Isaiah’s words fall heavy from the page. “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression…” (Isa. 10:1). Woe… Woe to those…
Good thing I’m not one of those people, one of the leaders of Israel, to whom Isaiah is writing. I have not decreed anything, let alone anything iniquitous, nor have I written in order to oppress. I am not on trial here; I can breathe a sigh of relief.
Or can I?
Thus, my heart faints under the weight of the burden of the warning. I can feel the heaviness of the forthcoming judgment in my bones. Isaiah asks, “What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar?” (Isa.10:3) I want to close the book, avert my eyes, think on only those things that bring me pleasure, for these words from Isaiah are too much for me to bear.
I have no answer to Isaiah’s question. “Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still” (Isa. 10:4). Like one standing on trial, guilty, illumined by the light, I stand wide-eyed and speechless.
To where do I look for hope? If it’s up to me, I’m done for, finished, dead.
But Isaiah does not stop with only a word of judgment; he continues to be the oracle of the Lord to proclaim hope and promise: “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: ‘O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you… For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction… And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken…” (Is 10:24-25, 27). And: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Is. 11:1).
Herein lies my hope. Herein lies the hope of those who stand guilty under God’s verdict. Our hope is not in ourselves, for, as mentioned above, if our hope is in ourselves, then we are surely lost. Our hope rests in God’s movement toward us, in his activity on our behalf. Frankly, our only hope will always be only him. “In that day,” proclaims Isaiah, “the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people…” (Isa. 11:11).
God has extended his hand to the world, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Jesus Christ, the shoot of Jesse so promised in Chapter 11, came into this world to be God among us, with us, while we were still in our disobedience and cloaked in our shame.
He came into the world to bear our guilt—the heavy burden of our guilt. Jesus came to gather to himself his people, the remnant. Jesus takes upon himself what is rightfully ours and gives us what is rightfully his – our guilt for his righteousness – and this by no work of ours but by faith in him alone.
It is only by faith alone that the burden on our shoulders is removed and the yoke broken and we are given a new burden and a new yoke: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30).
During this season of Lent we remember and recall that God has fulfilled the promises proclaimed here by Isaiah: he has redeemed his people by his hand. He has sent his only son to be the propitiation for our sins—to bear our guilty verdict. He has, through Christ, come running out to meet us like a father to his long-lost child (Luke 15:20bff.).
God is faithful, he has saved us, he is our salvation (Isa. 12:2). “‘Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel’” (Isa. 12:5-6).