As we read through chapters 9 and 10 of the book of Isaiah, a repeated refrain stands out several times:
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.
Stretching from 9:8 through 10:4, this prophecy is a word of judgment against the people of Israel (Samaria) and Judah both, who have on the whole turned their backs on God. They have become arrogant, oppressive, turning to infighting and idolatry. Those in liturgical churches heard this Sunday morning the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, with their very different prayers in the Temple. The one was arrogant and self-assured, the other was penitent and self-effacing. One went home unchanged, the other went home justified.
The people addressed in this prophecy are of the first type – people who show up to worship God for the sake of lip service and duty; they are comfortable with themselves, “you do you!” could be their slogan. And so, in four rounds, Isaiah rails against their wickedness and warns of God’s destructive judgment upon them and their doomed kingdom. They continue in their wickedness, they will not even beat their breast and cry out “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”, and this God’s anger will not turn away, and his hand is stretched out still.
But for those who are penitent, for those who would recognize their sinfulness and cast themselves upon the mercy of God, like the Tax Collector in the aforementioned parable in Luke 18:9, there is a word of hope. The beginning of Isaiah 9 is much more famous: its iconic “to us a child is born” text, in verses 6 and 7, is one of the classic Old Testament readings around Christmas. This prophecy, interestingly, is addressed to “the people who walked in darkness“, that is, the Gentiles.
This is one of Isaiah’s particular emphases that not a lot of the other Old Testament Prophets spend much time with – the inclusion and redemption of the Gentiles, that God and his Gospel are universal (in terms of accessibility). The God of Israel is the God of all creation, and members of any tribe and nation can call Him their own with just as much integrity and right as any Israelite or Jew. For those who recognize the darkness in which they live, and cry out for the light of truth, the light of life, God has provided a child, a son. He will take the throne of David, but he will, in the zeal of the Lord, be a King for all peoples. This is Jesus, of course, and all who throw themselves upon the mercy of God (rather than trust in their own spiritual self-sufficiency) will find his light shining upon them, increase of joy, salvation.