THE BOOK OF BURDENS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-28-75 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Book of Burdens or The Weight of the Word of the Lord. In the Book of Isaiah through which we are preaching, there are sections, divisions. There is a book of Immanuel; there is a book of woes; there is a book of comfort; there is a book of burdens. And it is this book of burdens, this weight of the Word of the Lord, to which we address our souls today.
Isaiah 13:1 begins, “The burden of Babylon.” Isaiah 15:1 begins, “The burden of Moab.” Isaiah 17:1 begins, “The burden of Damascus.” Isaiah 19:1 begins, “The burden of Egypt.” Isaiah 21 begins, “The burden of the desert of the sea” [Isaiah 21:1]. Isaiah 21:11: “The burden of Dumah”—Mt. Seir, Edom. Verse 13: “The burden of Arabia” [Isaiah 21:13]. Isaiah 22:1: “The burden of the valley of vision”—Jerusalem seen in the Kidron Valley. Isaiah 23:1: “The burden of Tyre”—the great maritime city of the ancient world. Just to look at it, immediately we are sensitive to the revelation of God that He is the Lord of all the nations of the world. In the revelation on the pages of the Scripture, because it came through Israel, we are inclined to think that the heart and grace of God were centered in Jerusalem and in Judah alone.
No, the same Lord God that guided the destiny and judged the future of Israel is the same Lord God that guides and judges the nations of the world. This is the lesson of Jonah which was difficult for Israel to learn. God was interested in Jerusalem. His heart went out to Samaria, but God was no less interested in Nineveh, the capital of the great empire of Assyria [Jonah 3:1-10]. This is the purpose of God in Israel, that they might be a teacher of and a missionary to, all the families and peoples of the earth [Isaiah 49:5-6].
Exodus 19 comes before Exodus 20. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, there is listed for us the oracles and the covenant of God called the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. This is an opening, a nakedness of the character of God, the Ten Commandments. They were placed in the ark of the covenant [1 Kings 8:9]. The covenant was in the Ten Commandments: “Do this and thou shalt live” [Deuteronomy 4:1]. But the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus comes before chapter 20. And in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, God said to Israel, “Thou shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” [Exodus 19:6]. Now a priest represents a man to God and God to man. So the purpose of the calling of Israel and the purpose of the delivery of the oracles of God to Israel was that Israel might be the great missionary and teacher of the covenant relationship of God to the whole world.
We see therefore in this book of burdens that the address of God is to all the nations of the earth. Do you see again the use of that word burden? The burden of Tyre [Isaiah 23:1]; the burden of Egypt [Isaiah 19:1]; the burden of Arabia [Isaiah 21:13]; the burden of Jerusalem [Isaiah 22:1]—why would it be chosen, a word like that? “Burden”—what is meant by the word “burden?” We have a good definition of it in the passage in which we’re preaching, in Isaiah 22:25. Listen to the word: “In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the Lord hath spoken it.”
The burden that was on it shall be cut off; it shall fall, for God has spoken it [Isaiah 22:25]. Now the word “burden” there is the same word that is used to refer to the oracle of God delivered to each one of these nations. Burden—the Hebrew masa, which means to lift up a heavy load, to raise it, to bear it up. Out of that Hebrew verb came a substantive, a noun: masa. And masa means a load that is lifted up, that is raised. And from that imagery came the idea that the delivery of the message of God was judgmental. It was weighty. It was heavy. It is a burden, something lifted up.
You see that in the message of God to the nations; for example, the burden of Babylon [Isaiah 13:1]. Listen to the word of the Lord, the oracle of God, to that ancient and glorious city: “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited; neither shall it be dwelt in forever . . . Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there” [Isaiah 13:19-21]. Have you flown over that country? It is as desolate and as sterile and as barren as the most wasted of all of the deserts that blot the face of the earth—the burden of the oracle of God.
The burden of Moab . . . . In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth: on the tops of their houses . . . they shall howl, weeping abundantly.
[Isaiah 15:1, 3].
The burden of Damascus . . . . Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, therefore, thou shall plant and it shall grow . . . but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow.
[Isaiah 17:1, 10-11]
The burden of the oracle of God:
The burden of Egypt . . . . And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the God of hosts.
[Isaiah 19:1, 4].
“The burden of the desert of the sea” [Isaiah 21:1], that is, Elam and Media, the great vast earth down through which the Euphrates River flows: “A grievous vision is declared unto me…Therefore, are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as of the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it. My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure had been turned into fear” [Isaiah 21:2-4]. The burden of the Word of the Lord—“The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish [Isaiah 23:1] . . . As the report concerning Egypt, so shall be the report of Tyre…Is this your ancient city? Is this your joyous habitation? Her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn” [Isaiah 23:5-7].
