05 March, 2017

Isaiah 48:9—“For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee …”

Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb. For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another (Isa. 48:8-11).

According to some, it is due to common grace that God did not at once fully execute the sentence of death on Adam and Eve in the beginning, and also does not immediately execute judgement upon sinners today, but maintains and prolongs the natural life of man and gives him time for repentance. It is due to common grace, so it is claimed, that He does not at once cut short the life of the sinner, but affords him an opportunity to repent, thereby removing all excuse and justifying the coming manifestation of His wrath upon those who persist in sin unto the end. Isaiah 48:9 is one such text that is used to support this theory.


“The Deferring of God’s Anger”

Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema

[Source: Redeemed With Judgment: Sermons on Isaiah, vol. 2 (RFPA, 2008), pp. 228-236. (NB. The following copyrighted material is taken from Homer C. Hoeksema’s Redeemed with Judgement: Sermons on Isaiaha publication of the Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1894 Georgetown Center Drive, Jenison, NI 49428-7137. Phone: 616-457-5970. Website: www.rfpa.org. Email: mail@rfpa.org. It is reproduced with permission and cannot be copied without permission of the staff of the RFPA. I express my appreciation for their willingness to have me copy this chapter of the book and publish it here.]

Isaiah 48:9-11

For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.

Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.

For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.

In Isaiah 48 the prophet continues to address the people of Judah as they dwell in Babylon, the land of the captivity. He does so prophetically, for it was not yet the time of the captivity, but the time of King Hezekiah. He pictures Judah as still in Babylon, but the time of their deliverance is drawing near.

Captive in Babylon is the whole “house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah” (v. 1). God always deals with his people as a whole, that is, organically. When, Israel sins, the whole nation is brought into captivity, whether or not the nation, individually considered, sinned. When the carnal element is the majority and they sin, the whole nation, including the elect remnant, is brought into captivity. The remnant that will presently return from Babylon to Canaan is there, as well as the ungodly, some of whom would return, but most of whom would remain behind, because they became spiritually acclimated to Babylon.

Of this people as a whole, both the context and the text say that they are a hypocritical people. They “make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth nor in righteousness” (v. 1). They are “obstinate,” and their “neck is an iron sinew, and [their] brow brass” (v. 4).

God through Isaiah proclaims a twofold message to this people. It is proclaimed that God has declared to them beforehand the things concerning their deliverance from Babylon—especially the power and the coming of Cyrus—so that the people will not be able to say that their idols accomplished their deliverance (v. 5). It is also proclaimed to them that from this moment on, the Lord will cause them to hear “new things ... even hidden things” (v. 6). What those new things are is not stated here—this will come later in the prophecy—but they have to do with the work of Christ in the perfecting and completing of his kingdom, even to the time of the new heavens and the new earth.

Despite God’s deliverance and revelation of their final and eternal salvation, Judah remains a rebellious people and still deals treacherously. Why, then, does not God destroy Judah? The somewhat negative answer is given in the text: God defers his anger for his name’s sake.

The Meaning

The main thought of the text is the deferring of God’s anger. This thought brings to mind the scriptural terms forbearance and longsuffering, which frequently are confused. Men acknowledge an anger of God against sin, but at the same time they speak of a general forbearance and love of God toward the sinner. They do the same with longsuffering, presenting it as grace that extends even to the ungodly and consists in the deferring or postponement of punishment. I have never been able to understand how this is asserted to be the meaning of longsuffering, or how it is grace when suffering is merely deferred or postponed. After all, the suffering of punishment must eventually be endured. How is it grace that punishment is deferred or postponed?

In order to understand the meaning of the text, we must understand these biblical terms clearly and see the tremendous difference between forbearance and longsuffering.

The important aspect of God’s forbearance is that its root is in God’s wrath, in his aversion or hatred. Its objects are the ungodly reprobate, whom God has designed for destruction, and it consists in God’s deferring—for the moment—their final punishment. A simple example will make this idea clear. I need a house built by the local building contractor. Let’s assume that he is the only contractor in the community. He is a very wicked and ungodly man, and I do not like him. But I need him for the purpose of building my house. Thus, as long as I need him for my purpose, I do not destroy him or ruin his business. Instead, I allow him to do his work. So it is with God’s forbearance.

Longsuffering, however, has its root and motive in God’s love. Its objects are God’s elect. Longsuffering must be understood from a human viewpoint, because according to his counsel God does not defer anything, but does everything as fast as he possibly can. Longsuffering consists in God’s deferring the final deliverance and salvation of his people. Longsuffering is taught in many passages of Scripture, including the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8), as well as James 5:7, 2 Peter 3:9, and Romans 2:4, where forbearance and longsuffering are mentioned together.

The difference between these terms, then, is that forbearance is the deferring of final punishment, while longsuffering is the deferring of the final deliverance and help of God’s people.

While the term forbearance is not used in the text, the idea occurs: “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise I will refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off” (Isa. 48:9).

