A World that has made “a Covenant with Death”

By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

(Sabbath Sermon, 4th August, 2012)

When is Self-confidence arrant Folly?

Focus Text:

"Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:

"Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

"Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.

"And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it" (Isa 28:15-18).

"A covenant with death!" Why the hell would anybody enter into a covenant with death?

 

The answer lies in the world’s disdainful disregard for the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed for 2000 years now.

 

The phrase "a covenant with death" was first used by the prophet Isaiah some 2700 years ago to describe the debauchery, spiritual apathy and false sense of security of the people of Judah, a people to whom God had made known His will and offered His rest.  But they would hear none of it. They wouldn’t be bothered. They had no reason to; they felt so secure as though even death could not possibly touch them! There were beyond all harm and evil. It was an amazing display of high confidence.

But how did Judah reach such a low (or high?) point in her national life?

A Covenant only Worthy of Drunkards

The prophet essentially addresses a theme of moral and spiritual degeneracy in both the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah and the inescapable divine judgment such behaviour invites. He then makes the case that the substitution of military alliances, ‘smart’ policies, schemes and even wealth for obedience would not offer them an enduring refuge.  Only the foundation stone of Zion, the "tried stone", offers "a sure foundation"; whoever believes in Him will not be seized by panic.

But this was the "stone" Israel had rejected, and Judah too in imitation of Israel, by their deeds of evil and disdain for the Word of God. Because they had refused His rest through disobedience, God decreed judgment against them, and no artifice, no matter how skillfully planned and executed, would offer lasting solace.

Israel was already a goner:  

"Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!

"Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.

"The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:

"And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up" (Isa. 28:1-4).

The "crown of pride" refers to Samaria, the capital of Ephraim, a metonymy for the whole ten-tribe kingdom of Israel which had then fallen into severe apostasy. In advance of the coming judgment, God calls the city "a fading flower", a city whose arrogant rulers are "overcome with wine".  Israel’s rulers had become godless and dissolute.

"The crown of pride" is under a judgment of "woe":  Adonay has "a mighty and strong one", a warrior, who will come as "a tempest of hail and a destroying storm" and "a flood of mighty waters" to cast down the crown and completely subjugate the kingdom. 

That fearsome agent of divine destruction was Assyria.  Led by its king Shalmaneser, the Assyrians invaded Samaria and captured it in 721 BC after three years of laying siege to it. He then carried out a thorough ethnic cleansing of the city by uprooting all the Israelites from the land (2 Kings 17:3-6).   

Shalmanesar was indeed "a destroying storm" and "a flood of mighty waters" rushing forward in mighty torrents. He was absolutely unstoppable, and he gobbled up Samaria like a fruit plucked from a tree and eaten up!

Samaria was defenceless before Assyria, a defenceless prey before Shalmanesar, because her leaders had replaced devotion to God with love of sinful pleasures.

Judah, meanwhile, would enjoy some respite but only for a short while as her national life is beginning to mirror her sister Israel’s.  Hence     

"In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of His people,

"And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate" (vv. 5-6).

That "day" refers to the day of Israel’s fall and destruction. On that day of national disaster in Samaria, "the LORD of hosts will be a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to His remnant people".

As to its immediate relevance, the prophecy states that Judah will be preserved and spared the devastation that will befall Ephraim. But the prophecy also projects far into the future to the millennial rule of the Davidic Messianic King who, reigning from Jerusalem, will usher in an epoch of peace and bliss.

But our interest now is the immediacy of the prophecy as it applied then. And there’s an unmistakable allusion to the reign of righteous king Hezekiah of Judah. While Shalmanesar devastated Samaria, Hezekiah was in his sixth year as king of Judah. Yet he and his people were spared, even though he too had rebelled against the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:1-11).

A similar divine favour smiled on Judah eight years later, when Sennacherib, the new king of Assyria, would not be pacified, even after Hezekiah had paid him heavy tribute, and threatened invasion and destruction. The threats came to nothing, for one night "the angel of the LORD", in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer, " went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand" (2 Kings 19:35), and Judah was spared once more.

