Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—“When Leaders Fail to Lead”
From surveying the distant peaks of messianic prophecy, Isaiah returns to his own day momentarily. He takes the leadership of Judah head-on and squarely puts much of the blame for the nation’s moral and ethical ills on their shoulder.
"Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. . . . [I]f the next centennial does not find us a great nation . . . it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces."
-- President James Garfield
I. CORRUPT LEADERS ARE BLIND TO THE DANGERS THAT FACE THE NATION vv. 9-12
- “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep.” (Isaiah 56:10, NIV84)
- it was the godless and wicked conduct of Judah’s leaders that caused the nation to fall to Babylon
- had the prophets, priests, and rulers turned to God in repentance and faith, He would have intervened on their behalf
- but they persisted in rebellion by worshiping other god’s and ignoring the Sabbath
- the result is that God invites the enemies of God’s people to devour the nation
- in this passage, the God of Israel—through the Prophet Isaiah—brings multiple indictments against the leaders of the nation of Israel
- there has been a tremendous failure of moral, spiritual and political leadership
- the result is that God has openly invited Israel’s enemies to attack and devour her
- “Come, all you beasts of the field, come and devour, all you beasts of the forest!” (Isaiah 56:9, NIV84)
- Isaiah’s portrait of the nation’s leadership is essentially the same leadership problems that the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lament
- “Has not my inheritance become to me like a speckled bird of prey that other birds of prey surround and attack? Go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour.” (Jeremiah 12:9, NIV84)
- “So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” (Ezekiel 34:5, NIV84)
- “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,” (Ezekiel 34:8, NIV84)
- more about this in a few moments
A. CHARACTERISTICS OF CORRUPT LEADERS
- in vv. 10-11 Isaiah vividly describes the moral and ethical character—of lack there of—of Israel’s political and spiritual leaders
- corrupt leaders are unobservant leaders—“Israel’s watchmen are blind,” v. 10
- with biting sarcasm, Isaiah refers to Israel’s leaders as blind watchmen
- ILLUS. The watchman was one who stood upon the tower or wall of the city to observe whether an enemy was approaching, or if the word be applied to shepherds, one who kept watch to see that wild beasts did not approach the flock. From this it is clear that one portion of the prophetical work was to warn the nation of its enemies, to tell of impending danger and disaster. A blind prophet could not know the nature of the danger.
- this describes the Pastor or spiritual leader who fails to see the dangers of doctrinal or theological heresy that threaten the congregation
- this describes the Politician who’s myopia cannot see past the next election
- they are spiritually and politically obtuse because they have neglected their heritage in the Lord
- Israel’s rulers were leaders who had forgotten their God and their birthright
- “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge ... ” (Hosea 4:6, NIV84)
- ILLUS. This is why we need men like David Barton and organizations like Wallbuilders.
- not only were Israel’s leaders ignorant about the true dangers facing the nation, but what dangers they did see, they failed to warn others about
- this describes the Pastor or spiritual leader who fails to warn the congregation about sin and judgment and righteousness and is only concerned that they live their ‘best life now'
- this describes the Politician who claims that character doesn’t matter, only policy
- this passage absolutely refutes that sentiment—Isaiah’s critique of leadership in this passage is wholly about character and not of policy
- the ideas that the private lives of leaders is their own affair, finds no support in the Scriptures
- Israel’s leaders were effective because they were more concerned with the perks of leadership than the stewardship of leadership
- those perks included not having to work quite as hard as your typical ‘Joe the plumber’
- the result is that they’ve become ‘dreamers’—always thinking about what ‘could be’ and dreaming of an unrealistically rosy future for the nation
- Isaiah describes Israel’s rulers as leaders with huge appetites
- that doesn’t necessarily refer to food alone
- there is something of a play on words here: Instead of being watchdogs, Isaiah implies that they’ve became a common street dog—devouring everything they come across
- these were leaders who craved all the benefits that come with power while sticking the common person with the tab
- ILLUS. Can you spell G-e-n-e-r-a-l A-c-c-o-u-n-t-I-–g S-e-r-v-I-c-e?
