Imagine a fuming bull, stomping his foot, ready to charge. Unlike those who find an adrenaline rush out of being chased down a crowded street by an enraged bull, I plan to never experience this scene in person. I shall trust as mostly accurate the cartoons I watched as a child.
Now imagine the gentle, relaxed bull named Ferdinand who loves to smell the flowers and rest gently under the cork tree. If you have never read the classic, award-winning children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, this may seem a strange image. Just trust me that the main character is a gentle, peace-loving, docile bull – the exact opposite of the aforementioned raging bull.
Isaiah must have had a poetic mind, as he seems to have seen the world in strong imagery. Whenever my heart gets ho-hum about sin or the beauty of the gospel, I camp out in Isaiah until it begins to feel again the brokenness and beauty in vivid color.
In Isaiah 9 and 10, Isaiah attempts to portray to the nation of Israel the righteous anger they have stirred up in the heart of God through their refusal to listen or return to Him and His ways. The prophet repeats a phrase over and over again, as a refrain, “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” (Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21, and Isaiah 10:4)
It’s not a pleasant image, not in the least. The Hebrew word for anger, anaph, comes from a root word meaning nostril and literally means to breath, to snort, to breath hard because enraged. Thus the image of a fuming bull.
This is the reality of the righteous anger of God against sin. Fuming, angry, enraged. As far from ho-hum as humanly possible.
Because no one likes to stay too long in the ring with angry bull, Isaiah 12 comes as a shockingly sweet transition of mood.
In that day you will say, “I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:1-3.
Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for comfort is another breath word. Nacham literally means to sigh, to breath softly as in sorry or compassion. The imagery couldn’t be any more clear. From nostrils fuming in anger to a gentle, compassionate sighing.
What in the world happened? What enabled the drastic and dramatic shift in God’s posture toward His people from raging bull to gentle comforter?
Isaiah was banking on a shift that he did not fully see or understand. A promise that somehow, God would be restored fully to the people whom He loved. What we see clearly that Isaiah was not privileged to see fully was the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
On Christ, the bowl of God’s stored up wrath was poured out, emptied, down to the last dregs. God’s righteous anger with generation upon generation of rebellious acts was absorbed in the perfectly obedient body of Christ. This was the only way for God to reconcile His holiness with His covenant love for His wayward children.
Through Christ alone, we can approach a God who is appeased, sighing with comfort and compassion. Not only can we approach Him, we are called to approach Him boldly and without fear. In Christ, the breath of God that was fuming against us becomes the breath of a gentle sigh of comfort.
From fuming to Ferdinand. That is the hope of the gospel. With joy we will draw water from the wells of salvation, indeed.