God had promised Judah’s rulers discernment to rule and administer justice and also courage and strength to her armed defenders (v.6).  That is to say, Judah would be assured of both internal and external security.   But for how long?

The prophet speaks in a tone of alarm:    

"But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.

"For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.

"’Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts’.

"For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

"For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people.

"To whom He said, ‘This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear" (vv. 7-12).

Moral corruption and apostasy have taken hold of Judah too, and her priests and prophets lead the way. They are so given to wine and sensuality that they are no longer in a position to dispense right knowledge of God.  They have veered off course and strayed from the truth of God. In defiance of God’s instructions that His priests as custodians of the Law (Mal. 2:7) should avoid alcohol so they could, with a clear sense of God’s holy demands, teach His people His will (Lev. 10:9-11), these priests love to booze, and it shows in their ministry: "they err in vision, they stumble in judgment".  And they are so steeped in their life of spiritual and moral filth that "all [their] tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean" for the Lord.

And why not?

The inebriated religious leaders, who present themselves as ministers of God, ironically have no respect for the Word of God, hinting at a spiritual dimension to their wine bingeing. They derisively dismiss the word and mock its messenger: "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts?"  Are we babies to listen to his uninformed, disjointed talk and Bible-bashing, ‘Thus saith the LORD, thus saith the LORD’?   

The LORD hears their mocking and replies in kind: My words will always sound incoherent to you–as "precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (in Hebrew, ‘tsav latsav, tsav latsav, qav laqav, qav laqav’)–in the fashion of a baby’s gibbering  talk!    And that to a people who have refused His rest: "This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear".

But because they will have dismissed not a bunch of vain words but the Word of salvation as mere gibberish unworthy of their attention, they will "fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken" (v. 13).

Judgment is afoot, although the mockers of the holy Word don’t seem to be bothered. They have made alternative security arrangements, and they are so sure even death will forbear to harm them. 

But that is the prophet returning the scorn. Their "covenant with death" are his words coined in mockery of their false sense of security and confidence which they foolishly consider to be a credible refuge from disaster. He speaks to their face:

"Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.

"Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:

"Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

"Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.

"And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it" (vv. 14-18).

The apostate leaders’ confidence to make a pact with death not to hurt them stems from their worldly wisdom, dubious dealings and, possibly, alliances with foreign powers, such as Assyria. But God lampoons it as sheer foolhardiness labeling it ‘a covenant with death’ because their dubious dealings, status, etc cannot withstand the scourge that will sweep through the land.  They will belatedly realize that they were all false hopes which miserably failed to keep them from ruin. "Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it".

However, the LORD has laid in Zion for a sure foundation "a tried stone", "a precious cornerstone"; he that believes in Him shall not panic. This is what provides true security.  For no falsehood or unrighteousness shall ever escape God’s judgment: "Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place". (See Rom. 2:2-3).

The fantasy is over.

For the mockers who will not believe on the tried stone in Zion, they can be sure of one thing–distress and panic. The news of destruction will be scary but the experience of it scarier:

"From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.

"For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.

"For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act.

"Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth" (vv. 19-22).

The localized judgment assumes a universal dimension because the whole world equally holds the Word of God in contempt. 

Science, the Hope and Bulwark of a Godless World, Failing?

The spiritual condition characteristic of the national life of Judah is characteristic of our world today. Only the characters have changed with time.  Modern society has a new source of security: science, a powerful cure-all they can absolutely rely on!  

Science is the modern man’s saviour, his source of well-being and the key to a secure future of progress.   Therefore the gospel with its moral exhortations and threats of divine judgment must be waved aside. The curses God pronounces on people who disobey His word have been rendered a myth by advances in science.

But the world of those who see science as their god has been unsettled of late, leaving them alarmed.   Science is failing to ward off the curses enshrined in God’s word for the transgression of His laws, such as those against sexual sins.

What are some of these sexual sins? And how hard-pressed is science in putting the curses in check?

