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Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—Grieving the Holy Spirit

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In verse seven of Isaiah chapter 63, the Prophet begins to remind the Jews of the mercies of the Lord. They are undeserved mercies that a faithful God has performed on behalf of His own people.

    • "I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses." (Isaiah 63:7, NIV84)

These mercies or kindnesses flow out of a heart of love. The word translated kindnesses in v. 7 refers to an unfailing kindness, or devotion, based on love or affection that is steadfast due to a prior relationship. It implies love and fidelity. Other translations give us a better understanding of what Isaiah is attempting to communicate.

The New American Standard Version renders it:

    • “I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, According to all that the LORD has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.” (Isaiah 63:7, NASB95)

The English Standard Version has it:

    • “I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” (Isaiah 63:7, ESV)

In verse eight Isaiah acknowledges Israel as His own. They are my people and I am their Savior. Then we come to verse nine—one of the most remarkable verses in Isaiah’s prophecy;

    • “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” (Isaiah 63:9, ESV)

The verse literally begins: In all their affliction, there was affliction to him. The meaning is beautiful, and filled with great comfort for God’s people. The language used points out forcefully that God bears our burdens and carries our sorrows. When affliction is directed against us and we must suffer for His sake, we may remember that He too is bearing that affliction and suffering. How this takes place is clearly explained in the New Testament.

    • “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

Then we have the tragedy of verse 10:

    • “But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:10, ESV)

In distinction from God’s goodness the people were rebellious. The verse begins with the conjunction But and is emphatic ... But, BUT, BUUUUT instead of gratitude, love and obedience on the people’s part, ingratitude and rebellion were how the Jews responded to the mercies of the Lord. The result of their rebellion is that they grieved his Holy Spirit. To grieve someone is to cause them great sorrow. We use it to describe the sorrow that people feel when a loved one dies. God is angered by the sin of those who are not His children. But when it comes to His children, He is grieved.


            1. the word “grieve” is a significant word
                1. it comes from a Greek word which denotes a pain or grief that can only be experienced between two people who deeply love each other
                2. you need to let this sink in for a moment
                    1. God the Father loves us so much that He gave us His Spirit who loves us just as equally as Father
            2. just as someone in love thinks about, dreams of, and cherishes the one he loves, the Holy Spirit longs for us, thinks about us, desires to be close to us and wants to reveal Himself to us
                1. and because He is in a love relationship with us, we can cause Him to grieve
                2. how do we grieve the Holy Spirit?


            1. Isaiah says that the Israelites "rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit" (Is. 63:10)
                1. Psalm 78 documents the actions that prompted God's sorrow
            2. 1st, Forgetting God grieves the Holy Spirit
              • "They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them" (Ps. 78:11)
                1. God freed the Israelites from captivity, parted the Red Sea, provided bread in the desert, and led His people to a prosperous land
                    1. but according to the Psalmist, "In spite of all this, they kept on sinning" (Ps. 78:32)
                    2. in response, God lamented, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you" (Is. 49:15)
            3. 2nd, Grumbling grieves the Holy Spirit
              • "They spoke against God" (Ps. 78:19)
                1. daily, God provided the Israelites with the bread of angels, but they weren't satisfied—they whined for more
                    1. their complaints made God "exceedingly angry" (Num. 11:10)
                2. Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, God's appointed leader and the result was, "The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them," and Miriam became leprous (Num. 12:9)
                3. when God allowed the Israelites to glimpse the glory of the promised land, they grumbled about the great size of the people instead of being grateful for the great size of the grapes
                    1. God sighed, "How long will this wicked community grumble against me?" (Num. 14:27)
            4. 3rd, Disobedience grieves the Holy Spirit
              • "They did not keep God's covenant and refused to live by his law" (Ps. 78:10)
              • "Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel" (Ps. 78:41)
                1. the Israelites' repeated disobedience saddened God
                2. God asked them, "How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?" (Ex. 16:28)
            5. 4th, Disbelief grieves the Holy Spirit
              • "They did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance," (Ps. 78:22)
                1. ten times God is described in Psalm 78 as being angry, grieved, or vexed
                2. disturbed by their lack of faith, God cried, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?" (Num. 14:11)


