Pastor Steve Ellison Column: Shall I Relent?
As we continue our journey through the Bible chronologically, stopping to examine the questions that God has asked of individuals and groups, we see that these questions must be rhetorical because God already knows the answers. We also, with painful frequency, see ourselves in the passages. Thus, there is much for us to learn from these questions. We have made our way to Isaiah. The jumbled chronology and the mixing of narrative passages with prophetic passages make Isaiah an enigmatic book.
Isaiah 57 begins with a simple, straightforward, and sober declaration, The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; And devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, He enters into peace; They rest in their beds, Each one who walked in his upright way. (NASU, Isaiah 57:1-2) Israel’s society was in a terrible state. Plainly, the righteous were chewed up and spat out by society. They were abused and no one even paid attention. They had to go to the grave to obtain rest.
God is about to draw a painful contrast between the aforementioned righteous and those who are the targets of His questions. The unrighteous will not be able to answer the questions God poses in verses three through five, "But come here, you sons of a sorceress, Offspring of an adulterer and a prostitute. "Against whom do you jest? Against whom do you open wide your mouth And stick out your tongue? Are you not children of rebellion, Offspring of deceit, Who inflame yourselves among the oaks, Under every luxuriant tree, Who slaughter the children in the ravines, Under the clefts of the crags? (NASU) God wasted no time in identifying these wicked people. They were steeped in sin, even generational sin. They were rebellious, deceitful mockers of God. They murdered their own children in vain attempts to convince idols to bless their materialistic endeavors. These wicked people wanted convenience, comfort, and wealth. God rightly points out that their sin is against Him. They intend to live as if they are masters of their own fates, as if they are lords over their own lives, as if they can live by their own rules. God gets right to the point in asking whom they are mocking and rebelling against. It is YHWH, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In verse six God asks an even more probing question, Among the smooth stones of the ravine Is your portion, they are your lot; Even to them you have poured out a drink offering, You have made a grain offering. Shall I relent concerning these things? (NASU) What an arresting and sobering message God has for them and us. At some point in our rebellion and mocking, God gives us over to our own stubbornness of heart, lusts, degrading passions, and depraved minds (Psalm 81, Romans 1). That is a most terrifying punishment, when the Spirit of God ceases to deal with us, when God begins to turn away from us, leaving us to our own desires. No man can withstand that awful judgment.
The passage concludes with the rhetorical question, Shall I relent concerning these things? Of course, He will not relent. He is faithful and true and a keeper of all His promises. 2 Timothy 2:12-13 makes it clear, If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (NASU) It amazes me that men seem to believe that they can live lives that mock God and that He will ignore this and break His own word by relenting of His clear promise.