No rest for the wicked
It’s the sort of phrase your cheery postman might say on his rounds. “Must push on I’m afraid, no rest for the wicked eh?” We smile and wave and get on with our day.
Yet this saying is the biblical equivalent of verses such as “these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46) or “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). “No rest for the wicked” describes exactly the same dreaded reality. The rest-less fate of the wicked is a chilling thought.
Let’s hear it in its context in Isaiah. First the LORD declares,
“Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.“ (Isaiah 57:19-21)
For Isaiah, there are two options: peace or turbulence. “Peace” has to come upon a people who would otherwise walk in the darkness of death. It’s the result of the LORD’s “healing” of a sick humanity. Left in our natural state, we are a “troubled sea.”
That’s important to note. The wicked are not at the mercy of a troubled sea. The wicked are a troubled sea. Their judgement is not an imposition from outside. Their judgement is to be left to their own unruly ways.
To be left to oneself is to be restless.
Those who assume the government to be on their shoulders can have no peace. It doesn’t require the LORD to send such people into a state of turmoil. Their very rebellion is their judgement. They clamour for an independence from the Prince of Peace, yet He is the One who rules over the surging seas. Judgement is only ever a confirmation of what a person is, and therefore of what a person has chosen. The LORD stands for peace. But the wicked stand against His ways. Thus there can be no peace for them.
Yet over and above the troubled seas, Jesus still brings a word to still the storm:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. (Matthew 11:28-30)
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