TODAY’S READING: Isaiah 28–30
Isaiah wrote during the period of Assyrian ascendancy. The northern kingdom of Israel would fall first and Judah in the south would soon follow. God not only allowed Assyria to defeat His people—He expressly willed and empowered it. God’s people broke covenant and instead of being a missionary people, they themselves were missionized—converted to the scandalous practices of those they were to influence for holy good. One such practice was the fiery sacrifices of children to the god Molech. In a valley south of Jerusalem called Hinnom, there was a cultic site called Tophet where babies and young children were burned alive. The prophets, including Isaiah, referred to the fire of Tophet as a symbol of the fiery judgment that God would send on all peoples who rebel against His rule or are unfaithful to Him. Isaiah pictured Tophet as prepared with enough wood to burn the whole empire of Assyria. The Aramaic word for “valley of Hinnom” was gehinnam, which translated in Greek is gehenna (“hell fire”). Jesus warned about the fiery judgment of hell recalling the judgment Isaiah prophesied over Assyria (Matt. 5:22; Isa. 30:33).
Both hell and heaven are central to the missionary metanarrative of the Bible. Our very understanding of hell’s reality is based on God’s people breaking covenant to such a horrific degree that they burn their own children alive, on God determining He will judge His people by sending them into exile in Assyria, and on God declaring He would burn evil Assyria in the fires of hell. Yes, hell is real, hot, horrific, and eternal. Jesus warned that hell is torment and agony (Luke 16:19–29) and that it is eternal (Rev. 14:11). Hell is central to the prophetic missionary message, and we do the nations no favors if we pretend hell is not real, not eternal, and not looming. Isaiah declared that the glorious voice of the Lord would be heard right before he prophesied hell fire for Assyria (Isa. 30:30, 33). How dare we remove hell from our messaging when it is so central to what God said both in the Word and through the Word. We are to teach through other tongues precept by precept, line by line, here a little and there a little, until nations like Lebanon become fruitful fields and the poor among all men rejoice in the Holy One of Israel (28:11, 13; 29:17, 19). Our ears shall hear a word behind us telling us where the way is and not to turn from it, for to turn off the path is to walk towards the fires of hell (30:21).
The missionary message speaks clearly and often about the impending reality of an eternal, horrible hell. We do the nations no favors if we remove hell from the gospel. Secular voices mock and slander us for preaching a literal, eternal hell, but they have no right to edit the Lord’s curriculum. As for liberal Christians who would edit of their own accord, they but prove the maxim that intellectual deception follows moral rejection. It is both folly and rebellion to think that we are wiser than God or that God is not good because He created hell and consigns the wicked there. The inverse is the reality: God cannot be good without hell, and without hell there is no gospel message. The most loving thing we can do among the nations is talk about hell more. To talk about hell less or to dilute its eternal horror is not love—it’s just sophisticated hate.