Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
And he discovered the covering of Judah….
In the context Isaiah is faced with two very serious problems. The first is the spiritual complacency which has been characterizing the nation of Judah as a whole for several years. The second is the invasion of Judah by the mightiest of armies, the Assyrians.
The Assyrians, under Sennacherib, already had an easy time bringing the ten tribes of the nation of Israel to their knees. In fact, Israel as a nation had been completely destroyed. The land and all the physical structures were in ruins. The people who had not been killed were carried into captivity and scattered throughout the lands of other conquered countries.
Now the mighty Assyrian army is invading Judah and generally having an easy time of it. They were coming near to the capital city of Jerusalem. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, responds by seeking Jehovah for deliverance. Hezekiah put forth necessary efforts, but he knew that all human efforts were vain without the help of Jehovah. With the help of the princes of Judah and his mighty men, Hezekiah stopped the waters of the fountains which were located outside of Jerusalem’s walls, so that the Assyrians would not have easy access to water in the event of a siege. Also, Hezekiah gathered the men of Judah together to repair broken portions of Jerusalem’s walls. He gathered weapons and organized the people into armies. Then Hezekiah directed the attention of the people to their only real help, Jehovah. “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is the arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (II Chron. 32:1-8).
When we read thus from II Chronicles we would conclude that Judah was responding correctly. However, in spite of Hezekiah’s good, spiritual leadership, the vast majority of the citizens of Judah refused to follow the spirit and the advice of Hezekiah. Isaiah makes it clear that there were many who were not mourning for their sins, but rebelliously went about feasting and dancing. They did this, not because they were ignorant of the invasion of Judah by the Assyrians, but precisely because they saw the invading foe. They wanted to get drunk. They were following the ungodly advice to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. This reaction both to the Assyrian invasion and to Hezekiah’s advice makes it obvious that they refused to repent. Instead they rebelliously saw everything as futile. They believed that they were going to die anyway. So they might as well go out having a good time. In their unbelief they became fatalistic—they were going to die no matter what they did.
Isaiah declares to Judah that God “discovered the covering of Judah” (Isaiah 22:8). This means that God removed the covering from Judah’s eyes. They had put a veil over their eyes. This was their way of ignoring some deeply-rooted problems. Those problems are “breaches of the city of David” (Isaiah 22:9), that is, breaks in Jerusalem’s walls. God tore the veil of complacency from the eyes of the nation. God used the Assyrian army as His instrument to tear this veil off their face. The mighty Assyrians were rapidly advancing on Jerusalem. The inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem suddenly began to examine their defenses. They found many breaches in the wall where it had weakened and in some places had even fallen down.
The breaks in Jerusalem’s walls were caused, not by a previous foe, but by Judah’s own complacency. As a whole they had been concerned only with enjoying themselves. For many years they had not been busy at the work of maintaining their defenses. They always responded to “alarmists” by saying that they had plenty of time. But they either did nothing or did not do enough. As a result, the defensive walls of Jerusalem had deteriorated over the course of time and had crumbled in places. God took the veil from the eyes of Judah.
How does this apply to the church in the new dispensation? In the old dispensational age of types and shadows, physical prosperity indicated God’s blessing and physical trouble indicated God’s displeasure. Today the normal way God calls spiritually is through the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel. However, God also uses adversities in this life to bring His people to the preaching in order that they might discover, either for the first time or anew, their sins on the one hand, and true, deep, spiritual joy on the other hand. God often uses physical difficulties to awaken His people out of spiritual lethargy and to greater spiritual joys.
It is human nature, also in the believer, to want to continue in a sinful way. In order to do this we often pull a covering over our eyes. In this way we can ignore or convince ourselves that we do not see the real problem of sin. In western civilization the veil of a good economy is pulled over the eyes of many so they can ignore innumerable breaches in the moral walls of our society.
Isaiah tells us that the walls of Jerusalem represent salvation (Isaiah 26:1). Salvation is knowing and enjoying Jesus Christ for forgiveness and perfect righteousness. Generally speaking, the walls of salvation do not get breaches in them overnight. Rather, deterioration and crumbling takes place over a period of time characterized by spiritual lethargy and complacency. “Things are going well, so don’t worry, don’t get excited, don’t raise an alarm.”
As a whole, the nation of Judah, the church of the old dispensation at that time, had been spiritually lethargic. This had been taking place during the reign of several kings prior to Hezekiah. The people of Judah had not been busy paying attention to the constant calling of faith and repentance—daily and hourly repenting and looking to Jesus for forgiveness and direction. They were not busy striving to become more and more spiritually mature, more and more to hate and flee their own personal sins, more and more to love and enjoy living according to God’s will. In fact, false prophets would frequently arise and say that everything was just fine. The number of the faithful leaders and teachers of God’s law had greatly diminished. The people as a whole did not want to hear that kind of a message. Now the presence of the Assyrians forces Judah to face the facts of their spiritual life.