It is easy to see why the oracle of God should be termed the burden of Babylon [Isaiah 13:1], the burden of Arabia [Isaiah 21:13], the burden of Tyre [Isaiah 23:1], the burden of Egypt [Isaiah 19:1]. The word also described the weight of feeling in the heart of the messenger of God as he delivered it, a burden!
Jeremiah the prophet cried aloud under the message God gave him saying, “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1]. “Then, said I”—Jeremiah cries—“then said I…I will speak no more in His name. But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” [Jeremiah 20:9]. The word of the prophet was one that burned and seared. It was a burden from the Lord!
The same thing is in the life of the prophet and call of Ezekiel. God said to him, “Take this book and eat it” [Ezekiel 3:1]. And he took the book and ate it. It was in his mouth, the words of God, sweet like honey [Ezekiel 3:2-3], but the delivery of the message was bitter as gall [Revelation 10:10].
In the tenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there is a great and mighty angel that descends from heaven, having a book in his hand [Revelation 10:1-2]. He plants one foot on the land and the other foot on the sea. And he raises his hand toward Almighty God, and he swears by Him that liveth for ever and ever that time shall be no longer [Revelation 10:5-6]. That is, that these great prophetic events will now happen, tachu, quickly, immediately! When the denouement comes, when the great consummation of the age arises, what happens will be fast, furious, one after another.
God may delay for a long time, but when the great hour comes, it will happen rapidly and swiftly; as the angel holds up his hand swearing that these things shall come quickly now. Then the apostle, the seer, is said, “Take the book out of his hands, and eat it” [Revelation 10:9]. And John says, “I took the book from the hand of the great angel, and I ate it, and it was in my mouth sweet like honey; but in my belly it was bitter like gall” [Revelation 10:10]. And then the immediate assignment and commandment: “Thou shalt carry this message to the nations and to the peoples, and thou shalt prophesy to all that are in the earth” [Revelation 10:11].
This is the burden of the prophecy, the oracle of God that is weighty and heavy and judgmental! Isn’t that God? The terrible truth in the Lord’s message is never sheathed. It is never covered but is always revealed, and unconcealed, and unhidden. “The word of God is sharp and powerful like a two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart . . . for all things are opened and naked before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” [Hebrews 4:12-13]. The word of God is a burden. It is an unsheathed, naked, flashing, sharp, two-edged sword, and it has always been!
In the beginning, God said to our first parents, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]—the terrible truth of the judgmental commandments of Almighty God. Following the revelation throughout the Scriptures, coming to the Revelation, it is no less the same. Our Lord says to the seven last churches that represent the course of Christendom—God says, “Except thou repent, the lampstand shall be taken from thy midst” [Revelation 2:5]. The burden of the word of the Lord—I could not define it better than the apostle Paul did in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans. He is here explaining the elective purpose of God in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the holy temple, and the destruction of the state of Israel, and the Diaspora, the scattering of the people to the earth.
Then he says, in Romans 11:22, “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them who fell”—upon Judah—“severity; toward thee, goodness, if you continue in it; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” And there is a play on those two words—the severity of God, apotomia; the cutting off of God, apokteinō, to cut off, to cut. The severity, translated apotomia, severity, the cutting off of God—“And you, lest thy also be cut off” [Revelation 11:22]. This is the revelation of the character and being of Almighty God—the severity of the judgments of God. They were repeated by the Lord to the people of Judah.
In the twenty-first chapter in the Book of Luke, for example: “There is coming a time,” says the Lord, “when armies shall encompass Jerusalem round about” [Luke 21:20], and then he says, “Pray that it be not in the wintertime”—in the cold of the weather. “And woe unto that woman who is with child” [Matthew 24:19-20], the escape is difficult and hard, and if she is heavy and great with child, how hard it will be that she move—the severity of God! There was a time in the judgment of God, when in the severity of the judgments of the Almighty, the entire race was destroyed, save one Noachian family—just one [Genesis 7:17-23].
In the severity of the judgments of God, the burden of the oracle of God, Samaria was destroyed forever. Nineveh was destroyed forever. The Assyrian Empire was destroyed forever—the same visitation upon Babylon, upon Tyre, upon Sidon, upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-29], upon Rome.
There is no sensitive student to the story of Christendom who does not see that ever and anon, God has sent His chastening forces. In my humble persuasion, the presence of the bitterest enemy the church has ever known, the drive of Red Communism, is none other than a scourge from the hand of God against the lethargy, and the indifference, and the worldliness, and the compromise of the Christian church—the severity, apotomia, the cutting off of the judgmental visitation of God. I cannot but tremble myself in reading the Book of Hebrews. Listen to the author as he says, “For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31]…For our God is a consuming fire!” [Hebrews 12:29].
Nor are these judgmental interventions of the Almighty unique or peculiar or limited. They are, rather, universal, everywhere applicable. There is no section, or people, or time, or age, or place in which one escapes. We are all under the great judgmental commandments and visitations of the Almighty in heaven—all of us. All that God does is like that. It is universal. For example, His gravity—no man in the earth knows what it is. Nor will they ever know. It is a reflection of the hand of the Almighty, gravity! You find it here in the earth. You find it in the smallest little thing. If I had a pin and drop it—gravity. You find it in the stars, in the spheres, in the planets, on the moon, and everywhere in the earth. It is universal because God is that.
Fire, the burning of fire—whether it be in the heat of a sun, or whether it be in the earth, or whether it be in the farthest star, it is the same. It is universal—the burning of fire! So all of God’s presence and character revealed to us is like that. It is universal! So His law of the harvest, of sowing and reaping—as Paul wrote it, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” [Galatians 6:7]. There is no escape. The judgment of God pursues a man’s wrong like the ancient Greek Nemesis. There’s no hiding from it.
In a village pastorate that God gave me, there was in the little town a drugstore and a pharmacist, the only little drugstore in that part of the county. These were in the days of prohibition. And the pharmacist, the druggist, as he sold his medicines and all of those items that you buy at a drugstore, he also, under the counter, sold bootlegged whiskey. And as the days passed, he became very affluent. Worlds of money did he make, for the people who were not in sympathy with the laws of prohibition—I sometimes think of the hypocrisy of America. This is the law of the land, and they force things upon our people that amaze me. They never said that in the days of prohibition. This is the law of the land. What they did was to flaunt it, and to ridicule it, and to scoff at it, and to break it, and finally, of course, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, moved it out of the Constitution.
This is the hypocrisy of modern America. He was like that, this pharmacist. He lived in the state—I was pastoring in a state that produces most of the whiskey of America, and he laughed at it and scoffed at it and made money, money, money, money—a beautiful home, a great plantation, an affluent man; but God, but God, but God! I stood by his side—not because he belonged to the little church I pastored; he was not a Christian—but I stood by his side and before him lay the only child that he had, the only son that he had: a fine, good-looking boy, oh, twenty-four or twenty-five years of age, tall, slender, fine-looking lad. I stood by the side of the father as he looked down on the face of the boy, as the boy died of delirium tremens and cirrhosis of the liver, destroyed by the alcohol his father sold under the counter. Money? Yes. Palatial home? Yes. Broad, rich acres? Yes, but the judgment of Almighty God—God! Be not deceived; He is not mocked [Galatians 6:7]. They are universally applicable.
It hasn’t been but two days since a man sat in my study, by my side, buried his face in his hands like this, and cried and wept and lamented. His sins had dissolved his home before him—cry, just cry and cry and cry.
There was brought to my hands one time a letter. “Read this,” they said. “It is addressed to you.” It was from a young woman who had taken her own life. The letter followed through and at the end was addressed particularly to me by name, asking me to bury her and thus and so in the service. What happened was syphilis. Venereal disease had begun to attack the soft tissues of her eyes, and she was going blind.
We have penicillin as a specific for that. Are you sure? Are you real sure? But the doctors say that disease has a turn of becoming immune and hardened to these antibiotics, and give it time, and give it time, and as now, venereal disease is epidemic in America! Why? These hippies on their pads shake their fists at God: “Ha, God!” and these promiscuous young people shake their fists at God: “God, ha!” Be not deceived: God is not mocked: what you sow, you reap [Galatians 6:7], whether in the heart of a man, whether in the household of a man, whether in the church among men, or whether in the nation. That’s why the Book calls it the burden of the oracle of God addressed to Moab [Isaiah 15:1], to Babylon [Isaiah 13:1], to Egypt [Isaiah 19:1] and to Arabia [Isaiah 21:13].