God in his essence and being does not suppress or defer his wrath. Is there any such thing as deferring or suppressing in God? Rather, this expression is intended by Isaiah in the historical or experiential sense. Because of their sin, God’s people could expect nothing other than punishment and destruction; but God does not yet fully reveal his wrath. For a time he defers it. Still stronger is the second part of verse 9: “For my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.” Literally, “I will suppress myself, I will muzzle myself against you, that I do not make an end of you as a nation.”

This statement is applicable to ungodly, wicked Israel: The wrath of God and his cutting Israel off certainly are coming in the future, but not now. None of this can be said of God’s elect, for there is no wrath or impending destruction for them. The text speaks of the wicked, the reprobate shell, as is also clear from the entire chapter. Isaiah speaks of Judah from the viewpoint of her wicked and ungodly existence in Babylon where, despite the punishment of captivity to the world power, the people are still hypocritical and idolatrous. In this context God says, as it were, “If I would follow my nature, I would cut you off in a moment. But for the present I will tolerate and forbear you.”

The Revelation

Further expressions in the text help explain how God’s forbearance is revealed.
God says, “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver” (v. 10). The correct translation is “but not for silver.” The idea is that the refining process has silver as its desired end. That this is correct may be seen from the meaning of the word “refined.” Refining is the separating of the dross from the silver, the separating of the true from the false. God also says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” At first glance this would seem to refer to the truth of election, but this is not true. The phrase could be translated. “I have assayed thee” or “I have proved thee.”
Taken together, these expressions mean that God has so proved and tried Judah that the genuine is distinguished from the false. He has separated the dross from the silver and the false from the true, in order that what is genuine, having passed through the furnace of affliction, remains. In other words, the restrained wrath of God came upon his people in Old Testament days and with it came suffering, misery, affliction, trouble, and trial, but not a cutting off and a destroying of the people as a whole. The point is that through their suffering in the furnace of affliction there always remained a portion of the false Israel with the true Israel.
This was true throughout the history of the old dispensation. Think, for example, what a furnace of affliction Egypt was when Israel was there in bondage. Did a pure people of God come out of Egypt? By no means. A mixed multitude came up out of Egypt—so mixed that Scripture informs us that with the majority of them God was not well pleased, and they fell in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5). The same was true of Israel in the wilderness. The church there was not 100 percent pure. Thousands upon thousands of Israelites perished there in unbelief and could not enter into the promised land, as is emphasized in Hebrews 3:16-19. The same was true in Canaan when the children of Israel were in the midst of their enemies; the nation in Canaan was by no means pure Israel. Thousands upon thousands of them were apostate, even though they should have been battling their enemies. The same was true of the ten tribes when they were carried into the Assyrian captivity and of Judah in the Babylon captivity.
It is no different in the new dispensation. We often think about the fire of persecution as it raged in the first centuries of the history of the New Testament church, particularly in ancient Rome. But even then it was not all Israel that was called Israel. The same was true at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. And the same is true every time there is a separation in the church. Whenever there is a reformation, there is a proving and refining of the church.
However, the refining mentioned in the text is not a refining for silver. Various explanations have been given of this refining, but in the light of the context, the meaning is that when men prove and refine silver, they heat the ore in the refiner’s furnace until nothing remains except pure silver. All the dross—all that which is not silver—remains in the refiner’s furnace and is discarded. The text teaches that the figure of obtaining a perfectly pure result through the refining process is not strictly applicable to God’s refining of his people. The point of the text is that the Lord did not deal thus with his people. There is indeed a proving and refining of the church, but the result of this proving is not that the church is left entirely pure. Always it remains a mixed people. If God had not restrained or deferred his wrath upon wicked Israel, the result of casting Israel into refiner’s fire surely would have been that only pure silver—a pure people—would have emerged from the fire. But this was not the case. The false element in Israel at no time in history was entirely separated the elect remnant, although both were indeed in the furnace of affliction. When the restrained wrath of God come upon his people, Israel and Judah, with it came suffering, misery, and affliction, but not a cutting off and a destroying of the people. Throughout their suffering there always remained a portion of the false element with the people of God in the furnace of affliction.
This is the case through all the history of the church. What a furnace of affliction Egypt was! We might almost expect that when Israel came out of Egypt, they would come out as pure people, but they did not. Think of the wilderness, where thousands upon thousands perished. But as soon as that unbelieving generation had perished in the wilderness and Israel had entered into Canaan, the carnal element was immediately present all over again. The same was true of Canaan when Israel was surrounded by enemies, as well as of the Babylonian captivity, which is the context here. The same was true when the fires of persecution raged in the first centuries of the church of the new dispensation. This was true at the time of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, and this is true again and again with every separation and reformation of the church.
There is a lesson here for us. In this life and in this world, we must never look for a totally pure church. This does not happen. In fact, it cannot happen, because God does not deal with his church this way. We might expect that after trying times have come upon the church and when all the trouble is past, the carnal element will have left completely. But this never happens, partly because we carry the carnal element right along with us in our old flesh. Sometimes we can act rather self-righteous, but it is not true that we are always 100 percent dedicated to the cause of the truth and the church. We have only a small beginning of the new obedience, and the result is that whenever God works his refining work we still carry the flesh right along with us. Besides, when God’s refining work is wrought in the church, part of the carnal element always goes along with the true people of God. We do not expect this. Sometimes we do not even look for it, because we think that no one who is carnal would ever want to go along with the truth of sovereign, particular grace instead of the error of common grace. But they do. I could name people who did, and who did not care a snap about the truth, but for a time came along for carnal reasons, although eventually they showed themselves to be carnal. I would have thought more than once in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches that at last we were rid of the bad element, as we often called it, but it never happened. There were always those who went along with the church for various carnal reasons. This is the lesson of God’s dealings with Israel in the old dispensation. If he had not restrained his wrath upon wicked Israel, they would have all perished. Because he deferred his anger, the false element was not entirely separated from the true, although it was tried in the furnace of affliction. The refining for silver does not come in the full sense until the very end of history. Then God will not restrain his wrath, but will pour it out fully upon the wicked.

