A common grievance with the Judeo-Christian God is how “wrathful” he is. His wrath and anger are most notable in the Prophets, since these books highlight his anguish over his rebellious people.
Why do we jump to conclusions about the character of God based on his revelation in the Prophets? Like listening to only one spouse in marital counseling, we base our conception of God on biased grounds because we don’t grasp the level of depravity found in the other party–the people of God.
We then have a problem with God when he says something like:
“Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive,’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isa. 6:9-10).
How could God ordain such a thing? Why wouldn’t he want to heal his people? If God can work miracles, why can’t he cultivate faith in his people and thus make them into people willing to be healed?
After all, can he not bring dry bones to life (Ezek. 37:1-14)?
Well, of course he can, but for one consideration, the variables of divine providence must be factored into the equation. For instance, if Israel and Judah would not have been conquered by Assyria, Babylon and Persia, then the Jewish organism within the Roman Empire that incubated Christianity would not have existed; we would not have Christ.
But even so, we must not entertain the idea that God was in any way unjust for “making the heart of [his people] dull…lest they…turn and be healed.” If viewed within the parameters of God’s character and the nature of humanity, Isaiah 6:9-10 disallows the possibility of God’s injustice.
We must ask: what becomes of a nation that exchanges light for darkness, up for down, right for wrong, Creator for creation, and God for man?
What motivates them to change? Will they have a “rock bottom”?
Paul tells us that God’s “kindness” leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4), but the people in Isaiah’s day had not responded to God’s kindness (Isa. 1:18-19; see also 41:8-10; 42:6-9).
When someone loves the darkness (John 3:19-20), repentance is unlikely, no matter how much God pours love and kindness into them.
“I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices” (Isa. 65:2).
The only result of continual rebellion is judgment. God, within his character, must respond to his Creation when it willingly and persistently rebels against him.
If we have a problem with God’s anger and wrath, we must remember that God cannot be anyone (or anything) but God. He acts justly because he is just. If he is all-good, anything evil is a direct offense to his character, which means punishing evil must be, and can only be, the responsibility of God alone. For him to ignore rebellion (evil) or gloss over it is to be unjust. Therefore, we must allow God to be the ultimate form of justice, or else he ceases to be God.
In his vision of God enthroned, Isaiah recognized his position before God (6:5). He “saw” his uncleanliness, and as a result, a burning coal was placed over his unclean lips to purify him. The people, however, did not “see,” nor did they “hear” or “understand” (6:9). They remained calloused and ignorant to their condition. The more they heard the Lord’s words, the farther they drew away.
This numbed depravity is the key to understanding Isaiah 6:9-10. Like night, it doesn’t descend in an instant. Is it really possible to go from an innocent child to a hardened criminal with one misdeed? Of course not. It takes time. A calloused, depraved individual is truly “blind” and “deaf” in the way Isaiah 6 describes (compare with John 9:39-41), but they became such only after repeatedly rebelling against the light. In Israel’s case, they had lost all sensitivity to their spiritual condition due to incessant idolatry.
When Isaiah proclaimed the word of the Lord to the people of Israel, their spiritual condition was manifested clearly by their spiritual hardening. Because of Isaiah’s ministry, they hammered the last nail in their coffin and so determined their fate. The more they “saw” and “heard,” the less they understood. They were thus abandoned to the destruction they had chosen because of their collective abandonment of God’s ways (Isa. 5:8-14).
Romans 1 expounds on the natural degeneration caused by rebellion against God. When humanity fails to assess their own depravity, they naturally descend into deeper levels of depravity (see John 1:5; 3:19-20). In Paul’s language, this is God “giving [humanity] up” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28) to the natural course of degeneration.
Humanity suppresses the truth by their unrighteousness (1:18), and when truth is what saves them, there is nothing left for them but destruction.
The Truth tells them plainly what they are doing wrong, but the more they are told, the more stubborn they become. The more God gives them a chance to repent, the more they take advantage of his leniency.
“[God] will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken” (Isa. 8:14-15).
When faced with God and his truth, the stubborn people of Israel could only stumble farther into depravity.
God is patient (2 Pet. 3:9), but the longer he waits, the farther people descend. There inevitably comes a time when the hammer must nail the coffin shut. Rather than let his people wallow in an irreparable state, God must step in and solidify their fate so a new people can grow (Isa. 6:13).
He looked forward to the day when Christ would redeem the hardened hearts of the world, but in order to get there, his own people had to fail. Like the Canaanites, Israel had to reach a level of depravity to deserve God’s judgment (Gen. 15:16; Jer. 13:22). Like Moses’ generation in the wilderness, Israel had to die for the “offspring” (see Isa. 6:13) to take its place (Num. 32:13).
God can work miracles; he can raise dry bones to life, but the miracle of the Resurrection cannot happen until someone is dead (John 11).
Perhaps Israel had to “die” (Isa. 6:11-13) before it could experience new life (2:1-5; 42:6-7). Israel’s judgment, then, was a foreshadowing of what was to come in the suffering of God’s Son. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, had to endure the iniquity of us all (53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21), ultimately unto death, before we could be healed (53:5; 6:10) and come alive again (Rom. 6:5-8; see Jer. 31:31-33).
The bones must be dried before they can be given life.
May we, like Isaiah, be humbled before God, and find comfort (Isa. 40:1-2) in his justice, for through his justice comes peace and new life (Rom. 5:1-11).
The theme of Isaiah 6:9-10 forces us to wrestle with God and grapple with our own spiritual condition: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39).
Yes! I want eyes that see and ears that hear. I want to be “blind.”
In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, Alex Aili (B.A. in Biblical Studies) writes short stories and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. He is a novelist-in-progress who lives in northern MN with his wife and two sons. He thrives on coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods. See what he’s up to on Twitter.
Burge, Gary M. John The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
Carson, D.A. “The Wrath of God.” In Engaging with the Doctrine of God, edited by Bruce L. McCormack, 37-63. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.