God displays His holiness (Exodus 19)

Our God is a holy God, and His holiness requires wrath and judgment against all that is unholy. Therefore, all sin receives His full wrath in judgment. Because our God is holy, we should not be surprised that the Bible presents us with occasions when the wrath of God breaks into time and space.

As the children of Israel fled the Egyptians into the wilderness, they quickly arrived at Sinai where God was going to give them His Law (Exodus 19). This giving of the Law was the first time that God had explicitly manifested His holiness to His people, stating in a moral code the expression of His holiness in commandments and ordinances. As stated, His Law was inflexible and uncompromising, and every violation received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2). It was a Law of condemnation and judgment that required blood sacrifices if there was to be any forgiveness. The Law was terrifying and awesome and was meant to instill fear and reverence in the people.

When God delivered His Law and displayed His holiness, everything about the occasion brought feelings of awe and fear. The LORD told Moses,

Let the people be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:11-12).

Then, in 19:16:

16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.

The LORD is holy, and whenever He manifests Himself to sinful man, man is overwhelmed and undone (Isaiah 6). But here, not only is the LORD coming down from heaven to speak to His people, but He is also delivering His holy Law, the Law of condemnation, the Law that every one of His people will violate (Romans 3:23), the Law that will result in judgment, the Law that will require the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. So here, on Mount Sinai, everything evokes awe and fear. There is thunder and lightning flashes and thick cloud. There is a loud trumpet sound coming from heaven (19:16), and this eerie, heavenly blare of the trumpet grows louder and louder (19:19). The entire mountain is engulfed in smoke and fire. The smoke ascends like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain is quaking violently. “Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).” Abject terror is the response from the people, which is entirely appropriate. God is manifesting His holiness in Law and judgment, and it evokes terrified reverence.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Hebrews 10:31

But there was another occasion even more awesome than this day at Mount Sinai when God again manifested His holiness. This occasion involved a hill instead of a mountain, and there was no thunder or lightning or fire or billowing smoke like a furnace. There was no eerie heavenly trumpet blast getting louder and louder. The scene was fairly quiet, just some bystanders looking on as three men endured the agony of crucifixion. Then something changed.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. – Mark 15:33

Darkness. There was darkness over the whole land, the darkness of judgment, the darkness of condemnation. Darkness as the expression of God’s holiness. And now the Man on the middle cross seemed to be enduring an agony much deeper than mere physical pain. This is Jesus Christ, the Chosen One. This is Jesus, the only One worthy to bear our sin, the only One able to bear our sin, Jesus Christ the Holy One enduring the full fury of the wrath of God against the sins of His people.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

So, for three hours on this Friday, Jesus Christ became sin for me and received the punishment that my sins deserved. He encountered the holiness of God in judgment.

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” – Mark 15:34

But Jesus’ suffering did have an end, for there was a goal in view. By His awesome work on the cross, Jesus propitiated God’s wrath. In John’s gospel, after the agonies of God’s wrath, Jesus shouts a victory cry.

Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. – John 19:30

Because Jesus died on the cross, we no longer stand terrified at the foot of the mountain, dreading the wrath of God and His judgment. Now, because of Jesus, God’s holiness is our holiness. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross and our faith in Him, Jesus’ perfect righteousness is our righteousness. Because of God’s grace, by our transformed lives we are now displays of God’s holiness.

SDG                 rmb                 4/7/2021

The Eschatology of Isaiah – 26:21 The Coming of the LORD

The prophet Isaiah wrote powerful prophecies not only of the events of Jesus the Messiah’s first advent, but also about the events of that day, the final day when the glorified Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the resurrected Lamb of God, returns from heaven on a white horse (Revelation 19:11ff) to judge all the earth.

It is Isaiah’s eschatology that we have been exploring in this series of studies, from one brief passage of four verses, Isaiah 26:19-27:1. Here the prophet tells us of things to come at the end of time. As we have seen in the post of December 1 of last year, Isaiah 26:19 told us about the great final resurrection of the dead when the tomb will become a womb and the dust will give birth to those who will sing for joy. A little later, in late December of 2019, we examined Isaiah 26:20, where the prophet writes about the time of tribulation of God’s people. Now, about nine months later, I want to examine the next verse in the passage in which the prophet tells us about when “the LORD is coming out of His place.”