            1. God's Old Testament warning, "do not grieve the Holy Spirit," is repeated in the New Testament in Eph. 4:30
                1. but in the New Testament, the emphasis is different
                    1. in the Old Testament, grieving the Spirit was connected to the people's response to God
                    2. in the New Testament, grieving the Spirit also includes our response to one another in the Body of Christ
                2. the Apostle Paul explains this in Eph. 4:29-32 as he illustrates how we can keep from grieving the Spirit
                    1. avoid unwholesome talk
                    2. build others up rather than yourself
                    3. share
                    4. rid yourself of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander
                    5. be compassionate
            2. the consistent goal of the Spirit in the New Testament is that we achieve unity by maintaining right relationships with one another and using our gifts to serve the Body
                1. Ephesians 4:12-13 says to serve one another "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith"
                2. the Apostle Paul urges in Eph. 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit."
                3. so what are some of the ways we find people grieving the Holy Spirit in the New Testament
            3. 1st, Pride grieves the Holy Spirit
                1. in the Gospels, we see the Pharisees demanding seats of honor at public events
                    1. they loved the esteem of the people and being called "Rabbi"
                    2. they expected to be served, rather than to serve
                2. Jesus exposed their arrogance in a parable that portrayed a Pharisee as boasting, "God, I thank you that I am not like all other men" (Lk. 18:11)
                3. what a contrast to Paul's teaching in his letter to the Philippians
                  • "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit . . . then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (Phil. 2:1-3)
            4. 2nd, Self-effort grieves the Holy Spirit
                1. the Pharisees trusted in their good works to make them righteous, rather than in God
                    1. they erroneously believed they could achieve spiritual blessing through the effort of the flesh
                    2. but Jesus said in John 3:6, "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit"
                      • "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength" (Jer. 17:5)
                      • "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5)
                      • "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Gal. 3:3)
                2. Scripture condemns all self-effort and warns us to beware of our tendency to act independently of God
                    1. when we do, it grieves the Holy Spirit
            5. 3rd, Resistance to the Spirit grieves the Holy Spirit
              • "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt" (1 Thess. 5:19-20)
                1. the Pharisees were guilty on both counts
                    1. the Pharisees doused the flames of the Spirit by attributing Jesus' works to Satan (Mt. 12:25-32) and thumbing their noses at the Scriptures concerning Christ
                2. the Pharisees' refusal to yield to the Spirit was rooted in their fear of the Spirit
                3. the Pharisees clung to the comfort of the Law, insisting God would never work beyond the Law-at least, not without first consulting them!
                4. their failure to embrace a new work of the Spirit ultimately caused them to oppose the God they claimed to serve
            6. 4th, Hypocrisy grieves the Holy Spirit
                1. the Pharisees were spiritual leaders with no Spirit
                    1. they professed to know God yet they failed to recognize His own Son
                2. they put demands upon others they were unwilling to accept themselves
                    1. Jesus warned, "Do not do what [the Pharisees] do, for they do not practice what they preach" (Mt. 23:3)
                      • "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs . . . on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness" (Mt. 23:27-28)
                    2. Jesus' final analysis was sad: "These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me" (Mk. 7:6).
            7. 5th, Legalism grieves the Holy Spirit
                1. intellectualism was the god of the Pharisees
                    1. consumed with order, tradition, and doctrine, they so immersed themselves in the study of God's Law and the explanation of it that they ended up missing God Himself!
                2. when the Pharisees scolded Jesus' disciples for failing to wash their hands before eating, Jesus rebuked them, "You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Mat. 15:6)
                3. in their zeal for theological correctness, the Pharisees reduced religion to a purely intellectual exercise, effectively squelching the Spirit and eliminating responses of the heart
                4. the Apostle Paul, himself a Pharisee, recognized the dangers of legalism and rightly warned, "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).


            1. grieving the Spirit carries serious consequences
            2. the actions of the Israelites grieved the Spirit, and God withdrew His protection and fought against them (Is. 63:10, Acts 7:42-43)
            3. the most common result of grieving the Spirit in the Old Testament was simply that He left
                1. prior to Pentecost, the Spirit was given to selected individuals for a temporary period of time
                    1. that is why David, who experienced the coming and going of the Spirit in his own life, pleaded in Ps. 51:11, "Do not . . . take your Holy Spirit from me."
                2. today, the Spirit works differently
                    1. the moment a person accepts Christ as his Savior, he is immediately indwelt and sealed forever by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14, Jn. 14:16)
                    2. the Christian need never question their eternal destiny or doubt God's intentions toward us (1 John 4:16)
                    3. the Spirit will never leave us, but if we grieve Him, He may temporarily withdraw His fellowship and power
                3. for the Christian who consistently abides in the Spirit, no consequence could be more devastating
            4. the Holy Spirit never forces Himself upon us
                1. at times, we may even wish He was more insistent, that He'd whack us on the head and shout, "Don't do that . . . it REALLY disappoints me."
                2. instead, He quietly, gently, convicts us of sin and leaves us to choose: Will I please Him? Or grieve Him?
            5. God desires that we are continually aware of the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence and sensitive to how deeply sin affects Him, and us
                1. the surest way to avoid grieving the Spirit is to know Him and walk in a moment-by-moment, love relationship with Him
                2. then, grieving Him becomes unthinkable

Learning to grieve not the Holy Spirit of God is a lifelong endeavor. Are you grieving the Holy Spirit?

The remedy to grieving the Holy Spirit and suffering the disruption of His fellowship is for Christians to confess their sins and be cleansed by Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9). As Christians appreciate that cleansing and as they love God more, they are more strongly motivated to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit.

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