Part 1 – Dueling Moralities
Part 2 – Care of the Poor in Scripture
When we read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, we get a sense of both the personal nature of sin and the corporate nature of sin. Modern Christians, particularly conservatives who speak out and rally against abortion, understand corporate sin in at least that realm. Though most individual Americans have never had an abortion and few individual lawmakers have ever performed one, conservatives still understand there to be a corporate culpability for the killing of children soon to be viable outside of the womb by the lawmakers that allowed it and the voters who supported it.
The book of Isaiah gives us a depressing look into widespread, national sin that results in widespread, national judgement. It makes the case against corporate sin particularly around two areas: oppression and injustice against the poor explored in the last post (see Is. 1:17) and the idolatry of turning toward a god-less leader to protect from another god-less leader.
I spent the last part of 2016 reading through Isaiah. I understood parts but had questions about others. I noted the strong judgement of God, but I didn’t fully understand exactly what God was judging. But last month, my pastor preached sermons from Isaiah 7-9 during Advent and recommended a commentary on Isaiah by Motyer. That commentary is long and involved, but Motyer’s (and my pastor’s) discussion of the history of the northern and southern kingdoms through Isaiah was super helpful for understanding the specifics of the idolatry which dismantled what was left of Israel at the time.
Here is a historical summary. After the three first kings of Israel—Saul, David, and Solomon—the nation of Israel split. The ten northern tribes, also known as Ephraim or Jacob, were consistently wicked. The two southern tribes formed Judah. They were mostly righteous and still worshiped Yahweh. The Davidic king, King Ahaz, still reigned in the southern tribes at the start of the book of Isaiah.
The big enemy of all of the tribes of Israel was Assyria. The smaller enemy was Syria. The unrighteous northern tribes made an an alliance with Syria to fight Assyria. The southern tribes, Judah, rightly did not enter into this alliance. But Israel and Assyria threatened to invade Judah and set up their own king in place of Ahaz. As a result of this, Judah wanted to align with Assyria. They wanted to align with the worst enemy of all to ward off their other enemies.
Isaiah 7 begins God’s message to King Ahaz of the southern tribes of Judah. After describing the situation at hand, God told Isaiah to say to King Ahaz, “Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering stubs of firebrands” who plot harm against you. Then God says in v. 7-9:
This is what the Lord God says:
It will not happen; it will not occur.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
then you will not stand at all.
God tells Ahaz to calm down, be quiet, and hold firm. He did not need to make an unrighteous alliance out of fear, for God would see that none of their enemies’ threats came to pass. But in the next verses, we see that Ahaz’s mind was already made up. God graciously offered Ahaz a sign that God would keep them safe as He promised, but Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.” This is not a super spiritual response by Ahaz but one of a hardened heart. He is terrified, and he has made up his mind of how he will respond to the enemies at his door. There is no point in God offering him a sign, because he isn’t going to obey God either way.
The Lord promised to give them a sign anyway, the great comfort of Isaiah 7:14 – Emmanuel. But by the time this sign is fully recognized, the two kingdoms of Israel will be dismantled. “The king of Assyria is coming,” God says in v. 17. The one Ahaz embraced against God’s warning to save them instead became their executioner.
All this comes to pass as God said, and no part of the nation of Israel is in power again. When the virgin does conceive and has the Son we call Emmanuel, Israel is under Roman occupation, a marginalized people group who remained defeated after Ahaz sold his soul in terror to align with one who would only make it worse.
It takes no effort to see the relevance of the history of Israel in Isaiah to the choices made by enough evangelical Christians to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Two things affect whether we see the book of Isaiah as relevant instruction on how those of us grafted into the Vine should think about modern politics. The first of course is doctrinal persuasions. For those from a dispensational background, the history of Israel is informative but not definitive. We can learn from it, but we should not feel any obligation to be constrained by it. But for those with reformed convictions from Scripture, we fundamentally believe that we ARE Israel, grafted into the Vine as Paul describes in Romans 9-11. And God’s strong words to the king of Judah not to align with a godless oppressor to protect from another godless oppressor are of great importance.
The second thing that affects how we receive these instructions is the same thing that affected King Ahaz. It is simply the hardness of our hearts. Some Christians just can’t hear that voting for Trump as a reaction against both Hilary and ISIS was a rejection of God. And, the difference here is that they don’t attempt to logically defend themselves from Scripture or if they do, they only appeal to the godless nature of the alternatives. Their fear of the alternative is so great that they can not admit they chose against the commands of God.
Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots, and others in horses,
but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.
Of course, at each election cycle, we are choosing between the “lesser of two evils.” I was willing to vote for both Romney and McMullin, neither who claim orthodox Christian faith. The difference is the pains that the God of the Bible seeks to warn us against exactly what evangelicals did in choosing Trump. God specifically warns us against both oppressors and fools. And often, these two characteristics coincide.
God gives us much wisdom on recognizing a fool …
Proverbs 10:18 The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.
Proverbs 10:23 As shameful conduct is pleasure for a fool, so wisdom is for a man of understanding.
Proverbs 12:16 A fool’s displeasure is known at once, but whoever ignores an insult is sensible.
Proverbs 12:23 A shrewd person conceals knowledge, but a foolish heart publicizes stupidity.
Proverbs 14:9 Fools mock at making restitution, but there is goodwill among the upright.
Proverbs 14:16 A wise man is cautious and turns from evil, but a fool is easily angered and is careless.
Proverbs 18:2 A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.
… and warns us clearly on the results of associating with known fools.
Proverbs 13:20 The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 14:7 Stay away from a foolish man; you will gain no knowledge from his speech.
Proverbs 17:12 Better for a man to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his foolishness.
But, though the warnings from Scripture are grim, in the final post of this series we will reflect on the fulfillment of the promise God gave in the midst of the hardness of King Ahaz’s heart. The rest of Isaiah contrasts the utter destruction Ahaz’s hardness against God’s warning brought upon the people of God with the coming hope of restoration through the Promised One. We too who are struggling after this election season (whichever way we voted) can find much hope in the promises of God in Isaiah, as we who see the problems with Trump face the same temptations to guard ourselves from his evil through unholy alliances that have undone the people of God time and again.
- This episode of the Pass the Mic podcast with Andy Crouch is relevant to this discussion. I highly recommend it.