PART 3 – The LORD is coming out of His place – 26:21

“For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain.”

There are definitely passages in the prophecy of Isaiah that are difficult to understand, but this is not one of them. Just to state the obvious, there will be a time in the future when “the LORD (YHWH) is coming out of His place.” For anyone familiar with the passages in the New Testament that talk about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the meaning of this phrase is clear. Isaiah is prophesying the return of the risen Christ at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead (confirm from Matt. 24:30-31; 25:31; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:14-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-8; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter ; 1 John 3: ; Revelation 19:11-21; etc.) Revelation 19:11ff, for example, is virtually identical to Isaiah’s prophecy and will be used as a comparison in the exegesis below.

            Phrase by phrase, the passage in Isaiah 26:21 says:

  • The LORD is coming out of His place. The Bible confirms that, in this instance at least, “the LORD (YHWH)” is Jesus, and that He will be coming “out of His place.” “His place” is heaven. This is exactly what Rev. 19:11 says as heaven opens, and a white horse appears and seated on the horse is the one called Faithful and True.
  • To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. When Jesus returns to earth from heaven at the end of the age, He is coming to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). As Isaiah says in other words, He is coming to punish the unrighteous for their iniquity. Now is the favorable year of the LORD (Isaiah 61:2) when the gospel is proclaimed and men and women can repent and believe the gospel and be saved from the wrath to come. But when Jesus returns and is “revealed from heaven in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance (2 Thess. 1:7-8);” when “He judges and makes war,” “strikes down the nations,” and “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:11, 15),” there will be no more repentance, but only punishment and recompense.
  • The earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain. Without going through this phrase word by word, the meaning of this phrase is that, when the Lord returns in judgment at the end of the age, there will be no sin that will not be exposed to the light of God’s holiness and there will be no iniquity that will not receive the full fury of God’s judgment. In this age it can seem that the unrighteous prosper and seem to get away with murder (see Psalm 73, for example). While God’s judgment is delayed, people can believe that sin is not a big deal and that, because punishment is delayed, punishment for sin will never occur. But there is no sin that God does not see and record (Revelation 20:12-13 – “and the books were opened”). Every sin matters to God, because every sin of His people required the death of His Son on the cross, and because every sin of the unrighteous requires eternal punishment. So, there is no sin that escapes His notice. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, for all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).”
  • Because the Lord will return to bring wrath on the unrighteous, now is the day to repent and trust in Christ (2 Cor. 6:1-2). When Isaiah wrote his prophecy about the coming of the LORD in judgment, there were yet 700 years before the First Advent of the Lord Jesus. When Isaiah wrote his prophecy, there were no miracles of Jesus, there were no apostles, there was no perfect Man who fulfilled the Law, there was no cross, and there was no empty tomb, There was no gospel to proclaim that allows sinners to be saved. There was no New Testament which clearly tells of the coming judgment and of the return of the glorious Lord Jesus, and that warns men and women to repent before the time to repent is gone. But we have no such ignorance, and now the time is short. Soon, and very soon, the LORD is coming out of His place to judge. “Behold, NOW is the favorable time; behold NOW is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).”

What we have seen so far in our reading of Isaiah 26:19-21 is that, even though Isaiah wrote at least 700 years before the New Testament was written, his prophecies about the events of the Second Coming of Jesus the Messiah are entirely consistent with the prophecies of the New Testament. This is yet another confirmation of the “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) nature of the entire Bible, and evidence that the same God who inspired Isaiah in his writings is also the God who inspired the New Testament authors. This should increase still more our confidence in the Scriptures and should persuade us that, when we handle the Bible, we are indeed handling the word of God.

The next post in this series will look at Isaiah 27:1 which will tell us more about the events surrounding the return of Jesus.

SDG                       rmb                        10/02/2020

Judgment and Grace in Babylon

The book of “Daniel” in the Bible divides neatly into two parts. The first six chapters give us narrative accounts of the adventures of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as they interact with the kings in Babylon. Then the last six chapters give us prophetic visions of the future, a future that covers the time of Daniel till the end of time. In the narrative section, two of the kings we encounter are King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar. It is these two kings that I want to consider, particularly exploring their relationship with the Most High God of the Hebrews (whom we know elsewhere as Yahweh, the LORD).

