Introduction: The Glory of God and Israel
Our text today is about God’s wrath on Israel. It reveals a picture of God which many people find difficult and hard to embrace, as they should. If we are not stirred with compassion, sorrow, and heartache when thinking about the wrath of God, then we have a serious problem.
The thought of God pouring out His wrath is heart-wrenching. It’s not entertaining. It’s not something we will cheer, like at the movies, when the bad guy gets it at the end. God’s wrath is eternal damnation and nothing to cheer about.
God’s wrath is part of His holy plan. It is a holy act by a holy God. God purposes to bring people into His kingdom and God purposes to punish the ungodly by condemning them to hell.
Before we exposit the passage, let’s take a few moments to place ourselves on a firm foundation. Otherwise, we might get lost in these verses, and walk away with wrong conclusions about God, and our salvation.
The declaration of God’s Glory: Grace and Wrath
We need to plant our feet firmly on the foundation of God’s glory. God does everything for His glory. We’ve looked at this text before, but it is worth reviewing.
When Moses receives the Covenant on Mount Horeb, God declares His glory to Moses.
“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 glory is relational and impacts people. God’s glory consists of two relational components.
The first relational component is that God is compassionate. Because of His compassion and graciousness, His glory impacts people for their good by being compassionate and gracious, and forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.
The second relational component is that God is a Judge of people. His glory is that He will punish the guilty. His glory impacts people because they are condemned eternally.
The display of God’s Glory: Grace and Wrath
God declares His glory to Moses, and we see that He displays His glory to people throughout redemptive history.
God displays the glory of His grace and shows compassion upon the elect.
- Grace – God displays His glory by saving His elect to eternal life. He demonstrates grace to those who put their faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins.
The elect receive punishment, but it is a punishment of discipline aimed at bringing forth holiness and not condemnation. God disciplines those who He loves to make them holy, and righteous. The book of Hebrews says:
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
The child of God will receive God’s discipline, but they never experience God’s wrath.
The second way God displays His glory is to pour out His wrath on sinners.
- Wrath – God displays His glory in the eternally condemning judgment and punishment of unrepentant God demonstrates His wrath upon the guilty disobedient.
God’s wrath is the very worst form of punishment in the universe. It is a severe eternal punishment. God pours out His wrath on both people and angels. The final destination for unrepentant sinners is hell.
God’s glory, and the nation of Israel
The next principle we need to understand is the principle of nationhood. God, in His infinite wisdom, divides people into nations.
God uses nations as part of His redemptive plan. Israel, is especially chosen to manifest God’s grace. In the time of Isaiah, Babylon is a nation chosen to bring about God’s wrath.
Israel is chosen to declare and demonstrate God’s glory. The people of Israel are entrusted with the oracles of God (Romans 3:2). They are chosen to declare the person, plan, and nature of God to the other nations. Also, they are a people chosen to be a blessing to the nations by “birthing” the Messiah. The nation is chosen from among other nations by grace; unmerited favor.
God could choose any nation. God could raise up a nation from rocks. But, He chose Israel.
Within the nation of Israel, there are saved and unsaved people. Some are recipients of God’s grace and others His wrath. The ones God saves the Bible refers to as the remnant.
Isaiah and God’s Glory
Isaiah is a prophet who lives in Jerusalem chosen by God to declare God’s glory in the Northern Kingdom of Judah. Isaiah reveals that the people of Israel have become just like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9). God calls upon the people to repent.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. “If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20)
Most people do not repent. They are wicked, and hard-hearted. A great purging of the nation takes place. The wicked become objects of God’s wrath.
But, God, because He is faithful, saves a remnant (Isaiah 1:9). Some listen to God’s invitation to repent and they are vessels of God’s grace. We will meet them one day in heaven.
The passage in Isaiah 51, verses 17-23, describes Israel after God is done pouring out His wrath. We see the effects. The purging of the wicked is devastating. Babylonian soldiers destroy cities and fields. Men are killed by the sword. Women and children are taken captive.
Isaiah speaks poetically and describes Israel as a woman and refers to her as Jerusalem. Often, capital cities are representative of the nation.
We need to remember Jerusalem in her glory. She is a woman who was once the envy of all. She was beautiful, rich, and clothed in luxury. She was proud and stood tall as she brought the work of her hands to the market. She ate the finest food and drank the best of wines. She was virile and gave birth to strong, handsome sons.