Sodomy is foremost. God’s word plainly forbids homosexuality or same-sex relations (Lev. 18:22) and decrees a fitting penalty of plague for offenders, apart from their exclusion from His kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-11). We read in Rom. 1:22-28:

"Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

"And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

"Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

"Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

"For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

"And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient".

The "wise" of this world consider  themselves too sophisticated and refined to believe in and live by the dictates of an invisible God (see vv. 19-21), but their deeds betray their folly. Not only did they exchange the unfading, imperishable glory of the Creator for base images of animals and lifelike human statues as associated with the ‘advanced’ Greek and Roman societies of Paul’s day, but also their inner corrupt nature ("the lusts of their own hearts") surfaced in all its ugliness in their stinking immoral lifestyles when God withdrew His restraining grace from them (see Ps 18:11-12; Hos. 8:11-12).  

Sexual immorality became rampant, and men, contrary to nature, burned in their lust for their fellow men and women likewise for their fellow women. All perversions are welcome, no holds barred!

Today, the practice and advocacy of homosexuality has grown into a global movement supported by the elites and wise of this world, including so-called liberal Christian ministers. The whole global community is virtually Sodom and Gomorrah come back in fulfilment of the prophetic word: "Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah"(Isa. 1:9).

And the liberal preachers, some of them homosexuals themselves, have greatly contributed to embolden modern-day sodomites. They are as drunk with the wine of sensuality and false doctrines as their counterparts of ancient Judah were. They preach not to rebuke sin but a watered down gospel of ‘cheap grace’ which seeks to sanitize every perversion under the sun and present it as now acceptable to God.  And you dare not present the unadulterated Biblical position in warning homosexuals that God’s fiery judgment awaits them.

They immediately despise the messenger and mock his message:  ‘Will you teach us, do we look like babies to you?’  

Flaunting their high education and social status, they hold Yahweh’s true ministers in utter contempt and dismiss them as bigots and ignoramuses. Recent scientific evidence suggests homosexuals are not the perverts society previously considered to be, and certainly the Bible, which is mostly unscientific and advocates the ancient morality of an ancient society, cannot have the last word on human behaviour.  Science is a better authority: Homosexuals are attracted to members of their own sex because of their sexual orientation, not out of any evil willful preference. It’s something biological, it’s in their genes. They are genetically predisposed to be attracted to people of their own gender; it’s not a learned habit or their own perverse creation.  They were born so; we could say God made them so. But these Bible-thumping pastors are so ignorant!  God is love, and His grace imposes no moral obligations on people.  He accepts straights, queers and all. 

The "perilous times" of "the last days" have come (2 Tim 3:1), and they have come with their own matching preachers who appeal to a world that has rejected God and His revealed truth.  These swim with the tide and preach the values of the times (2 Tim 4:3-4).  Although they have an appearance of being respectable ministers of God, they deny the power of the gospel to transform sinful people into saints. "Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men" (2 Tim. 3:5-9 ESV).

Conveniently overlooked is God’s declaration that He is holy and that all His children should conform to His standards of holiness (1 Pet. 1:14-16), that He is righteous and will judge the world in righteousness through Jesus Christ (Ps. 11:7; 119:137; Acts 17:31), or that His grace teaches us to  "live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world"  in anticipation of  our  Saviour Yeshua’s return, "Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all lawlessness, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works".

These truths have all been erased from the discourse in fulfilment of Jude 1:4:  "For certain men have crept in stealthily [gaining entrance secretly by a side door]. Their doom was predicted long ago, ungodly (impious, profane) persons who pervert the grace (the spiritual blessing and favor) of our God into lawlessness and wantonness and immorality, and disown and deny our sole Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One)" (Amplified Bible).

But is the" covenant with death" beginning to unravel?

God solemnly warned that people who indulge in homosexuality would not be left unpunished. While He didn’t describe nor name the penalty, He made it clear in His Word that it would be fitting.

Accordingly, HIV, the virus which causes ADIS, was first discovered in practicing homosexuals, and to this day, experts and advocates bemoan that, men who have sex with men (MSM) bear a "disproportionate burden" of HIV. 

