“Who is this coming from Edom, with bright red garments from Bozrah … this one so fabulously robed, tilting forward in his great might?” “It is I, announcing righteousness, strong enough to deliver.” “Why are your robes red, and your garments like theirs who tread the wine press?” “I have trampled the wine press alone, and no one from the peoples was with me; I trampled them in my anger and crushed them in my wrath; their juice spurted on my garments, and stained all my robes. Because the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year for my redeeming work had come. I looked, but there was no assistant; I was shocked, but there was no one to support me; so my own arm brought me victory, and my wrath supported me. I stomped down peoples in my anger, I made them drunk on my wrath, and I poured their juice out on the ground.” — Isaiah 63:1-6
We are too prone to idolatry for us to fool around with carved, painted or engraved images of God, and those who do soon discover that the image takes a life of its own, and leads to dependence on the image, rather that dependence on God. That is why the Bible specifically forbids us to make graven images of God.
But even though the Bible forbids our making images of God, the word of God itself uses numerous word-images from nature to describe him, so that we can understand better who our God is.
- · a rainbow teaches us that God is faithful to his promises,
- · a consuming fire teaches us that God is jealous, and destroys his enemies,
- · a mountain fortress teaches us that God is our refuge in time of trouble,
- · a rock teaches us that God is a solid foundation for our lives,
- · streams and rivers speak of God’s abundant provision,
- · the stars in the night sky speak of God’s glory and his plan,
- · rushing wind speaks of God’s omnipresent Holy Spirit.
These, and numerous other word-pictures just give us a tiny glimpse of who our God is. In today’s text, the prophet Isaiah pictures God as a warrior coming up from the battle, his garments stained with so much blood that it looks like he has been stomping grapes all day. If I had asked any of you to draw a picture of God, I doubt any of you would have chosen that image. But Isaiah’s message was very important for the people of his day to understand, and it is just as important for us today.
The people of Israel in Isaiah’s day were captives to two separate kingdoms, and Isaiah’s message is that Yahveh is strong enough to deliver them from both. First, they were captives of the nations around them. During Isaiah’s time, the Assyrian empire was ruling over many nations, including Israel.
Isaiah describes Yahveh as the deliverer, coming up from Edom as an army in bright red uniforms. Bozrah was Edom’s capital city, and its name may have been associated with grape gathering. The Lord used the Assyrian empire to crush and subdue Edom, that ancient nation which had long been an enemy of Israel. The symbolism of a God as a warrior clothed in red as if he had been crushing grapes speaks of the comprehensiveness of God’s victory over his enemies.
Isaiah’s point is that Edom is only the first of many nations which will be judged and crushed under the power of Yahveh’s might. The end result will be freedom from all oppressors, and the one making this happen is God himself. This promise was especially helpful for the Israelites in Isaiah’s time because it seemed that all the power was in someone else’s hands. The people felt oppressed, with no deliverer. In fact, deliverance from one enemy was coming from another enemy.
God’s people needed deliverance, but they had no power and no resources to achieve their own deliverance. In that context, Isaiah pictures the God of Israel coming up from the winepress, where he has crushed the enemy into wine. He was telling his people that God is strong enough to deliver them by himself. God does not need an army. He does not even need one strong warrior. When he gets ready to overcome his enemies, he can do it all by himself.
So, Isaiah tells his people to rest on his power and trust his grace, and the empire of Assyria will be overcome by God himself. He sees their bondage, and he will bring it to an end. History tells us that the Assyrian empire was defeated in stages, but by the time Babylon took power, their power was broken. The Israelites did not do this. God did it using the surrounding nations.
But Israel was experiencing another kind of bondage as well. The LORD comes “announcing righteousness” because the people are first and foremost in bondage to sin. In fact, it was this bondage to sin that had led to the bondage to the Assyrians. God’s vengeance against these other nations is also vengeance against that kingdom, and the end result of his judgment will be the obliteration of sin and evil.
Do you know that? Do you know that sin and evil are not a permanent fixture in God’s universe? Some teach that God can never get rid of sin and sinners – that there will always be a hell burning with God’s creatures who rebelled against him. But Jesus said that God is able to destroy sinners’ souls and bodies in hell. He will do this on judgment day. Listen to the word of God about what is going to happen that day:
- Psalm 37:38 “transgressors shall be altogether destroyed”
- Isaiah 13:6 “the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!”
- Joel 1:15 “the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.”
- Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”
- Matthew 10:28 “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16 “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
- Romans 9:22 “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”
- Philippians 3:19 “Their end is destruction”
- 1 Corinthians 3:17 “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”
- 1 Corinthians 6:13 “”Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”- and God will destroy both one and the other.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:26 “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction”
- Hebrews 10:39 “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
- James 4:12 “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.”
- 2 Peter 3:7 “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
- 1 John 3:8 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
- Revelation 11:18 “your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
God’s ultimate victory will be when he destroys sin and evil, sinners and evildoers. We will be on one side or the other side in that ultimate war. Either we are on the side of God’s righteousness through faith in Christ, or we are on the side of the defeated and destroyed enemy.
The New Testament picks up on the imagery of Isaiah 63 and pictures Jesus as this conquering deliverer: “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. …From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:13,15).
Isaiah’s message to his people is the same as John’s message through Revelation: The Lord is the only one strong enough to deliver us from all our bondage. True freedom comes only from him. The message is that sin and evil will be with us all during this age. We will not defeat it. We will not be able to right all the wrongs, and fix all the problems in this world. We can try, but eventually we will all discover that our ability to change things is severely limited.
The good news of the gospel is that God does not require that we correct all the defects in our fallen world. He has a Saviour for that. The picture of Christ coming down from heaven with his robe dipped in blood is the ultimate picture of victory. But it is not our victory for Christ but his victory for us. He is going to overcome our bondage just as definitively as he overcame Israel’s bondage to Assyria. One day we will look around at this world and we will find that Jesus has utterly and completely purified it.
LORD, we long for the true freedom which can only come from you. Come and set us free. But, before you return to conquer sin utterly, we invite you to come into our personal lives and destroy sin’s power over us.