Is God a bully? Does he say, “Do it my way, or else I will beat you up?” In a sense, that is correct. If all one had of Isaiah were chapters 21-23, a casual reader might think God was a bully insisting on his own way.
Yes, indeed, God is sovereign. He will have his way. He insists that come the end, he alone will be exalted. As for being a bully, does a bully bend over backward calling people to change their allegiance from worshiping the enemy to following him? Does a bully incarnate and die on a cross to pay the cost of allegiance owed by all people? Do tyrants sacrifice themselves to bring blessing to others?
To the unsaved, God’s ways make no sense at all. In the Old Testament, God sends (or allows) calamity after calamity from mightier empires to fall upon Israel itself and the nations surrounding Israel. These devastations terrify. How can this possibly be a God of love?
Calling for Repentance
But God’s purpose has always been to call forth repentance. Even the mostly calamitous chapters from 21-24 provide this key.
Isaiah 22:11 And you procured to yourselves water between the two walls within the ancient pool; but you looked not to Him that made it from the beginning, and regarded not Him that created it. 12 And the Lord, the Lord of hosts, called in that day for weeping, and lamentation, and baldness, and for girding with sackcloth; 13 but they engaged in joy and gladness, slaying calves, and killing sheep, so as to eat flesh, and drink wine; saying, Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die. 14 And these things are revealed in the ears of the Lord of hosts; for this sin shall not be forgiven you, until you die. (CAB)
More Than Isaiah
Many who lived in Isaiah’s time perhaps heard no other prophet. We today have the entire Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. Fortunately, some passages explicitly explain God’s ways. One example is Psalm 107.
Psalm 107:6 Then they cried to the Lord in their affliction, and He delivered them out of their distresses… 9 For He satisfies the empty soul, and fills the hungry soul with good things… 11 because they rebelled against the words of God, and provoked the counsel of the Most High. 12 So their heart was brought low with troubles; they were weak, and there was no helper. 13 Then they cried to the Lord in their affliction, and He saved them out of their distresses. 14 And He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces… 28 Then they cry to the Lord in their affliction, and He brings them out of their distresses… 43 Who is wise, and will observe these things, and understand the mercies of the Lord? (CAB)
Lessons to Learn from the Evil That God Allows
I. Yes, God allows evil.
The human suffering predicted in chapters 21 to 23 are difficult to read. Unsaved people hold this seeming harshness of God against him. A saved person–that is, one who has repented, received God’s mercy, and switched their allegiance–takes time to prayerfully pause and consider these chapters in the light of God’s larger plan of hope and salvation for the whole world.
II. Why does God allow evil?
First, the evil that will befall the nations comes from another nation. God did not create Assyria’s evil, murderous heart. He just didn’t stop them.
Second, and more importantly, God allows evil and human suffering in order to bring people to repentance to himself. He is calling people to change their allegiance and return to him.
Isaiah prophesied that these things would occur before they occurred. He did this in order to allow Israel and the nations time to repent. Another portion of Scripture enlarges upon this. That book is Jonah. In it, God explains the “Why?” behind prophesy. God sent Jonah to warn the Assyrian city of Nineveh that they were about to be punished. They listened, repented, and God spared them. (A century later, however, Nineveh did fall to the Medes.) God’s motive always is to bring people to repentance (1 Kings 8:47-51; Job 42:6; Psalm 78:34).
III. What’s the Big Deal About Repentance?
1. First, God is good. No matter how harsh God’s ways may seem, the ways of the wicked are far, far harsher. To understand God’s goodness, read, for example, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). If all the world practiced these, how few would our collective troubles be!
2. On the other hand, the ways of God’s enemy, Satan, are twisted and foul. He covets his own power (Luke 4:5-7), lies, deceives, and seeks to kill (John 8:44). God will destroy Satan in the end (Isaiah 27:1; Revelation 20:2, 10). Unfortunately, those who have given their allegiance to Satan will go down with him. This is why God wants people to repent. He desires that no one should perish (Ezekiel 18:23).
3. In short, God blesses those who give their allegiance to him (Psalm 1:1-6; 2:12). God wants everyone to repent in order to receive his blessing (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; and Matthew 23:37).
To Be Continued: Summary of Chapters 21-23