God’s Grace . . . Or . . . Fire and Brimstone — Isaiah 30:18-33Posted by Paul Apple on Feb 16, 2014 in Christian | Comments Off
A lot of people today would dismiss any preaching characterized by Fire and Brimstone as too severe. Yet the prophet Isaiah was no stranger to relaying such communication from the mind and heart of God. Of course he was careful to balance such intense descriptions of judgment with open invitations to blessing based on God’s gracious character. But make no mistake. Fire and Brimstone can be appropriate messages in some circumstances.
an idiomatic expression of signs of God’s wrath in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament. In the Bible, they often appear in reference to the fate of the unfaithful. “Brimstone,” the archaic name for sulfur, evokes the acrid odor of volcanic activity. The term is also used, sometimes pejoratively, to describe a style of Christian preaching that uses vivid descriptions of judgment and eternal damnation to encourage repentance.
Puritan preacher Thomas Vincent (an eyewitness of the Great Fire of London) authored a book called “Fire and Brimstone in Hell”, first published in 1670. In it he quotes from Psalm 11:6 “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup.” [This from the poet David = a man after God’s own heart]
Preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were referred to as “fire and brimstone preachers” during the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s. Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” remains among the best-known sermons from this period. Reports of one occasion when Edwards preached it said that many of the audience burst out weeping, and others cried out in anguish or even fainted.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: ’tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in hell; you hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder…
YOU CAN TURN TO GOD FOR RESTORATION OR HAVE GOD TURN ON YOU IN RETRIBUTION –
RESTORATION AND RETRIBUTION CULMINATE IN THE DAY OF THE LORD
- Think in terms of the nation of Israel – near term (threat of Assyria) and eschatological
- Think in terms of yourself personally
I. (:18-26) RESTORATION TO THE BLESSING OF COVENANT PRIVILEGE
A. (:18-19) Restoration Based on God’s Character and Covenant Relationship
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son – shows the heart of God in longing to receive back into blessing those who have wandered away in rebellion and pleasure seeking
1. (:18a) Transition – Emphasis on God’s Character
a. Gracious and Compassionate
“Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.”
“Therefore” – God cannot act in mercy and compassion until judgment has run its course since you are confirmed in your rebellious ways; He is actively waiting; longing to act on our behalf; just waiting to be able to bless us more abundantly – cannot do this when we are proud and stubborn; we must be broken before Him
Far different from the impression of many people who imagine God to be some type of Scrooge figure who delights in withholding blessings
Grace and Compassion are precisely what we need
Application: If we have the character of the Lord Jesus, we will long to be gracious and compassionate to others: Col. 3:12-13
“For the LORD is a God of justice;”
“Holy One of Israel”—cannot compromise His justice
Can never go back on His promises; His standards of righteousness
Gen. 18-19 and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah teach us: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (18:25) look at how the Lord had to align the heart of Abraham with his heart towards sin and defilement and wickedness
1 Pet. 3:18 “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit”
Rom. 3:26 “that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”
2. (:18b) Primary Condition for Blessing
“How blessed are all those who long for Him.”
You have to want it; how badly do you want God’s presence; His fellowship; His blessing?
Cf. the Beatitudes
Plenty of capacity to bless – sufficient for “all” who long for Him
Like URL of Piper’s website: desiringGod.org – that is what it is truly all about
The Lord longs for those who desire to worship Him in spirit and in truth
Other conditions sprinkled through the passage:
- Cry out to God for deliverance (:19)
- Respond to God’s hand of discipline (:20)
- Obey the guidance He provides (:21)
- Turn away from impure idols (:22)
3. (:19) Emphasis on Covenant Relationship and Responsiveness
“O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer.
He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry;
when He hears it, He will answer you.”
Privilege of answered prayer … especially noteworthy when His gracious answer of deliverance comes immediately without delay
B. (:20-26) Restoration Unfolded in 7 Abundant Blessings – Eschatological Focus
Parunak: these verses are a chronological narrative, whose seven stages are introduced by verbs in the perfect conjugation with waw relative (colored green in the citations below). The starting point is the condition described in v. 19, the deliverance of the people from Assyria. Seven stages follow. The last three are marked with the phrase “in that day.” This phrase is used throughout Isaiah to anticipate the coming day of the Lord. Thus the seven stages reach from Isaiah’s time down to the Millennium.
Note the shift from plural to singular starting in v. 19 and throughout this section. The singular addresses the nation as a whole, and thus emphasizes their constitution as a single people, while the plural emphasizes the responsibility of the individuals within the nation.