The picture Isaiah paints is that Jerusalem has become a pitiful drunken, and helpless woman. She is clothed in pity and shame. It’s not hard to imagine her as filthy and covered in sores. If we were to see her, we might throw her some pocket change. We would not invite her to our home.
Arise nation of Israel
Jerusalem is drunk with God’s wrath
The passage begins by God rousing Jerusalem from her drunkenness. If you ever have to wake an inebriated person, you can picture the situation. God says,
Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem,
You who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs. (Isaiah 51:17)
Whatever it is that she drank has put her in a stupor. It is a strong drink completely affecting her thinking, moving, and speech. The cup lies next to her, empty. Like an empty bottle next to the man on a park bench, the empty chalice tells the story.
God makes her drink the cup of His anger because she rejects Him as a nation. God brings the cup of His anger to her lips, and makes her drink it to the dregs, which is the sediment at the bottom of the chalice.
God gives Jerusalem the cup to purge her of the ungodly. It is like medicine that rids her of a deadly virus. The medicine effects the whole body and it is felt by all Israelites. Now, all that is left is a woman in anguish. The goal is to bring Israel back to health.
Jerusalem is in utter despair
Jerusalem is now a poor woman of pity and shame, a picture of utter despair. She was once a woman with many strong sons. They were warriors, merchants, leaders, and well-educated. Jerusalem looked with pride on her sons.
But, her sons are ungodly. After drinking the cup of God’s anger, Jerusalem awakens to find her sons are gone. They are no longer there to comfort the woman. She awakens to see her house is in shambles from enemy soldiers trampling through. But, even worse, she awakens to the realization her most valuable possession, her sons, are no longer with her.
There is none to guide her among all the sons she has borne,
Nor is there one to take her by the hand among all the sons she has reared.
These two things have befallen you; who will mourn for you?
The devastation and destruction, famine and sword;
How shall I comfort you? (Isaiah 51:18-19)
The loss of her sons to devastation, destruction, famine, and the sword is more than she can handle. In her hangover, she wakes to find her drunkenness brings about the loss of her children. She grieves unconsolably.
Jerusalem’s sons are dead
We have a description of what happens to her sons.
Your sons have fainted,
They lie helpless at the head of every street,
Like an antelope in a net,
Full of the wrath of the Lord,
The rebuke of your God. (Isaiah 51:20)
God is writing the history book. The entry in the book is written with His hand. He is the one who brings about the death of her sons. The history book does not say that Babylon is a mighty, and strong foe. The soldiers of Babylon are not greater than soldiers of Israel.
The entry in the history book reads, “Israel’s sons blaspheme the God of Israel. They are disobedient and evil. Therefore, I, the Lord, poured out my wrath. Only a remnant remains.”
God’s wrath on Jerusalem is spent
The passage brings a word of hope. Awaken drunken woman. Listen to God.
Therefore, please hear this, you afflicted,
Who are drunk, but not with wine:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord, even your God
Who contends for His people,
“Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling,
The chalice of My anger; you will never drink it again. (Isaiah 51:21-22)
God is finished pouring out His wrath on Israel. We don’t know when this occurs. Some will say this speaks of the end to the Babylonian captivity. But, we might also say that the Babylonian captivity is not the end. We have many historical events we may point to where the sons of Israel appear to be still drinking God’s wrath. We can point to the Roman invasion in the first century when every stone in the city is overturned. We can point to the Grenada massacre in 1066 when Israel as a nation disappears from the earth. We can point to the holocaust of 1941-1945.
We don’t know for certain when God takes the cup of reeling from the hand of Jerusalem. What we do know is that there is a day when that will take place.
God’s wrath on the enemies of Israel
After God takes the cup from Israel, He gives it to the enemies of Israel. He says,
“I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, ‘Lie down that we may walk over you.’ you have even made your back like the ground and like the street for those who walk over it.” (Isaiah 51:23)
As we read the Revelation of John, we read of how God pours out His wrath on Babylon. Perhaps, this is what this passage speaks about.
Seven Truths About God’s Wrath
We need to ask ourselves, what may we take away from this passage? How are we to live after knowing these truths about God’s wrath upon Israel?
Perhaps the most important thing we may do is to learn and understand the truth about God’s wrath. God’s wrath is a reality. It is a fact of life. It is not something we should ignore.
Jesus speaks about God’s wrath and hell more than He speaks about heaven[i]. It is uncomfortable for us, but it is not uncomfortable for Jesus. God’s wrath is an integral aspect of God’s glory, we need to embrace the truth of God’s judgment.
