In yesterday’s blog, we explored the reason why the world has the ongoing problem of suffering and death. The Bible tells us that suffering and death are the results of sin. Adam’s sin brought the entrance of suffering and death, and until Jesus Christ returns and takes it away, this is what we are going to have to live with. Today I want to focus on one particular aspect of this topic by considering why it is that the nation of Israel has the ongoing problem of persecution, trials, and suffering.
When God called Abraham to himself, He promised special blessings to Abraham and his family (Gen. 12:1-3), the family that would later be called the nation of Israel. We call this special promise The Abrahamic Covenant. When God brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt at the Exodus some 600 years after Abraham, He made a covenant with that nation at Mt. Sinai (The Mosaic Covenant). In that covenant, God swore that the nation would experience great blessings as long as they stayed faithful to the covenant (Deut. 28:1-14). However, Moses also warned the people that if they were to apostatize and turn away from God, He would lay upon them the curses of that covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). The covenant promised exile from the land, but it also promised that one day there would be a full restoration of the nation (Deut. 30:1-10). This restoration of the nation of Israel is what the Scripture calls a “New Covenant” (Jer. 31:31-34).
Well, Israel’s rebellion against the Mosaic covenant began even while they were there at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 32), but God patiently endured the disobedience of the nation for many generations. After some 800 years of rebellion, God finally brought the final judgment on the nation by sending the Babylonians to invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem, and take the people into exile. God’s indignation was now upon the covenant-breaking nation. When will this anger turn away?
The prophet Isaiah dealt with this subect in a very special way in chapters 7-12, the section of Isaiah that some have called “The Book of Immanuel.” The subject first arises in chapter 5 where God tells the people that His fiery judgment was about to come upon them because of their persistent refusal to repent and turn from their sin: “On this account the anger of the LORD has burned against His people, And He has stretched out His hand against them and struck them down. And the mountains quaked, and their corpses lay like refuse in the middle of the streets. For all this His anger is not spent, But His hand is still stretched out” (Isa. 5:25). During Isaiah’s day, Assyria was God’s instrument for punishing His disobedient people (Isa. 10:5-6), but in a little over 100 years that instrument of judgment would become the nation of Babylon (Isa. 39:5-8).
Throughout chapters 7-12 one sees the recurring idea that God’s anger and indignation are not going to turn away from Israel until the end of the Great Tribulation Period when the judgment of God has finally produced repentant faith in His people and they embrace the Lord Jesus Christ in saving faith (Zech. 12:10; 13:8-9). God describes the Assyrian judgments in chapters 7, 8, and 9, but here is what we read in 9:12: “The Arameans on the east and the Philistines on the west; And they devour Israel with gaping jaws. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away And His hand is still stretched out” (the anger still has not turned away). Sin brings judgment and suffering, but sadly Israel was too hard hearted to turn from its sin, so again in 9:17 we read, “Therefore the Lord does not take pleasure in their young men, Nor does He have pity on their orphans or their widows; For every one of them is godless and an evildoer, And every mouth is speaking foolishness. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away And His hand is still stretched out.” How can Israel make the anger of God turn away and bring an end to all the suffering? Answer: She must deal with her sin (just as is true for every individual sinner). Sadly, despite all the suffering she still would not listen, and so we read, “Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh, And together they are against Judah. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away And His hand is still stretched out” (Isa. 9:21). Assyria was a brutal empire that afflicted great suffering on the Israelites. It was Assyria that brought an end to the northern kingdom with the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. The people of Israel paid a great price, and the southern kingdom Judah would also pay a terrible price for its sin. Despite all this chastising wrath, the people still would not listen to God, and so read the following: “Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives Or fall among the slain. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away And His hand is still stretched out” (Isa. 10:4). Will his anger ever turn away? The answer is “Yes,” but it will not be until the closing days of the Great Tribulation Period when the grace of God draws the broken nation to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. In that Great Tribulation Period, the anger of God will fulfill its purpose to bring Israel to repentance, and then God will direct it in full strength against those nations that had sought the destruction of His people. In chapter 10 we read, “For in a very little while My indignation against you will be spent and My anger will be directed to their destruction” (Isa. 10:25).
As we see, a day of restoration is coming for the nation of Israel, and chapter 12 is a hymn of praise that celebrates this day of restoration. It opens with the following words: “Then you will say on that day, I will give thanks to You, O LORD; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, And You comfort me” (Isa. 12:6).
A day of comfort is coming to the people of Israel, but that day cannot come until Israel has dealt with its sin so that the anger of God might turn away. By His grace, that day will happen. If Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, His anger has turned away from you, because God poured it out on Christ for your sake. For that reason, each one of us should give thanks to the Lord just like Isaiah.
Love, Pastor Tim