I started reading through Isaiah yesterday for my devotional time, going through it very slowly and deliberately, consulting frequently with the Hebrew as I try to soak in all its richness and pathos. What piqued my sympathy more than anything else in the first chapter was this heart-rending evaluation that God shares through the prophet, speaking of Israel’s empty worship: “Bring no more futile sacrifices before Me,” God declares, “Incense is an abomination to Me, the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting” (1:13).
Such an assessment hits close to home as I can almost hear God reflect on our modern-day gatherings: “I can’t endure your General Conference sessions, your church services, your youth conferences,” He laments. But then He adds even more poignantly, “Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates” (v. 14). Such strong words! Imagine gathering every week, naively thinking we’re praising God, only to discover He despises our behavior.
We don’t typically think – or like to think – of God in such a light. And yet He is not simply arbitrarily castigating His people; He announces that He will not hear their prayers because their “hands are full of blood,” (v. 15) as they evidently not only exploited orphans and widows (v. 17), but acted as harlots by going after other lovers (v. 21).
In short, Israel’s worship was hypocritical. They were honoring God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8). They were saying one thing but living another way – causing God to wonder, “When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand?” (1:12), almost as though saying, “Who told you to come worship Me? It’s pointless!”
But this is what caught my eye more than anything else in this passage. Speaking about their detestable worship gatherings, God not only says that His soul “hated” them and that they were a “trouble” to Him, but He actually declares that He is “weary of bearing them” (v. 14).
Indeed, Israel’s worship, Israel’s gatherings and assemblies and services, tired God out. They exhausted Him.
Could it be true?
We don’t often think of God in such terminology – or even in such a way. As I hinted at a few days ago, we tend to prefer to think of God in more robust and omnipotent ways. We prefer the God who never “faints nor is weary” (Isa. 40:28; Isaiah uses a different Hebrew word for “weary” here, though this latter word is used elsewhere in Isaiah to ascribe weariness to God). We gravitate to the God who acts as a constant provider for us, the One who displays grandeur, power, and majesty – who will always be there for our every need.
And yet the Bible often paints a far different picture of God, characterized at times by “divine vulnerability,” as Terence E. Fretheim puts it (God and Word in the Old Testament, p. 38). This is the God who experiences pain, suffering, frustration – indeed, weariness.
This picture from Isaiah 1:14 is not the only place that draws out God’s weariness, however. There are a handful of other places – all in the prophets – that reveal such a picture in the life of God. Perhaps most poignantly, later in Isaiah, the prophet quotes God as lamenting how His people have “burdened Me with your sins” (the word for “burden” is actually the word for “serve,” almost giving the impression of “enslavement”) and “wearied Me with your iniquities” (43:24). Again, in Jeremiah, God is hurt by how His people have abandoned and “forsaken” Him, and He cries out that He is “weary of relenting” (15:6), apparently tired of constantly bringing Israel back from reaping what they’d sown. Lastly, Malachi portrays God’s weariness because of Israel’s “words.” They were saying that “everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them” (2:17).
Of course, it should go without saying that such weariness was not of a physical nature but was clearly an emotional tiredness. God’s emotional tank was running on empty in relation to His people. The ones He had chosen to be a light to the world, to show His character of love to the nations, had “profaned” His name (Ezekiel 36:22).
Yet they kept on “worshipping,” kept on bringing their sacrifices to the altar, kept on talking, talking, talking – as though it was business as usual.
But it all wearied God – yes, in a real, concrete, literal sense, not just metaphorically. Such a weariness culminated in the cross, where the Psalmist presciently saw the tears of Christ, as He cried out, “Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness. I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20).
What about us? Will we pity our God, sympathize with our Savior? Will we provide Him with the much-needed rest He deserves?
Either way, let these words from Terence E. Fretheim sink in as we ponder the implications of how the rest we enjoy today stems from the weariness that God continues to endure:
It is clear that human sin has not been without cost for God, and that cost is due in significant part to the fact that God has chosen to bear the people’s sin. . . For God to assume such a burden, for God to continue to bear the brunt of Israel’s rejection, meant continued life for the people. Thus there is an explicit connection made between divine suffering and Israel’s life; the former was necessary for the latter to occur. God’s suffering made Israel’s life possible (The Suffering of God, p. 148).
Indeed, our rest comes at the cost of God’s weariness.
Let us therefore resolve, by His grace, to do all we can by faith to provide Him with the rest He so desperately deserves.