The apostle Paul spoke to the Romans of the “goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). These are in response to spiritual choices. He said that those who stayed faithful and built their lives on God himself could expect blessings, but those who “fell” and rejected Him would see God’s judgment. This is much like Isaiah’s message years before. His prophecies to the people of Judah began at King Uzziah’s death in 739 bc and lasted for some sixty years through the reigns of Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Isaiah constantly thundered how the people should choose God and His ways and not follow man or nations — to give glory to God. But they often ignored him.
It should not surprise us that Isaiah and Paul give essentially the same message, as it follows the message God has given to us all since He created the world. In Genesis 1:1 the significant words are “God created the heavens and the earth,” but for what purpose? To give glory to God! Humans, once created and free to choose, were commissioned to “have dominion” and “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). Why? To inhabit the earth and spread the word about God’s glory.
On man’s end, these plans went awry in Eden and have been slipping ever since. Humans chose self, and severity, but God’s original plan is still in place: Have dominion, focus attention on the goodness and mercy of God, and spread the word about His glory.
God has all glory; He needs nothing from us. So what is He asking for when He asks for glory? When we freely acknowledge His eternal glory (His perfections in love, righteousness, power, goodness, wisdom), we are getting others and ourselves on the right track. We are essentially lining up with reality. Contrary to what we may see in society today, it is good to be real!
However, messages about God’s glory come with warnings, and Isaiah was one of His heralds.
Isaiah spoke with authority. His name is literally Yeshu Yahu, a different form of Joshua, which means “the Lord is salvation” and is the Hebrew form of the name Jesus. Isaiah, well named, wanted the people of Judah to know God is salvation and that salvation can be found nowhere else. The penalty for missteps would be severe, just as Paul told the Romans.
In his prophecy, Isaiah often used the terminology “the day of the Lord,” referring to several local judgments on his contemporaries, but also to the great day at the end of time when all nations and people would be judged. In 2:19 Isaiah prophesied that people will be hiding in caves while the earth trembles. In 51:6 he showed that everything is impermanent — earth, sky, and inhabitants; only God’s salvation is everlasting. And he warned against confusing dark with light or evil with good (5:20) or scoffing at judgment as bondage would increase (28:22).
Isaiah 13:9-13 announces terrifying judgment during this day of the Lord. It will be cruel. The sun and moon will be darkened, humanity will answer for their wickedness, and even the earth will be moved out of place in response to God’s “fierce anger.” This prophecy, first directed against Babylon, was used by Jesus in His end-time remarks (Mark 13:24-37; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).
How are we to bring such earth-shattering images to bear on our modern behavior? How can we exist faithfully while walking with so many who scoff at anything except their personal stories, stealing the glory from God?
We get our answer from those committed to the Reformation. Central to it was the desire not to see anything more important than God himself and His purposes — to glorify God alone. Churches, church leaders, governments, statesmen, worlds — all are insignificant when compared to Yahweh, the everlasting “I AM.” When God gave this redemptive name to Moses on Mount Horeb (Sinai), He was saying, “All the things you have heard — what great nations have done, the powerful men who lead them — are insignificant. I exist. That is all you need to know.”
When we consider this, each Christian has something to point to in God’s glory. Some will ignore us, scoff, or even attack as they did in Isaiah’s day, but we should continue to point. If our eyes are fixed on the Lord (Hebrews 12:1, 2), then we are prepared to share His message.
From the Reformation we often mention the cry sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone” — our authority for faith and practice), but do we also remember soli Deo gloria — “All glory to God alone”? Isaiah made it clear: We seek to rely on God alone not only because of His worthiness but also because the alternative is untenable.
With all the fury of Isaiah’s prophecies, we might miss the main message. God is merciful and His goodness is great, and He waits for the opportunity to show His lovingkindness (30:18; 63:7).
One of the famous passages in this book is 11:6-9: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb . . . And a little child shall lead them . . . For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord. . . .” This is likely an image of the millennium but is also a clear picture of what will be true one day: All enmity will be contained. Nothing will be left but harmony, peace, and the working out of God’s glory and love throughout eternity.
As we see the world increasingly rejecting the Lord, what should our attitude be? For sure, not like a dog I once heard about. He thought he was a hero, but he actually was misguided. His master lived close enough to an airport that when a plane took off, the dog would run to the fence, barking furiously. He would follow the path of the airplane across the yard to the opposite fence, barking out warnings until the plane began disappearing into the distance. Then he would trot back to the back porch, tail wagging, smug in knowing that he had protected his master and averted another catastrophe.
We shouldn’t be this barking dog. Although our concern for the world is well placed, our attitudes should be shaped, not by a fixation on end-time severity but by mercy, to be as sorrowful as Jesus was when the world rejected Him (Matthew 23:37-39). We should realize that God is responsible for handling catastrophes and judgment; we aren’t. Our worry about the godlessness of society may be inhibiting our message. God wants us to be faithful while we are in faith. Like the dog, our “barking” may not be doing any good.
Isaiah told us that “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (30:15, NIV). He said to be reasonable and realize that though our “sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” and that when we obey, we will “eat of the good of the land” (1:18, 19).
As Christians, when we hear promises like these, we immediately think of the Messiah. Isaiah did too, as several of his “servant songs” reveal a suffering servant who will come to our aid. The clearest is in Isaiah 52:13—53:12. This remarkably exact promise of Jesus’ coming tells us the details of His suffering over seven hundred years before He walked the earth. However, with suffering comes victory, as the prophecy says: “He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted . . . surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried . . . He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (52:13; 53:4, 12, NASB).
God purposed His creation to give Him glory from the beginning, but it has been wayward. Because of humankind, it has fallen. But God also provided a solution in His Son. It really is finished (John 19:30)! Our commission is to continue to bring His promises to the world, to have faith when everything else shakes, and to realize that the message He offers transcends any human messenger. He will break through to those hearts He has prepared.
We cannot leave Isaiah without remembering God’s invitation to a banquet, mentioned in 55:1-3: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters . . . Come, buy and eat . . . without money and without price. . . . Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you” (see also Revelation 22:12-21).
We must take Isaiah seriously when he speaks of God’s judgment and severity, but should we also be receptive when he relays God’s goodness and His promises? With these words before us, we return to Paul and the end of Romans 11, rejoicing in the God who offers goodness and mercy to all who will: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (v. 36).
We choose goodness!
Dr. David Downey writes from Fort Worth, TX.