“Woe, you destroyer, When you have ceased to destroy, Who have not been destroyed, you will be destroyed; You traitor, And when you have finished betraying, whom none has betrayed! They will betray you.” (Isaiah 33.1)
In the storm this past week, we lost our only tree. It is pretty sad to lose a tree especially when it is your only tree. The death of the tree is interestingly connected with Isaiah 33 which we read aloud last week in our service. The chapter begins with the word “Woe!” This is the 6th woe in this section of Isaiah, and it is connected to the judgment and restoration of the world. Trees in general are associated with mighty nations in Isaiah. The immediate context here in Chapter 33 that Isaiah is addressing is the treachery of Assyria and their wheeling and dealing with the nations. They have acted treacherously, and have perverted their word and justice. In many ways, this is parallel with the sin and death that ruins us so thoroughly. Sin and death stand apart from the law of justice, and it is painful to see its effects. It hurts to see death reigning. Like Isaiah says later on in the passage: ‘Lebanon is confounded and withers away; Sharon is like a desert, and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves.’ This is like saying: the Amazon has become a desert. Even the land withers away because of the lack of justice in the world. The judgment of God against the injustice of Assyria and Israel is bitter but righteous.
In our world as much as sin and death are often not confronted, we long for justice. When there is unjust violence, we long for there to be justice immediately. Israel and Judah must have been in the same position. They would have viewed Assyria’s attack and spoiling of both nations as something unjustly done to the people of God. But Isaiah had a message for them: Assyria will have its turn, but I have sent Assyria to discipline you and to bring justice to an unjust land. In God’s lovingkindness, he was bringing more than justice. In his grand plan, he was going to bring about a complete restoration of his people, and this restoration was open to the whole world whether Assyrian or Israelite. The people who dwell in this restored place will have their iniquity forgiven. With sin abolished, death would no longer reign and there would be complete justice.
Isaiah doesn’t fully explain how this will be accomplished (although he will cover this later in what is called the servant songs of Isaiah), but in our time and place, we know that our iniquity has been forgiven through the work of Christ. He bore our sin on the cross and overcame death on our behalf. He bore the judgment of God that was reserved for us, and now we live in a time where we have the Word of God by the Spirit of God which trains us in all righteousness. One outgrowth of this is that we ought to long for justice, and when injustice occurs, we ought to pray that justice might be accomplished. When death and destruction come, we cry along with Isaiah, ‘O Lord be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.’ There is a necessary soberness with which we ought to live as Christians because the world and its desires are passing away. Like Isaiah, we remember that complete justice will only occur on the day of the Lord. When Christ returns all sin will be dealt with and death will end. Until then we only can pursue justice as the Lord enables us.
We can also praise God for his long-suffering and patience. As we consider God’s judgment, we remember that we are sinners and are always in need of forgiveness of our sins. Without Christ, we would be like the treacherous Assyrians, but because Christ, as a man, bore our sin and death, we can rejoice and live with hope as we anticipate the day of his return when we will finally experience true justice and death, even the death of trees, will end.
--J. Andersen 6/30/16