When Isaiah writes these later chapters in his prophetic book, it is during the worst time in the history of Israel. King Manasseh, the most evil of all of Judah’s kings, leads the nation in profane and blasphemous worship. When the Israelites first come to the Promised Lands, God has the Israelites defeat other nations because of their evil practices. When Manasseh is king, the kingdom of Judah is as bad if not worse than the heathen nations.
Manasseh undoes all of the reforms of his father, Hezekiah. He worships astrology. He sacrifices his son in the fire. He practices witchcraft and consults mediums. He is also known for killing many innocent people. The people of Israel should revolt, and denounce their king, but they do not. Legend tells us that Manasseh and the people of Judah eventually saw Isaiah in two.
Isaiah writes of how God is very displeased with Israel. They are a people who religiously claim the name of God, but their hearts are far from God. They say they are God’s people, but in their hearts, they are not truthful or right.
The people of Judah are obstinate with iron necks and a forehead of bronze. They are full of pride, and their accomplishments, not giving God the glory for all that they have. Instead, they give the glory to their idols that they love and make sacrifices to.
The people are sinners from birth. It is their nature. They are rebellious and disobedient to the ways of God, and they don’t worship God with their hearts.
God condemns all the other nations for being evil, and the people of Judah are even more evil. The sins of the Israelites are worthy of God’s condemnation.
Imagine how angry God must be at the people of Judah. It is no wonder that He will allow the Babylonians to take them captive.
We may not be as bad as the people of Judah. They are wicked. However, we are all guilty of the same sins. The Psalms tell us that we are all born speaking lies. We are not as guilty as them, but all of us are proud at one time or another. We all are guilty of having hearts that stray.
The Bible says that all of us are under judgment for dishonoring God’s glory (Romans 1:22, 23; 3:23; Acts 12:23). Before we point fingers at the people of Judah, we need to continually examine our hearts, and repent from times of being disobedient to God’s ways.
We may not have idols that we make sacrifices to, but we at times make idols of entertainers and sports. We sometimes make idols of our work, and careers. Which one of us may say we are not guilty of coveting something we don’t have, which the Bible says is idolatry.
Our hearts are not pure. We are not as blatantly evil as the people of Judah, but we are guilty of not loving God as we ought.
But God says He restrains His wrath against the people of Judah. He sends them into Babylonian captivity to refine them, but God doesn’t refine them completely. The reason God withholds complete refinement is that if He did refine them, there wouldn’t be anything left. The people of Judah are all dross and no silver. So, God restrains His anger.
What we need to understand is the reason God gives for restraining His anger. Why does God hold back His wrath? We are guilty and there is a reason God restrains His anger against us as well.
God explains why He restrains His anger. Six times He tells the people of Judah that the reason He doesn’t punish them is because of who He is.
God says He restrains His wrath for the sake of His name. He restrains His wrath, so He will receive praise. He restrains His wrath for His own sake. God will not allow His name, His reputation, to be tarnished. God will not allow idols to get the glory for restraining His wrath. God refuses to play second fiddle to anything.
Think about what God is saying. He says it is “for My own sake.” All that He talks about refer to the essence of who God is. God’s name represents Him. God’s glory represents who He is. God’s praise is a recognition of who God is, and what God does.
This is a very important truth that gets to the heart of all that God does. It is important that we understand this truth.
God withhold His wrath because of the essence of His being. Essence is the intrinsic nature of something. It is an indispensable quality of something that determines its character.
What is the essence of who we are? When it comes to people, we might say that the essence of Christopher Columbus is that he is an explorer. The essence of Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, is that she is compassionate, and cares for those who are hurt and dying. We might say that the essence of Henry Ford is that he is an industrialist who understands manufacturing. The essence of Albert Einstein is that he is a gifted mathematician.
What will they say about you and I after we are dead and gone? What is the essence of your life? Hopefully, people will not remember you because you are a great at video games. Please don’t let it be said that you were great at posting things on Facebook. Hopefully, all of us will be known for our faith in Jesus Christ.
