The Silent Witness



Isaiah’s message begins with a call to witness:

‘Hear, O heavens!
Listen, O earth!’ [Isaiah 1:2]

Isaiah then proceeds to detail the sin of Israel:

‘I reared children and brought them up, but they rebelled against me.
The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know, my people do not understand …

They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him’ [Isaiah 1:3,4].

Similarly, Jeremiah called upon the heavens at the beginning of his ministry:

‘”Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the LORD.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water”’ [Jeremiah 2:12,13].

Both of these prophets were commissioned by God to bring God’s word of judgement to a people who had turned their backs on the living God and were worshipping idols instead of him.

This call to the heavens and the earth to witness God’s word of judgement is described in Psalm 50:3,4:

‘Our God comes and will not be silent …
He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people.’

We know from other scriptures that the heavens and the earth [and especially the earth] suffers because of our human sinfulness. God’s judgements on us impact creation, from our very first rejection of God and right up to the present.

‘Cursed is the ground because of you … [Genesis 3:17].

‘… the creation itself was subjected to frustration … We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time’ [Romans 8:20,23].

It is not surprising then, that our most acute and horrendous rejection of God brought on a concurrent impact on the physical world. When we humans so despised the incarnate Son of God that we crucified him, the heavens hid their face and the earth shuddered:

‘It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining’ [Luke 23:44,45].

‘The earth shook and the rocks split’ [Matthew 27:51].

The pain and the agony of the created world is not what God created, nor is it what he created it for. He created it perfect, a thing of joy, and he created it for human habitation – the one planet in the universe with all the features necessary for human life – and for humans to enjoy and to rule. But when we, the humans, are out of sync with God the Creator, the heavens and the earth – our habitat – suffer. The heavens and the earth are silent witnesses of both our rebellion and God’s just judgement.

Why does God call the heavens and the earth to witness his word of judgement in Isaiah and Jeremiah? Perhaps because in those words of judgement is embedded the promise and anticipation of the final judgement, beyond which all human rebellion will cease, beyond which there will be ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ in which there is no pain and suffering. Then

‘... creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God’ [Romans 8:21].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014, 2023