TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 64-66
“But you who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune, and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you to the sword.” – Isaiah 65:11-12
To destine means to decree beforehand; to designate, assign, or dedicate in advance; to direct, devise, or set apart for a specific purpose or place.
So, my question is – does God destine, decree beforehand, those who forsake him to be killed by the sword?
The Hebrew word translated destine actually means to divide into parts, count; to reckon as; to count out, remit; to apportion, allot; to send, appoint. It has more to do with numbering than decreeing something in advance.
Therefore, other translations use the word number (KJV, Douay-Rheims Bible, and Young’s Literal), remit (Lexham English Bible), and fate (The Good News Translation and The Message). Clearly, there is more than one way to translate this verse.
But, I think that Septuagint comes closest. It has God saying, “I will give you over to the sword.”
Why does God say that? What does that mean?
God says he will give those who forsake him over to the sword “because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes and chose what I did not delight in.” (Isaiah 65:12)
When God speaks and we do not listen, we do what is evil in his sight and chose what he does not delight in.
What does God not delight in?
Isaiah 1:11 says, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.”
Instead of sacrifices, what does God delight in?
The Pharisees questioned the disciples why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. In Matthew 9:8, part of Jesus’ answer was, “Go learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” Jesus was quoting Hosea 6:6, which says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
God does not delight in our sacrifices, our religion. But, God does take delight when we show mercy, when we practice steadfast love as he does.
But, if God takes delight when we practice mercy, then why does he say he gives those who forsake him over to the sword?
Well, it’s not really that God is actively doing. In reality, if we are not answering God when he calls and not listening when he speaks, then we are not practicing mercy. And, if we are not practicing mercy, then we assuredly practicing some sort of violence. So, instead of giving mercy to those that have wronged us, we seek revenge, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Jesus put it another way in Matthews 26:52 when he said, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Because we forsake the way of God and do not practice mercy and steadfast love, we live by the sword. And, if we live by the sword, then we will die by the sword. We will reap what we sow. The scriptures are chock full of people who did wicked and violent things only see to them come back on their own head.
So, it’s not that God is actively putting us to the sword. Rather, because we have chosen to go our own way and live by the sword, God has no choice but to allow us to live by the sword and then die by the sword.
Why do I say God has no choice?
Because God is love, and 1 Corinthians tells us that love “does not insist on its own way.” God doesn’t force anything upon you because love does not operate by force. Therefore, if you live by the sword, then you will die by the sword. Or said another way, God will give you over to the sword.
But, the situation is entirely different for those that are God’s people. Instead of not answering God when he calls and not listening to his voice when he speaks, Isaiah 65:24 says of God’s people, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” For God’s people, God takes the initiative and they obey. Before God’s people even ask, God gives an answer. While God’s people are still speaking, God hears their need.
And, the result for God’s people is entirely different than those who chose not to practice mercy but live and die by the sword. Isaiah 65:25 says God’s people “shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” In other words, God’s people don’t use the sword and therefore won’t be given over to the sword.
As always, particularly with the Old Testament, we need to line up every supposed statement from God and about God with the life, character, and words of Jesus. For, only Jesus can help us see the truth about God.