The essence of God restrains His wrath. God restrains His wrath because of the essence of His being. There is an indispensable quality of God at work and on display. The restraint of His wrath is born out of an essential attribute of His character.
As we look throughout the book of Isaiah, we see God’s purpose in doing many things is because of the essence of who He is.
The reason God creates us is for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). The reason we exist is that we are born out of the essence of God’s character.
Isaiah tells us that the reason God forgives our sins is for His name’s sake (Isaiah 43:25).
The reason God calls Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and makes them a mighty nation is for His glory (Isaiah 49:3). It is for Him, not for Israel. Israel exists so God will be known among the nations.
When God looks at all the nations of the earth, and He finds that they do not worship Him, He judges those nations. God does that so that His name will be made known among those nations. He does it for His own sake, for His glory (Isaiah 24:15; Isaiah 64:1-2). He does it because that is who He is.
Again, Isaiah tells us that when all is said and done, after the end of the age, when people are in heaven, and they are living in eternal bliss, we will be in heaven praising the essence of God. We all benefit from eternal life and enjoying all the blessings of heaven. But, ultimately, the reason God gathers a people to Himself is so that everyone will find joy in Him. As people find joy in existing in the presence of God, they will exalt, and praise His name (Isaiah 12:4). As David says, “Who have I in heaven but You!”
God accomplishes every act of redemption for His glory. God works so His name is made known, and that people will praise the essence of His being.
We see throughout the Old Testament that the reason God acts on behalf of Israel is not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of His glory.
God exalts, and defeats Pharaoh, and rescues Israel to show his power, and glory (Exodus 14:4, 18; Psalm 106:7-8; Romans 9:17). The purpose of having His people in Egypt, and calling them out of slavery, is so God’s people will worship Him.
As the Israelites traverse in the wilderness, they are full of disobedience and lack faith in God. But, God does not judge them and bring them to ruin. God spares Israel in the wilderness for the glory of His name (Ezekiel 20:14). They don’t deserve to be spared, but God does spare them because His greater concern is the glory of His name.
The Israelites cross the river Jordan. They defeat countless nations and gain victory in the Promised Land. They don’t gain victory because they have great armies or because they are military strategists. Their swords are not the sharpest and their guns (biceps, lol) are not bigger. The reason they are victorious is God desires to glorify His name (2 Samuel 7:23).
In the passage we read during the Scripture reading, we see that the reason God restores His people from Babylonian captivity and will bring them back to reestablish the nation of Israel is not that His people deserve to return. The reason God restores Israel from exile is for the glory of his name (Ezekiel 36:22-28)
We must ask the question then, what is the essence of God? What does His name represent? What is God’s glory? If the essence of Columbus is that he is an explorer, and the essence of Clara Barton is that she is compassionate, and Einstein is a mathematician, what is the essence of God Almighty?
When we ask this question, we are asking the same question Moses asks God on Mount Sinai. Moses asks God to show him His glory. We know the story. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and walks past Moses. Moses doesn’t see God, but God describes for him what He would see. It is a verbal theophany.
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
God’s essence is that He is compassionate, and gracious. These are indispensable qualities of His character. He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin. God is full of lovingkindness. Everything about God is truth and righteousness. God is the authority. To say otherwise is not truth or right. Therefore, He is willing to offer forgiveness to those who are willing to bend their knee to His authority.
God is holy. God hates sin. God will punish those who are unwilling to bend their knee to God as the authority. They are guilty of not honoring and worshipping and praising God’s glory. They fall short of holiness and truth. They do not enjoy God.
In this passage, we may distill two indispensable qualities of God.
There are people who do see God’s glory, and it is those people who put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, and Lord.
For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
God seeking His glory is not only an Old Testament truth. The purpose of Israel, and the Old Testament is to establish the New Testament (New Covenant). God’s work with Israel is to bring about the New Covenant.
