The Pain of Rebellion
by Jack Wald | September 2nd, 2018

Isaiah 1:1-9

Isaiah is the first of the prophets in our Bible and is viewed as the greatest of the prophets. Isaiah is the second most quoted book in the New Testament. What is the most quoted book? The third most quoted book? In the New Testament there are 68 quotations from the Psalms, 55 from Isaiah, and 44 from Deuteronomy. Jesus referenced Isaiah eight times in his teaching.

Who was Isaiah? This book of the Bible begins (Isaiah 1:1)
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Isaiah was the son of Amoz who, according to rabbinic tradition, was the brother of Amaziah, King of Judah. This made Isaiah a member of the royal family. He was a married man with children, probably a resident of Jerusalem, and became the court preacher. What is clear from his writing is that he was a literary genius. The literary devices that characterize Isaiah’s book make it a great masterpiece of Hebrew literature. His vocabulary stands out for its richness. Ezekiel uses 1,535 words; Jeremiah 1,653; the Psalmists 2,170; while Isaiah uses 2,186 different words. In his writings he is revealed to be a great orator and poet.

His name means “the Lord saves,” and this is a great name for Isaiah’s book since it so beautifully presents the message of salvation. For the beauty and power of his writing about salvation, Isaiah is called “the Paul of the Old Testament.” (This is meant as a high compliment, although perhaps in heaven Isaiah prefers to call Paul “the Isaiah of the New Testament.”)

In briefest terms, Isaiah can be understood by Three Empires, Four Kings, Two Crises, and Three Messianic Portraits.

The three empires that affected Israel/Judah were Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt.

Over the years of Israel’s history, its fortunes rose and fell depending in large part on the strength of these three empires. These empires had strong rulers and weak rulers. When there were strong rulers, they expanded their influence and extended the boundaries of their control. When the leadership of these empires was weak, the surrounding countries and cities experienced periods of peace. If you draw lines between the capitals of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt, Jerusalem is where those lines intersected. So when there was a strong ruler in Assyria or Babylon, Jerusalem came under pressure.

Isaiah was prophet under four kings: Uzziah, his son Jotham, his son Ahaz, and his son Hezekiah.

As a young man Isaiah witnessed the rapid development of Judah into a strong commercial and military state. The reign of Uzziah coincided with weak Assyrian leaders and so Judah attained a degree of prosperity and strength unseen since the time of Solomon. Walls, towers, fortifications, a large standing army, a port for commerce on the Red Sea, increased inland trade, tribute from the Ammonites, success in war with the Philistines and the Arabians—all these became Judah’s during Uzziah’s long and prosperous reign of 52 years.

But along with power and wealth also came greed, oppression, religious formality and corruption. Prosperity increased and piety decreased. When Jotham took the throne after Uzziah died, the prosperity continued but then Assyrian power grew and began to assert itself.
There were two major crises in the life of Isaiah that are associated with the third and fourth kings in Isaiah’s life. The first was under Ahaz when Judah was under pressure from the north, from the Philistines, and from the Edomites. Ahaz made a deal with Assyria, against the counsel of Isaiah, to enter into an alliance with Assyria in exchange for their taking care of the threat to Judah from the north. This was a short-term solution that had a long-term negative consequence. Ahaz was forced to become a vassal king of Assyria which was a turning point for Judah. For the first time in its history, the king of Israel/Judah was not in control. From this point on, the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah were under the control of Assyria and then Babylon.

The second crisis was under Hezekiah. Assyria conquered Damascus in 732 and Samaria in 722 and the two northern powers vanished as Isaiah had prophesied. Now Assyria was pushing toward Jerusalem and Egypt saw an opportunity to move against Assyria. Envoys from Egypt encouraged Hezekiah to form an alliance against Assyria. Isaiah counseled against this, but Hezekiah was not able to resist. The consequence was that Assyria made a ferocious attack on Judah and when Hezekiah saw he could not resist, he asked for terms. The terms strained the treasury of Hezekiah to the limit. But then the king of Assyria betrayed the pact and renewed his assault on Jerusalem.

Belatedly, Hezekiah took Isaiah’s advice and turned to God for help. Hezekiah and Jerusalem were rescued, the Assyrian invasions of Judah were over, and Assyria began its decline as Babylon rose in power. Less than one hundred years later, Babylon conquered Judah and took the residents of Jerusalem into captivity.

So, Three Empires, Four Kings, Two Crises, and finally Three Messianic Portraits.

The book of Isaiah is divided into three portrayals of the Messiah. 1-37 speaks of the Messiah the King; 38-55 of the Messiah the Servant; and 56-66 the Messiah the Anointed Conqueror.

It will take us three to four fall series of sermons to get to the end of Isaiah, so let’s get started.

Before we can fix something, we have to know it is broken. In the twelve-step recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is to admit there is a problem. When someone stands to speak at a meeting they say, “Hi. My name is Jack and I am an alcoholic.” Unless someone acknowledges that they are an alcoholic, the meetings and all the other things they talk about have little impact.

