"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 26



Chapter 26: "And More - The Violence of Prophecy? (1)"




Chapter 26– And More - the Violence of Prophecy?

(God's activity in history)


“I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.”    (Isa 1:25,26)



Contents of Chapter 26

26.1 Introduction

26.2 Recapping the Purpose of God

26.3 Generalisations versus Activity

26.4 Specific Examples: Isaiah

26.5 The Historical Context of Isaiah

26.6 And so...


26.1 Introduction


Whenever the subject of God's love comes up in the context of the Old Testament, someone is eventually going to ask, “How can you talk about a God of love when you see His violent assertions in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, His announcements of violent judgment on people?” In this chapter we propose to start examining the truth behind the assumptions of this question.

WARNING: These chapters are for those who genuinely want to find out what the Bible actually says. To that end we have, therefore, used many quotes - and we could have used considerably more! Therefore please bear with us and take in the power of what comes through in the many Scriptures below.


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26.2 Recapping the Purpose of God


Although we have covered this again and again in different forms in this book, we still need to repeat it until we have completely taken it in and understood it. It is important, vitally important, to see if we are to understand the theme of this chapter. God's objective ALWAYS throughout the Old Testament was to draw Israel back into a close relationship with Him so that they could enjoy the goodness of His love and His provision. We have asserted throughout this book that God is a God of love and that love seeks the wellbeing of others.


For Israel , as we asserted in the previous chapter, that meant coming back to living according to the design that God had from the beginning for mankind. Although we have said this again and again in this book, perhaps it still needs example and explanation. The example of what we call ‘marriage' will suffice well.


God's design for human beings includes the ability of a man and a woman to come together and experience love, a selfless giving of one to the other. We have that ability; it is something built into us, God's design if you like, so that we find we can enter into such a relationship (not just an act).


Now we just described this relationship as involving selfless giving to one another and, of course, we don't find that with all people, we find ourselves experiencing that with one person. Now if that remains the definition AND experience of the couple – selfless giving to one another – that can deepen and mature over the years. It takes work and it takes commitment but the testimonies of the elderly who have been together say over sixty years, reveals a goodness that is rarely found in such a way anywhere else in human experience. Now that is the design of God, how He made us to ‘work'.


Now we only have to look at modern society to know that not only do we have the ability to live like that, we also have the ability to jump from one relationship to another, leaving a trail of devastation in our wake. Modern social commentators testify to the breakdown of society and the ills that flow forth from broken relationships, disturbed children and so on. There are alternatives to God's design but they are always destructive and leave hurt and harm behind them.


We have seen how the Law of Moses was God's explanation of His design for Israel , including the recognition that people will stray from His design and how society should handle that. The Law thus provided for how individuals should be dealt with by society if they failed to keep to the design (and were caught stealing, as an example). Furthermore what is sometimes called the ceremonial law, or the sacrificial law, made provision for the individual to come back into a relationship with the Lord. Recognition of failure and a means back, were always key parts of the Law, for God's intent was not to alienate but to draw back into relationship.


What now concerns us in this chapter is how He did that when the whole nation turned away. Remember His intent was always to draw them back and where they failed to return, to maintain a remnant who would continue in the design and display it to the rest of the world.


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26.3 Generalisations versus Activity


The simplest way we can put this, to explain this heading, is to imagine God saying to Israel , say, “I am going to judge you and take you out of the land unless you repent.” Now essentially that is what He did say to them through Jeremiah but note first of all that it was conditional. This will only happen IF you continue in your wayward path, contrary to the design and failing to accurately represent God to the rest of the world.


Now we have already covered some of this in 11.7 – The Forms of God's Judgment, but it does need reiterating, especially in the light of the theme of this chapter. Let's take the example we used there:


In the book of Job we see the Lord giving Satan leeway to come against Job. We then see the following:

Job 1:15   the Sabeans attacked

  • How did Satan get these invaders to attack Job's farm? All he needed to do was to speak into their minds what was already there – hostility toward others – and point out Job's affluence to them. How easily they would have responded .
  • Hostile, self-centred people only need a whisper in the mind to stir them into action.
  • Thus God - through Satan - would only have to speak into the minds of foreign kings and leaders to get them to rise up against Israel to discipline them.
  • We almost certainly do not realise how much God can speak into our minds or the minds of others to either restrain or release wrong actions from the wrong motivations that are already there!


The other example of this which occurs again and again in the book of Judges, is other neighbouring nations who come to attack Israel . On rare occasions that did happen when Israel were in a good place with God, but mostly it happened when Israel turned away from God.


