God Goes to War Against His People

The great rhetorical “armor of God” passage in Ephesians 6:10-18 is drawn from Isaiah 59:17. Many Christians are familiar with the Ephesians text, but likely have not given much attention to Isaiah. The prophet speaks to God’s own people, those who look to God for salvation but have become a people of violence and complacency about injustice, failing to advocate for the oppressed.

Our conflicted culture of finger-pointing forces us into defensive postures. The church, however, must avoid this, because it prevents us from life-giving practices of confession and repentance. Defensiveness keeps us from reckoning with latent racist attitudes, Christian complicity in our national sin of slavery and ongoing dynamics of racial injustice and ethnic animosity.

Surely it is worth considering. After all, the stakes are pretty high, for in Isaiah 59, God takes up his armor to go to war against his people:

1 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,

    nor his ear too dull to hear.

2 But your iniquities have separated

    you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

    so that he will not hear.

3 For your hands are stained with blood,

    your fingers with guilt.

Your lips have spoken falsely,

    and your tongue mutters wicked things.

4 No one calls for justice;

    no one pleads a case with integrity.

They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies;

    they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.

5 They hatch the eggs of vipers

    and spin a spider’s web.

Whoever eats their eggs will die,

    and when one is broken, an adder is hatched.

6 Their cobwebs are useless for clothing;

    they cannot cover themselves with what they make.

Their deeds are evil deeds,

    and acts of violence are in their hands.

7 Their feet rush into sin;

    they are swift to shed innocent blood.

They pursue evil schemes;

    acts of violence mark their ways.

8 The way of peace they do not know;

    there is no justice in their paths.

They have turned them into crooked roads;

    no one who walks along them will know peace.

9 So justice is far from us,

    and righteousness does not reach us.

We look for light, but all is darkness;

    for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.

10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,

    feeling our way like people without eyes.

At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;

    among the strong, we are like the dead.

11 We all growl like bears;

    we moan mournfully like doves.

We look for justice, but find none;

    for deliverance, but it is far away.

12 For our offenses are many in your sight,

    and our sins testify against us.

Our offenses are ever with us,

    and we acknowledge our iniquities:

13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,

    turning our backs on our God,

inciting revolt and oppression,

    uttering lies our hearts have conceived.

14 So justice is driven back,

    and righteousness stands at a distance;

truth has stumbled in the streets,

    honesty cannot enter.

15 Truth is nowhere to be found,

    and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The Lord looked and was displeased

    that there was no justice.

16 He saw that there was no one,

    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;

so his own arm achieved salvation for him,

    and his own righteousness sustained him.

17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate,

    and the helmet of salvation on his head;

he put on the garments of vengeance

    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

18 According to what they have done,

    so will he repay

wrath to his enemies

    and retribution to his foes;

    he will repay the islands their due.

19 From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord,

    and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.

For he will come like a pent-up flood

    that the breath of the Lord drives along.

20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,

    to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”

declares the Lord.

21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

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