This is why, when Paul wrote his Romans letter to lay out God’s marvelous plan of salvation, he began by making those who heard or read his letter aware of their sinful nature. Before he could give the good news of God’s plan of salvation, he had to deliver the bad news: we are sinners in need of a savior.

In Ray Ortlund’s preaching commentary on Isaiah he gives this illustration. A professor at Boston College (Boston, Massachusetts in the northeast of the US) once asked members of his philosophy class to write an anonymous essay about a personal struggle over right and wrong, good and evil. Most of the students, however, were unable to complete the assignment. “Why?” he asked. “Well,” they said – and apparently this was said without irony – “we haven’t done anything wrong.”

When Matthew, also called Levi, began to follow Jesus he threw a big party. (Luke 5:29–32)
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The Pharisees thought they were righteous and did not need to be rescued. Only those who recognize they are lost can be found. Only those who know they are drowning can be rescued.

Jesus went to the home of a Pharisee for a meal. As he reclined at the table, a prostitute came up behind him and began to wash his feet with her tears and then anoint them with precious oil.

Luke 7:39–47
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Simon desperately needed to be rescued but was unable to see the truth of his situation. Unfortunately, there are many in the churches of the world who more closely identify with Simon the Pharisee than they do with the prostitute. They view themselves as good, moral people who deserve the reward of eternal life in heaven.

Whether we understand the truth about ourselves or not, we are all sinners in desperate need of a savior. Blessed are those who understand this to be true.

When Isaiah began his book, before he could talk about the beautiful promises of God, he needed those who heard or read his writings to understand they were sinners in need of a savior.

He begins by talking about the broken heart of God.
2 Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

There is a lot of history in that statement, “I reared children and brought them up.” God’s patient work with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His work in the life of Joseph. Sending Moses to deliver Israel out of bondage. God had worked with Abraham to teach him that there was one God, not many gods. Now, in the wilderness, he had to teach the Israelites all over again that the many gods of Egypt would not save them. He taught them and led them into the Promised Land, Canaan. They were established in the land he had first promised to Abraham.

God warned them about not following the false gods of this land but this struggle with idolatry plagued Israel from the first days in Canaan all the way through kings and prophets until they were finally deported – the northern kingdom of Israel into Assyria and the southern kingdom of Judah into Babylon.

“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.

You can feel the pain of God as he sees the people he loves rebelling against him. Parents who have seen their children move into a life of drugs and alcohol know a bit about this pain. Parents who have seen their children rebel and suffer in bad relationships know a bit about this pain. Parents who have seen their children rebel and turn away from God know a bit about this pain. There is an emotional cost to the decisions we make in life. God’s heart grieves for the choices made by people he created to be in relationship with himself.

3 The ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

God’s children make animals look intelligent. Oxen and donkeys are not scholars, but they know enough to go find their master. They know where they will be fed.

But we know better. We rebel and go off to find our own food. We wander from one false god to another. We try to find meaning and satisfaction in money, in sex, in parties, in alcohol and drugs, in fame – only to find that these false gods are dead ends. They make great promises but fail to deliver.

God knows what is best for us. All we can see is the present, sometimes a bit into the future. But our few short years on planet earth are far shorter than they appear to be. God sees far beyond these years and grieves at the choices we make that distance ourselves from his love and cut us off from all that he wants to do for us in the future.

Isaiah reminds us that we are a broken people.
4 Woe to the sinful nation,
a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!

This is not a condemnation. This is not a judgment. This is a lament. Isaiah is grieving for the brokenness of God’s people.

God’s children have such an incredible promise; a rich and blessed life awaits them. But, alas, to Isaiah’s great sorrow, they are a nation that is suffering because of their sin. They carry the burden of guilt for their actions and inactions. They do evil rather than good, lusting for what they do not have and resorting to corruption to get what they want.

They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.

There is an expression, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” but this is exactly what we do. Given a choice, we choose ourselves. We want to lead and resist being led.

I have been reading in Numbers as part of my morning devotions and am struck by how willfully rebellious Israel was. God had sent Moses to rescue them from slavery in Egypt. God did incredible miraculous acts to bring them out of Egypt. Over and over again God miraculously provided for them – and yet they rebelled, rebelled, rebelled.

It is not in our nature to submit to authority, whether that is God or other leaders. Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother, became irritated because they did not like the fact that Moses had married a woman from Cush. So they rebelled. (Numbers 12:2)
“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

God spoke to them with a strong rebuke. Miriam’s skin turned white with leprosy and then Moses interceded for her healing.

After some time in the wilderness people were used to God speaking to them, leading them, and providing for them. And then dissension arose. 250 of the community leaders rose up in rebellion. (Numbers 16:3)
They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

These leaders had seen God act. They had seen God lead them and began to question why they needed Moses any longer. Couldn’t they cut out the middle man and be led by God themselves?

