Fury and Kindness In Is. 63:
Isaiah 63 begins with fury. For you who think that God is only a God of mercy, this is a confusing chapter, until you get to verse 7.
Nobody likes judgment. We all want to escape it. So when the Bible says this,
"It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment," everyone gets a chill or two--because we are included in that judgment, and we secretly wonder, "How will I fare?" Isaiah 63 is like that. It focuses first on the terrible fury of God, how His Messiah is not all sunlight and roses, but tough judgment as well:
1 Who is this who comes from Edom, With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah, This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? "It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save."
2 Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press?
3 "I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment.
4 "For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come.
5 "I looked, and there was no one to help, And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; So My own arm brought salvation to Me, And My wrath upheld Me.
6 "I trod down the peoples in My anger And made them drunk in My wrath, And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth."
Here we see, at the beginning of the chapter, that God (His Messiah), comes in "righteousness, mighty to save." First, however, is utter destruction to His enemies, with no mercy, no pity. It's easy to think that God has changed His mind about His mercy, but the point is that there are always two classes of people: People to whom God shows mercy, and people to whom He shows His judgment and fury. These two classes are self-determining, in the sense that they decide who they are, and you are in one class or the other. There is NO third class of people who "may" get mercy, or "may" get judgment. It's always just the two.
So here's how God looks at the second class of people:
7 I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, According to all that the LORD has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.
8 For He said, "Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely." So He became their Savior.
9 In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.
He wanted to save them. He DID save them. In Egypt. In the days of the judges. With King David, and many more times. However, these same people managed to move themselves from God's mercy to God's judgment, because they rejected Him:
10 But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them...
And then, of course, when they all saw the judgment arrive, they wanted to get rid of that terrible experience, so they turned back to God, but still they were plagued with the suffering they caused themselves, the consequences of their deeds:
11 Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them,
12 Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name,
13 Who led them through the depths? Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not stumble;
14 As the cattle which go down into the valley, The Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So You led Your people, To make for Yourself a glorious name.
"You Are Our Father"
15 Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation; Where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me.
16 For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us And Israel does not recognize us. You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.
17 Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways And harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.
18 Your holy people possessed Your sanctuary for a little while, Our adversaries have trodden it down.
19 We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, Like those who were not called by Your name.
This is an awful result--longing for mercy, compassion and grace, but unable to find it, because the suffering is not over; God has not returned. This is a pattern for many of us. We find Him. We serve Him. We fail Him. We repent. The consequences of our foolishness are still with us. It happens. The answer, of course, is that we have to "wait it out," sometimes till we meet Him face to face, other times He reverses His judgments and we gain relief from the consequences of our deeds.
It is especially difficult when we are in situations like this to be honest with ourselves, and say, "These things happened because of ME." in Isaiah's case, he's referring to the national tragedy that literally destroyed their nation--their attachment to idols and the practices related to them. It would take me hours to describe all these evils, but here's a small quote: "Even their sons and their daughters have they burned in the fire..." The practices of idolatry, as a later writer tells us, are Satanic in nature, and pollute and destroy the people who do them. God, in His wise and righteous judgment, will not let this continue, and punishes the people who worship these false gods. In the same way, when we obsess over something, and let it rule our lives, it becomes a "spiritual idol," which Satan then uses against us. We think we are "OK," just like the drunk or drug addict who believes he's all right and "can control his habit." Of course we are not "OK." We are in the process of destroying ourselves with this "thing," or things.
What's especially tragic is that we often justify this behavior ("I have to have those drugs to keep me going;" "I need this sexual experience;" "Money is good...")
The truth is that ANY thing that becomes an idol is BAD. It destroys you, and the consequences you experience will override whatever you get from that "thing."
The answer, of course, is still to repent, and then wait. God shows His mercy right away, gives you back His love and compassion, but you may, as Israel did, find that your daily experiences come as the result of your past sins. You will often have to wait for Him to let these things work their way out of your life.
They will. It may take time--even all the way to your final hours and your meeting with Him at the Throne of God, but there you will receive His full mercy, the days of your pain will end, and He will wipe away all the tears from your eyes.
Sometimes it just takes time.