Now writers such as Isaac Asimov (in his original ‘Foundation' trilogy) have used the idea of being able to speak into people's minds as a way of directing affairs. If an individual has already got a bias against God and against His people, then it only takes frequent repetition into that person's mind, about the idea of coming against the people of God, for them to do that. In good times, it would only take constant repetition into their minds that it was a foolish thing to oppose Israel , for them to hold back from attacking Israel . That is what we mean when we have spoken of God “lifting of His hand of restraint” from a neighbouring nation.


Now to return to the heading of this part. Very often in prophecies we find generalisations such as “I will remove you” but no mention of the specific action that will achieve that. It tends almost invariably not God Himself who brings the discipline or judgment, but other people, as we'll see later.


Thus when we see the judgment of God in action, so often at least, it is NOT God but sinful mankind. He is simply using their sinfulness to bring about that discipline.


Of course we see this using mankind's sinfulness in the bringing about of the death of Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, spelled it out:


Acts 2:22-24 Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.”


This is probably THE classic instance of God using the sinful intents of men to bring about His purposes.

figures show around 300 unlawful killings in 1964, which rose to 565 in 1994 and 833 in 2004.”


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26.4 Specific Examples: Isaiah


The book of Isaiah is the first of the ‘major prophets' in the Old Testament and has sixty six chapters. We'll simply consider the first half dozen by way of example. If we put aside the speculations of liberal scholars and simply take Isaiah as it stands as brought to us within the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, we find (Isa 1:1) that Isaiah was prophesying round about the period 700 to 740 (roughly) years before Christ. The northern kingdom of Israel fell in 722BC never to arise again. Thus we might expect this to be a time of strong prophetic words denouncing Israel (and perhaps Judah in the south, represented sometimes just by ‘ Jerusalem'.)


Chapter 1 of Isaiah , the opening chapter, bewails the spiritual state of Israel :


Isa 1:4b They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”


Already they have suffered the chastening of invading armies:

Isa 1:7 “Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.”


Then there is a call to Israel to start living according to God's design, nothing of which I suggest any of us would argue with as good things for a nation: 


Isa 1:16,17 “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”


Options are placed before them:


Isa 1:19,20 “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword."


Promise of blessing on one hand, if they live by ‘the design', and of death by invaders on the other. God's end objective is quite clear:


Isa 1:25,26 “I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.”


He will clean out the city (Jerusalem) so that it will be returned to be known as a place of justice, a place of righteousness (living rightly according to the design) and faithful again (in relationship with God), being a light to the world.


In chapter 2 of Isaiah he sees how Jerusalem will eventually be, with people coming to it from all over the world (v.2-4). Notice the language of it, for it confirms what we have said about Israel being a light to the rest of the world: “all nations will stream to it” (v.2), “many peoples will come” (v.3) “nations … peoples” (v.4)


But then he faces the present and shows how different it is: “full of superstitions… practice divination… their land is full of idols” (v.6-8) so he warns that He will deal with all this.


In chapter 3 of Isaiah he speaks of how the Lord will take the strength from Jerusalem , (v.1-9) but then there is a ray of hope:


Isa 3:10 “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.”


i.e. those who are living according to ‘the design' won't have any problem; they will just be blessed.


As a quick aside we should remind ourselves that everything we have described as being “in the design of God for the way mankind works best” actually are all good things and it would be a silly person who would challenge the descriptions we've used previously and say these aren't goods ways of living.


The only way we can do that is if we have an irrational opposition to God that blinds us to the goodness of the way we have described as ‘His design'.


Further, on the other side, few of us would object to the challenges that God brings to this people, for instance:


Isa 3:14,15 The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: "It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?" declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.


Who wouldn't want to speak out against those oppressing the poor?


In chapter 5 of Isaiah , the complete frustration with Israel is expressed through Isaiah in a song he makes up about Israel , picturing it as a vineyard that God had tended and eventually He declares, “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah , judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Isa 5:3,4)


Come on, He says, think rationally about this, is what I am saying not true? Can we note the reasonableness of all of this. It isn't like God has said, “Right, that's it” I've had enough of you. That's the end of you!” No, quite to the contrary, He has been reasoning with them, offering hope but yet confronting them with their state and making it abundantly clear where their failures are and what needs to be changed to come back to ‘the design'.


His warning to them is abundantly clear if they keep on in the way they are going:


Isa 5:13,14 Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst. Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers.”


This is rich and poor alike, all who refuse to return to the design. He expands on their proud rejection of God and concludes with this warning:


Isa 5:25a “Therefore the LORD's anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets.”


We are clearly in figurative, picture language here. Yes, God is angry (rightly so) at this ongoing stupidity. He has made it so plain for them. There is the plan, the design – His law that reveals a better way of living – but persistently they refuse to heed it.


When it says, “He strikes them down” there isn't a record here of it actually being a sovereign act of God but the historical record (which we'll come to later) shows enemy invaders coming in. But if that isn't enough, there is more:


Isa 5:25b “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!”