1. (:20a) Divine Discipline Where Necessary
“Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression,”
Need to see this as a blessing as well – if He just let people get fat and happy in their rebellion, they would never repent and return to Him; we respond to deprivation and oppression
Refers to food that would be given them in the Captivity as prisoners of war
Reminds one of the wilderness wanderings; provision of their needs – but still outworking of divine discipline for their lack of faith to trust Him implicitly and enter the Promised Land
2. (:20b-21) Discernible Divine Guidance = Spiritual GPS System
“He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your
Teacher. And your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’
whenever you turn to the right or to the left.”
Sometimes God chooses to hide Himself … Identification of the Teacher? The Messiah?
Guidance is not effective if you don’t have the eyes and ears to understand it and respond;
Purpose of God’s instruction is not just knowledge, but to keep us walking on the straight and narrow = pathway of blessing
Picture life as a luge run with the Lord keeping you in the center of the track – otherwise you would experience calamity
Oswalt: conveys both the nearness of the Teacher and the sensitivity of the pupil. Instead of the stubborn animal which has to be dragged or beaten into going in the proper direction, here is a person whose teacher is just at his shoulder and little more than a word of guidance from time to time is necessary for him to stay on the right path. This is the ideal of the Spirit-filled life, where the contact between us and him is so intimate that only a whisper is sufficient to move us in his way (Gal. 5:16-25). The opposite of this ideal is seen in 28:11 and 30:11, where stubbornness ultimately leads to a denial that God’s way is right, with horrifying results.
3. (:22) Rejection of Idolatry
“And you will defile your graven images, overlaid with silver, and your molten images plated with gold.
You will scatter them as an impure thing; and say to them, ‘Be gone!’”
These idols of silver and gold were worth quite a lot of money; no attempt to cash them in; radical reformation was needed; get rid of them because they are holding you back in your obedience to God
Oswalt: Although people of the West in the twentieth century have taken off the faces of the gods of love, security, potency, and power, we still surround them with trappings of great material value. Thus it is no easier for us to desert our sources of support than it was for the people of Israel.
4. (:23) Material Provision
“Then He will give you rain for the seed which you will sow in the ground,
and bread from the yield of the ground, and it will be rich and plenteous;”
Coming a day when God will reverse the curse
Farmers learn very quickly how much their harvest depends on things that are out of their control; they are still characterized by hard work and patience; but also by the perspective that unless God blesses, they will end up with nothing to show for their efforts
5. (:24) Economic Prosperity
“on that day your livestock will graze in a roomy pasture.
Also the oxen and the donkeys which work the ground will eat salted fodder,
which has been winnowed with shovel and fork.”
Notice millennial kingdom focus of these last 3 blessings identified in the time period:
“on that day” –
MacArthur: In the messianic kingdom of that future day, agriculture, cattle raising, food production, and water resources will prosper. The prophet predicted the redemption of nature (cf. Ro 8:19-21).
6. (:25) Abundant Water – Context of God Defeating All Enemies
“And on every lofty mountain and on every high hill there will be streams running
with water on the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.”
Streams unusual on top of mountains – usually more of a barren terrain; here there are streams on even every high hill
John Martin: “day of great slaughter” may refer to the Battle of Armageddon (cf. Rev. 16:16; 19:17-21).
The towers of man’s pride and self reliance will fall
7. (:26) Abundant Light – Context of Healing
“And the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun,
and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days,
on the day the LORD binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted.”
More light and more intense light is a good thing here
The work of the Great Physician in binding up the wounds and fractures He has inflicted
II. (:27-33) RETRIBUTION WITH FIRE AND BRIMSTONE ON ASSYRIA AND THE ENEMY NATIONS – Both Near Term and Eschatological Focus
Many people react against Fire and Brimstone preaching – Isaiah could not have loaded up this paragraph with any more imagery of fire and brimstone than he did – apparently he thought it appropriate – “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God”
A. (:27a) Retribution Will be Other-Worldly
“Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place;”
Difficult to anticipate it and imagine it; yet consistent with the character of the Lord
Not like anything you have ever seen; comes quickly when it comes
B. (:27b-28) Retribution Will Be Intense and Consuming – many images combined here
1. Imagery of Intense Fire and Smoke
“Burning is His anger, and dense is His smoke;”
No smoke without fire when it comes to the Lord; you cannot say His bark is worse than His bite; He will come in power when He comes in wrath
2. Imagery of Consuming Fire and Flood – from the angry mouth of God
“His lips are filled with indignation,”
“And His tongue is like a consuming fire;”
“And His breath is like an overflowing torrent,”
Young: By means of the mouth the pronouncement of judgment is made; and God will utter a severe judgment upon His enemies, which have been attacking His people.
