Awash in the darkness of the theater, I could scarcely take in the wonder of how my life had changed in just a few days. A young bride of eighteen years, I was still in the process of convincing myself that we were actually married—that in the course of a weekend I’d gone from my little attic bedroom, walked down the aisle, married my high school sweetheart, and now, here we were, a couple of kids from the sticks, honeymooning in Times Square! (I know, I know. There’s a whole lot of crazy there . . .) Theater nuts from the inception of our relationship, we were about to check a show off our musical bucket list: Les Misérables.
We weren’t far into the story—just past ex-prisoner Jean Valjean’s “Work Song,” as he desperately looks for a place to stay and a bit of sustenance. Invited into the home of a bishop, we look on warmly as Valjean is greeted with kindness and invited to stay. Bitter, angry, and yet a thief, Valjean escapes into the night with the kind bishop’s dinner in his stomach and silver in his hands.
Like a drooling lion, Inspector Javert pounces upon Valjean’s wrongdoing and promptly delivers him back to the bishop. The audience waits, wide-eyed, expecting for Valjean to be thrown to the bottom of a deep dark cell. But then something remarkable occurs! The bishop goes along with Valjean’s story that the stolen silver was a gift, and as if that was not enough, he continues:
You forgot I gave these also
Would you leave the best behind?
So Messieurs you may release him
For this man has spoken true
I commend you for your duty
May God’s blessing go with you.
But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!
Despite some questionable theology, as the bishop hands Valjean two shining silver candlesticks, I find myself awed, stricken, undone by this radical act of mercy. My thoughts wander from the spectacle before me to a scene of another kind . . .
A Rebellious People
“A Rebellious People”—That’s the heading in the ESV above Isaiah 30:8–17. This is not just any rebellion, but a narrative of God’s people, spitting in the face of His kindness—a Jean Valjean style revolt:
And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel” (vv. 8–11).
The Lord had clearly told His people not to go to or align with Egypt. Through Isaiah, He had explained to them the consequences if they disobeyed. But not only were they inclined to disobey, they also desired to shut the mouth of God’s prophet, unless he started telling them what they wanted to hear!
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern” (vv. 12–14).
Having been warned, the people now faced judgment of catastrophic proportions.
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (v. 15).
Again, the Lord reiterated through Isaiah that their salvation and rest would be found only in returning to Him, trusting Him, and obeying His word.
But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill (vv. 15–17).
Yet, they put their trust in the resources gained from a disobedient, godless alignment. The defeat prophesied by Isaiah mirrored Israel’s legendary victories of the past. This time, though, it was their downfall that was guaranteed.
The Lord Will Be Gracious
A new heading greets us at verse 18: “The LORD Will Be Gracious.” But why? How? Why would the Lord be gracious to those who refused His counsel, His direction, and His protection?
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
Read that again. Do you see it? The Lord waits to be gracious to you! He exalts Himself to show mercy to you! His waiting is not passive-aggressive, haughty, or delightful. Yes, His justice demands that we reap the consequences of our disobedience. But He stands ready, able, and waiting to lavish His children with grace and mercy the moment we turn and repent!
Would You Leave the Best Behind?
“You forgot, I gave these also,” said the bishop to Valjean.
Each of us came into this world as the ungrateful thief. We have all rejected God’s kindness and counsel, and like Judah, begged for numbing self-help rather than God’s prophetic Word. And yet He stands ready, waiting for us to turn. Knowing, as He does, that our feeble work is not enough, that His justice must be satisfied.
You forgot, I gave this also. . . . Here, take My Son.
My friends, oh that picture! Such mercy undeserved! When our accuser drags our sin before the throne, the Father’s finest treasure, refined by fire, stands in our stead. Once “the miserable ones” indeed, we now stand before the throne of grace.
Who Are You?
Though redeemed, we are still broken—by sin, the curse, our flesh. I find that most days I’m more Javert than Jesus . . . ready to pounce on the wrongdoing of others, declaring them guilty before my jury of one. But each day, each moment, we have a choice as we interact with our husbands, our children, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can choose to stand ready to extend mercy, to speak grace—to be less like our accuser and more like our Advocate.
For He has raised us out of darkness;
He has bought our souls with blood!
Do you struggle, as I do, with standing ready to accuse instead of waiting patiently to show mercy? How can you be more like Christ as you interact with others today?