He sees that still there is no repentance, no returning to the design, and so He extends the call to nations further away to come and discipline Israel . One way or another, He will remove those who refuse to return to the design, so that only those who will are left and will carry on the task of being a light to the rest of the world.


We could repeat and illustrate the things we have been saying again and again, going through the book of Isaiah, but what might be more helpful would be to consider historically what went on at this point of their history.


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26.5 The Historical Context of Isaiah


Isaiah appears to have prophesied (Isa 1:1) from

  • the last year of King Uzziah's reign in Jerusalem (740BC),
  • through the reign of Jotham (740-732),
  • and then Ahaz (732-716)
  • and finally into the reign of Hezekiah (716-687) 

In the far north the Assyrian empire had been quiet until 745 when Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kings 15 & 16) came to rule and was then followed by three equally ambitious kings: 

•  Shalmaneser V (726-722) – who attacked the northern kingdom and destroyed Samaria (2 Kings 17 & 18) 

•  Sargon II (721-705) (Isa 20:1) and

•  Sennacherib (704-681) (2 Kings 18 & 19 and 2 Chron 32 and Isa 36 & 37)


a) The Case of Ahaz


In the reign of Ahaz king of Judah, the king of Israel (northern kingdom) aligned with the king of Aram, and came against Judah and Jerusalem (see Isa 7:1). The reason for that may be seen in the historical record:


2 Chron 28:1-4 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.


This account shows that Ahaz

  • worshipped idols
  • sacrificed his sons
  • set up his own occultic altars on high places 

    and all this from a king of a supposedly godly nation.


Observe what follows:


2 Chron 28:5-8 Therefore the LORD his God handed him over to the king of Aram . The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus . He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel , who inflicted heavy casualties on him. In one day Pekah son of Remaliah killed a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in Judah --because Judah had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers. Zicri, an Ephraimite warrior, killed Maaseiah the king's son, Azrikam the officer in charge of the palace, and Elkanah, second to the king. The Israelites took captive from their kinsmen two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters. They also took a great deal of plunder, which they carried back to Samaria .


The recording historian saw his defeat at the hands of Aram and Israel as God's discipline. In effect all that God had done was stand back and leave Judah to its own devices. They chose what happened. Also note that Ahaz needn't have fought. He could easily have surrendered and so no one would have been killed. The deaths here were because he fought against the invaders.


But was God hard-hearted about what happened? No, see further:


2 Chron 28:9-11 But a prophet of the LORD named Oded was there, and he went out to meet the army when it returned to Samaria . He said to them, "Because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah , he gave them into your hand. But you have slaughtered them in a rage that reaches to heaven. And now you intend to make the men and women of Judah and Jerusalem your slaves. But aren't you also guilty of sins against the LORD your God? Now listen to me! Send back your fellow countrymen you have taken as prisoners, for the LORD's fierce anger rests on you."


God may have opened a door to allow Judah to be vulnerable but that doesn't mean the invading armies won't be held accountable to Him for the way they acted. Watch what happened:


2 Chron 28:12-15 Then some of the leaders in Ephraim--Azariah son of Jehohanan, Berekiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai--confronted those who were arriving from the war. "You must not bring those prisoners here," they said, "or we will be guilty before the LORD. Do you intend to add to our sin and guilt? For our guilt is already great, and his fierce anger rests on Israel ." So the soldiers gave up the prisoners and plunder in the presence of the officials and all the assembly. The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow countrymen at Jericho , the City of Palms , and returned to Samaria .


Through God's intervention, those who had been taken from Judah were returned. So what was Ahaz's response to all this? Was it to call on the Lord? Did he appreciate the help from the Lord's prophet? Was his response to turn back to the design? No!


2 Chron 28:16 At that time King Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria for help.


He looked to another ungodly king for help. So what then happened?


2 Chron 28:17-18 The Edomites had again come and attacked Judah and carried away prisoners, while the Philistines had raided towns in the foothills and in the Negev of Judah. They captured and occupied Beth Shemesh, Aijalon and Gederoth, as well as Soco, Timnah and Gimzo, with their surrounding villages.


i.e. the Edomites and Philistines carry on the purging process of Judah . They have still not learnt. But it is ongoing:


2 Chron 28:19-20 The LORD had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel , for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the LORD. Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help.


Judah had sent for Assyria to be a help but instead they plundered them. Judah were not learning the cause for all this – they were on their own because the Lord had stood back and now they were vulnerable.


