The Priorities of God

The five chapters (Isaiah 13, 14, 24–26) discussed in this commentary look at God’s character. They describe the battle between good and evil for our hearts and our nations. They lay out Yahweh’s end-game goals. This is a lot to pack into less than one scroll. As if that were not enough, I believe these chapters also cover or allude to aspects of history from the beginning of time till its end.

The groundwork of my thinking includes the following concepts. Ancient Hebrew writing uses tangible items, people, and events as object lessons for concepts or even other beings. Prophecy is often directed through time, having meaning for more than one era or situation. Words such as wrath or love are actions of God, not feelings. They describe the interaction God has with events or people. (You can get a quick sense of this thinking in Paul’s description of love to the Corinthians.) Understanding the original meaning of words is important. I will point out some of them. If I took time and space to translate more, I would certainly find you dozing into your cup of tea.

In these chapters we find several aspects of the Ruler of the Universe. Jehovah Tsaba is translated The Lord of Hosts. Hosts can be an army of heavenly beings, earthly ones, or a mix. God is a title of majesty, power, and creativity. Almighty is El Shaddai. One translation of El Shaddai is The Breasted One. In this role, the deity is nurturer/protector. Lord or Yahweh is the embodiment of the covenant, a sacred relationship of agreements between the Ruler of Heaven and mortals.

It’s important we remember that though Isaiah was a Hebrew, his warnings were also to other nations. For instance, as we know from the story of Daniel, God did not want Babylon to fall. If the rulers and the people of that country had chosen to reform and follow Yahweh’s principles, their history would have been similar to that of the Assyrians in the time of Jonah. “The Lord . . . is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It is harmful attitudes and behaviors that God curses. Heaven would like to save every people and all nations. God’s requirements are only that we make choices that nurture.

That said, Heaven does not take away the choices of those who practice harm but will allow the consequences of stubbornly embraced harmful behaviors. “Your grace is shown to the wicked; they do not learn righteousness . . . they go on doing evil!” (26:10). “I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless” (13:11). “How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!” (14:3).

In this week’s texts, Isaiah, with his usual poetic power, describes what will happen if Babylon, often described as history’s most powerful military monarchy, does not listen to her warnings. “Wail! The day of Yahweh is near; it will come like destruction from El Shaddai” (14:6). “Babylon will never be inhabited or lived in though all generations” (14:20). “I will humble the pride of the ruthless” (13:11). As important as Babylon is in her own place of history, it appears that she is also an object lesson.

Isaiah’s words, ostensibly written to and about that country of arrogant beauty, power, and influence, also describe a being who existed in a place far from Earth and long before our time began.

How have you fallen from Heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to Earth, you who once laid low the nations! You have said in your heart . . . “I will raise my throne above the stars of the Mighty, Powerful, Creator. I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly . . . I will make myself like the Most High” . . . You are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit (14:12-15).

In another analogy of the adversary, Isaiah writes “The God of Covenants will punish with His sword, His fierce great and powerful sword, Leviathan, the gliding serpent” (27:1). The Hebrew word for serpent used here is nahas, a venomous snake. It is the same word used to describe the serpent in Eden, whose selfish willingness to harm began the cataclysm of pain that has permeated Earth’s history.

Those who choose to cause self-centered harm for any reason are exhibiting qualities of nahas. Be it an individual, people, church, or nations, any entity that causes suffering, turmoil, harsh labor (14:3); all who “in anger strike down peoples with unceasing blows . . . and subdue nations with relentless aggression” (14:6) are representatives of nahas. They are the antithesis of the One who lives self-sacrificing love. To preserve life, their actions must be cut short.

Isaiah’s prophecies and lessons continue to stretch across time. In the chapters we are studying, Babylon, Philistia, and Assyria were sent a prophecy, or burden, of warning about their choices. Exegetically, understanding that prophecy can refer to more than one era; “the rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sins” (13:10) can refer to historical events in the sky that happened in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and can be a warning that arrogance, ruthlessness, and treachery will be punished, even in our era. 

For Isaiah, God’s endgame is clear:

All the lands are at rest and at peace (13:7)

The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming (13:9)

You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress; a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat (25:3)

The Protector/Nurturer will provide a feast for all peoples (25:6)

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces (25:8)

Faced with Isaiah’s impassioned writings, we have choices we must make. It is the great desire of the Holy Ones that we choose the way of love.

Catherine Taylor is a family therapist who specializes in the development of benevolent systems. She has been a Sabbath School teacher, sermon presenter, Bible study facilitator, camp meeting speaker, and writer on various Bible topics.

