No covenants with death

The people ignored Isaiah's warnings. Worse, they mocked him. "Who is he trying to teach?" they asked. "Little babies? Do this! Do that! Here a little, there a little." They trusted their priests, the drunks! And their false prophets who preached peace when there was no peace. Assyrians? What Assyrians? They trusted their "covenant with death."

This phrase probably refers to a treaty Judah had just struck with Egypt. Why does Isaiah call Egypt "death"? Perhaps because of how preoccupied the Egyptians were with death and the afterlife. Perhaps Egypt boasted her army meant death for all opponents. Perhaps Isaiah was ironic, exposing their hope for salvation as really their doom. Isaiah predicted that God would annul their "covenant with death," and leave them as helpless before the Assyrians as wheat before a thresher.

Long ago the events of Isaiah 28 played out, vindicating Isaiah and punishing his detractors. What difference does it make to us in modern times? Don't we in our self-confidence make covenants with death? We consult actuarial tables or calculate the longevity of our forebears and conclude we have 10, 20, or 50 years left. We quickly mute the news reports of children drowning in the lake, or teens killed in a crash, or a young father cut down by a heart attack. We assume that our covenant with death will be honored, that we will do it all before we pass away "well advanced in years and full of days."

One evangelist keeps a scrapbook of death notices, classified according to age. At just the right moment, this man opens the scrapbook, begins leafing through it, and asks his student, "Now, how old did you say you are?" Then he lets the sinner read about the death of someone his or her own age. Death is the great interrupter, the great spoiler of those whose plans do not include God. God Himself will annul whatever covenant with death we think we have. Only Jesus can remove the sting of death and vanquish the last Enemy.

—Steve Singleton