We should note before moving on from Ahaz that he was not killed in battle and he remained unrepentant until he died and his son Hezekiah took over. In all of these things note the freedom of will that all the players still had, and within which God worked:


•  Ahaz chose not to follow God (the Lord stood back),

•  the kings of Israel and Aram chose to attack Judah ,

•  the Lord did not restrain them but held them accountable,

•  still Ahaz chose not to turn back to God. (the Lord continued to stand back),

•  Edom and Philistia chose to attack Judah ,

•  still Ahaz chose not to follow the Lord. (the Lord continued to stand back),

•  Assyria attacked Judah ,

•  still Ahaz chose not to follow the Lord,

•  eventually he died, still resisting God (God never forced his submission).


b) The Case of Hezekiah


Fortunately it was not a case of ‘like father, like son':


2 Chron 29:1,2 Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done


He went on to open up and cleanse the Temple (2 Chron 29:3-5) and he clearly understood the spiritual dynamics of what had taken place:


2 Chron 29:6-10 Our fathers were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the LORD our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the LORD's dwelling place and turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors of the portico and put out the lamps. They did not burn incense or present any burnt offerings at the sanctuary to the God of Israel . Therefore, the anger of the LORD has fallen on Judah and Jerusalem ; he has made them an object of dread and horror and scorn, as you can see with your own eyes. This is why our fathers have fallen by the sword and why our sons and daughters and our wives are in captivity. Now I intend to make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel , so that his fierce anger will turn away from us.


The following chapters are an account of his turning Judah back to the Lord so that,


2 Chron 31:20,21 This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God's temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered


But that is not the end of the story:


2 Chron 32:1 After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah . He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.


We have commented how each person has free will and Sennacherib, the fourth of the Assyrian kings we mentioned earlier, is now seeking to gain power over Israel . God's part in this is not mentioned so we will not speculate. But look how Hezekiah encourages his people:


2 Chron 32:7,8 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles."


Sennacherib come to Jerusalem and threatened them from outside and then we see:


2 Chron 32:20-22 King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. And the LORD sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace. And when he went into the temple of his god, some of his sons cut him down with the sword. So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side.



•  Here was a godly response – to pray and seek God for help.

•  This was a rare occasion when the angel of God killed an army!

•  Back home Sennacherib's own family assassinated him. End of story.


Is the destruction of an army the act of a loving God? It is the act of a judge, jury and executioner. One might call it an act of justice. 


As an aside, a human judge may be an utterly loving, caring and compassionate individual and yet when he is sitting as a judge he hands out justice dispassionately, and may have to sentence people to death or to life imprisonment. He is no less the individual we described; he is simply following the requirements of justice – and he may take no pleasure it in. He would no doubt much prefer that criminals were never criminals and that he never had to sentence them – but they are and he does. The same is true of God and we would be hypocrites to apply one standard to a man and another to God!



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26.6 And so…


In this chapter we have taken the early prophetic chapters of Isaiah, and then historical chapters of 2 Chronicles, and have sought to demonstrate and reiterate:


  • God's purpose throughout the Old Testament was to draw Israel back into a relationship with Him whereby He could teach and lead them to live lives in accordance with His original design for mankind.
  • In prophecy we often come across generalizations about how God would bring judgment on wrong behaviour that is established, set and unchanging, but the specifics of how that came are seen to be more often than not at the hands of sinful, unlawful, vengeful men (kings and armies).
  • That in the early chapters of Isaiah (which typify so much of the rest of the book) we see:
    • Israel 's poor spiritual and moral state declared,
    • An alternative lifestyle (God's design) offered,
    • A reasoned reconciliation offered,
    • Warnings given if that is refused,
    • A picture given of God's ultimate intent for Jerusalem as to be a place where believers from all over the world congregate,
    • Hope given in that day for those who will remain righteous (a remnant). 
  • Moving from the prophetic to the historic we saw:
    • King Ahaz being chastised again and again by invading armies,
    • Ahaz refusing to turn to God,
    • After he dies his son Hezekiah turning the people back to God,
    • When the Assyrian king invades, Hezekiah and Isaiah seek the Lord,
    • The Lord destroys the Assyrian army as an act of justice and judgment and the Assyrian king being assassinated by his family back at home.
  • Again and again, we have seen the Lord acting with restraint and warning and warning again of the consequences of trying to stand alone against those who would seek to destroy Israel , and almost uniquely we have seen him acting as a judge, jury and executioner to exact justice on a warlord who would destroy Israel.


Finally to reiterate what we have seen in previous chapters, does God delight in death? Definitely not.


Ezek 18:23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

Ezek 18:32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Ezek 33:11 Say to them, `As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!


But as a judge (e.g. Gen 18:25, Deut 32:36, Jud 11:27, 1 Chron 16:33, Psa 7:11, Psa 9:8, etc. etc.) He will not shirk bringing justice after His grace and mercy have been refused. Love does not mean that He cannot act in bringing justice. As He described Himself to Moses in verses we considered earlier in this book:


Ex 34:6,7 the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.


That is the whole truth!


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