DIG: What pictures come to mind as Isaiah describes the wickedness of the people here in these verses? What is the point of comparing their wickedness to a raging forest fire or people eating their own family members?
REFLECT: When has sin by someone in your immediate or extended family led to the destruction of natural affection for other family members? What was that dark outcome? Was there civil war in your family? Was the root of the sin dealt with so that peace could be restored? If not, why not? How was the LORD involved?
The third stanza of his poem, Isaiah envisions a devastation of the Land, civil war, confusion, and anarchy. Here he exposes the true nature of sin. It is not a little misguided playfulness. It is rebellion against God and His order of life. As such, it can only be destructive. So here the people’s wickedness is pictured as burning them up like a huge fire with a large column of smoke.
The prophet talks about a wickedness that burns like a fire, and fire destroys from within. The failure of leadership (9:13-17) led to a desperate need to look out only for oneself, but without satisfaction. Surely wickedness burns like fire; it consumes briers and thorns, it sets the forest thickets ablaze, so that it rolls upward in a column of smoke (9:18). The Hebrew word wickedness means rebellion. When a man rebels against the LORD he starts a fire within himself, which, if allowed to continue burning will ultimately destroy him, because sin carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Wickedness cannot be contained once it is unleashed. So Isaiah says if the fire continues to burn in Israel it will destroy the briers and thorns, the common people, and the forest thickets, the elders and rulers. There are two fires being described here. They are two sides of the same coin. One is the consuming fire of sin and the other is the fire of God’s wrath.
By the wrath of the LORD of heaven's angelic armies (CJB), the Land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire (9:19:a). The judgment would not only come from God (9:11), and the enemies of the nation (9:12), but from within. Another result of rebellion is the destruction of natural affection for family members. The end result was anarchy; no man will spare his brother (9:19b).
Relationships, either from the immediate or extended family, no longer meant anything. On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied. Each will feed on the flesh of their own offspring (9:20). Cannibalism was not present in the northern kingdom of Israel, so this verse must be taken figuratively. Everyone only looked out for themselves. The postmodern world of individualism is as old as Isaiah himself. Its best opportunity to flourish comes with social collapse; its root cause is seen in the rejection of the Word of God.
Sin destroys human relationships, so it is no surprise that this wickedness, this rebellion, led to civil war. Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh. Manasseh and Ephraim were the two largest tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel. They symbolized the fratricide that had characterized so much of Israel’s existence. Like fighting brothers, their intertribal hostilities, that began in the wilderness, would culminate in civil war. In the end, the only thing that would cause them to stop fighting each other was their hatred of Judah and together they would turn against her (9:9:21a). Only then would they be united in their hate.
With this third wave of judgment there is still no sigh of relief. Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised (9:21b). Without repentance, the discipline of a loving God would continue.
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017