The Reason

God forbears for his name’s sake. When his forbearance in history becomes evident, this is not just the way things turn out by chance. Nor is it true that God forbears the wicked because some of them may yet be converted. The object of God’s forbearance are never converted. The forbearance of God is not manifestation of his general grace, but of his wrath. The doctrine that God forbears in order to give men an opportunity to repent and believe lies completely in the Pelagian error of the freedom of man’s will.
In contrast, the text emphasizes that God forbears for his own sake. This emphasis begins in verse 9: “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger.” In verse 11 the same thought is mentioned no fewer than three times: “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted?” God defers his anger for the sake of his name, for the sake of his glory, and for the sake of his praise.
The meaning of these statements becomes clear when we remember that God’s name is not just a handle, as our names are. If Albert’s name is Pete, it does not matter, because as long as we can distinguish him from Don or Fred, then it is all right if his name is Pete instead of Albert. It does not matter, because our names do not really express anything, but serve only to distinguish one person from another. In Scripture, however, names have meaning. This is especially true of God. God’s name expresses his being; it expresses who and what God is. God’s name is the revelation of all his perfections and virtues, and the glorifying of his name is the praise of the glory of his virtues.
The glorification of God’s name is the central point of all that he does and is closely connected in Scripture with the idea of God’s counsel as his good pleasure; God’s good pleasure is the glorification of his own name. To emphasize that the honor of God’s name must be maintained and exalted, and to stress that the praise of God must forever be sung, the text repeats, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake.”
And, says God, “I will not give my glory unto another,” that is, “If I did not restrain my wrath, someone else would obtain my glory, and that cannot be.” The historical existence of wicked Israel is connected with God’s glorification. Israel must continue to exist for the sake of God’s honor and for the glorification of his name.
In other words, reverently speaking. God cannot cut off Israel.
He cannot cut off Israel, first, because then he would have to root out the entire nation, and that cannot be. God’s wrath cannot root out only the wicked, because the wicked and the righteous are organically interwoven in the line of Abraham’s generations. The reprobate element cannot be rooted out as long as the church is Israel. The same truth is taught from a little different viewpoint in the parable of the wheat and the tares. Tares are no good. Nobody wants them. God does not want them. But the tares cannot be rooted out, because the wheat will be uprooted with them, and the wheat may not be rooted out. Both must grow together until the harvest. If you want to root out evil branches in a vine with finality, you must root out the whole vine; otherwise they will grow back again and again. If the reprobate element in Israel would have been rooted out, the holy seed would have been rooted out with it. Then the coming of Christ would have been made void. Then the new things which come with Christ could never come.
And then God’s name would be profaned, and that cannot be.
Second, the wicked chaff in the church must serve the cause of God, not only because in the vessels of wrath the righteousness of God is revealed, but also because the chaff must serve the wheat, for it is not possible to have wheat without chaff. Therefore, God forbears the chaff as long as it serves the wheat, and when the chaff is no longer necessary, it is destroyed. This was the case with Israel. Wicked Israel, according to God’s purpose, had to serve to erect the cross of Jesus Christ—not Rome, not the Hottentots of Africa, but Israel. They had to serve in the shedding of the blood of the atonement. They had to serve to reconcile the church with God through the blood of the Lamb and to fulfill according to God’s counsel.
So it always is. God forbears the wicked for his name’s sake. When they have fully served his purpose, and when all that he intends to be done by them and through them has been accomplished, then his wrath is fully poured out, and then God’s praise is magnified and exalted in the new things.
As God’s people in the world, we must remember this truth. When we look at the history of the church, it is very easy to become weary and discouraged because of the constant battle against the carnal element. We must remember that God is in charge, even when the wicked prosper or seem to prosper. Not only is God in charge, but also he is always accomplishing his own purpose and his own almighty will for his name’s sake. Thus we must not become weary, but be willing to walk in God’s way to the very end, when he shall perfect his church and destroy all the wicked.



More to come! (DV)

No comments:

Post a Comment