His Hand Is Still Raised
His Hand Is Still Raised
In all this, his anger has not turned away, and his hand is still raised to strike. (Isa 10:4)
Main Idea: God’s hand of wrath is raised to strike sinners with judgment, and the cross of Christ is the only refuge to which we can flee for escape.
- The Wrath of God: Pure, Holy, and Perfect
- Judgment 1: Stubborn Pride Results in Invasion (9:8-12).
- Judgment 2: Unrepentance Results in Leaders’ Removal (9:13-17).
- Judgment 3: Growing Wickedness Results in Self-Destruction (9:18-21).
- Judgment 4: Social Injustice Results in Conquest (10:1-4).
- The Only Refuge: The Cross of Christ
The Wrath of God: Pure, Holy, and Perfect
On July 8, 1741, a substitute preacher stood up to preach a sermon in the parish church of Enfield, Connecticut. The preacher chose as his text Deuteronomy 32:35 (KJV), “Their foot shall slide in due time.” It is a passage that makes plain the inevitability of God’s judgment on sinners in Israel. The preacher laid out his doctrine clearly: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God. By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty.” He then unfolded quite plainly the almost indescribable wrath of God against unredeemed sinners. The result of that sermon was extraordinary: people gasped in horror, pleading that there might be some escape from the seemingly inevitable wrath of God. Revival broke out that day in Enfield, and the sovereign grace of God rescued many from his own wrath through faith in Christ.
The substitute preacher’s name was Jonathan Edwards, and his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” became one of the most famous in the history of the American church. But some would say it was one of the most infamous sermons in the history of the American church, for many struggle to accept the underlying premise of Edwards’s sermon: that God has a perfectly righteous wrath against sin, and that he steps into human history to pour out that wrath whenever he chooses. In 1961 Phyllis McGinley lampooned this view of God in a poem titled “The Theology of Jonathan Edwards”:
And, if they had been taught aright,
Small children, carried bedwards,
Would shudder lest they meet that night
The God of Mr. Edwards.
Abraham’s God, the Wrathful One,
Intolerant of error—
Not God the Father or the Son
But God the Holy Terror. (McGinley, Times Three, 19)
But every thoughtful Christian must ask, Does God act in human history bringing out righteous judgments on sinners for their sins? And do those earthly judgments portend a far more terrifying and eternal judgment in hell? The biblical answer to both questions is yes. And both are laid out plainly for us in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 9:9–10:4 reveals a very clear declaration of a series of judgments God pours out on Israel for their sins. Four times in this section we have this powerful phrase: “In all this, his anger has not turned away, and his hand is still raised to strike” (9:12,17,21; 10:4). Isaiah is plainly saying that God’s wrath is not easily extinguished; it is relentless, terrifying, inescapable. Isaiah is saying to Israel, “Yes, God has struck you very hard. But he isn’t finished yet; there’s still more to come!” This repeated assertion teaches us much about the wrath and judgment of God. But it also leaves the profound question, How then will his anger be removed? What will lower his hand so that he is no longer poised to strike sinners like us? Ultimately, this chapter points powerfully to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only propitiation, the only atonement by which the wrath of God is satisfied and sinners like us reconciled to a holy God.
The Bible reveals that God is a passionate being, full of what we call emotions. He is not the God of the stoics, completely unaffected by the events of human history. Rather, the God of the Bible is a God filled with passions, including joy over a single sinner who repents (Luke 15:10). Our human emotions are a significant part of being created in the image of God. But because of sin, our emotions are badly polluted by the corruption of our hearts. This is especially evident in our anger, which James calls “moral filth” (Jas 1:21). Our anger is frequently like a mind-altering drug whose influence causes us to do shocking things for which we later tearfully repent. Not so with God. God is “slow to anger” (Exod 34:6) and exceedingly patient with sinners. But when the time comes for God to express his wrath, the display is terrifying and he is implacable, except by himself. Only God can stop God’s wrath. But unlike ours, it is always pure and holy, absolutely consistent with his character and his stated purposes. And he never has cause to repent later of anything he does in his anger.
By the time of Isaiah, God had been provoked for centuries by Israel’s stubborn sinfulness. In Isaiah 9–10 the time has come for God to raise his hand in anger and strike, and he does so again and again, with fearsome result. Four judgments fall on Israel in this chapter, always with just cause. And in the midst of it all, God calls on his people to turn to him in repentance and forsake the sins that brought about his wrath.
Judgment 1: Stubborn Pride Results in Invasion
God had warned Israel (“Jacob” or “Ephraim”) through his prophets repeatedly (v. 8) and has now brought some significant acts of judgment: “Aram from the east and Philistia from the west” have already devastated Israel (v. 12), leveling some buildings and cutting down some trees (v. 10). Amazingly, however, the people of Israel have not repented as they should have at this judgment (v. 13). Instead, they responded with arrogance of heart, saying that whatever was destroyed by these invasions, they would rebuild better than it ever was before. But the sinful nation has missed the point. These invasions did not come to improve Israel but to judge her for her many idolatries. God’s anger has not yet been removed, and his hand is still raised to strike: Rezin’s adversaries are coming—the terrifying Assyrians!