- Self-absorption defines the character of so many contemporary spiritual and political leaders in our society
- and narcissism has become one of the central themes of American culture
- there is an ever growing segment our American society that is pursuing a dangerous inner-directedness that ignores the future and the betterment of society
- it’s the belief that “It’s all about me, I’m entitled, somebody owe me” attitude
- ILLUS. This is why some 60% of Americans actually agree with the President that Millionaires and Billionaires have too much money and the Federal Government needs to take more of their money away from them, because it’s only fair.
- the attitude behind the excessive imbibing of alcoholic beverages is “Let’s have drinks and work on our agendas. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
- many modern leaders have given up concern for society as a whole
- their focus is decreasingly on their “constituency” and increasingly on “special-interest” groups who will get them re-elected
- here is the attitude, “We’ll just kick this can down the road, cause things will be better then and we can deal the problem more effectively in the future.”
- they did so at the expense of their charges and in the process became enslaved to sin and incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities
II. RAMPANT APOSTASY WILL OVERTAKE THE NATION vv. 3-13
- the result of ineffectual, immoral leadership is a “trickle-down” immorality that infests the larger culture
- vv. 3-13 are a laundry list is moral ills afflicting the national of Israel just before she is swept into captivity and which she continues even after captivity!
A. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS MOCKED AND GODLESSNESS FLOURISHES
- “But you—come here, you sons of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes! Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not a brood of rebels, the offspring of liars?” (Isaiah 57:3–4, NIV84)
- in the decades before Israel’s captivity, it was a time when “good” was called “evil” and “evil” was called “good”
B. LUST IS CELEBRATED AND CHILDREN BECOME EXPENDABLE
- “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags.” (Isaiah 57:5, NIV84)
C. IDOLATRY BECOMES PERVASIVE
- “The idols among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion; they, they are your lot. Yes, to them you have poured out drink offerings and offered grain offerings. In the light of these things, should I relent? You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices. Behind your doors and your doorposts you have put your pagan symbols. Forsaking me, you uncovered your bed, you climbed into it and opened it wide; you made a pact with those whose beds you love, and you looked on their nakedness. You went to Molech with olive oil and increased your perfumes. You sent your ambassadors far away; you descended to the grave itself!” (Isaiah 57:6–9, NIV84)
D. NIHILISM BEGINS TO INFECT THE CULTURE
- “You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.” (Isaiah 57:10, NIV84)
- nihilism is a philosophy which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value
- a nihilistic attitude is best observed by the shrug of the shoulders followed by the sarcastic “Whatever” of the teenager
- Isaiah here refers to a restlessness of the heart when he writes, “You were wearied by all your ways.”
- in other word, like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, the people of Israel were crying out, “Meaningless!, Meaningless! ... Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
- life had become meaningless for many Israelites, and yet they would not turn from the emptiness of life that was a result of their rebellion against God
- they would not admit, It is hopeless
- in other word, they would not cry uncle!
- as America becomes less and less Christian, fundamental beliefs that shaped our nation’s character and psyche are passing away
- it logically follows that if there is no source for life, consciousness, soul, spirit and will, or for human dignity, worth, liberty, and property then morality and meaning become meaningless
- what necessarily follows is that norms, rules, and laws all become relative
- the result is a general mood of despair that infests many fellow citizens
- Rampant Apostasy Will Overtake the Nation
III. A RIGHTEOUS REMNANT WILL GROW SMALLER AND SMALLER
- “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” (Isaiah 57:1–2, NIV84)
- as the leadership of the nation grew worse, the number of righteous people shrank without people perceiving what was happening
- the Prophet Isaiah writes, The righteous perish, and no one ponders in it in his heart
- God was slowly removing the righteous prematurely by death from the midst of Jerusalem
- those who had lived upright lives passed by means of death into peace
- the leaders did not take note of this warning
- ILLUS. As I re-read these verses this afternoon, I couldn’t help but reflect on Chuck Colson’s death yesterday. My first observation was on the diametrically opposite story lead-ins commenting on his death. Almost without exception, Christian blogs and media outlets led their stories with lines like: “Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices today ... “ while secular blogs and media outlets led with lines like: “Chuck Colson, the ‘evil genius’ of the Nixon Administration who planned the Watergate break-in and was the president’s hatchet-man ... “ My second observation is, “Who replaces this man?” He had extraordinary insight into the moral and ethical direction this nation was taking. I consider him a true prophet or our era. The vast majority of our citizens will simply say, “Chuck who?” and move on with their lives.
