By Christina M Wilson
God’s Negative Rewards
Nowadays, most people think of rewards as positive benefits–something good given as a result of an achievement or good behavior. So, what are negative rewards? By definition rewards include any consequence of any behavior, whether good or bad. Rewards are “payback,” or retribution. Luke 14:12 provides an example of a good reward, and Romans 11:9 of a bad reward.
In Isaiah 65, God spells out the kind of behaviors which he will not reward positively. Rather, certain behaviors Isaiah 65 names merit God’s negative rewards. Faith in God (placing one’s hope, trust, and loyalty with him) results in God’s positive rewards (benefits he bestows). Those who have no faith in God disobey him. They demonstrate apathy towards God, open rebellion, or willful disobedience. Such is the case with the majority of Old Testament Israel. In Septuagint Isaiah 65, God calls out these people and describes their negative rewards.
On the Negative Side
Septuagint Isaiah 65:2 sums up the entire situation in Israel from the beginning of their history to Isaiah’s current moment.
Septuagint Isaiah 65:2 I have stretched forth my hands all day to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to them that walked in a way that was not good, but after their sins.
Readers can sense the Lord’s wearied frustration with such behavior. His own people rejected him (John 1:11).
After the summary just quoted, the Lord gives detailed examples of their continual provocation in his presence (LXE 65:3).
- they offer sacrifices in gardens (verse 3)
- burn incense on bricks to nonexistent devils
- lie down to sleep in tombs and caves for the sake of dreams (verse 4)
- they eat pig’s flesh (pork) and drink the broth of unclean sacrifices
- all their vessels are ceremonially defiled
- they hypocritically say to the people around them, “Don’t come near me. You’ll defile me, for I am pure.” (verse 5)
In consequence of such flagrant disregard of God’s ways, God says this:
5… This is the smoke of my wrath, a fire burns with it continually. 6 Behold, it is written before me: I will not be silent until I have recompensed into their bosom, 7 their sins and the sins of their fathers, says the Lord, who have burnt incense on the mountains, and reproached me on the hills: I will recompense their works into their bosom. (LXE)
And from a Masoretic translation:
5… These people are like smoke in my nostrils, like a fire that keeps burning all day long. 6 Look, I have decreed: I will not keep silent, but will pay them back; I will pay them back exactly what they deserve, 7 for your sins and your ancestors’ sins,” says the LORD. “Because they burned incense on the mountains and offended me on the hills, I will punish them in full measure.” (Isaiah 65:5b, 6, 7 NET)
GOD’S NEGATIVE REWARDS
In Isaiah 65:11-12, God spells out unfaithful Israel’s rebellious behaviors and their negative rewards.
65:11 But you are they that have left me, and forget my holy mountain, and prepare a table for the devil, and fill up the drink-offering [Greek–mixture] to Fortune. 12 I will deliver you up to the sword, you shall all fall by slaughter: for I called you, and you listened not; I spoke, and you refused to hear; and you did evil in my sight, and chose the things wherein I delighted not. (LXE)
After verse 12, the text alternates rapidly between consequences to the faithful and consequences to the unfaithful. Throughout the verses concerning the unfaithful, God displays his abiding anger against those in Israel whose behavior displays a lack of allegiance to him (1).
In the alternate verses concerning God’s faithful remnant, the Lord names the blessings he will give his faithful people.
1 Inevitably, consideration of the topic of consequences to Israel’s unfaithful majority evokes thoughts about grace and faith versus works righteousness. As readers discover by closely following Isaiah, the text reveals the following. All Israel sinned (Isaiah 53:5-6; 64:5-7). But only a remnant consistently repents and then tries to obey (Isaiah 10:22; 65:8-9). Repentance and sincere efforts to obey God’s will constitute large portions of what we call faith. Faith involves our attitude toward sin. Do we sin and only regret that we can’t have more of it? Or, do we sin and regret that we have disappointed God and our Lord? Faith means that we trust God and his ways and strive with all our hearts to follow God’s path. God gives mercy to those who want him. Unfortunately, the bulk of Israel never wanted God nor his righteous ways. The grievances the Lord names in chapter 65 demonstrate Israel’s lack of faith. For a much fuller explanation of how behavior demonstrates the state of one’s faith, see Bates, Matthew W., Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017.
next post, LW… God’s Faithful Remnant