God’s people, individually and collectively, must always keep up their defenses against the world of sin which surrounds them. Sometimes we neglect to pray. Other times we are too busy to spend even a little time in God’s Word. Sometimes we think that it is not too serious if we sin just a little. We are often too busy to maintain our marriages so that they may be as happy as they can be. Or we are just too pessimistic (negative) of character to count the blessings God has given us (or we see that to be true of others, but not in ourselves). Or we are too mad or angry to forgive.
God has marvelously wise ways to awaken us, to tear coverings from our eyes. These can be most painful and most frightful. Sometimes it takes troubles and divisions in a local congregation before we will examine whether we are letting the walls in our own congregation crumble because we think we are justified to stay angry at a fellow-saint, or because we are too busy to put forth the constant effort needed to maintain good relationships within our congregation. Do you see breaches you (not someone else) have caused with your spiritual complacency? Do you see what ever-present sin is doing in your life, in your family, in your church, in society?
When God awakens us and makes us conscious of breaches, then it is necessary to respond correctly.
Judah’s response was even more tragic. As a whole, Judah responded—but wrongly. This brought them to eventual ruin and captivity. Their total destruction was only delayed. “Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die” (Is. 22:14). It would not be the Assyrians, but later the Babylonians, who would destroy Judah and Jerusalem.
At first Judah feverishly went about to solve the problem. They took down houses in order to repair the crumbled portions of the wall, they gathered their weapons together, they dug a moat, they piled up stones for a barricade, they provided themselves with a constant supply of water (Is. 22:8-11). This activity salved their consciences. All this activity was good and even necessary in itself, but it is never enough! Judah did all this and stopped. They believed that they themselves had solved theproblem through their own efforts. They put their confidence in what they were able to do. They tried to save themselves.
This was all that Judah did. It was (and is) a sin for two reasons.
First, the activity of rectifying a problem must always begin with and be accompanied by repentance—godly sorrow for the specific sins which led up to the problem and for our sinfulness out of which all our sins constantly arise. God called and calls His people “to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth” (Is. 22:12). The covering of spiritual lethargy is taken off our eyes so we fall upon our faces in shame before the great Jehovah! God smashes our complacency so we are overwhelmed by the burden of our having so easily and quickly forsaken our God! This is a time for serious repentance. This is what Jesus meant when He spoke of plucking out our eye or cutting off our hand that we might enter into the kingdom of heaven. God calls His people to walk in continual repentance, always ready to confess quickly our contribution to any problem. God wants godly sorrow!
Second, Judah’s activity at rectifying their problems was not accompanied by a looking to their Maker (Is. 22:11). They helped themselves without thinking about their need for God’s help. We go to the doctor or take some medication, but we forget to pray, asking the Maker of the doctor and medication to bless. We are so busy that we forget to ask Him who alone is able to fix the problem. And to forget to look to God is so foolish. After all, He is the Maker of all things. Frequently God declares Himself to be the Creator (the God of heaven and earth) in order to remind His people and all men that we need Him, and that with Him all things are possible.
Judah made things worse. The people not only were busy repairing things (trying to save themselves), but also they took on a most terrible attitude. After completing their repair activity, they fatalistically said, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” (Is. 22:13). Instead of the weeping and sackcloth of repentance, they still wanted to have “joy and gladness.” Instead of the fasting of godly sorrow, they wanted to slay oxen, kill sheep, eat meat, and drink wine. Even though they saw the danger, they took the attitude that the consequences were inevitable. What a contrast to the citizens of Nineveh in Jonah’s time (Jonah 4:5-9)! Our flesh does not want to let go of our fun. “The economy is strong. So what?!” “There are problems, but they are not serious. We’ll take care of them later. Don’t disturb me now.” “Things may not be going well, but don’t take away my fun.”
It is so easy to react to “alarmists” by criticizing them. It is so easy not to see (and not to want to see) the spreading cancer of spiritual indifference in many areas of our life: worldly entertainment, personal devotions, proper attendance at a worship service, relationships with all our fellow-saints, etc.
Instead, God calls us to the constant attitude of humility and repentance. Repentance is not optional in the life of God’s people. The Lord Jehovah of hosts calls for it to be a constant attitude. Not just the constant activity of repentance, but the ever-present attitude of humility. The great Maker calls His creatures to be ever humbly dependent on Him.
Humble repentance is always called for by the Lord Jehovah because the cause of all our trouble is the presence of sinfulness and sin in our lives. We know that all human efforts are futile to repair the breaches caused by sin. Then why do we keep trying? The efforts must be there, but they must always be accompanied with repentance and with prayers for help. God’s call is for godly sorrow, for flight from every disobedience, and for a constant striving to be obedient.
Let us see the breaches in the spiritual walls of our lives. Let us ever walk humbly with our God and with our fellow-saints. Let us ever look up to Him who alone is able to help, to save, and to restore.