The Fire of God

[taken from my current work: Isaiah and the Six Woes: A Cautionary Tale of Pity.]

Therefore, just as fire licks up stubble
and dry grass shrivels in the flame,
so their roots will rot
and their flowers wither.
For they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies;
they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
– Isaiah 5:24 NLT

When Isaiah told us God was angry, he gave Israel’s rejection and contempt as a reason.  The Hebrew actually reads, “The Lord’s nose was hot.” He was snorting, He was about to explode in a furious display of rage. This does not suggest God “lost it.”  Never!  What it does suggest is that He must be feeling something like Jesus did at Lazarus’ tomb when the apostle wrote, “He groaned in the spirit [was deeply moved with anger] and was troubled [agitated].” [John 11:33].  The language  in John’s gospel is not as vivid as Isaiah’s. Jesus was disturbed over their lack of faith. (This, in itself, should be a warning worth noting.)   God was more agitated, more “troubled” because His warnings went unheeded.

In our verse: You can hear the hissing of the flames, as C. H. Keil noted, in the use of Hebrew words with “S’s.” [The Hebrew  ’s’ and ‘sh’ sounds is the ש in Isaiah 5:24: קַשׁ לְשׁוֹן אֵשׁ וַחֲשַׁשׁ Reading from right to left, “stubble tongue of fire chaff”] You can picture the flames lapping like tongues at the young plants turning them to ash.  You can envision the root ball suddenly collapsing, sinking, in the flames (shrinking, shriveling, and then gone) until it, too, is only cinders. All of it returning to the dust from which it came.

And why must God be so furious?  Because He is a mighty and holy God.  Recently in an international prayer meeting one brother in his prayer called God “mighty and holy,” a rather common characterization frequently heard in prayer meetings, but to God’s ears, it has to be pleasing and a delight.  When a believer calls God the might and holy God they trust, when their prayer speaks to their faith in Him, there is no greater praise.

But here Israel who has become self-reliant seeking greedily for all things pleasurable and using lies and bribes to support such a life-style, there is no thought of the holiness of a mighty God. If God were just holy but too impotent to act on it, the nations of the world might never know what He was thinking or “feeling.”⁠ But He is both. His desire for true justice is an aspect of His holiness and He is mighty enough to react in ways men describe as wrathful. A better word might be “jealous” [Exodus 20:5; 34:14]. But regardless the theology, A holy God powerful enough to do something about sin, will not stand back and do nothing!

Do judges take bribes today? Is it possible for a judiciary, in a collective sense, to be so corrupt as to  get God’s attention and incur His displeasure? The prophet has outlined for us the 6 steps of degradation that describe a nation devolving into chaos. For the believer there is always hope because there is faith [Hebrews 11:1], and there is faith because God is “holy and mighty.” If this is the end time, and we have reason to believe it is, Isaiah in poetic verse reassures us that God knows and He is on His way [Luke 21:28].

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