3. Imagery of Subjugation and Devastation
“Which reaches to the neck, To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve,
And to put in the jaws of the peoples the bridle which leads to ruin.”
Motyer: The mixture of metaphors – the sieve to discriminate (cf. Am. 9:9) and the bridle to control and direct (cf. 37:29) — is truly Isaianic.
Wiersbe: Imagery of the harnessing of a horse so that the enemy is led off like a farm animal.
C. (:29) Retribution Will be Celebrated by the Covenant Remnant
“You will have songs as in the night when you keep the festival;
And gladness of heart as when one marches to the sound of the flute,
To go to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel.”
How can we celebrate when people are being led to a ruin which consists of Fire and Brimstone?
Because God’s people can respond in the same way that God Himself responds – there is satisfaction when God’s justice prevails in ultimate victory – not that God takes delight in the judgment of the individual wicked but in the kingdom atmosphere of righteousness and peace that is established once sin has been dealt with decisively and finally
No particular festival in view (like Passover); Lord loves music in the context of worship
“Mountain” and “Rock” — Images of power and strength and stability
D. (:30) Retribution Will Be a Powerful Spectacle
1. Seen and Heard
“And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard.
And the descending of His arm to be seen”
2. In Power and Fury
“in fierce anger, And in the flame of a consuming fire,
In cloudburst, downpour, and hailstones.”
Young: Together with causing His majestic voice to be heard, the Lord also causes the falling of His arm to be seen. The entire sentence is arranged chiastically and gives a forceful effect. An upraised arm is now brought down in punishment. This lowering of the arm is accompanied by an indignation of wrath and a flame of devouring fire, for the purpose of the action is to destroy. In a most vivid manner Isaiah brings the verse to a close, mentioning what accompanies the descending of the upraised hand. The words stand out vividly…
E. (:31-32) Retribution Will Be Terrifying and Painful to Assyria
“For at the voice of the LORD Assyria will be terrified, When He strikes with the rod. And every blow of the rod of punishment, Which the LORD will lay on him, Will be with the music of tambourines and lyres; And in battles, brandishing weapons, He will fight them.”
Wiersbe: The “timbrels and harps” remind us of the songs of Miriam and the Jewish women at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:20-21).
F. (:33) Retribution Will Be the Culmination of Prepared Fire and Brimstone
“For Topheth has long been ready, Indeed, it has been prepared for the king.
He has made it deep and large, A pyre of fire with plenty of wood;
The breath of the LORD, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire.”
MacArthur: Lit. a place of abomination. Idolatrous Israel had burned to death human victims in this valley just S. of Jerusalem, an area sometimes called the Valley of Hinnom (2 Ki 23:10). Later it became known as Gehenna, the place of refuse for the city with constantly burning fires, symbolizing hell. The defeat was to be so complete that the fire burns continually.
Wiersbe: The funeral pyre for the great king of Assyria would be a garbage dump! How humiliating!
Motyer: Though Judah’s dallying with Egypt (30:1-7) is deeply offensive to the Lord and useless in respect of the Assyrian threat, yet Jerusalem will not fall to Assyria. Rather, the Assyrian king, thundering towards Zion, is in fact climbing his own funeral pyre!
Fire and Brimstone should not be a surprising image to us of God’s severe judgment:
- Remember Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen. 19
- John the Baptist could certainly be called a Fire and Brimstone preacher –
- Matt. 3:12 “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
- The Lord Jesus was not bashful about using such imagery
- Mark 9:42-48
- The Apostle Paul
- 2 Thess. 1:7-9
- Jude 7
- The Apostle John prophecied about the end times in the same way:
- Rev. 20:10, 14-15
- Do you truly long for God’s blessing in your life?
- Are you willing to cry out to God for deliverance and rescue?
- Do you respond well to those periods of divine discipline?
- Are you actively turning away from any impure idols that would distract you from full and genuine worship of the one true God – the Holy One of Israel?
Make no mistake; God makes no apology for clearly declaring that the path of rebellion ends in Fire and Brimstone. But His heart of grace and compassion longs to see you in that place of blessing.