"But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them." Isaiah 63:10.
The reader who sent in this passage from holy Scripture did not append a specific question, and so I decided to discuss two possible problems in the text. One I discussed two issues ago (the problem of whether to ascribe vexation to the Holy Spirit implies frustration of His work). I began a discussion of the other question in the last issue. In that article I talked about how God always dealt with the nation of Israel as a whole -- just as today He deals with His church as a whole. While elect and reprobate were always both present in Israel, sometimes the reprobate element and sometimes the elect remnant were in control of the nation. Sometimes God's wrath was upon the nation and sometimes His favor and goodness.
These latter truths are the puzzling aspects of the matter, and are implied in the passage we are discussing. In the context of Is. 63:10 God speaks of His favor upon His people. But in vs. 10 God turned away from His people and became their enemy because they rebelled and vexed his holy Spirit. How are we to explain all this in the light of God's grace which is always only towards His elect, and in the light of God's wrath and judgment against the wicked?
We shall consider, first of all, God's favor upon the nation in times when Israel was faithful. The context speaks of "all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses." This same context speaks of the fact that God called Israel "My people;" that He became their Saviour; that He was afflicted when they were afflicted; and that the angel of His presence saved them and redeemed them in love and pity, so that He carried them all the days of old.
Was this true of the reprobate who were always present in the nation? It is certainly true that the reprobate came out of Egypt under God's leadership and guidance; that they too saw and participated in the miracles; that they received the manna and water from the rock; and that they entered into Canaan along with the nation.
But Scripture is quite adamant about the fact that all these good things must never be construed in any way as indicative of God's love towards them, of His pity, mercy, grace, and desire to save them. Psalm 73 is decisive on that point, for Asaph, who was troubled because of the prosperity of the wicked (obviously within His own nation of Israel), learned in God's house that God was setting them on slippery places -- not in spite of their prosperity, but by means of their prosperity.
This is why Scripture finds the analogy of a field so appropriate (See Heb. 6:7, 8). A farmer irrigates his entire field so that the weeds are nourished by the water as well as the crop. But does he love the weeds and care for them? Of course not. He irrigates for the potatoes or wheat, and the growth of the weeds enables him to separate them from the crop when the harvest comes. Is the water a blessing to the weeds? Of course not. But they must grow until the harvest.
If we turn now to the elect in the nation, and in the church, then we must conclude, first of all, that the blessings of God upon the nation were blessings upon His people. They are the "crop" in the field of the nation. They are the sweet harvest at the end of the age. They are the ones for whose sake God sends blessings upon the nation as a whole.
But what about the judgments which also come upon the whole nation? There is no doubt about it that God's judgments come upon the elect and reprobate alike. After all, the whole nation went into captivity, just as the whole nation suffered when famine stalked the land. These judgments were certainly God's fury against the wicked and His wrath against the reprobate and carnal seed in the nation. And by means of these judgments, the wicked were destroyed.
But what about the righteous? They too come under these judgments. But because Christ would bear (and now has borne) the judgment of God against their sin, these very judgments are now chastisements (See Hebrews 12:5-13, and the many references to chastisement in Scripture). That is, these very judgments become the means whereby God corrects, instructs, purifies, and strengthens His people.
These chastisements can very well be because God is angry with His people. They too sin against Him. Even in Israel, sometimes the elect were worshipping idols along with the reprobate. But His anger toward His people is but for a moment. He will not always chide. He is merciful and gracious to them. He saves them -- even if that be through the way of suffering.
Zion is redeemed through judgment, Isaiah says in another place (1:27), and Peter speaks of the same truth when he writes in I Peter 4:17, 18: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely (i.e., with great difficulty) be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
But let it be remembered that good things and bad are blessings to God's people; and good things and bad are curses to the wicked. And this is why Isaiah 63:7, 10 reads as it does.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 16
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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