Judgment 2: Unrepentance Results in Leaders’ Removal
Having struck the people with invasions from the Arameans and the Philistines, God called on them to repent, to turn to him who struck them to seek the Lord of Armies (v. 13). This is a consistent pattern in Scripture: when God brings a judgment on his people, they are always called on to search their hearts and lives for the sins that caused that judgment and to return with grieving and repentance to the one who struck them. James 4:9-10 gives a clear pattern for us as Christians: “Be miserable and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” In Israel’s case there was no such grief-filled humbling. So God must bring stiff-necked people even more severe judgments: he cuts off the leaders who brought the nation into these sins to begin with. God decrees the decapitation of the nation, its leaders and officials cut off; he also removes the prophets who were supposed to speak God’s words to the people (vv. 14-15). As a result of their evil leadership, everyone is a godless evildoer. From the beginning of the history of the divided kingdom, the northern nation of Israel was led into sin by her first king, Jeroboam, who set up idols and commanded the people to go there to worship instead of to God’s only legitimate temple in Jerusalem. After him, a series of bad kings and false prophets continued to mislead Israel. So God raises his hand to strike them and cut them off. Yet after all this, his hand is not lowered; it is still raised for the next strike.
Judgment 3: Growing Wickedness Results in Self-Destruction
One thing that the Bible reveals about sin is that it metastasizes like cancer, growing larger and spreading rapidly throughout the body. Adam and Eve eat a piece of fruit in Genesis 3; Cain murders his brother early in Genesis 4; later in Genesis 4 Lamech takes two wives and murders a man for insulting him; and by Genesis 6 the thoughts of people all over the earth were only evil all the time. So it was in Israel. In Isaiah 9:18-21 we have a wickedness that burns like a fire and makes the whole forest go up in smoke. People don’t care about their relatives and neighbors; all hearts are grown cold and hard with sin (v. 19). Their lustful cravings for meat (v. 20) are so overpowering they are even pictured as feasting on their own flesh. This may be a metaphor for self-destructive brother-to-brother conflict, Manasseh against Ephraim, Ephraim against Manasseh, both of them against Judah. As they are living like this, God is scorching the land with his wrath (v. 19), trying to bring them to repentance. The wicked become like chaff for the fire, going up in smoke under the wrath of the Lord Almighty.
Judgment 4: Social Injustice Results in Conquest
In the final paragraph of this section, Isaiah exposes the social injustice that was enraging the Lord’s heart. The leaders were making unjust laws to strip the poor, widows, and orphans of their meager possessions rather than protecting and providing for them (v. 1). This outrageous injustice further inflamed the heart of God, moving him to bring judgment from far away—a distant nation would come and bring a devastating “day of punishment” (v. 3), and what would those mighty tyrants and oppressors of the poor do then? Where could they run and hide from the uplifted hand of Almighty God (v. 4)? What good will the plunder they have taken from the poor do them on that day when they are enslaved or killed? For God’s hand is still raised, ready to strike even more fiercely.
The Only Refuge: The Cross of Christ
In 10:3 Isaiah asks the question that should burn in every heart after reading this section of Scripture, with its repeated statements of God’s wrathful hand continually raised: “What will you do on the day of punishment when devastation comes from far away? Who will you run to for help?” Is there a refuge from the terrifying wrath of God? The judgments described in this section are actually as nothing compared to the infinite, eternal wrath of God poured out on sinners in hell (Rev 14:10-11). There, unforgiven sinners will forever experience God’s raised hand, striking them in righteous wrath for their sins. Is there a refuge to which we can fly to escape hell? The consistent teaching of this chapter and of the Bible is that only God can turn his own wrath away. But the magnificent good news of the gospel is that God has provided in Jesus Christ a refuge to which we can run and hide! Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2); he is the one who drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath (Matt 26:39). Flee to him! Escape to him! Christ is the only refuge, the only hiding place from the coming wrath.
Reflect and Discuss
- Why is it vital for us to understand properly the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God?
- Why do you think so many seek to undercut or change this doctrine by asserting that God has no such wrath against sin?
- How do the judgments of God against the nation of Israel stand as a permanent example of his character and his intentions for every nation?
- What is the significance of the repeated phrase, “In all this, his anger has not turned away, and his hand is still raised to strike”?
- What are the various judgments that God brings in this section of Isaiah?
- What are the reasons given for the various judgments of God in this section?
- How does this section of Isaiah reveal God’s passion for the poor, widow, and orphan?
- Why do leaders come under special judgment?
- How does this chapter point to the finished work of Christ as the only refuge from God’s raised hand of wrath?
- How is hell infinitely worse than any judgment of God that he works on the earth?