of a just society built on love and peace. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.