BACKGROUND

The best way, of course, to gain a grasp of the background of these two men and to understand the context of their stories in the Bible is to read the accounts of their lives in the respective sections of Scripture. So then, be sure that you have read “Daniel” chapters 1-4 about Nebuchadnezzar and “Daniel” chapter 5 about Belshazzar in preparation for this article.

Several things are obvious from the pages of Scripture. The most significant feature of both these men is that they are pagans. The word is not to be understood as judgmental, but as factual, because the word “pagan” just means “a worshiper of any god or gods other than the God of the Bible.” These men lived far away from Israel and Jerusalem and were completely ignorant of the God of the Hebrews. So, they did not know or acknowledge “the Most High God” or “the God of heaven.” This ignorance of the LORD and of His Law means that the Babylonian culture had no moral standards, and so Babylon was marked by the immorality and the idolatry that inevitably follow such a worldview.

Since this article is exploring their individual relationships with the Most High God, it is necessary to describe how the Most High God, the LORD, viewed these pagan kings. As is true for all those who violate His holy Law and who live immoral and defiant lives, so it was true for Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, that their transgressions and their sins brought them under the judgment and wrath of God (Romans 1:18). As we have already mentioned, when they are first introduced to us in the book of “Daniel,” it is obvious that they both kings know nothing about this “Most High God.” Nevertheless, from the LORD’s perspective, they have each violated His holiness and broken His holy laws and are thus both subject to His wrath and judgment. This means that, according to the clear teaching of the Bible, unless something changes in their lives, both these men deserve eternal punishment and will spend eternity in what the Bible calls “hell.”

JUDGMENT FOR BELSHAZZAR

We will first look at King Belshazzar. It becomes clear from Daniel 5 that Belshazzar is not only completely ignorant of the God of the Hebrews, the Most High God, but he is also defiant in his attitude toward this God, in essence treating Him as just another petty pagan deity of a defeated people. In the midst of his drunken party (Daniel 5:1-4), he calls for the vessels from the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, to be brought out so that he and all his pagan partiers may drink wine from them and use those vessels to praise the pagan gods of Babylon, “but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored (5:23).” This is clearly dangerous business, and, in the end, this final act of rebellion seals the doom of Belshazzar and his Chaldean kingdom, as the LORD brings judgment. Thus, Belshazzar dies and perishes (5:30).

Before we move on to an examination of Nebuchadnezzar, it would be good to digest what happened to Belshazzar. Tragically, he perished; that is, he remained under the judgment of God until the day of his death, and therefore, he will be punished forever in what the Bible calls “hell.” I mentioned above that something needed to change in Belshazzar’s life, or he would be judged and condemned. Well, nothing changed. Belshazzar continued in his rebellion against the Most High God and did not repent or worship the God of heaven. He, therefore, received his deserved judgment.

GRACE FOR NEBUCHADNEZZAR

There is a grand mystery in how the Lord, the Most High God, deals with the children of Adam. The Bible makes clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” The Bible also makes clear that “the wages of sin is (eternal) death (Romans 6:23),” thus making plain that every single one of us deserves God’s terrifying judgment. But the Bible also makes plain that not all receive God’s judgment. God will certainly punish all sin, but not all people will be punished: this is the mystery. Indeed, Job asks the question, “But how can a man be in the right before God? (Job 9:2)” In Job’s way of thinking, if a person sinned, there must be punishment. Sin meant a person was no longer “in the right before God.” So, how could they be reconciled? This is the mystery.

The solution to this mystery has now been revealed in the Scripture, and it is summed up in one word: grace. Grace has been described as God’s “unmerited favor,” favor that He freely chooses to bestow on certain undeserving sinners, with the result that those so chosen are delivered from His wrath and judgment and are instead forgiven of their sins and are adopted by God as His very own children and are guaranteed an eternity in heaven with Him. God’s grace and mercy and love were supremely demonstrated in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cruel cross.

I bring up the subject of grace now because here in Daniel chapters 1-4 we see a demonstration of God’s grace through the spiritual journey of King Nebuchadnezzar. We have already seen how Belshazzar received his deserved judgment. But by contrast, as we read of King Nebuchadnezzar, we see that he receives amazing patience and grace from the God of heaven. Make no mistake about it: Nebuchadnezzar starts out fully as ignorant of the Most High God as any other Chaldean would be. The king has serious anger issues, demonstrated in his flying into a tirade because his magicians cannot tell him his dream (Ch. 2) and then in getting furious when the Hebrew men will not bow down to his golden image (Ch. 3). Finally, in chapter 4 we see Nebuchadnezzar’s immense pride as he congratulates himself for all that he has accomplished in Babylon. Ignorance and malevolence and arrogance make a pretty nasty brew, but such is the Chaldean king.

