The Divine Warrior (Isaiah 59:15b-21)

The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
    and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
    and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
According to what they have done,
    so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
    and retribution to his foes;
    he will repay the islands their due.
From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord,
    and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood
    that the breath of the Lord drives along.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord.

“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. (New International Version)

The Lord inhabits a lot of roles as God: Creator and Sustainer, Father and Mother, Helper and Healer, Sovereign and King, Shepherd and Spirit, and much more. In today’s Old Testament lesson, we see God as the Divine Warrior and Redeemer.

Readers of the New Testament will pick up on the warrior language in Isaiah’s prophecy (Ephesians 6:10-20). The Divine Warrior readies for battle by putting on armor: a breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. The Lord prepares to intervene, to make war on injustice, because there are no earthly human warriors willing to eradicate unrighteousness, redeem the oppressed, and establish deliverance for the needy.

The “bystander effect,” or “bystander apathy,” is a social psychology term that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. In experiment after experiment over the past fifty years, social psychologists have found that the more bystanders there are, the less likely any one of them will help. 

For example, researchers Bibb Latané and Judith Rodin staged an experiment in 1969 around a woman in distress. 70% of the people who were alone called out or went to help the woman after they believed she had fallen and was hurt. Yet, when there were other people around, only 40% offered help.

The social psychologists found that individuals find it far too easy to stand with their hands in their pockets, whenever there are other people around that could help and do what is right and just. 

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV)

The Lord noticed that justice had disappeared. God was plenty displeased with the lack of justice – and became downright disgusted when no one was doing anything about it. 

“Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.”

Ayn Rand

The rationalizations for not becoming involved and avoiding the work of justice in the world are legion: 

  • “Someone else can do it better than me.” 
  • “But what if I screw up?”
  • “I don’t have time for this.”
  • “How could I possibly make any difference?”
  • “That’s not my job.”
  • “They made their own bed, now they can sleep in it.”
  • “I don’t know what to do.”

God puts the responsibility for ensuring that everyone has what they need to live and thrive on us. We truly are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

So, let’s come back to the Divine Warrior image in the New Testament. Christians are to take up the armor of God, not only to protect themselves from evil, but also to fight the dark forces that keep people locked in systems of injustice. Read the following text from the perspective of ensuring justice for the common good of all people:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-20, NIV)

The under-privileged, the under-represented, the under-served, the disadvantaged, the deprived, the indigent, and many more groups of people exist because of ignorance and apathy toward their needs. Everyone, including you and me, need to own this and not rationalize why we cannot participate.

The prophet Isaiah lets us know that none of us are anonymous; we have all been given gifts as the people of God in order to serve the greater good. 

The Lord dispenses grace and glory primarily through active people who forsake being bystanders and respond to God’s call on their lives. 

Let’s not bring out the Divine Warrior because of our own negligence. Instead, let’s be attentive to justice, righteousness, and redemption. Perhaps then God will get a more positive press in the public square.

God of justice and righteousness, you care about the people of this world receiving the things they need to live and flourish in life. Inspire and empower all of your people, including me, to spread a spirit of service in our local communities, churches, workplaces, and everywhere we live and go, through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Isaiah 59:9-19 – (Un)Truth in the Public Square

Because of all this, justice is far from us,
    and righteousness beyond our reach.
We expect light, and there is darkness;
    we await a gleam of light, but walk about in gloom.
We grope along the wall like the blind;
    like those without eyes we grope.
We stumble at noonday as if it were twilight,
    and among the strong as if we were dying.
All of us growl like bears,
    and like doves we moan.
We expect justice, but there is none;
    we await salvation, but it is far from us.
Our rebellions are numerous in your presence;
    our sins testify against us.
Our rebellions are with us;
    we’re aware of our guilt:
    defying and denying the Lord,
    turning away from our God,
    planning oppression and revolt,
    muttering lying words conceived in our minds.
Justice is pushed aside;
    righteousness stands far off,
    because truth has stumbled in the public square,
    and honesty can’t enter.
Truth is missing;
    anyone turning from evil is plundered.

The Lord looked and was upset at the absence of justice.
Seeing that there was no one,
    and astonished that no one would intervene,
    God’s arm brought victory,
    upheld by righteousness,
    putting on righteousness as armor
    and a helmet of salvation on his head,
    putting on garments of vengeance,
    and wrapping himself in a cloak of zeal.
God will repay according to their actions:
    wrath to his foes, retribution to enemies,
    retribution to the coastlands,
    so those in the west will fear the Lord’s name,
    and those in the east will fear God’s glory.
It will come like a rushing river
    that the Lord’s wind drives on. (Common English Bible)

It is telling that when the word “politics” is used today, we immediately think of other words like, “polarized” “rancorous” and “corrupt.” The word “statecraft,” that is, the positive use of politics as a vocation in serving the common good of all persons, seems now like some anachronistic concept of the past.

Isaiah the prophet may have spoken over two millennia ago, yet his words are eerily relevant today, when he said, “Truth has stumbled in the public square.”

Politics, today as in Isaiah’s day, has become less about unselfish public servants promoting the welfare of citizens, and more about winning elections and possessing power. 

A party spirit rules the day, where, in the Unites States, Republicans and Democrats are more divided than ever with less and less ability to truly listen to one another in order to advance genuine justice, ethical righteousness, and social peace within both the nation and the world.

We, as citizens of both our local regions and of the world, must avoid getting sucked into the vortex of acrimonious speech and hate-filled rhetoric. 

Christians, especially those who desire to live and love like Jesus, need to be at the forefront of forsaking the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another; of envying power in order to satisfy personal agendas; and, of believing that malicious talk is justified if it accomplishes my wants and needs. 

We are not to keep looking for politicians, and everyone else whom we disagree with, to change. Rather, we ourselves are to practice repentance and allow the grace of God to transform and renew us. 

If what we speak in the public square is selfish and deceitful, we have no further to look than within, when it comes to turning from evil. A slow, careful, and serious reading of the prophet Isaiah is quite necessary. If it does not lead to repentance, we only have God’s displeasure to anticipate.

So, instead of continually insisting that others change or move over, let’s focus on us and seek the following:

  • Seek our better angels of humility, tolerance, and patience to guide our public discourse.
  • Open our eyes to see the image of God in others who are different from us and who see the world differently than we do.
  • Embrace civility and basic human respect for all persons, no matter who they are, as our presuppositions to all conversations.
  • Develop good listening skills so that we aren’t misinterpreting and misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.
  • Be willing, within our own communities of faith, to participate and worship together as the one people of God, without assigning other identities to each other which are not helpful.
  • Enlarge our hearts so that we are big enough people to hold the differing perspectives and politics of others without demonizing them.
  • Default to grace when we aren’t sure what to do say or do.

The Lord will not contend forever with injustice and unrighteousness in the world’s politics, including the extremely local politics of church, family, and neighborhood. Divine intervention cuts both ways, bringing deliverance and freedom, as well as judgment and retribution.

Let us, then, be found to be truthful and honest in all our words and ways; encouraging and helpful in all our public service; and seeking the peace of everyone in our own relational orbits.

Great God of truth and justice, you have every right to judge the world. Yet, instead of destroying the earth, you sent your Son to redeem lost humanity to yourself. May I, along with every creature you have made, come to our senses and speak truth with grace and act with integrity so that there is again righteousness throughout the land. Amen.