“If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you” (Isaiah 54:15). Scripture regularly reminds us that anyone who harms God’s people will be dealt with severely. If someone has hurt you, says Paul, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19).
I feel like a girl whose father is warning her date “you mess with my daughter, you mess with me.” I consider my Heavenly Father’s promise in Isaiah 54 with trepidation and confusion. Who are my enemies? And do I really want God to mete out justice for my sake when I know what the Bible has to say about his wrath?
External Sources of Strife
Various versions of Isaiah 54:15 translate the Hebrew “gar” as “assails” (BSB), “gathers together against” (KJV), and even “attacks” (HCSB). The ESV uses “stirs up strife,” which is less violent than “assails/attacks,” but more aggressive than “gathers together against.” What is this idea of strife anyway?
Isaiah was speaking to Israel, God’s chosen people, who had been conquered and oppressed multiple times. Their “strife” was holistic: spiritual, physical, and emotional.
Many Christians worldwide can relate to abuse at the hands of a military regime, to suffering caused by people more powerful than themselves. This strife is not a consequence of personal sin but is a legacy of Genesis 3.
But Scripture here still speaks to people who live in peaceful countries under democratic leaders in homes where they feel safe and loved. What does strife look like for someone like this?
Many of us endured bullying in school, face harassment at work, or have had our characters attacked; experienced verbal battering or the emotional evisceration of silence.
All of us have been the victims of a careless word or a thoughtless omission. Not all strife is big; sometimes it’s small. But God’s Word accommodates all kinds of hurt done to his people.
Internal Sources of Strife
Have you ever knowingly nurtured anger (internal strife) because you thought you deserved to be angry? Maybe that anger is righteous, but only if I submit it to the Lord and let him take it. Hoarded anger separates me from God, distorts my identity.
It’s the baton I pick up and then pass on to a child or a friend, a baton that gets heavier with every new runner in an unholy relay. No wonder the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly” (Deuteronomy 32:35).
There is also internal strife, which comes from denying and ignoring hurt caused by someone else. We run from pain when it seems so big it will kill us, but it doesn’t go away because we ignore it. The pain mutates into sin; unhealthy ways of coping; idolatrous methods for controlling our feelings.
An empathetic gospel counselor will help you to share your hurt with God: there is no shame in telling God how you feel about what happened to you. He already knows what’s on your heart, and he wants to heal you.
James asks (and answers) “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:17). He might as well have said, “What causes you to fight with yourself?”
Some strife emanates from the battle between flesh and Spirit. Our sin is the enemy tearing us and our relationships apart. When I let sin rule me, it stirs up a subtle form of treachery against God.
Paul wrote that Christ’s peace guards our hearts (Philippians 4). Against what? Not the sins of others, for sure, but when we set our sights on the example of Christ, we are less likely to stir up strife or to let pain distort our view of the Lord.
Who Is My Enemy?
God promises vengeance against those who “assail” us, but who is our actual enemy? “The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, explains that we have no enemies from our perspective if we are in Christ Jesus. Yet Scripture tells us there is an enemy, one whom God will deal with. He is one who treats me with enmity. Satan.
If I’m truly blown away by the plain fact that my sin is covered by Christ’s sacrifice, and conquered by his resurrection power, surely, I must recognize that I was God’s enemy. If not for grace-based salvation, I would be the unwary villain alluded to in Isaiah 54. Almighty God would condemn me.
Instead, Satan — my enemy — is the slain warrior that hasn’t yet realized the fatal blow was struck. Like a chicken with its head cut off, Satan keeps running and pecking; he’s busy creating diversions, which take my attention away from Christ and rob me of peace. He can’t kill me, although he can sure mess me up. There is no life in him, only death. He is the enemy.
Who Will Fall?
Meanwhile, since sin still exists, so do those who gather against God’s people. What’s going to happen to them? If they are going to fall, then why don’t I also fall, since I’m surely causing strife in someone’s life whether I know it or not?
I had kids after all; I’ve heard it said by my pastor that all of our children will be in therapy one day complaining that their parents broke them.
I’m comforted by the fact that Isaiah 54 speaks to Israel, those forgetful children who swayed wildly from faithfully worshiping the Lord to making idols from gold. I’m just as bad, yet like them, I will not be among the fallen because I took a side: the side of Christ.
There is a penalty for the strife I kick up, but Christ took it. Much of the latter half of Isaiah prophesies about the coming Messiah, so it’s logical to suppose that the “fall” is the fall of Satan, the defeat of sin. God will deal with Satan and his minions in the end.
I think that we can always be guilty of causing trouble by mistake. It’s our hearts, which God is concerned with. Numbers 35 explains God’s rules about cities of refuge and punishments for taking a life.
If a person caused harm so that another person died, “though he was not his enemy and did not seek his harm, then the congregation shall […] rescue the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood” (vv.23-25). We will not be among those who fall if our hearts are fixed on Christ.
God Is a Safe Zone
The Lord says, “If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me.” My Father in Heaven permits suffering, maybe without any purpose beyond learning self-discipline, gaining endurance, and trusting him more.
If I learn slowly, that’s not because God is a poor teacher or the source of only imperfect comfort. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Jesus was a rebel — sure — but he stirred up righteous disturbance.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/artisteer
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.