God made a public display of his judgment against them and the earth swallowed them up. Did this take care of the rebellion? (Numbers 16:41)
The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the Lord’s people,” they said.

The history of Israel in the wilderness is a history of grumbling, complaining, and rebellion.

We have an enormous appetite for rebellion. We do not like to be led. This is our great sin. Theft, murder, adultery – all these are terrible things. But our primary sin is far worse than these actions. Our sin is that we reject God’s authority over us and choose to be led by ourselves. We do what we want to do, when we want to do it. We resist restraints on our freedom to do what we think is best for ourselves.

What is the consequence of rebelliousness? Suffering!
5 Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
or soothed with olive oil.

Not only does our rebelliousness cause personal suffering, our community, our country suffers because of our rebelliousness.
7 Your country is desolate,
your cities burned with fire;
your fields are being stripped by foreigners
right before you,
laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
8 Daughter Zion is left
like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber field,
like a city under siege.

The result of our rebelliousness is that we suffer – and the land we live in suffers as well.

Isaiah looked out at his people and grieved over their suffering.

He saw the threats to Judah from the outside world. He saw the national insecurity. He saw the advancement of armies that would lay siege to Jerusalem.

God had led Israel into Canaan, the land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants – a land of prosperity and blessing, a land of milk and honey. And now, because of the rebellion of Israel, Isaiah saw the destruction and loss of this land. Isaiah saw the coming destruction and grieved for Israel.

Israel looked out at the people he loved and saw a bruised and injured people.

When we rebel, our head is injured. Our heart is afflicted. From head to toe we are wounded without anything to ease our suffering and bring healing.

In our rebellion we suffer the consequences of our rebellious acts and then live as though the injuries we carry are normal for living life.

People move from one sexual relationship to another, breaking the one-flesh relationship that is created in a sexual relationship. The damage to the soul from all these breakups is viewed as growing pains, the inevitable price for freedom. The pain from broken relationships is viewed as a sign of maturity. Marital infidelity results in broken marriages which inflicts the pain of divorce on the unfortunate children of the marriage. Once again, this is viewed as just part of the pain of growing up.

In the business world I learned that friends are friends, with some wonderful exceptions, only so long as the friendship is beneficial to moving ahead. Betrayal for the sake of getting promotions, speaking out against others behind their back to advance myself is just the reality of this life. What does this do to us? It makes us mistrust others, to be wary and careful in our relationships with others. The intimacy of friendships we need suffers.

When we make fame and fortune our idols, what we want more than anything else, we will suffer as we move into a life that is incapable of bringing the inner peace we so desperately need. Even if great fame and wealth come to us, we will inevitably sit in our fame and fortune and wonder why this has not brought us peace and contentment.

When we give in to temptation and buy our way into what we want, we suffer a conscience that is not at rest.

We walk around bearing the wounds of rebellion and God grieves because he never intended for us to have to bear that pain.

As a parent grieves at the consequences of bad choices their children have made, so God grieves, and Isaiah, his prophet, grieved for how far people fall from the life God desires them to live.

Our world is increasingly suffering because of our rebellion. Public civility has been on the decline for several decades. Public rudeness and crudeness is increasing, reaching the highest levels of political and civil life. We are moving toward a world where people increasingly think more of themselves than they do of others. We are approaching Paul’s description of the wickedness of human behavior in Romans 1 when (Romans 1:32)
they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

God’s heart is broken because of our brokenness but this passage ends with hope. God’s amazing grace will not be defeated.
9 Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.

I have preached before about what I believe to be the greatest miracle in the history of the church. I talked about all the heretical teachings of the church, all the false messiahs who have risen and pulled people away from the church, all the infighting as one church group fights for power and control over another church group, all the corruption in the church as pastors and other church leaders abuse their position to become rich, to satisfy their sexual urges.

The history of the church can be quite discouraging. So for me, the greatest miracle in the history of the church is not lepers being cleansed, not the dead being raised to life. The greatest miracle in the history of the church is that despite who we are, despite all our failings and stumbling, the church keeps growing.

When Peter made his great confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus told him, (Matthew 16:18)
I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

There have been bleak moments in the history of the church when it seemed that true faith had disappeared. There have been times when the churches were corrupt, when the churches did more evil than good, when it seemed true faith could not be found. But there have always been survivors.

When Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, there were survivors. When Babylon carried the elite of Judah, the souther kingdom, into captivity, there were survivors. We will get to this passage in Isaiah 6 later this fall, but I will share it now. (Isaiah 6:13)
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

There will always be a holy seed from which the kingdom of God will expand to rescue yet another generation.

Isaiah says we are broken, bloodied, and bruised because of our sin. Later on he will say that the Messiah will become broken, bloodied, and bruised for our sin. Because of Jesus’ love for us, our bones will be mended, our wounds cleaned, and our bruises healed.

Because of God’s great love for us, because of God’s great power, there will always be hope – for us and for our communities.