Here are seven truths about God’s wrath that we need to know.
1- Demonstrates God’s glory
The demonstration of God’s wrath is a demonstration of His glory. Just reading about God’s wrath ought to make us say, woe is me. It should drop us to our knees. We are to fear God, which means we need to think of Him with reverence. God is not trivial. He has the power, and authority to save people to eternal life and to condemn people to eternal damnation.
God is to be honored. His name is not to be blasphemed. We are to treat Him as holy. (Leviticus 10:3)
2- It is only for the wicked
The only people who drink from the cup of God’s wrath are the wicked of the earth. Psalm 75:8 says the wicked must drain, and drink down its dregs. They do not have a choice. They drink to their condemnation. They are guilty.
Those who put their faith In Christ, do not drink from the cup of God’s wrath. Romans 8:1-2 says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those who are in Christ drink living water.
3- No exemptions
There are no exemptions. Rich sinners may not bribe their way out of God’s wrath. Upper-class sinners are not exempt from the wrath of God. God does not look at a sinner’s skin color. Israelites are not exempt.
There are Israelites who presume upon God’s grace and believe that they have a get out of hell free card just because they are children of Abraham. Being an Israelite does not exempt a person from the judgment of God.
If you are here today, and you think that just because your parents take you to church, you are free from God’s wrath, let me tell you unless you receive Jesus as your Lord, and Savior, you are going to hell. You might not think it is a nice thing for me to say. But, sometimes the truth is not nice. All sinners are going to hell. There are no exemptions.
4- Reveals the seriousness of rebellion, and sin
- C. Sproul says, “Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself” (from the Holiness of God).
We view life through the tainted eyes of people who sin. We have no idea what it is like to view life as perfect people. If we were holy, as God is holy, we would understand the horrible, and despicableness of sin.
We are not holy. Sin exists all around us. Our soul is calloused from sin. We even find sin entertaining as we watch movies about bank heists, murder, lying, and lust.
The question we ought to be asking is why does God permit ongoing rebellion? Grace allows people to live when they don’t deserve to live.
5- It is eternal
We live in a space, and time continuum. We sin in defined moments. We look to a time, or a day, which we sin. We measure our sin in varying degrees of big, and small. We think finitely.
God is infinite. He is outside of space, and time. He makes decisions, and they are eternal.
God is eternally forgiving so His forgiveness is eternal. God’s gift of grace is an eternal gift.. The recipients of grace are forever recipients of grace (hence, eternal security!). All sins in time (yesterday, today, tomorrow) are forgiven. Jesus says that we receive eternal life. This is why Paul can say with confidence that we are together, alive, risen, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. It is finished in eternity.
God is outside the confines of space, and so is His grace; there is no beginning or end. His glory is that He is abounding in lovingkindness. It is measureless. It is infinitely good. No sin is too large for His grace.
God’s judgment is eternal. Those who are judged guilty by God as sinners receive eternal damnation. The damnation has no beginning or end. It is infinitely all-encompassing punishment which lasts eternally.
To say the God of the Old Testament, or salvation in the Old Testament is different is to not understand the nature of God. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
6- It is holy, righteous, and true
In the book of Revelation, as God’s wrath is being poured out upon the earth, the altar says, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Revelation 16:7)
The wrath of God is holy, righteous, and true. God is holy. It is His nature. Everything He does is holy, including His judgment of sinners.
God’s judgment is never unfair, quirky, or an act of tyranny. It is impossible for God to be unjust. He makes the rules and lives by the rules. People like to think of God as slow to anger, but when He does get angry, we are shocked.
Those that see God face-to-face see have no questions regarding God’s justice. Sin occludes our eyes and blinds us to the nature of our being, and the perfection of God. Once the blindness of sin is removed, when we are glorified, we will see God for who He is. Hell does not diminish the holiness (perfection) of God.
7-Jesus drinks our cup
The only way God can allow us into heaven is if our sin is punished. If God does not punish our sin, He is not a holy, perfect judge.
The Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ, takes our punishment for us. Jesus drinks the cup of God’s anger for us.
… He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:41-44)
Jesus steps between us and God. Jesus takes the chalice of God’s wrath and He drinks the cup to the dregs, saying, “It is finished.”
The main idea of this passage is that we are to rejoice, knowing God is committed to His glory in His judgment of sin. We rejoice knowing that God’s judgment of sin is necessary to bring about a world of peace and joy. And we rejoice knowing that we are saved by His grace.
Let’s close by looking at Ephesians 2:1-7 - "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."