The God of the universe became a man. His name is Jesus. Just like His Father in heaven, Jesus’ mission is to glorify the Father. Jesus tells us that everything He does is to glorify God (John 7:18). Jesus tells His followers that the reason He comes to earth is to suffer on the cross. He tells them that the reason He endures the pain, and suffering of the cross is for God’s glory (John 12:27-28). We also know that when Jesus returns at the Second Coming to fetch His bride, the church, and to claim ultimate victory over His enemies is all for the glory of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
All of God’s glory is seen walking as a man among people.
As we look at the cross of Jesus Christ, and we see our Savior died for our sins, we see the very essence of God. We see the glory of God in His lovingkindness magnified in the forgiveness of sins. We see the glory of God in the judgment of sin. We see the glory of God on display with His love and judgment. We see that on the left and right of that cross, two objects of God’s glory. One man is condemned eternally and is the object of God’s glorious wrath. The other man, cries out for mercy, and that man is the object of God’s glorious love.
We see what Moses could not see, but only heard about. We see the essence of God’s nature, His name, His own sake, for all the world to see. We see God’s holy judgment, and His love coming together in focus.
Are you saved? If so, what is the basis of your salvation? Upon what truth do you believe you will be able to die, and walk into the Kingdom of Heaven, and have a reception for your arrival?
Do you believe you will walk through the gates of heaven because you are a good person? Who do you compare yourself to? Do you compare yourself to other people or do you measure how good you are compared to how good God is? The truth is that God is the measure of good. There is none who is good. All people are destined to judgment, and we will receive eternal punishment. The Bible says all people fall short of God’s glory. All have sinned. None are good. If you think you will walk into heaven because you are good, you are wrong.
Are we saved because we think we deserve salvation? Are we saved because we don’t think our sin is very bad? Perhaps you think that little white lie, or the tiny flash of pride, or the passing lustful thought, is not so evil. Let me tell you, that those things we think of as little sins are a big deal to God. If they are not a problem, then we can expect the same will happen in heaven. If our sins are so little and don’t matter, then heaven will be just a slight improvement. Don’t be deceived. The lustful thoughts of the heart, the bit of jealousy and bitterness, and the shortest words of gossip, deceit, and pride are evil sins in the eyes of a holy, and perfect God.
There is only one way to walk into the gates of heaven and receive a warm welcome. Those who walk in are those who say to God; I am guilty. I put my faith in Your glory. I am not worthy; however, I know that You are a God whose very essence is that You abound in compassion, forgiveness, and lovingkindness. I believe that Jesus Christ is the expression of who You are, and I put my faith in what Jesus did on the cross. I believe Your glory is displayed in Jesus Christ and Your love is proven in His blood sacrifice.
We appeal to God for salvation on the essence of His character. We say to God, “I beg of You, make me an object to display Your grace and mercy. Make me a vessel of Your love and mercy.”
The Apostle Paul makes a very strong statement in the ninth chapter of Romans. He writes that salvation does not depend on our willing ourselves to be saved. Our salvation does not depend on how good we are in this life. The Apostle Paul tells us that our salvation depends on God who has mercy (Rom 9:16).
Because salvation does not rest upon ourselves, we may have great confidence in our salvation. We are confident that God will glorify Himself and therefore we are confident in our salvation.
The truth that God will glorify Himself is the surest truth in the universe. That is both good news and bad. The good news is that for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, they may have extreme, unwavering confidence that God will glorify Himself and make them objects of His mercy. The bad news is that for those who refuse to put their faith in Jesus Christ, God will glorify Himself by making them objects of His wrath and judgment.
God will glorify Himself with love, and God will glorify Himself with judgment. God will be glorified.
King David understands the truth of God’s essence. In Psalm 25, David expresses to God, “For Your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11).
Let’s all be like King David, a man who God says is seeking God’s heart. Let’s cry out to the Lord, and say, “Pardon my sin for it is great. Forgive me, not for my sake or because I deserve to have my sin forgiven but forgive me so that You may glorify Your mercy. Make me an object where You may show forth the glory of Your divine attributes. Let the universe see how You pour out Your love. Do it for Your glory and that Your name will be famous.”