Photo by Pedro Figueras from Pexels

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11041
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I appreciate some of the observations of the book of Isaiah that are made in this article, especially the focus on injustice and oppression and the pursuit of the opposite as being God’s priorities. I think that’s a good main emphasis.

However, I think that some of the ideas about the book’s prophetic statements as applying to other beings, or directly forecasting local events in 19th c. America, is an attempt to read Christian interpretive tradition, and Adventist prophetic preoccupations respectively into the text. There is a misunderstanding of how apocalyptic language and imagery was used, that I think also contributes to this.

Thanks…

Frank

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Hi Catherine

I note that you are a family therapist who specializes in the development of benevolent systems and that you therefore have an understanding of the two foundational orientations in life/reality that a person (or system) can ‘inhabit’/operate from - benevolent (self-sacrificing love) or self-seeking/self-centered.

I also note that you state:

With regard to God’s character (and therefore also nature), does the statement that God will allow the consequences mean that He will be the actual ‘causative-source’ of the consequences - or that He is ‘simply’ allowing the consequences that are inherent to self-seeking itself to unfold?

Thus, is it harmful attitudes and behaviours that God has to ‘curse’ because otherwise they would not be ‘cursed’? Or is it that the inherent nature of harmful attitudes and behaviours that is inherently ‘cursed’ - ie self-destructive by nature?

Similarly, does God “require” that we make choices that nurture (ie benevolent), or is inherently necessary for “abundant life” (John 10:10) that we make choices that nurture because no other type of choice is compatible with such life?

You refer to aspects of Hebrew language and culture that are necessary to correctly understand Scripture. One further aspect is the Hebrew idiom of ‘permission as causation’ - whereby God is said to ‘cause’ that which He allows or permits. This allowance also entails the release of temporary restraint that was previously being exercised against inherently self-destructive realities (consequences) because a point has been reached whereby that restraint that was designed to provide space for ‘coming to repentance’ has now unfortunately instead become ‘enabling’.

These above issues reflect two very different portrayals of God’s character. One portrayal is that God has set requirements that, if not complied with, He must then punish. The other is that there is only one way that life can actually work and God is trying to inform us of that way and encourage and assist any and all who are co-operatively willing to be restored back to that way. And for those who exercise their freedom to reject/rebel against that way, God will then release them to that way and in so doing will also release the restraint to the inherent consequences of that way that He had been heretofore restraining in the hope of creating a space of ‘second-chance’ at non-destructive living (Romans 1:24-28). The former view is a God who is arbitrary - just as The Serpent insinuated to Eve in Eden. The latter view is a God who is non-arbitrary - contrary to what The Serpent insinuated to Eve.

As you state, “it is the great desire of the Holy Ones that we choose the way of love”. The question is, if we don’t choose the way of love, will the Holy Ones then be forced to punish us, or will the inherent consequences of our free-choice to depart from the way of love be the thing that (self-)destroys us?

I invite your feedback…

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Seeing God through the lens of an imperial dictator is a Satanic misrepresentation of God’s character It suggests that God operates like earthly powers and sins must be punished for “breaking the law”. God’s justice is grounded in His character which is love in its purest form. You need to remember, love can only exist where freedom of choice abounds It is becoming clearer to me that God exercises “justice” by reaching out to offer healing and restoration of a broken relationship. He doesn’t punish the way our “legal system"demands That is a satanic lie about God that was introduced in the beginning. Many of the “punishments” we receive are a natural outcome of violating " God’s Design protocols " for humanity As I’ve stated before we are aware of God’s design for the physical universe and understood in terms of “laws"which have been discovered. These “laws” existed before we were made aware of them through research. Many of these laws we are unaware of unless you are an astrophysicist. For illustration’s sake most of us know about gravity Violating the” law” of gravity has natural consequences So it is with “laws” designed by God for humanity. You can violate them at your peril Bearing false witness (lying) is one of the most damaging to relationships since it breaks the circle of love and trust and introduces fear and selfishness This is perhaps satan’s best strategy to destroy human relationships .

Dave Okamura

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Or do they describe a king who was contemporaneous with Isaiah?

That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon (Isa 14:4)

Seventh-Day Adventists are nearly unanimous in our certainty that Satan was originally the highest ranking angel in heaven, the Covering Cherub, the Lucifer whose rebellion and fall from heaven are described in Isaiah 14.

WE HAVE BEEN MISINFORMED.

Isaiah 14 is not God talking to Satan or about Satan. God never said “How thou hast fallen form heaven, O Lucifer” to Satan or anyone else. Those words are actually spoken by dead pagan kings in hades in a tongue-in-cheek taunt song informing the recently departed king of Babylon that he didn’t make the cut. He’s too evil to GO TO HELL!

Did EGW forget that the dead don’t talk to anybody?

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