"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; I am not sure, therefore, what aspect of the text the reader wants discussed. There are two problems in the text it seems to me, and both problems are worth discussing here. But it would be better to discuss each problem in a separate article.
The two problems seem to me to be these. If the Holy Spirit's work is irresistible, how is it possible for Scripture to say that He is "vexed?" The word "vexed" seems to imply frustration, inability to accomplish what one intends. If an artist is trying to get the right color of the sky on his canvas, he is vexed when time and again he fails. If he succeeds in getting exactly what he wants, he is no longer vexed. It is exactly because of this problem that Arminians often appeal to this text and others like it to prove that the work of the Spirit can be resisted.
The second problem is more in connection with the context. If you will take the time to look up this passage in your Bible, you will discover that the context speaks of God's love and favor for His people. The prophet speaks of God's "lovingkind-nesses" which the Lord bestowed on His people and His "great goodness toward the house of Israel." It speaks of God's Word that Israel is His people and that He became their Savior. It mentions how the suffering of Israel was God's suffering, and of how God saved them by the "angel of his presence," because He loved them and had pity on them.
But now suddenly God has become their enemy and fights against them because they rebelled. How is this possible? Does God change in His attitude towards His people? one minute loving them and saving them? and the next minute fighting against them? How can this be?
I will wait with this second question till the next issue of the "News" and concentrate in this issue on the first question.
Other passages of Scripture express the same or similar ideas as this one. Psalm 78:40 speaks of Israel provoking God in the wilderness and grieving Him in the desert. Stephen, in his speech before the Sanhedrin, accusing the nation of Israel of resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). Paul admonishes the saints in Ephesus not to grieve the holy Spirit of God, whereby they are sealed unto the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30): and this same admonition is repeated to the church in Thessalonica in slightly different language in I Thess. 5:10.
Two remarks seem to me to be appropriate in understanding these passages. The first is that whatever sin we commit which prompts these graphic descriptions of the Holy Spirit's response, this in no way ought to be construed as an ability on our part to frustrate the work of the Spirit. We may grieve Him, provoke Him, resist Him; but He will do His work whatever that may be. The Holy Spirit will save the elect and will harden the reprobate. There can be no question about that.
This truth is even strongly suggested by some of the texts quoted above. The wicked nation of Israel was justly accused of resisting the Holy Spirit; but through such resistance the Spirit was accomplishing His purpose in hardening. (For proof of this see Paul's words in Rom. 9:11-13, and John's words in John 12:37-41.)
And, if those who resisted and provoked, were elect, the Holy Spirit overcame all their resistance and brought His people to God through His sovereign work. John also teaches this truth in John 6:37, 44, 45.
It is also proved in the salvation of the elect by Paul's expression in the passage from Eph. 4:30. It is true that it is possible for believers to grieve the Holy Spirit; but the fact remains that they are sealed to the day of redemption. That means that the elect are preserved everlastingly in their salvation.
The second remark that needs to be made is indeed that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and provoked. Being grieved and being provoked are emotions. But Scripture often speaks of many different emotions that characterize God. Scripture speaks of God's love, joy, anger, pity, etc. Sometimes the name anthropomorphism is given to such expressions. The term means literally "human form," and is used to indicate figures of speech in Scripture which ascribe human characteristics to God. Scripture speaks of God's right hand, God's eyes, God sleeping, etc. Emotions belong to such figures.
It is difficult to understand these things, for we think in terms of our emotions, which are human, involve human characteristics, and human changeableness. Nevertheless, Scripture uses these expressions so that we may have some understanding of God.
It is, however, important to understand that in God all these characteristics are the reality and our's are the figures. God's right hand is the real right hand; our's is the shadow. God's love is intensely perfect and divine; our love is only patterned after God's love. God's anger is perfect; our's is the type. Our human eyes are only created after the image of God's eyes and reflect God's eyes dimly.
God is surely angry with the sin of rebellion. But this must never be construed as meaning that the Holy Spirit of God does not always accomplish His sovereign purpose. No Arminian interpretation can possibly be dug out of this passage.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 14
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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