Text: Isaiah 3:1-26, Isaiah 4:1-6, Exodus 13:21-22, Hebrews 10:10-14
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
C.S. Lewis wrote these words in his book The Great Divorce, but they are a fitting description of the scene depicted in Isaiah 3. In this chapter, Judah faces the consequences of their sin, and the consequences are surprising. God does not smite Judah with fire and brimstone. Nor does He send enemies to invade. Instead, God simply gives Judah over to themselves. He allows Judah’s worst impulses to enjoy free reign, most noticeably among their leaders.
In his commentary on Isaiah, the late biblical scholar J. Alec Motyer summarized the chapter this way: “Divine judgment on society begins to manifest itself in the disappearance of solid leadership, and the appearance of immature, capricious leaders” (59), all of which result in division, distrust, and widespread societal collapse. In short, Judah gets the leaders they deserve.
What is additionally clear from the passage, is that these leaders rise up from among Judah’s ranks. In other words, the punishment is not wrought from outside, but from within. It is, in a sense, a self-inflicted wound, and this is where we can find ourselves in this story.
Now, over 2,500 years later, followers of Christ no longer fear punishment because Jesus received it for us. The cross was enough and no further penalty is necessary. However, Isaiah chapters 3 and 4 contain a pattern which still holds true today: God does not wrestle His people into submission. If we insist on disobedience, He allows us to disobey. And when this happens, we experience the consequences of our decision.
Thankfully, the pattern does not stop there. On the heels of Judah’s downfall, the story suddenly shifts, and we encounter an all new tone:
“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.”
- Isaiah 4:2
What are we to make of this abrupt vision of hope?
The arc of chapters 3 and 4—from destruction to restoration—reminds us of two truths. The first is that redemption always has the last word. No matter the darkness and confusion, chaos never reigns. God reigns. He is always in control, leading the sadness and the mess toward one inevitable conclusion: He wins. Death dies. Suffering is extinguished. Joy comes in the morning. Whether our leaders are corrupt, or our personal lives are in shambles, this present darkness is not the end of our story.
The second truth we see in this passage is that destruction can be a mercy. Sometimes destruction is purely the result of living in a broken world, but sometimes God is doing something more. Sometimes He is destroying something toxic, in order to rebuild it. And sometimes, He permits us to experience the destructiveness of our own choices so that we depart from them. God grants us “our will be done” so that we learn the anguish and emptiness of our own will, and repent and run to His.
Pain or brokenness or even societal strife can be a severe mercy. This strange yet good brokenness is an opportunity to learn and repent and cling to God like never before. God beckons us to turn back from the path of destruction and choose the path that leads to life, and the good news is, it is never, ever too late.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom of two boys. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today and recently completed her Ph.D, which focused on cultivating the gifts of women in the church.