But in the midst of all these theatrics, we must not miss what God is doing by His providence. Instead of bringing judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar for his many and great sins, He graciously uses a series of providences to draw the king to Himself, so that, in the end, he not only knows about the LORD, but he also praises Him as his God. Notice the progression:

  • In Chapter 1, since Nebuchadnezzar is so far from Jerusalem and is so distant from the knowledge of the LORD and of His Word, the LORD providentially arranges to have four “ambassadors” (Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael) sent from Jerusalem to Babylon to begin to live in the very court of the king himself. Now, through the means of a conquest and an exile, there are four messengers of the LORD in close proximity to the pagan king.
  • In Chapter 2, the LORD gives Nebuchadnezzar a dream about a multi-metallic statue. The dream cannot be told by the Chaldean magicians and so, providentially, Daniel comes into the presence of the king to tell the dream and its interpretation. In the course of telling the dream, Daniel introduces Nebuchadnezzar to the “God of heaven.” In Daniel 2:46-47, Nebuchadnezzar declares to Daniel, Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries.” At this point, then, Nebuchadnezzar knows about the “God of heaven” and is impressed with His power, although certainly the king is not a worshiper yet.
  • Chapter 3 is the well-known story of the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. When confronted with certain death as the price of their obedience, the Hebrew men politely defy the king and tell him that their God can deliver them from his furnace. Nebuchadnezzar is astounded by what the “God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” does in “sending His angel and delivering His servants who trusted in Him (Daniel 3:28).” Now Nebuchadnezzar not only knows about the existence of the Most High God, the God of the Hebrews, but he also knows that this God is able to save from the fire. This God is more powerful than a blazing fiery furnace and this God will act to deliver His servants from the flames. This God is a saving God. Do you see how the LORD is slowly, graciously drawing Nebuchadnezzar to Himself?
  • Chapter 4 is the culmination of the grace of the LORD toward Nebuchadnezzar, as we see him both at the beginning of the chapter and at the end giving praise to the Most High God, the King of heaven (4:2, 34, 37, etc.). In fact, Chapter 4 could well be considered Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony, for in this chapter the king talks about “the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me (4:2).” He describes how, through the means of another dream interpreted by Daniel, he went from being  a proud king to a man humbled to the level of a beast, to then being restored to his kingdom, but with a new perspective on the King of heaven, whom he praises, extols, and honors. Through God’s providence and grace, the Most High God has become HIS GOD.

As the Bible so often does, here in Daniel chapters 1-5 the Scripture illustrates for us theological principles through these narrative stories. Here we see the grace of God that patiently leads King Nebuchadnezzar to become a worshiper of the Most High God. And we also see the justice of God demonstrated in King Belshazzar that subjects to judgment those who do not repent and who do not bow the knee to worship the LORD.

REFLECTIONS

The story of the justice of God and the grace of God continues to this day and will continue until the Lord Jesus returns. This is a story that touches every single human being, for it should be clear that, as both these kings deserved God’s judgment because of their sin, so every one of us deserves God’s judgment because of our sin. But the grace of God has provided a substitute for those chosen by God who will take our punishment in our place. Jesus Christ is our substitute and the greatest picture of God’s grace.

For those who are already followers of Jesus, another point of reflection is to try to grasp the grace of God that has been given to you, for it is crystal clear that your salvation was entirely undeserved. The only thing that we are able to merit is condemnation and judgment. Yet God, for reasons known only to Him, has decided to lavish His grace on you and to reckon you as righteous because of the work of Christ. He would have remained perfectly righteous and just to have cast you headlong into an eternal hell, but He chose instead to give you His grace, His unmerited favor. His grace included His patience and His providence as He carefully crafted the steps of your journey to faith in Him. Like His grace toward Nebuchadnezzar, He guided you every step of the way so that you would arrive at repentance and faith and would become His adopted child.

SDG                 rmb                 7/17/2020