[This entry follow a sermon titled "Straightening Out Distorted Views of God". Click the title to find the audio.]
Isaiah 34 and 35 paint two very different pictures, yet they are one cohesive picture. The judgment of God (ch. 34) and the grace of God (ch. 35) go hand in hand. They rise or fall together. We cannot dismiss either and maintain a biblical view of God.
In the midst of the discussion about God's judgment, we find an interesting phrase in 34:11 - "He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness." At this point, Isaiah is talking about Edom as representative of the world, which is opposed to God and set for judgment. This judgment will be one from which the "smoke shall go up forever" (34:10; cf. Rev. 14:11). It is a sobering picture, as we read of swords dripping with blood, slaughter, and mountains dripping with blood. This chapter alone should prevent those of us who believe in hell as a place of eternal, conscious punishment from speaking of it lightly or, as it sometimes comes across, arrogantly.
So, with that set as the context, what is all this talk about lines of confusion and plumb lines of emptiness in verse 11? Well, the "line" in the first phrase was actually used to describe the marking off pieces of property for ownership. I have a friend who recently put a fence in his backyard, and he put some flags on the corners of his property to mark it off. This way, the company he hired would know where to dig the posts for the fence. In this verse, God is marking off the area...He's making a distinguishing mark of those whose lives are marked by "confusion." We'll get to that word in just a minute, but for now, you get the picture. These people are marked off.
The next phrase says God will use the "plumb line of emptiness." A plumb line could be used in the construction of a new building...it would be used to make sure that the walls of the building are plumb...they're square. It could also be used to assess an existing structure. My wife and I lived in a house built in the 1950s when we lived in Marion, IN. As a friend and I were laying a new laminate floor in one area, we learned that the walls weren't square. How did we learn this? Well, to be honest, if you look close enough, you wouldn't need a tool to see it, but we used a device that affirmed what we saw with the naked eye...these walls are messed up! Here in Isaiah 34:11, God uses a measuring tool called "emptiness" to see that the people truly do deserve the judgment described earlier in the chapter.
So, we see the idea of measuring...a "line of confusion," indication that these are the people whose lives are marked by "confusion." Also, there's a "plumb line of emptiness," affirming that the ones who will receive judgment truly are deserving of it. Now that we see the tools, let's think about the measurements here...confusion and emptiness. What are these?
Looking behind the English to the original Hebrew in this text, we see that the words for 'confusion' and 'emptiness' are found somewhere else. They are actually found in the second verse of the first book of the Bible. Genesis 1:2 says, "The earth was without form [i.e.- confusion] and void [i.e.- emptiness], and darkness was over the face of the deep." Okay...so, if these are the same terms, why would Isaiah use them to talk about those who will face God's judgment?
Here's an answer...see what you think. When God created the world, He created it with purpose. He created it with order. When man and woman were created, they were created with purpose...they were created with order. They were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and were meant to bear that image as they existed in God's creation. Part of this design meant living under God's rulership, under the authority of His Word. It was a simple word in the beginning...do not eat. As they lived in relationship to God and in relationship to one another, everything remained in order.
Yet, what happened when they ate...when they disobeyed God's command? The order was broken. They had rebelled against God's authority and, therefore, against His purpose and His order. No longer were they living with God as their king. They lived as if there was no king, and they did what was right in their own eyes (cf. Judg. 21:25). What God had done perfectly in creation, man rebelled against in sin. In some ways, they were working to de-create what God had made...they were living in ways that took their existence back to being formless and void...confused and empty.
This life of sin...this confusion and emptiness...would mark all of mankind. Paul would write, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned..." (Rom. 5:12). In other words, Adam and Eve weren't the only ones who lived in rebellion to God...who lived lives in opposition to His purposes and order. We share in that confusion and emptiness, both by nature and by choice. The sin introduced through their act is reproduced in us and our acts.
The proper order of creation is that God is Creator and King, and as creatures, we are to live in submission to His Word. Yet, sin has entered, and in that sin, all of humanity lives in opposition to the creation purposes of God...we seek to de-create and make chaotic what God has brought to order. Yet, creation cannot rebel forever against its Creator, and Isaiah 34 tells us there is a day when all accounts will be settled (i.e.- vengeance and recompense, v. 8). Sinful mankind will face its Judge, and Isaiah is saying that the verdict has already been determined...guilty!
Yet, in the purposes of God, there is hope because there is One who has not rebelled against God as Creator or as King. He has lived in perfect harmony with God's purposes and His order. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only man who walked the earth who has lived as man ought to live. As the Son of God was killed on the cross, He took the vengeance and recompense of God on our behalf. In other words, He settled our account with God, so that if we trust in Him and His work, we are a new creation. As Tim Keller succinctly put it, "Jesus Christ was de-created so that we might be recreated."
The severity of God's judgment matches the severity of the crime, yet the sweetness of God's grace is that we can be renewed, redeemed, and ransomed through the death of Jesus Christ. Through faith in Him, we step out of the desolation of judgment in Isaiah 34 and enjoy the delight of grace in Isaiah 35.