Sour Grapes

The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, said:

I promise to set the people of Judah free and to lead them back to their hometowns. And when I do, they will once again say,

“We pray that the LORD
will bless his home,
the sacred hill in Jerusalem
where his temple stands.”

The people will live in Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah. Some will be farmers, and others will be shepherds. Those who feel tired and worn out will find new life and energy, and when they sleep, they will wake up refreshed.

Someday, Israel and Judah will be my field where my people and their livestock will grow. In the past, I took care to uproot them, to tear them down, and to destroy them. But when that day comes, I will take care to plant them and help them grow. No longer will anyone go around saying,

“Sour grapes eaten by parents
leave a sour taste in the mouths
of their children.”

When that day comes, only those who eat sour grapes will get the sour taste, and only those who sin will be put to death. (Jeremiah 31:23-30)

God can and does distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. And God reassures his people that his punishments against the guilty are not forever. Someday life will be good again; the Israelites will go home and return to their former lives, like a criminal released from prison. Once again, they will go about their business and do what they used to do. When that day comes, they will stop imagining that God is just out to get them, or that his punishments are not distinguishing between those who deserve it and those who don’t.

It was part of Israel’s legal code that “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each of you will die for your own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16). God does not violate his own commandments, and yet a false proverb had become widely quoted in Israel that suggested God punished children for what their parents did. God, through Jeremiah, reiterates reality: only those who do wrong get punished for it. There’s no such thing as collateral damage with God’s punishments. He only brings his judgment upon those who deserve it.

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“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
pursuing their own imaginations—
a people who continually provoke me
to my very face,
offering sacrifices in gardens
and burning incense on altars of brick;
who sit among the graves
and spend their nights keeping secret vigil;
who eat the flesh of pigs,
and whose pots hold broth of unclean meat;
who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me,
for I am too sacred for you!’
Such people are smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that keeps burning all day.
“See, it stands written before me:
I will not keep silent but will pay back in full;
I will pay it back into their laps—
both your sins and the sins of your fathers,”
says the LORD.
“Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains
and defied me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
the full payment for their former deeds.” (Isaiah 65:1-7)

God doesn’t like self-righteousness, human righteousness is never really righteous (Isaiah 64:6). Nevertheless, Isaiah offers hope to these hopeless, deluded people. Paul will quote Isaiah’s words in Romans 10:20 as he points out that although the Israelites have consistently been slow to accept God’s words, whether it was Moses or the prophets, and although God has offered the Gentiles the gospel message, God will not, and cannot reject his people.

Though God turned to the Gentiles, though God judged the people of Israel and sent them into captivity, though many of them rejected Jesus and wouldn’t accept Paul’s preaching, nevertheless, the Israelites remain forever God’s people. In fact, as the author of Proverbs pointed out, “the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:12; cf. Hebrews 12:5-6).

The Israelites had involved themselves in various pagan practices, ranging from how, what and to whom they offered sacrifices, to their consumption of forbidden, non-kosher food. God assured them that they would be punished according to their misdeeds, but at the same time, he offered them mercy and the chance for restoration—and not only to them, but to all people everywhere.

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The Sound of Trees Clapping

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.
It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the LORD’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.” (Isaiah 55:10-13)

Just as no one would write a car repair manual as a set of limericks, so the words of Isaiah’s poem cannot be read the same way as instructions on how to put together a newly purchased piece of furniture.

Isaiah promised the Israelites future joy and happiness, a time of abundance in contrast to their self-inflicted hardship that had left the land parched, stripped of all its wealth and people. Neither Isaiah nor his listeners expected inanimate objects to suddenly become noisy and animated. Isaiah’s point—God’s point—is that the suffering of the moment, the punishment of the moment, is just that: for the moment. Good times would come again, because God really did love them and his only reason for punishing them was because that’s what they had needed: it really was all for their own good and some day they would understand that. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Their happiness would be just as extreme as their suffering had been.

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No Cost

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.

“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.

“Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
A leader and commander for the peoples.
“Behold, you will call a nation you do not know,
And a nation which knows you not will run to you,
Because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel;
For He has glorified you.” (Isaiah 55:1-5)

The Israelites knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They had trusted in fantasies that could not save. Although Isaiah began his prophetic message with warnings about the coming judgment, later, he explained that God’s judgment was not the end of the line for them.

A parent might explain to his child that though certain privileges have been taken away, a change in behavior or attitude could lead to their restoration. The child is not left devastated, with no hope or understanding of how to restore the relationship or to get things back to the way they were.

So, God, being the ideal Father, let his people know that the judgment they faced was not the end to their relationship with him. Instead, they have the means to make it even better than it was before. A nation that had lost sight of God, would, thanks to God’s punishment, find him. Following Israel’s seventy year captivity in Babylon, they never again felt a temptation to turn to other gods. From that time on, the Israelites remained faithful to their belief in one, and only one God. God’s commitment to them remained unbroken, however, regardless of their behavior. God had been merciful to David despite his sins. Therefore, God would be merciful to Israel, too.

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The Day of the Lord

Behold, the day of the LORD comes,
Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger,
To lay the land desolate;
And He will destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not give their light;
The sun will be darkened in its going forth,
And the moon will not cause its light to shine.
“I will punish the world for its evil,
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will halt the arrogance of the proud,
And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
I will make a mortal more rare than fine gold,
A man more than the golden wedge of Ophir.
Therefore I will shake the heavens,
And the earth will move out of her place,
In the wrath of the LORD of hosts
And in the day of His fierce anger.
It shall be as the hunted gazelle,
And as a sheep that no man takes up;
Every man will turn to his own people,
And everyone will flee to his own land.
Everyone who is found will be thrust through,
And everyone who is captured will fall by the sword.
Their children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes;
Their houses will be plundered
And their wives ravished. (Isaiah 13:9-16)

Prophesies are often given as poetry to increase their emotional impact. God’s judgment against Babylon is rendered even more horrific thanks to that choice.

Like the Assyrians before them, the Babylonians were guilty of harming God’s chosen people. So the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians within the lifetime of Daniel the prophet, who had been carried to Babylon and served under Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, who saw a hand writing on the wall, would die at the hands of Cyrus and his Persian army.

Most of the time the words translated “world” and “earth” refer not to the planet, but rather a land—in this case, the land of Babylon. The “day of the Lord” is used to describe any time of God’s judgment. In this case, Isaiah employs this language against Babylon, predicting its downfall. The darkening of the stars, moon and sun that he describes are literally fulfilled in the destruction of the city: the flames that consume it, and the smoke that rises, blacken the sky—just as Southern California loses sight of the sun and moon during those periods when the fires rage every autumn. Isaiah had doubtless witnessed a few cities burn and so described the experience very vividly.

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Undue Credit

When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride. For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I have removed the boundaries of peoples,
and have plundered their treasures;
like a bull I have brought down those who sat on thrones.
My hand has found, like a nest,
the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing,
or opened its mouth, or chirped.”
Shall the ax vaunt itself over the one who wields it,

or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it?
As if a rod should raise the one who lifts it up,
or as if a staff should lift the one who is not wood! (Isaiah 10:12-15)

Whatever good you manage to accomplish, it is actually God who did it (see 1 Corinthians 15:10, Philippians 2:13). In 722 BC the Assyrians would conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and carry a bit less than 30,000 people away as captives. God decided to bring the Assyrians against the Israelites to punish them and by so punishing, to help them realize the error of their ways so that they could repent and turn back to God.

Unlike God, the Assyrians cared only about conquest. They imagined themselves to be in charge of their own fates, achieving their own ends, oblivious to the hand of God in their lives.

Although God judged his people, they remained his people—and there remained the old promise he had made to Abraham: “those who curse you, I will curse.” (Genesis 12:1-3) So even though the Assyrians were fulfilling God’s purposes, they fell under his condemnation, both for their arrogance, and for daring to harm Israel.

God’s judgment on Assyria fell within two generations, when the Assyrian army, together with their Egyptians allies, were defeated at a place called Carchemish in 605 BC by Nebuchadnezzar and his father. God judged the judgmental.

