(For an explanation of the meaning of the Season of Advent, please see “Introducing Advent to Evangelicals” under the “Advent Devotions” tab.)
Blessed are the Merciful, for They Shall Obtain Mercy
We are in that part of Isaiah where the nations around Israel and Judah are judged, though Israel and Judah are likewise included in God’s judgments. Isaiah makes it clear that these judgments of God are universal in scope – no nation is left untouched.
Today we read a moving episode where Moab, Judah’s neighbor and foe to the East, is rescued by God’s people in Judah. The Israelites and Moabites were ancient cousins. Genesis 19:30-38 records the unsavory story of how the Moabite people came about through the incestuous immorality of the daughters of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. (You will remember that Abraham was the father of the Israelites and later Jews.) Given their close relation, the two peoples were supposed to be friends, but spent most of their history as enemies often warring with one another. The passage begins in chapter fifteen where Moab is judged. Moab is laid waste by an enemy, presumable Assyria or Babylon. The entire chapter describes the horrible scene: “laid waste in a night,” “on every head baldness, every beard shorn,” “fleeing,” “weeping,” “wailing,” and “desolation.” Moab, enemy of Israel and Judah, worshipers of “Chemosh, the abomination of Moab,” who was usually named together with “Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites,” to whom children were sacrificed (1 Kings 11:7; Jeremiah 32:35) – these pagan, idolatrous Moabites were being destroyed. One might rejoice. But not so, says the Lord. Instead in 16:1-5, we see something different on the part of God’s people. He calls His people to “let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you,” to give them shade and shelter. That is, the Lord calls His people to be merciful to a people who deserve no mercy. “Then,” says the Lord, “a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness” – a promise of the coming Messiah.
But before that glorious time, God’s people themselves must be judged and pruned as well. Isaiah 17:4-6 depicts a scene as desperate as what we read for Moab. But God’s purpose in judgment upon His people is ultimately one of mercy, for by this judgment, the day will come when man will no longer look to pagan altars and gods that their hands have made, but to the Holy One of Israel. This God is also the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of 16:5 above, the One who presently sits at the right of God the Father, soon to return to make visible his now invisible kingdom. And it is this kingdom we watch for during this Advent season.