But science came up with a drug to contain it. Several decades on, however, it’s not pretty news to those who have replaced godly fear with faith in science.  The drugs are failing to have effect; patients are, in fact, developing resistance to the antiretroviral drugs. Sadly, Africa bears the brunt.   A recent BBC news report carried on the website Myjoyonline states:

"Drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade, according to experts writing in the Lancet [a respected medical journal]. …  The researchers, from the World Health Organization (WHO) and University College London (UCL) found the most rapid increase in drug resistance occurred in East Africa, at 29% per year. In Southern Africa, it was 14% per year".

Two of the authors of the research report Dr Silvia Bertagnolio from the WHO and Dr Ravindra Gupta at UCL forecast grimly: ‘"Without continued and increased national and international efforts, rising HIV drug resistance could jeopardise a decade-long trend of decreasing HIV/Aids-related illness and death in low- and middle-income countries’" (http://lifestyle.myjoyonline.com/pages/health/201207/90810.php).

Experts and activists are alarmed. Science is failing and will fail to secure a secure future apart from God.  The folly of the learned and wise of this world to encourage immorality and sexual perversions instead of reverence for the Creator and His holy commandments is staring them in the face! But they still don’t get it. So they are advising that patients take their drugs religiously or that health professionals try different combinations of antiretroviral therapy to address the problem. Of course, the prophet Jeremiah said it long ago: "The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?" (Jer. 8:9). 

Whitewashing and sanitizing a blatant abomination like homosexuality will not do away with its divinely decreed penalties. The Almighty has made it plain in His Word that there is no enduring peace and security apart from heeding His voice.

Isa 48:18 & 22

"O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:

"There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked".

Prov. 13:15

"Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard".

Prov. 1:33

"But whoso hearkeneth unto Me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil".

Man tries to circumvent God’s instructions only to his own hurt. All it will take to avert all this scourge of fractured lives, pain and untimely deaths is obedience to God’s commandments. But they have refused God’s rest; they have refused to hear. 

Believe it or not, God warned that, among other plagues, He would afflict the wicked with an AIDS-like wasting disease, complete with the typical symptoms of fever and inflammation. And a cure would not be forthcoming. 

Deut 28:22

"The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish" (ESV).

Lev. 26:14-16

"But if you will not listen to Me and will not do all these commandments,

"If you spurn My statutes, and if your soul abhors My rules, so that you will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant,

"Then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it" (ESV).

Considering that the warning was directed at primarily the nation of Israel, it’s significant that AIDS is most prevalent in Africa. As traditional customs and practices easily confirm, many African societies are descended from the ancient Hebrews who fled the Holy Land to mainland Africa after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.    

Because these ‘lost tribes’ of Israel continue to disobey God, wasting diseases like HIV/AIDS have clung to them. The only credible remedy is a wholehearted return to God through repentance and faith in Messiah Yeshua. That is the only way out for Africa and the rest of the world. But will they heed?  

"Whoever Believes on Him shall not be Confounded"

Beloved, we are precious in the sight of God.  What has eluded the elites of this world–Who indeed they have rejected–our heavenly has graciously made available to us–the precious, chosen Cornerstone of Zion. Because we are "a chosen generation":

"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

"Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.

Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,

"And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light:

"Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2:5-10).

Christ is the Rock of ages on whom to build a secure life and future. He’s the “tried Stone” of Zion, a Stone that overcame every temptation of the evil one, encountered storms and calmed them, met all needs, unburdened all oppression, and confronted death and won.  He’s the Stone for a “sure foundation”; He gives us trustworthy security both in this life and in the life to come.

Life without Christ is a life of empty pursuits, a life of desperation: ".. My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13).

This is the state of the world. They rejected the truth of God but still want the good things of life (Jer. 5:25).  This cannot be. The Creator has guaranteed enduring blessings to only those who seek Him: "The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing" (Ps. 34:10).

So let the godless world continue to live in a fool’s paradise, but let’s live in holiness as His chosen people, and it shall be well with us now and forever. Amen!