- Isaiah says that the unrighteous don’t understand this
- the force of the Prophet’s argument is that the Jews see the premature death of the righteous among them as an ill-reward of God
- they don’t understand that the seemingly premature death of the righteous is a warning to the wicked that their evil has become a stench that God can no longer endure and their nation is doomed
- fewer and fewer professing Christians in America hold a Biblical Worldview
- what does it mean to hold a Biblical Worldview?
- ILLUS. Christian Pollster, George Barna, provides the following definition: “A “biblical worldview” includes believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.”
- only 9% of all professing adult believers across all denominations believe this
- only 19% of all professing adult evangelical believers believe this
- and unless God see fit to pour out a spiritual awakening upon this nation, things will get worse—less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation—those aged 18 to 23—have a biblical worldview
IV. UNWORTHY LEADERS CAN SEAL THE FATE OF THE UNFORTUNATE COUNTRY OVER WHICH THEY RULE
- I told you in the beginning that if a nation’s leaders do not acknowledge God and promote the ways of God, that nation is doomed to anarchy, disorder and eventual destruction
- vv. 11-13 are all about God’s judgment upon Judah
- their leaders were wicked men whose immorality trickled down to the population at large
- speaking ironically, God threatened to bring to light Judah’s “righteousness”
- “I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you.” (Isaiah 57:12, NIV84)
- clearly they have no “righteousness” to expose
- in that day all the idols collected together would not avail
A. GOD WILL JUDGE THE NATION REMOVING HIS HAND OF RESTRAINT
- the Apostle Paul tells us clearly that, even in his day, the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth in their wickedness (Rom. 1:18)
- how does God reveal his wrath?
- by letting men revel in the sinfulness of their sin
- in Romans 1:26-32 Paul say three times: God gave them over
- he concludes his commentary with ...
- “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32, NIV84)
B. GOD WILL JUDGE THE NATION BY REMAINING SILENT
- “Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me? I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you. When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 57:11–13, NIV84)
V. REPENTANCE AND HOLINESS ARE THE NATION’S ONLY HOPE
A. THERE IS HEALING FOR THE HUMBLE vv. 14-21
- Paul tells Timothy that Christians are to prayer for their leaders—both spiritual and political
- “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,” (1 Timothy 2:1–3, NIV84)
B. CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLY LEADERS
- what kind of character influences others for good?
- it can be summed up with three words:
- 1st, Leaders must be Shepherds
- when Paul called the elders of Ephesus together at Miletus, he gave them a warning:
- "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood" (Acts 20:28)
- they do not run when things get tough
- nor do they point fingers and shift blame
- they act protectively toward them, staying alert to any danger they might face
- each person is important to them
- a true leader is also a steward of those he leads
- we usually think of a steward as someone who manages money or other resources wisely
- the Apostle Peter uses the word with a much wider meaning in 1 Pet. 4:10
- "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
- the closest we come to the concept of a steward is captured in our word manager
- managers take responsibility for what must be accomplished and the people who do the work
- good managers focus on people, realizing it is they who must accomplish tasks
- ILLUS. Isaiah gives us another look at steward leadership in Is. 32:1–8 (NASB). He speaks of princes (position) who rule (role) justly (skill). But these princes go beyond ruling. They are to their people a refuge, shelter, streams of water, and shade in a parched land. They protect those they steward, provide for them, and create an environment of peace.
- too often leaders gauge their success by what they accomplish, not whom they serve
- Jesus told his disciples ...
- "Let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant."
- the idea here is of a host or an attendant who waits on others
- servants work hard at making other people successful in reaching the goal
- they do not take credit for what others have done or seek the spotlight
Con. Let me close by once again quoting President Garfield: "Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. . . . [I]f the next centennial does not find us a great nation . . . it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces."