Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Prophet Isaiah on the UK Air Strikes Against Syria

The biblical prophets are difficult to understand, but they’re still relevant. In the context of the United Kingdom’s MPs voting in favour of air strikes against so-called Islamic State strongholds in Syria, and in the light of the raids that took place soon afterwards, I cannot help but think how relevant is today’s reading from Isaiah 28:
Hear now the word of the Lord,
You men of mockery,
Who govern that people
In Jerusalem!
For you have said,
“We have made a covenant with Death,
Concluded a pact with Sheol.
When the sweeping flood passes through,
It shall not reach us;
For we have made falsehood our refuge,
Taken shelter in treachery.” (Isaiah 28:14-15)
I don’t think it can be asserted with any certainty that the decision to bomb Syria is unequivocally wrong. But I think it can be asserted, and reasonably so, that the mind-set that assumes violence is the best response to violence is askew. Moreover, the UK Government’s decision to respond violently strongly suggests a lack of communal wisdom and geopolitical intelligence on the part of its members.

There is also a question about how divine sovereignty over the nations is displayed. The remainder of Isaiah 28 speaks of how the Lord will annul the covenant with Death (28:18) as the LORD brings judgement. Decisions and actions, good or ill, globally or locally implemented – these all have consequences.

But Isaiah brings a message of hope. Even when the Lord brings judgement, it is not the end:
Give diligent ear to my words,
Attend carefully to what I say.
Does he who ploughs to sow
Plough all the time,
Breaking up and furrowing his land?
When he has smoothed its surface,
Does he not rather broadcast black cumin
And scatter cumin,
Or set wheat in a row,
Barley in a strip,
And emmer in a patch?
For He teaches him the right manner,
His God instructs him.
So, too, black cumin is not threshed with a threshing board,
Nor is the wheel of a threshing sledge rolled over cumin;
But black cumin is beaten out with a stick
And cumin with a rod.
It is cereal that is crushed.
For even if he threshes it thoroughly,
And the wheel of his sledge and his horses overwhelm it,
He does not crush it.
That, too, is ordered by the Lord of Hosts;
His counsel is unfathomable,
His wisdom marvellous. (Isaiah 28:23-39, my emphasis)
I dare say that there will be some disastrous consequences to the UK Government’s decision to join the current military strategy against so-called Islamic State in Syria; but the Christian hope remains that God will somehow bring good from it, and all the other evils in the world, because ultimately the Lord’s desire is not to devastate but to grow.


  1. '...ultimately the Lord’s desire is not to devastate but to grow.' Amen.

    1. Good to see you online again, Sandy. I hope your break was beneficial.

  2. "I think it can be asserted, and reasonably so, that the mind-set that assumes violence is the best response to violence is askew."

    I wholeheartedly agree with this sentence in particular.

    I struggle hugely with the whole question of whether military involvement in any conflict can ever be justified in Christian terms. On the whole, I'm not sure that it can... but then I'm very aware that we live in a deeply imperfect world where what's ideal can't always be achieved in practice, and sometimes we have to settle for the lesser of two evils.

    But I do nonetheless very strongly query the assumption that countering violence with violence is ultimately productive, beneficial or morally justifiable.

    1. I think war can be justified under certain conditions (though what those conditions are, I couldn't say!); but so much military action at the moment seems to smack only of playground politics.