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We Need to Talk

I, the LORD, invite you
to come and talk it over.
Your sins are scarlet red,
but they will be whiter
than snow or wool.
If you willingly obey me,
the best crops in the land
will be yours.
But if you turn against me,
your enemies will kill you.
I, the LORD, have spoken.
Jerusalem, you are like
an unfaithful wife.
Once your judges were honest
and your people lived right;
now you are a city
full of murderers.
Your silver is fake,
and your wine
is watered down.
Your leaders have rejected me
to become friends of crooks;
your rulers are looking
for gifts and bribes.
Widows and orphans
never get a fair trial.
I am the LORD All-Powerful,
the mighty ruler of Israel,
and I make you a promise:
You are now my enemy,
and I will show my anger
by taking revenge on you. (Isaiah 1:18-24)

God offers hope, even as the sword of his judgment hangs by a thread. Isaiah was called to be a prophet by God not long before the Northern Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed by the Assyrians, and a couple generations before the Southern Kingdom of Judah would be invaded by Babylon.

Things did not have to go bad. God wanted to bless his people. He wanted their lives to be good and happy. But through Isaiah, he warned them that they were forcing his hand. Just as Israel was bound by the contract with God, so God was just as bound by it. He had agreed to its terms and he would not violate them. But it was not just about the legalities of the situation. God’s judgment was about correcting the wrongs, bringing justice to the oppressed. People were suffering because of the sins of the leadership classes. God couldn’t let that suffering continue forever. A day of reckoning had to come. Those who were wronged deserved to have the wrong righted. The leadership could either right the wrongs themselves, or God would do it for them. But they could always repent. God wanted to save the wrongdoers just as much as he wanted to save the wronged.

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Acute Intestinal Distress

Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said:

“This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: ‘You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah. But you have walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your father’s house, men who were better than you. So now the LORD is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out.’ ”

The LORD aroused against Jehoram the hostility of the Philistines and of the Arabs who lived near the Cushites. They attacked Judah, invaded it and carried off all the goods found in the king’s palace, together with his sons and wives. Not a son was left to him except Ahaziah, the youngest.

After all this, the LORD afflicted Jehoram with an incurable disease of the bowels. In the course of time, at the end of the second year, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great pain. His people made no fire in his honor, as they had for his fathers. (2 Chronicles 21:12-19)

Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king of Judah. He immediately murdered his six brothers. Then he married a daughter of King Ahab, and adopted his religious practices.

Because he led his people to worship idols rather than the God of Israel, God punished him. As God had told the Israelites in the time of Moses, “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5) As harsh as the punishment that Jehoram received, dying of a painful and embarrassing ailment, “Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever.” (2 Chronicles 21:7)

Had Jehoram heeded God and repented his life might have been very different. As Jeremiah points out, “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” (Jeremiah 18:7-8) God will always respond to a changed heart, because repentance and restoration is s God’s goal whenever he brings judgment.

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Then the LORD said through his servants the prophets: “King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. So this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” (2 Kings 21:10-15)

God was very patient with his people. Ever since they came out of Egypt, they had been worshiping other gods alongside their worship of Yahweh. Despite all the prophets, despite all the judgments of God designed to get their attention so that they might change their ways and do what they had promised to do in the contract that they had signed so many centuries before, they just continued doing what they wanted, worshipping false gods. The king and his family, the rich and the privileged, led the way in the idolatry. Their lack of care for God was paralleled by their lack of care for their fellow man. They oppressed the poor and disadvantaged. So finally, with Manasseh going over the top in his worship of false gods, God finally pronounced his final judgment: they would lose their land and go into exile. Their slavery to their sins would become manifest in their return to physical slavery. Metaphorically, it was back to Egypt again.

In captivity, however, many of the Israelites finally got the message and humbled themselves before God. Even Manasseh turned to God at last (2 Chronicles 33:11-17, 19). And of course, that’s what God wants more than anything; his purpose in judgment is not vengeance. His purpose in judgment is to get his people to change their minds, to reconsider. He wants to restore the relationship they have broken. Like an ideal parent, he punished his people for their own good.

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Three Camera Angles | Falcon 9 First Stage Landing on Droneship May 6, 2016

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