Were it not for the grace and the goodness and the mercy of God, we would be of all God’s creation most miserable. Do you remember that one hundred thirtieth Psalm? “If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” [Psalm 130:3]. Who shall stand? There is not a man that can stand in any pulpit or on any platform or address any audience in the earth and say, “Look at that sinner there, and look at that one there, and look at that one there, and look at this one,” and he himself lift himself up in pride, in immunity.
“Lord, if Thou shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Sinners, sinners, sinners, sinners, a sinner—“Lord, if You judge us by our iniquities, O God, who shall stand?” “For the great day of His wrath has come,” cried the Revelation in chapter 6. “For the great day of the wrath of the Lamb has come; and who shall stand?” [Revelation 6:17]. “If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” [Psalm 130:3], or as the disciples said it to the Lord Jesus, “Lord, who then can be saved?” [Luke 18:26].
This is the cry of the penitential psalms: “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications . . . For there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared” [Psalm 130:1-4]—beyond, be glorified, be praised. “I will wait for the Lord; my soul shall wait; I shall hope in the Lord” [Psalm 130:5]. In that psalm that I haven’t time to follow through, the Savior is called the great Redeemer [Psalm 130:8]. Could I change the words but not the meaning? Could I use the word Intervener, the great Intervener? Does the vicious cycle never stop—sin and death, iniquity, tears, and sorrows? Lord, does it continue forever? There is a great Intervener.
The Lord came down from glory to intervene, to break that tragic cycle of judgment and death. And as Paul wrote it so beautifully, and effectively, and savingly in 1 Timothy 1:15: “This is a great saying worthy of all acceptation, namely that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” He, chief? No. She, chief? No. They, chief? No. He came into the world to save sinners “of whom I am chief”; the great Intervener, the great Redeemer—to break that awesome judgment of the fire and fury of God against our sins, that we might have hope in God [John 10:10].
My brother, look around you, look around you. You’ll find men who have been wonderfully saved by the grace of God all through this vast congregation. You’ll find women who have found new hope, and new life, and new vision, and new tomorrow in the blessedness of God in their own hearts and in their own homes.
I don’t know of any description of the Christian faith better than this: it is a faith—it is a gospel that leads us to, brings us into the land of beginning again. I don’t have to die. I don’t have to be judged. I don’t have to be condemned. In Christ there is a great intervention, a great breaking off of the judgments of God, and in the Beloved, I can be safe [1 Peter 2:24]. The hands that were nailed to the tree are the same hands of grace and goodness that are extended to the whole world, and it reaches even unto me [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; Romans 10:9-13].
That is why the Book will call the message of Christ the “gospel”—euaggelion, literally, the “good news.” What better news could a man listen to than that in Christ we have eternal life? [John 10:28]. We have the forgiveness of our sins [Ephesians 1:7]. We have a home in heaven [John 14:1-3]. We have fellowship with the Great King [1 John 1:7]. We can be joined together in a like praise, and love, and acceptance, and worship, and glory to God [Ephesians 4:13-15]. Ah, the sweetness and the preciousness of the hearts of those who have found a common bond in the grace and the saving goodness of Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 2:8-9].
And this is the open, wide invitation that in His name is extended to you this day. Somebody you to accept the Lord as your Savior: “I open my heart to Him and I am coming.” A family you to put your life and your home in the circle of this dear church, a couple you, just you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down one of those stairways or walking down one of these aisles: “I have made the decision for God and I am coming this morning.” May the Holy Spirit speed you in the way, may the angels of heaven attend you in the way, as you come on the first note of the first stanza, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
THE WORD OF GOD
I. Revealed here the God of all nations
of Israel alone (Isaiah 13:1, 15:1, 17:1, 19:1, 21:1, 21:11, 21:13, 22:1, 23:1)
Lesson of Jonah
Purpose and calling of Israel (Exodus 19, 20)
II. Meaning of the word “burden”
heavy utterance of judgment (Isaiah 22:25, 13:19-21, 15:3, 17:10-11, 19:4,
21:2-4, 23:1, 5-7)
weight of feeling in the heart of the messenger (Jeremiah 9:1, 20:9, Ezekiel
3:1-14, Revelation 10:9-11)
III. Terrible truth not glossed over or
A. The oracle is sharp,
like two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12-13)
1. The first
2. The last
(Revelation 2, 3)
severity of the judgments of God (Romans 11:22, Luke 21:20-24, Matthew 23:19-20,
Hebrews 10:31, 12:29)
IV. Universality of God’s judgment
A. No escape (Galatians
V. Vicious cycle forever?
A. Who shall stand?
(Psalm 130:1-5, Revelation 6:17, Luke 18:26)